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The Infant & Toddler Atrium

The Youngest Children

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.

At the International 60th Anniversary Celebration of CGS in 2014, a plenary talk and breakout sessions on the child from birth to three years were offered. An international group has been working on an initial Infant-Toddler study course that is offered in two parts. The course includes the environments of the womb and the home, the preparation of the adult, the sacraments of Marriage and Baptism, Montessori theory and pedagogy of the youngest child and a most essential pondering and experimentation of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd with children under the age of three.

Already we know that the atrium is the place where the mystery of God meets the mystery of the child – could we not say that it is the place they meet again? For we must ask, was there ever a time when the Creator was not in love with His creature and the creature was not touched by His love, sustained and formed by it, called into being love himself? Who is this child who floods her mother’s womb with warmth at Christ’s very name?

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise! Psalm 84:1-4
The Womb
The Home
The Toddler Atrium
level 1 atrium child playing
The womb is the sacred prepared environment of the mother’s body, the environment of creation wherein the child finds everything he needs. It is here the child first encounters darkness and light, sound and music, taste and aroma and the sensation of being surrounded by the elements of love.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. Luke 1:41

level 1 atrium child playing
The home is the environment of the family in which the child’s moral development is formed by the love and care he receives from his parents, family and community. It is the place to explore the joys of creation in daily living.

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…that you, being rooted and grounded in love…may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14, 17b, 19b

The child has a different relationship to the environment…he absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered, they form part of his soul. The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori

level 1 atrium child playing
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

Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

To “enter into the secret of childhood” requires of us, as adults, both a willing spirit and a particular discipline. Listening to God With Children, Gianna Gobbi

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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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