The atrium (or prepared environment) is one of the elements that helps the relationship between God and the child to flourish. After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose an activity that will make possible the inner dialogue with the “Interior Teacher.”
How does the atrium help to nourish this relationship?
- The atrium can be compared to a retreat house facilitating recollection and silence.
- The atrium is a place for religious life, for community and worship—not a classroom for instruction.
- The atrium is a place of meaningful work through which the child can have a conversation with God.
- The atrium was the place in the early church where the catechumens were prepared. For the child, too, the atrium is a place of preparation for involvement in the larger worship community.
The Materials in the atrium are often three-dimensional wood representations of a particular scripture or are items that represent what can be found in Baptism or Eucharist. They are attractively displayed and invite the children to explore and deepen their experience of the presentation at their own rhythm. The most important characteristic of the materials is there close link to the biblical and liturgical sources. The shelves might include maps of Israel and miniature environments representing the elements of the parables or the historical events from the infancy or paschal narratives that have been shown to satisfy the spiritual needs of the child. The model altar and its articles convey the centrality of the Eucharist. The Baptismal font and other liturgical items initiate the child into the liturgical life of the church.
Since 1954, in Rome, Italy, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi pursued the revelation of the young child’s religious potential, marking over sixty years of research and published material at both the preschool and elementary levels. With the pedological principles of Maria Montessori and the theological moorings of Hebrew scholarship, Scripture studies, and Roman Catholic liturgy and doctrine, Cavalletti and Gobbi, developed an approach which not only appealed to the profound religious intuition of the younger and older children, but which evolved from the children themselves. Today the work (still active in Rome) can also be found in other cities of Italy, and in the countries of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Croatia, England, El Salvador, France, Germany, Honduras, India, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Madagascar, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands, Pakistan, Panama, Papa New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Trinidad, Uganda, Uzbekistan, and the United States.
The Association for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGSUSA)
CGSUSA was formed in 1984 in North America with its main aim being that of “involving adults and children in a common religious experience in which the religious values of childhood (contemplation and enjoyment of God) are predominant.” Other aims include building community among catechists in supporting their work with children in aiding the growth of the spirit of this method of catechesis, establishing rapport with the wider ecclesial community, and encouraging, documenting, and spreading the research related to the religious life of the child through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.