More than a program, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children which is based on Montessori principles of learning. It originated in Rome in 1954, by Sofia Cavalletti, who was a Catholic theologian and Hebrew scripture scholar, and her Montessori collaborator Gianna Gobbie. Since 1969 it has spread to nearly 20 countries and cultures.
Within the philosophy of the CGS, we believe that God and the child have a unique relationship with one another especially before the age of six, and that growth of this relationship should be assisted by the adult, but is directed by the Spirit of God within the child. The prepared environment of the Atrium is one of the elements which helps this relationship to flourish. The adult’s role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that “call forth” the child’s response, rather than “pour in” information. The catechist takes a listening stance with the child, and together they listen to God’s message and ask, “God, who are you and how do you love us so?” The Atrium can be compared to a retreat house; it is a place for religious life, for community and worship, not a classroom for instruction. It is a place of work which becomes a conversation with God. The most important characteristic of the materials in the Atrium is the close link to Biblical and Liturgical sources. When the child uses the materials him/herself, it is a way of prolonging, alone with the inner teacher, the meditation begun with the adult.
We opened our first Atrium here at Little Flower in 2005, with the Pre-K and Kindergarten students in our school as part of their regular religion course of study. This approach has advanced up to 6th grade at St. Benedict and Foundations.