"I am the good shepherd: I know my sheep and my sheep know me..."
The catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in Italy in 1954 by Sophia Cavaletti, an internationally known Biblical scholar. It is based on ideas about child development by Maria Montessori and continues to be a study in progress. Many countries around the world use this approach to Christian Formation for children and it can be found in Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Protestant churches.
Sophia and her friend, Gianna Gobbi, discovered that children as young as three already have a relationship with God and yearn to draw near to Him. The catechist's role is to prepare themselves and the environment to make presentations that "call forth" the child's response rather than "pouring in" information.
The formal definition for catechist is someone who provides religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development. For the youngest child, the catechist will proclaim the Good News and bring the materials and the environment to life. The catechist needs to be a humble and patient observer and should take a step back after proclaiming the Word so the children can make discoveries on their own. The Word itself is allowed to do its work on the child without the adult's interference.
Catechesis should be a religious experience shared by adults and children. The catechist and the child will listen and wonder God's word together. They will do this in a place called the "atrium."
The atrium is a beautiful, but simple place where the child can experience peace, joy, and meditation to build his/her relationship with God. All atriums need specific areas and materials for the children to work. The material of the Good Shepherd will occupy a central space in the room. The prayer table, built low to the ground, will be prepared by the children with the appropriate color cloth, a Bible, candles, a sacred image of the Good Shepherd, a vase of flowers, prayer cards, a cross and a bell every time they enter the atrium. There will be a baptismal font and lectern specifically made for a child. A small model of an altar and sacristy cabinet is also set up permanently in the atrium. The children will have a presentation on each of these areas so they will understand the proper use and care of these materials.
As well as the religious areas, there is an entire place set up for practical life activities. Hand washing, flower arranging, silver and brass polishing, and pouring water are just a few example. These activities are presented and then practiced by the children through the atrium year.
These activities help the children learn about care and respect of the environment and help them to gain control of their bodies.
Along with these practical life activities, there are also movement exercises designed to help the child gain control of his/her body and move quietly in the atrium. Once again, these exercises will help unite the child's mind and muscles which then leads to concentration. This concentration then leads to meditation which forms the basis of prayer and we all know prayer is what leads us to a closer relationship with God.