CGS Connection – 4th Week of Advent

The Old Testament Prophecies and the Infancy Narratives, at this time of year in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atria, provide a beautiful observation point about a difference in the brains of children in the 1st Plane of Development (0-6 years old, CGS Toddler and Level 1) vs the 2nd Plane (6-12 years old, CGS Level 2 and Level 3.) In Montessori parlance, it is the difference between the “Absorbent Mind” of the infancy period and the “Reasoning Mind” of the childhood period. Taking this developmental research and its classifications into mind when sharing our faith and helping children develop their spiritual life is one of the things that impresses us most about CGS.

During the 1st Plane of Development we offer the child the most concrete and the most simple and essential as we can. In Church parlance: The Kerygma! AND — a critical point — we give them time to enjoy each new event and scripture passage in order to absorb the message into the core of their being. As the child transitions to the 2nd Plane of Development, as we see their hunger for knowledge grow and their reasoning mind take off, we can offer much more information. Something new in this stage is the delight they have in making connections between previously (or newly) acquired information. We call this new talent synthesizing.

Let’s follow the progression with the prophecy of Isaiah “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!” For the Toddlers, there is a prayer card on an easel at the prayer table. The catechist reads the passage from the Holy Bible and sings a song with that text. In Level 1, it’s almost the same except there is a little more context about what a Prophet is and that the people were waiting for soooo long. This year, when we introduced the prophecy at the end of the session rather than at the beginning, the sun had set and so we added the element of turning out the lights. There was a physical change at the lighting of the candle and proclamation of the verse. The light brought a tangible calming to our group! The Level 2 children revisit five Level 1 prophecies, but with their new synthesizing skill they look for themes of Jesus across the messages… He will be light (the great light, the star, “Wonderful Counselor”…), He will be powerful (a Ruler, authority, “Mighty God”, a Scepter…), He will protect (the warmth aspect of light, the shepherding aspect of the Staff, “Father forever”, “Emmanuel”…) The Level 3 children expand the background information significantly by pondering the confounding timing of the prophecies in the context of the History of the Jewish people. Their study of the prophets’ struggles prepares them for the cost of discipleship. They also read more prophecies about the fulfillment of Jesus’ second coming when we’ll look up and see ALL people coming to him and when there will finally be just One Shepherd!

Similarly, we see this progression in the Infancy Narratives, taking the Annunciation as an example.  In all the Atria, there are dioramas and simple figures of the angel Gabriel and Mary. For the toddlers, again just the most essential passages are read and the text, “Hail, Mary, full of grace!” gets connected to a concrete moment and event! For Level 1, the setting is shown on the map of Israel and the whole account is read. Most importantly, each mystery is offered individually. Contrast this to an exciting experience during my first year as a Level 2 catechist. After concluding a presentation with one group of children, I happened upon another little group who had taken out all the infancy narratives and lined them up. They were reading/“walking” through all the events of Jesus’ early life. And then just yesterday, the oldest of my Level 3 children, (they’re actually passing into the 3rd Plane (ages 12-18)), (after a time of socializing) had looked over the scripture chart with all the Infancy Narratives listed and honed in on the Canticle of Mary. Two of them were writing down the prayer trying to memorize it. The 3rd was reciting it because he had already memorized it since his family prays it at home. The Church prays this prayer, “The Magnificat” every day at evening prayer. Without any prompting from me, these young people were exemplifying that adolescents want to practice the adult life and we should give them many, many opportunities to do so!

For more information about Dr. Montessori’s 4 Planes of Development in relation to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, check out:

Maggie Radzik – Siena Academy

Claire Paglia – CGS USA