Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the primary means of faith formation for children 3 –12 years old. CGS is a Montessori method of faith formation grounded in the belief that children come to us already in relationship with God.

An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, all the more so when that relationship is between God and the child. We believe that there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw nearer to God. The catechist’s role is to prepare the environment and to give selected presentations from scripture and liturgy that “call forth” the child’s response rather than “pours in” information. The catechist listens with the child and together they ask, “God, who are you? How do you love us?” The adult reflects with the child on the questions generated by the presentations with the materials offered to the child to aid the child’s reflection. The atrium (or prepared environment) is one of the important elements that help the relationship between God and the child to flourish. After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose an activity that will make possible the inner dialogue with the “Interior Teacher” (CGSUSA).

The Atrium

A three-year old is setting a model altar with an altar cloth, paten, chalice, candles, and crucifix.   Later she carefully arranges a small bouquet of flowers.  A four-year old sits in front of a model of a sheepfold, moving model sheep and shepherd while listening intently to an adult read the scripture account of the Good Shepherd.   Two five-year olds sit across from each other; one sewing while the other traces images from a scripture account and makes a book.

Welcome to the Atrium, a prayer space designed to meet the spiritual and developmental needs of children using the Montessori method.   By means of the beauty, silence, self-direction and prayer fostered here, the mystery of the child encounters the mystery of God. Lovely hand-made materials to work and pray with, proclamations of God’s Word, meditation and song, all appropriate to the child’s way of approaching God, invite him or her into a lifelong relationship with the Good Shepherd who gives “life to the full.”

In the Atrium the child explores prayer, scripture, liturgy, Holy Land geography, practical life, and art expression during a weekly 2-hour session.  Could the Good Shepherd be calling your child to the Atrium?

What are the different Atrium session levels
and when do they meet?

Atrium sessions are offered in weekly 2-hour sessions
between October and May in multi-age levels.
Register for Faith Formation here.

Click each level to learn more.

Who is the Level I Child?

The Level I Atrium responds to the developmental characteristics of the 3-6 year old. Generally, children in this Atrium are preschool or kindergarten age. This is a child who loves to explore the world through his or her senses. This child is spontaneously active. He or she loves order and loves naming things. He or she longs to be independent. This child seeks and offers unconditional love. He or she is full of wonder and absorbs everything in the environment. He or she may have a short attention span or may focus deeply and at length on activities of the child’s own choosing. This child is attracted to the essentials in all areas of life, including faith.

 Meeting the Level I Child’s Needs.

 The Atrium meets 3-6 year old child’s needs in a variety of ways. The predictable environment and the routine of each work feed the child’s desire for order and independence. Practical life exercises, such as spooning beans and arranging flowers, allow the child to practice controlled movement while quieting the body for subsequent prayer. The opportunity for open ended free choice allows the child to repeat and absorb the content of a particular work. The Atrium is an invitation for the 3-6 year old to fall in love with Jesus Christ through personal exploration.

Level I Sessions:

Sunday: 11 am–1 pm
Tuesday: 9:30–11:30 am
Wednesday: 3:30–5:30 pm
Thursday: 9:30–11:30 am

Who is the Level II Child?

The 6-9 year old child is more social than the younger child and enjoys working and talking in groups.  Typically this group corresponds to children in 1st through 3rd grade. The 6-9 year old is less interested in repetitive actions than his or her younger counterparts. This older child has an increased awareness of time and history and an increased curiosity regarding his or her role in history. The child is also forming a moral capacity, a sense of right and wrong, and often a rigorous sense of justice.

 Meeting the Level II Child’s Needs

 The Level II Atrium experience supports these developmental highlights. Adults and children explore what it is like to be together in a caring faith community.  Practical life activities are limited to those that care for the common space, such as dusting and sweeping; gone are the days of spooning beans. Works such as the Fettucia, the Unity Strip, and the Gift Strip introduce the child to the huge expanse of history, and the place of God and the child in that history. There are more opportunities for working together as a group. The child begins to plan communal prayer and contemplates scripture with moral themes.

Level II Sessions:

Sunday: 11 am–1 pm
Tuesday: 4–6 pm
Wednesday: 3:30–5:30 pm
Thursday: 9:30–11:30 am

Who is the Level III Child?

 The 9-12 child continues to grow socially, mentally, and spiritually. Typically, this child is in 4th–6th grade. This child continues to be interested in his or her role in the great passage of time. The child can absorb and analyze more information about the expanse of history and relate diverse themes together. Timelines remain an important part of the Atrium experience. They provide more opportunities for research and relating salvation history to the child’s own experience. Developmentally, the child is calmer and more focused than during the 6-9 phase. The older child can also draw connections between moral themes in scripture and their own spiritual experience. The 9-12 year old also takes a greater leadership role in the Atrium, planning more complex prayer and managing their progress through works in the Atrium.

 Level III sessions:

Sunday: 11 am–1 pm
Wednesday: 3:30–5:30 pm
Thursday: 9:30–11:30 am
Parent Participation
The work of many hands is required to provide the CGS ministry All families are expected to participate.  At the time of registration, you will complete an online survey with many options for participation.  If you would like more information about this requirement, please contact Liz Lyons at


Some of the items that children interact with in the Atrium.

Other Resources

Parent Education

This fall we will continue to offer Bible and Book studies for parents on Sunday and Wednesday mornings while their children are in the Atrium. You can sign up for these offerings when you register your child for the fall sessions.

Parent Newsletters 
Level I — There is a seasonal rhythm to the presentation of Level I works.  These newsletters are roughly organized into the season in which we present them.  However, your child may be working with a material at any time of the year! Ask your child’s catechist if you have questions about what work your child is receiving.

Early Fall/Ordinary Time Intro to the Atrium | Who is This Child | Practical-LifeColors of the Year Altar  | Biblical Geography |Childs-Work | Church Visit
Advent | Christmas Advent-Prophecies | Nativity Pres-in-Temple
Late Winter/Ordinary Time Kingdom-parables | Gestures-of-the-Mass
Lent Lent-I | Lent-II
Easter/Spring Liturgy of Light | Baptism-Easter | Bridging-Works | Level-II-info

Level II: Level-II-Who-is-This-Child | Level II Level-II-Altar-worksHistory of the Kingdom of God

The National Association for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has developed some excellent parent newsletters with adult reflections on topics explored in the Atrium.  Explore them here:  National Association Parent Newsletters

RCIA Adapted for Children – Children who are preparing for the initiation of sacraments through the RCIA adapted for children participate in Atrium sessions as part of their preparation process.  They are usually registered in one of the Level II/III sessions.  In addition to the Atrium sessions, there are also interviews, retreats, and Sunday dismissals that are a part of this initiation process.  We are often looking for adults willing to sponsor RCIA children or to otherwise assist with the RCIA ministry.  Please contact the Steward for RCIA for more details.


Pastoral Liturgy Magazine 
How to bring Montessori methods alive in your home with 0-3 year olds
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd National Assoication website
NW Catholic article on Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Another NW Catholic article on CGS (7/17)
The Sheepfold: CGS Formation for Adults in Western Washington
The Catholic Roots of Montessori Method