Many methods of religious education teach children about God in the abstract, but don’t always do much to develop a child’s actual relationship with God and inner life of prayer. Perhaps that’s why a relatively little-known method called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is becoming so popular.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is specifically set aside as a space and time for children to pray. Using a Montessori approach of physical, hands-on materials, CGS guides a child to know and love God in a developmentally appropriate way in a prepared environment called “the Atrium.” Their website says,
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.
“Their own place to foster the growth of that relationship” is a perfect way to explain what CGS is. And in case you were thinking about signing up your kids, I want to share my own experience of having my kids attend.
I had heard about CGS for years before signing up my children. Friends raved about it, but I was hesitant that it wouldn’t be a good fit, particularly for one of my children who has a neurodevelopmental disorder. This child has been asked to leave several classes and activities over the years, including a different religious education program, owing to challenging behavior. The calm and peaceful environment of the CGS atrium sounded like the opposite of my kiddo and I worried that mixing the two would be a disaster.
But I had also heard that CGS teaches young children to pray, and I wanted so badly for my children to have that opportunity to grow close to God during such a sensitive time in their lives. So despite my misgivings, I signed up my kids, fully bracing myself for the worst.
Well, we are four months into CGS, and my child has not been asked to leave, but is loving it and absolutely thriving. I’m here to tell you that CGS not only lives up to the hype, but also has exceeded my wildest expectations.
When they come home and tell me about what they did in the Atrium that day,my kids glow with excitement about Jesus and the Bible. I can see that they’re not just learning facts about God (although they are very much learning that!) but learning to know God deeply. They’re learning to talk to him and see him as a friend, refuge, and protector. It’s incredibly moving to hear and witness.
This growing friendship with God is an incredible thing for a person of any age. But it’s especially amazing to witness for the 3- to 6-year-old crowd, who are often dismissed as too little to have a meaningful life of prayer. CGS reveals that children this age can know and love God very deeply if given the education and opportunity to develop their relationship with him.
Somehow the ordered, gentle environment of the Atrium is a perfect fit for even my high-intensity kiddo. And I’m seeing the fruits of CGS in our home life, especially during this season of Advent as we prepare for the birth of the Christ Child.
The gift that CGS is to our family became clear to me when we set up our family Nativity scene last weekend. As my husband lugged boxes of decorations up from the basement, I gestured at a side table in the living room and commented, “Let’s put the Nativity scene over there.”
Without saying anything to my husband and me, my kids went to the cleaning cupboard and came back with washcloths and a spray bottle. They began to carefully and meticulously clean the table, polishing every part of it with assiduous care.
“What are you doing?” I asked in surprise and some confusion. (My kids are not known to take initiative on cleaning!)
“We’re getting it ready for Baby Jesus!” They cried, and kept working.
My husband and I exchanged glances. Clearly our children understood that someone very special and important was coming, and they were determined to make everything beautiful for Him.
It’s incredible how children have an instinctive sense for doing exactly what our faith prescribes! Without being told, they felt the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Truly we must “become like little children” (Matt 18:3).
Once the Nativity was set up in its place of honor, the children gathered around it to stare in awe. My oldest turned on the little light inside the stable, then turned off all the other lights in the room. I could hear as he whispered to the others, “Look, out here it’s all dark, but there’s a light in there. Know why? Because Jesus is the light of the world.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. At that moment, I realized anew that very little children are capable of a profound spiritual understanding, and even of being evangelists who share the Good News with each other.
Part of this comes from our family environment, as my husband and I work to create a home that is centered on Christ. But I give so much credit to CGS for what my children have learned there. I can already see the spiritual fruits of their time in the Atrium, and we’re only four months into it.
I look forward with joy and hope to seeing what the rest of the year brings as they continue in this wonderful program. My prayer is that CGS grows more common so that more children can experience this space set aside for them to grow close to God.