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Infant & Toddler Atrium
a young boy holding a glass bottle in front of a mirror.

Join in the Wonder of the 3-6-Year-Old Child

The 3-6-year-old child is particularly capable of receiving and enjoying the most essential elements of our faith—the announcement of God’s love especially experienced through Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who died and is risen. Materials on the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings help to make the mystery of God concrete for the child. The heart of the catechesis for children under six revolves around the Parable of the Good Shepherd. Jesus announces that he is the Good Shepherd who calls each one by name. The sheep listen to the voice of the Shepherd and follow him.

The 3-6 year old child enters the mystery of the Eucharist by first learning the names of the articles used on the altar and then through the most important gestures including the preparation of the chalice, the epiclesis and offering, and the sign of peace. Through the experience of seeing these gestures, presented one by one, the Mass emerges as the Sacrament of the Gift. The child becomes acquainted with the historical character of the liturgy through the events of the Last Supper, Christ’s death, and His resurrection.

level 2 atrium child

Celebrate the Growth of the 6-9 Year-Old Child

The elementary age child is captured by the image of the True Vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” The proclamation responds to the deep need of these children to better know his or her relationship with God, family, friends, and the larger community. Moral parables offer a model for comparing their behavior with that of the Pharisee, the Tax Collector, or the Good Samaritan. The elementary children see the parts of the Mass—the Liturgy of the Word, the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion—as one unified prayer made of many smaller prayers. Children prepare for the celebration of First Communion (or Solemn Communion) through a series of communion meditations focusing on the relationship with Jesus. Preparation of personal missals filled with illustrations and prayers is also part of this preparation which helps to deepen their love and understanding of the Eucharist.

level 3 atrium children

Honor the Independence of the 9-12 Year-Old Child

The history of salvation focusing on the plan of God as a plan of communion, a plan which links all people together through God’s love delight the older child. The emphasis is on our response to this unfolding generosity of God and recognition of the responsibilities that come with receiving God’s great gifts and seeing oneself as a collaborator with God. “What is the kingdom of God and my place in it?” is a cosmic query which lays the foundations for a life commitment in relationship with God. Materials on the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Gifts of God, the Miracles of Jesus, and expanded presentations on Liturgy and Scripture can also be found in the Level III Atrium.

level 1 atrium child playing

Delight in the Discovery of the Infant and Toddler

Infant-Toddler Catechesis is an exploration of the very youngest child’s spirituality springing from the discovery of the child’s nature and religious potential revealed by the children to Maria Montessori, Sofia Cavalletti, Gianna Gobbi, Silvana Montanaro and those who continue to listen and observe the child in God’s light. When Rebekah Rojcewicz interviewed Sofia Cavalletti for her article in Essential Realities, she asked Sofia what was her greatest hope for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Sofia responded, “…that it would go younger and younger…” She said this out of a long process of observation of the children.

The Toddler Atrium is a prepared environment in which the youngest child’s spiritual life is fed by prayer, work and celebration aided by a catechist. Time is also given with the adults in the life of the child in this prepared environment for the infant or the young child to explore and the parent to grow in observation skills and interactions with his/her child aided by a catechist.

a little boy works with the Paschal Candle
We believe that God and the child have a unique relationship with one another, particularly before the age of six; that growth of this relationship should be assisted by the adult, but is directed by the Spirit of God; that children need their own place to foster the growth of that relationship; and that the child’s spiritual growth is best served through tangible but indirect means.

Our mission is to support catechists, parents, and others in the Church and beyond, as they grow in their understanding of the religious potential of children.

Relationships Bloom in Peaceful Spaces

An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, all the more so when the relationship is between God and the child. We believe there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw nearer to God. The adult, the catechist’s role is to prepare the environment, to offer selected presentations from scripture and liturgy. The catechist listens with the child and together they ask, “God, who are you? How do you love us?” The atrium (or prepared environment) is one of the important elements that helps the relationship between God and the child to flourish.

The Child

The role of the child in CGS

The Atrium

The prepared environment

The Adult

The role of the adult in CGS

The Child

God and the child have a unique relationship with one another particularly before the age of six. The growth of this relationship should be assisted by the adult, but is directed by the Spirit of God within the child. Children need their own place to foster the growth of that relationship. This spiritual growth is best served through tangible but indirect means.

