Welcome to our archived site of the work of CGS at All Saints Parish up to April of 2018!

Monday, July 27, 2015

What is CGS? A Primer for Parents

Is this your first time in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? You probably have a lot of questions. Hopefully this post will give you some answers. This post is a beautiful one by a parent who discovered our program. We hope you feel the same way as she did!

How Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is different from traditional textbook methods of religious formation

We can begin with the obvious: there are no textbooks! But let's first describe a textbook classroom.

In a textbook classroom:
  • there are tables and chairs where similarly aged children usually sit for the entire class time which varies but is usually 75 minutes or fewer
  • a catechist leads the class as a whole, usually at the head and leads the lesson and makes assignments. She or he is the director of the classroom activity
  • the catechist in these classrooms may be someone with 15+ years of experience as a catechist and a professional teacher on the side, or it may be someone without any formal training doing this for the first time
  • the material is covered according to the textbook. The scope and sequence is determined according to the text, as well as the interest of the class as a whole
  • a good catechist is someone who can create exciting ways to impart the material in the text in a way that the children will retain it
In a CGS atrium:
  • there are many different areas where the children may sit and receive lessons or work, as well as 3 different ages of child who are instructed not simply according to age, but also interest and ability.
  • the catechist generally does not instruct the class as a whole unit, but gives lessons or "presentations" to small groups of children at a time. The child's activity, beyond the presentation he or she receives, is chosen by the child from a variety of choices that are offered. In this way, the child is generally the director of the time, choosing work that corresponds to his or her interests and abilities.
  • The time in the atrium is usually more extended, allowing for a settled pace. There is no hurry, and there is time for the child to enter into "bigger work."  One of the chief ways a child defends himself against a hurried pace and interrupted concentration is boredom. We do not see boredom as an enemy in CGS, but often as a part of the process of building concentration that leads to contemplation. After a few months, the children groan when the closing bell is rung because the time is too short, not too long!
  • Each trained catechist has an "album" of presentations, 50+ presentations per level, complete with direct and indirect aims laid out--these are the goals of what we want the children to achieve and how we measure our success in the presentation. The material from these presentations is drawn from liturgy (the Mass) and scripture.
  • The CGS catechist falls into two categories: lead catechist and assistant. The lead catechist is someone who has undergone a 90-hour formation/training course (over 2 weeks of formation) for the level in which they work. Each level is a pre-requisite for the next, so if someone is a lead catechist in Level III (for the 9-12 year old child), she or he has completed a 90 hour training course for Level I and a 90 hour formation course for Level II, as well as 90+ hours for Level III. It does not necessarily mean that the catechist is "experienced," yet, and I can tell you that it is definitely a learning process to catechize in this way, but generally catechists will return year after year to serve and often get to serve the same child for multiple years. An assistant is someone who may or may not have been through formation, but "assists" the lead catechist with the work of maintaining the environment and assisting children in their work.
  • The material is presented on a 3 year cycle and is presented according to the age and ability and interest of the individual child as much as possible. A material is never "done," and a child who wants to delve more deeply into geography or the parables or the bible work may always choose to do so.
  • A good catechist is a "co-listener" with the children to the Word that she or he proclaims. The true catechist in the atrium is the Holy Spirit, and adults come to learn and be led with a listening, rather than instructing, stance before the child.
Child working with Level II Baptism Work

How thus approach was developed over the course of the last 60+ years

CGS began simply. The foundress, Sofia Cavalletti, was a well-educated scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, and was asked to help prepare a friend's child for First Holy Communion. She took this role very seriously, and through collaboration with other women who had great interest and experience with child development research and success of Maria Montessori, this group of women developed what we know today as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It has been over 50 years now of observing what lessons and parables most resonate in the heart of the child, and what work leads them to desire holiness and develop spiritually according to their great potential.

What to expect (and what not to expect) from your child

Atrium is a bit more like going to church than it is like going to school. The experiences are very personal and sometimes difficult to explain. It is not a matter of: "I drew this today" or "I learned about this today" so much as it is, "I received the Word of God, and it spoke to me in a new way." These sentiments can be difficult for a child to verbalize. However, sometimes it happens! We had a child last Sunday who spent time in the class "prayer chair" writing up her "prares" after working on two materials over the previous weeks:

"Jesus Christ thank you for bringing me into the world. You take away the sins of the world and keep me safe."

"From creation to Redemption to Parousia you have been leading us into your light. You sacrificed your life for us thank you Jesus Christ Amen"
In the younger ages, the first few weeks are not as obviously fruitful, as the child has quite a bit if "practical" work to do to prepare and enable themselves to hear and absorb the content that will be presented. In some ways, the practical life work in the atrium, such as cutting paper, spooning beans, and pouring water, can appear to be completely unrelated to the goals at hand. However, these activities build the child's capacity for concentration and control of movement: very important skills needed for further exploration of the atrium!

How the three levels of CGS meet the developmental needs of the 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12 year old child (Levels I, II, and III respectively)
It is worth pointing out that CGS begins with the needs of the 3 year old child in mind, but continues to grow and change to meet the needs of children in their own unique developmental stage. The need for repetition in young children is more than met in the Level I atrium by the work presented there, while the need but lack of desire for repetition is met for older children by varied works on the same topic. Many of the materials in a Level III atrium can be as difficult or simple as the child needs them to be, and the extention works (e.g. research that the child may do) are directed exactly where the child is. This is why one never really outgrows the material in Level III (I know I haven't), but the way in which it is used changes. For more information on this, keep reading in the blog for individual work descriptions!

How CGS follows the guidelines of the General Directory for Catechesis
The GDC and the NDC are both followed very carefully by the content presented in CGS. The difference is merely in the method and approach. We have a catechist in our Level II (1st grade-3rd grade) atrium who had taught 2nd grade faith formation for years and she was impressed at how everything that was covered in the book was woven seamlessly into the CGS approach. I have templates covering exactly how our presentations work to meet these guidelines available for parents who want them. Just let me know!

Why CGS is respected worldwide and used by the Nashville Dominican Sisters (Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia) and Missionaries of Charity

When asked why the Missionaries of Charity have gone to using CGS in their schools as well as in the formation of their own sisters, the superior of the order (after Mother Theresa's death) replied, "Contemplation." The Good Shepherd approach, as you could see in the 5th grade girl's prayers above, facilitate contemplation in the child... more than just thinking about God, it is a communication with him, and a driving force behind the desire for holiness.

How to follow your child's work and communicate effectively with his/her catechists
  • This BLOG! Read here to learn more about the actual lessons and fruit that is taking place in the different levels of CGS.
  • Email Mandie! I send a weekly email with announcements for the week, and you can just hit "reply." I can also put you in contact with your catechists with one click!
  • Observe in your child's atrium! Ask your child's catechist when would be a good time to come and observe. There are some guidelines that we have (trying to be invisible is one of them!) that the catechist will give you to help you see how the class goes even when you aren't there!
  • Hang around after class or come early and ask the catechist how your child is doing. Catechists love nothing more than talking about the work of the children in their atrium!
That is about all for this rather lengthy "orientation," but I hope you have a better understanding of the experience your child will be having this year. We look forward to working together with you!

God Bless,

Mandie DeVries, CGS Catechist and Director of Religious Education

No comments: