About Us

Training Course enhances the Spiritual Instruction for the Church’s Youngest Members

Catherine Varkas’ dream of establishing an early childhood program aimed at the spiritual growth of the young child began in 1982, while a graduate student at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.  

Catherine believes that if young children “experience faith” at the age when spiritual formation is just beginning, that faith will never fade.

In 2007 she founded the Orthodox Teacher Education Center.  With the endorsement of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education, Catherine offers an Orthodox teacher-training course that provides an environment for adults to nurture their own understanding of the Faith while learning how to present it to children.

Through hands on activity with materials rich in theological traditions, the adults learn to share Orthodoxy with children by emphasizing participation and experience in the Church. The method retains the beauty found in the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church without unnecessary adaptation or condescension.

Teachers, priests, seminarians, and parents from around the world have attended the course in person and online. Live courses have been delivered in Romania, at Hellenic College, and at local parishes. Online courses have included participants from across the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, England, and Pakistan.

Interestingly, it was 25 years after graduation from Holy Cross that Catherine fully put herself  into this ministry. Upon revisiting the campus for her 25th class reunion, she was moved into action. Catherine likes that familiar phrase “The Holy Hill”. She says, “It surely is a holy place. Every time I come here, I am inspired and renewed. When I go to the chapel and I pray, my world changes. After that reunion visit to HC/HC, I was able to sit down and write clearly, the curriculum flowed. I am still awestruck by the whole experience.”

Drawing from her own experience as a Montessori educator and founder/director of nationally-accredited Palm Harbor Montessori Teacher Education Center, Catherine has a solid understanding of Montessori principles. Her understanding of the spiritual development of young children comes from her studies of the church fathers, her own childhood experience, and 43 years as an educator.

Catherine later discovered the work of Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi. Two years after Montessori’s death*, Cavalletti and Gobbi continued Montessori’s religious work. They developed Montessori’s ideas for curriculum into wonderful presentations for children. Gobbi and Cavalletti spent years fine tuning and developing new religious presentations for children. It was helpful to see how they used Montessori principles and applied them to religious studies. Much like Montessori, they were guided by the children’s responses to the lessons. For example, they chose which parables to include, after many years of observation. Their work is called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS). It was developed for the Catholic church.

Catherine was able to use many of the ideas from CGS to add to the curriculum that she had started to write so long ago. It really enriched the work.  Each and every lesson plan has been constructed from "scratch" in order to represent an authentic Orthodox content.  The language used in the presentations comes from Orthodox liturgical texts, and the Orthodox Study Bible.

Dimitra Dinos of South Africa, already a Montessori educator, pushed Catherine into teaching her via distance learning.  The result was the online course. Dimitra wrote to Catherine, “What an inspiring way to introduce the topics. The parables, the Mystical Supper model, and the Jerusalem model are just amazing. After every lesson I am more and more inspired and excited to get started with the children. It is evident that you enjoy your work very much and that you put your heart into the presentations you do. It has really been a great experience for me. I feel confident that together with your instruction and the videos I should be able to carry out the lessons in the children’s room.”catherine

How Does This Ministry Serve Our Children?

How does this ministry serve adults?

teachers

How does this ministry serve the Parish?

* "Maria Montessori's pioneering work (1917) in the field of education and the developmental and spiritual needs of the child are the foundation of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Program. In 1954, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi developed the program drawing upon Montessori's work: her religious schools, religious materials, research, and experience as depicted in Montessori’s many books including; The Child in the Church, (1937). Cavalletti's classic work describing her experience with children is The Religious Potential of the Child (1992)."

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Testimonials

Dimitra Dinos of South Africa wrote to Catherine, “What an inspiring way to introduce the topics. The parables, the Mystical Supper model, and the Jerusalem model are just amazing. After every lesson I am more and more inspired and excited to get started with the children. It is evident that you enjoy your work very much and that you put your heart into the presentations you do. It has really been a great experience for me. I feel confident that together with your instruction and the videos I should be able to carry out the lessons in the children’s room.”

As one OCSF graduate states (Anna Chilcote), “Sharing this with the children sometimes feels like all I'm doing is giving them language for what they already know, like all I did was create a place for them to express it. They get the opportunity to actively engage with the Faith and with Christ, while I get the opportunity to observe the simple and natural way in which they do so. We help each other love God, the Church He gave us, and one another in the Body of Christ, a little bit more every time we're together.”

An online version of the course reaches people in other continents who may not be able to attend a face to face course. Dimitra Dinos of South Africa wrote to Catherine, “What an inspiring way to introduce the topics. The parables, the Mystical Supper model, and the Jerusalem model are just amazing. After every lesson I am more and more inspired and excited to get started with the children. It is evident that you enjoy your work very much and that you put your heart into the presentations you do. It has really been a great experience for me. I feel confident that together with your instruction and presentations I should be able to carry out the lessons in the children’s room.”

Attending the Orthodox Spiritual Formation Class at Hellenic College was a life-changing experience for me and my family.
I first saw an advertisement for this course in the Orthodox Observer, and I was intrigued. When I read Catherine's website, I was moved by her description that if the children just color a photocopy in class at Sunday School, they only have a coloring experience.
I have two small children and while they really enjoy coloring in Sunday School, I want them to have so much more than that and someone just talking at them during lectures and rote memorization with no wonderment.

I want them to experience spiritual joy and thoughtful, personal prayer with God that is self-motivated, and meaningful to them - not just reciting a memorized prayer when the teacher tells them to; to be able to understand what is going on during the divine liturgy and to be excited to be experiencing it; to have a love of God and Jesus Christ that comes from within, not because someone told them they have to or are supposed to; to learn and acquire knowledge that is heartfelt, and not just be filled up memorizing with their head.

I homeschool and originally attended on behalf of my children's education, but I wound up learning so many things myself about the orthodox faith that I had never known before. At the class, I not only learned what to teach my children, but how to teach the lessons through creating an optimal learning environment in which the children absorb the material in the way that is most natural to them at this stage of their development. The class focuses on letting the children experience and practice their faith, rather than sit through a lecture which is the traditional way of teaching Sunday School religion.

I was able to incorporate lessons into our curriculum at home, as well as starting to share the knowledge with my Sunday School at church.

I would recommend this class to anyone who teaches children - either at home or Sunday School - and wants them to not just learn about their faith, but truly experience it.

 

Dear Catherine,
I wanted to take an opportunity to say "Thank you."  I recently 
found myself sharing a Montessori lesson with some colleagues who were intrigued by the work I am doing with the children.  As I began to demonstrate the lesson I was immediately reminded of your careful attention to detail, isolation of movements, and patient-slow fluidity of movement. In my minds-eye, I was recalling your many lessons and trying to mimic your style and attention to detail.  A calmness overtook me as I proceeded with purpose of movement.  I have strived to maintain such integrity and purpose for every lesson with the children over the past 4 years, and am not altogether sure why this time the memory of training was so profound.  But in any case, I am grateful for the memory.  Again, "thank you" for sharing your passion for Montessori and your experience with children with me.

Sincerely,
Greg Shean

Orthodox Christian Spiritual Formation

Orthodox Christian teachers receive intensive training at Hellenic College

The Catechesis of The Good Shepherd Curriculum as put forth by Orthdox Teacher brings hands on experience to the early child.
Sunday School/Preschool Teacher Training Focusing on the 3-6 Year Old Child
Is your Sunday school or Church school a place where children experience prayer?

pattigsAbout the Children's Room:

The Children's Room is a beautiful environment with many biblical and liturgical activities placed in an orderly fashion. The teacher presents each activity to the children in a timely sequenced manner that moves from the simple to the complex. The children are free to repeat the activities, to retell the bible stories, and to proceed to other connected activity for each carefully selected parable, infancy narrative, prophesy, hymn, prayer, gesture, or Liturgical procedure. The Children's Room provides an array of activity and religious experience stimulating concentration, prayer, and learning as the child interacts with the beautifully designed "hands on" materials.

Orthodox Christian Spiritual Formation is a program based on the belief that children are able to have a relationship with God. Infant baptism is a testimony to the authenticity of the infant experience. (The Philokalia) “The spiritual faculty, the nous of the baptized infant knows God through immediate experience.”
In the prepared environment children spontaneously acquire knowledge beyond what is generally thought possible for their age. The presentations and activities satisfy the child's natural inclination to be spiritual, leading the child to fuller participation and belonging in the House of God.
The teacher’s role is to prepare the environment that nurtures the sensitive period of spiritual formation and to present materials that encourage the children to respond to God's love. The teacher is the link to the prepared environment, as she reads the Holy Bible, asks contemplative questions, and shows the children how to use the materials.

Endorsements:

His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta and His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston have offered their blessings for this program. Dr. Anton Vrame, director of the Religious Education Department for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese endorses the course and hopes to see it flourish.
Does OCSF offer programs for older children?
Yes, it begins with Level I for 3 to 6 year old children
Then Level II for 6 -9 year old children
Then Level III for 9-12 year old children
Palm Harbor Montessori Teacher Education Center is a non-for profit corporation, offering a nationally accredited teacher Montessori certification course and offers training for Orthodox parish schoolteachers.

For more information, please contact:
Director, Catherine Varkas
Hellenic College Alumni Board
Palm Harbor Montessori Teacher Education Center
1710 Grand Central Drive, Tarpon Springs Florida 34689
(508)367-7254
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Benefits to building a Children's Room in your parish:

The program is designed for fifteen to thirty children, depending on the size of the room, in a mixed group of three to five year olds. The program can be set up as a weekly (for Sunday school) or a daily program (for preschool).

Children experience and grow in their faith. Parent interested is peaked as children share what they are learning. Some parents, who have stopped coming to church, return in order to enroll their children in the hands on Montessori style Sunday school.

Community develops as parishioners become involved with the making of materials for the three different levels. In addition, students remain in the same room with many of the same classmates for three years.

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Next Course begins October 10, 2016 ONLINE