“If we want to help the child grow near to God, we should, with patience and courage…seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer. The child himself will be our teacher if we know how to observe him.” – Sofia Cavalletti

The Atrium

The atrium (or prepared environment) is one of the important 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 Adult

The catechist’s role is to prepare the environment and to give selected presentations from scripture and liturgy that “call forth” the child’s response rather than “pour in” information. The catechist listens with the child and together they ask, “God, who are you? How do you love us?” The adult reflects with the child on the questions generated by the presentations with the materials offered to the child to aid the child’s reflection. The catechists work together in a spirit of unity and harmony, in tune with God’s plan for communion in the history of salvation and in keeping with the themes of unity so strongly expressed in the parables of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1ff) and the True Vine. They generously offer their talents and experience for the good of all.

A Catechesis Born of Joy

A Catechesis Born of Joy

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was born from the joy of the children in their encounter with God and lives in being nourished by this joy. It has also been observed that children of the same developmental stage even though belonging to different cultural backgrounds, respond to certain elements of the Christian message in the same way. Over time through being with children in a specially prepared environment called an atrium, observing and listening to their responses, scriptural and liturgical themes developed that most resonated with children’s religious needs according to their age levels. Thus the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd divests itself of any strictly scholastic character, so as to become an experience of life, an education in faith, and a celebration of the encounter with the Father, in listening to Jesus, the one Teacher, and in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

God and the Child with the Adult

God and the Child with the Adult

An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, all the more so when that relationship is between God and the child. We believe there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw nearer to God. The catechist’s role is to prepare the environment and to give selected presentations from scripture and liturgy that “call forth” the child’s response. The catechist listens with the child and together they ask, “God, who are you? How do you love us?” The adult reflects with the child on the questions generated by the presentations with the materials offered to the child to aid the child’s reflection. The atrium (or prepared environment) is one of the important elements that help 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.”

Prayers of the Children

He loves us.

He takes us everywhere.

He is in our heart.

God is our shepherd and we are his sheep.

Thank you for giving life to us.

Thank you for the Light.

Lord, I do not know what it takes to fill you to the brim and I have nothing to ask because You give me everything.

My praises are infinite.

Let me take a bath in Your Light!

Reflections

“I could live here.” – a child

“After only a few weeks in the atrium, it became obvious with each of our four children that a new joy, a new source of peace and prayerfulness had entered their lives.” – a parent

“As grandparents, we see that having an atrium in our parish helps build a solid foundation for our children and for the future of the Church.” – grandparents

“It is the most profound adult formation program we have because we have so many adults involved.” – a parishioner

“The catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a slow deep process, full of God’s peace.” – a director of religious formation

Reflections

“This catechesis is different in the positive response of the children. They seem much more reverent, much more aware of the awesome presence of God in their lives as a source of peace and joy, it is seen at church, at the altar, in their prayerful attitude, in their sense of joy and happiness at knowing that God is working in their lives in a real and powerful way.” – a pastor

“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a way that adults and children can live the spirituality of the child, it is not a program. What I found was a way I could live out the gospel command to become like little children. To become like little children is to enter into a deep simplicity and great joy and peace. It is a gift to come to the heart of Jesus, the heart of the church and enjoy the presence of God“ – a catechist

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Welcome to CGSUSA

We believe God and the child have a unique relationship with one another. Children need their own place to foster the growth of that relationship. The growth of this relationship is assisted by the adult, but is directed by the Spirit of God within the child.

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What is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was born from the joy of the children’s encounter with God. It has been observed that children of the same developmental stage, even those from widely varying cultural backgrounds, respond to elements of the Christian message in the same way.

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In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd adults are given the opportunity to embrace a method of catechesis (or religious education) that will deepen one’s relationship with God. Catechist formation in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is both instructive as well as experiential. It captivates both the head as well as the heart.

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We read in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs, two by two; the journey was not meant to be a solitary one. It is essential for us as catechists to support one another as we prepare materials, work in the atrium, and observe the child. We come together in unity, as members of CGSUSA, to share the joy of this work.

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Through their joy, their wonder and awe, their capacity for love and prayer, and their radical simplicity, children offer us adults a glimpse of what it means to fall in love with God. This has been the work of CGSUSA for over 30 years: to advocate for the child’s joy.

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