I bought Moira Farrell’s Home Catechesis Manual for Ages 3-5 for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd more than a year ago. (about halfway down on this page.) I finally gave my first lesson today. What has been holding me back? The materials and the dilemma of not having enough money to buy them or enough time to make them. It’s a catch 22 and though I love the philosophy of Montessori in general and of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in particular, I’ve always found it hard to see how it really meshes with my family’s particular situation and needs.
Still, I’ve been feeling a strong call to give Sophie, Bella and Ben the Good Shepherd presentation and the presentations on the Mass. They already have done quite a bit of their own “work” on both the Christmas and Easter stories using the toys and materials we already owned. But I wanted them—and Sophie especially—to spend time contemplating Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
So I came up with a two-pronged approach. I decided to do a little bit of making, a bit of adapting materials we already have, and a bit of begging. I asked my parents to buy the Mass kit as a present and they graciously agreed. I had heard of people making or substituting with creative thrifting but thrifting takes that precious time that I’m already too short of. So that takes care of that presentation.
For the Good Shepherd presentation, I realized I could use the shepherd and sheep from our Fontanini nativity set. Sure it’s not pure Montessori, but it would be good enough. Then I just needed a sheepfold and a wolf. I found a little picket fence at Michaels and made a cardboard pasture to go under it. Then I set out to make my wolf out of cardboard until I could find a plastic one. I got carried away with the sheer pleasure of creating and made half a dozen cardboard sheep and a cardboard shepherd as well. But they are really too flimsy to stand up to hard play. They could barely stand at all when I was giving the presentation. Still, watching me make them engaged the children’s curiosity and given their recent propensity to play with paper dolls, I knew that the flatness and flimsyness would not at all deter their fertile imaginations.
Bella was thrilled by the presentation and very engaged in a dialogue with me, answering the questions and speculating on the presentation. Before I’d even finished giving the presentation, she immediately wanted to tell the parable of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep.
Sophie and Ben asked a bunch of questions, not about the presentation itself but about the set up and materials. They didn’t answer questions or engage in dialogue. Sophie seemed initially distressed by the wolf and immediately went to huddle with her blankie on the couch. However, when she got up she immediately went over to the table and picked up the wolf. Ben was playing with the sheep inthe fold and he yelled, “Go away! You can’t come in!” And Sophie began to play along with his game about the wolf attacking and the shepherd protecting the sheep.
A fight broke out as all three children wanted to use the materials. The cardboard shepherd and sheep were having a hard time standing up. So I immediately went to get the nativity figures. I also grabbed some scarves and then made a sheepfold out of blocks and a green scarf and used a blue scarf for water and a purple scarf for the dark, dangerous place. Sophie began playing with the second set and Bella offered a couple of elephants to be attackers in place of the wolf. Sophie began to name all of the sheep. One was Mary. One was Rosie. Then there were Lawn, Bow, Flower, and Mary-Bow.
Bella decorated the pasture with colorful barrettes to represent flowers. Sophie built up the walls of her block sheepfold to make them stronger. Ben went back to painting rather than fight to get access to the sheep and shepherd.
Later I came back and found that the wolf had become harmless and was no longer threatening the sheep so the shepherd could let them go in and out at will. I think the Wolf of Gubbio was responsible for that development. Then the two shepherds began to work together and to take turns guarding the flocks while the other slept. Ok this is definitely not orthodox Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and a proper catechist would probably confiscate the materials. I thought about it and did make a comment about how they had strayed from Jesus’ story. But Bella said I told them they could play and I guess she interpreted that liberally.
Still, they kept coming back to it. Later when I came back I overheard from Sophie:
“My shepherd celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday because it’s about shepherds. Jesus loves us so much. He is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. My shepherd is one of his sheep too.” Yeah, I guess she does get it. Right now Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus are in her sheepfold with the shepherd and the sheep and a bunch of flowers. I’m not sure what that means. “The gate was closed. Only animals were left there.”
And Bella playing about the lost sheep: “She’s lost, she’s lost, he cried. Tears came from the shepherd’s eyes. Have you seen my sheep wandering away? The shepherd never, never stopped. He walked around his fold seven times. He never stopped. All the sheep were eating the grass in the fold. He took the ripest grass and hung it. I will not put it back he said to himself until I have found the sheep. I remember to pray for my little one, he said.”