The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program of Christian formation for children is based on the "self-teaching" principles of Maria Montessori. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd first came into being in 1954 in Rome and today exists in churches of many denominations around the world.
In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd the classroom, called the Atrium, is a spiritual environment - more like a place of worship or a retreat center than a traditional classroom. It is perceived as "holy ground" where Christ may be encountered in Word and Action; a place for community and worship where the spiritual life of the child is nurtured, and a place of work that becomes prayer and conversation with God. It is a place that, in Gianna Gobbi's words, "creates the conditions for silence and reverence and helps the children focus on and listen to God."
In the Atrium, teachers are not called teachers, but "catechists." This is because of the premise of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program that the Holy Spirit is the teacher --the catechist simply provides tools and assists the child. In the Atrium children have the opportunity to respond in their own way to the material presented (which might be a parable, an explanation of the altar, or about a sacrament). The program uses a hands-on approach, providing children a chance to work with three-dimensional maps, miniature environments and figures, art supplies, and practical activities like pouring and sorting, which help center the child for spiritual work. After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose an activity that will make possible an inner dialogue with the "Interior Teacher." The catechist's role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that evoke a response from the child's response rather than "pour in" information as in traditional instruction.
of the Good Shepherd was developed in
Italy by Sofia Cavaletti
and Gianna Gobbi. Sofia Cavaletti was a Hebrew
scholar who spent
30 years researching the religious development of
Gobbi was an educator who had worked closely with Maria
Cavaletti observed children in different cultural settings
different parts of the world and noticed that themes kept
which engaged the children on a spiritual level. For example,
found that younger children were especially responsive to
the image of
Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who protects his
sheep. She found that
Baptism and the Eucharist also resonated
with younger children. The
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program
joins Cavaletti's theological
insights into children's spiritual
development with the educational
principles developed by Montessori.
To learn more about children and spiritual formation:
The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Sheperd http://www.catechesisgoodshepherd.org/
Center for Children and Theology http://www.cctheo.org/
CNY feature story on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd by John Burger, "Loving Relationship: Good Shepherd program helps children 'find a home with Jesus' " - http://www.cny.org/archive/ft/ ft070899.htmBooks on spiritual formation of children and on the Catechesis program:
Available from Treehaus
Communications, Inc., 906 West
Loveland Ave., P.O. Box 249 , Loveland,
Ohio 45140 http://www.treehaus1.com