Why Use the Montessori Method in Sunday School?
The three, four, and five year old children are in a very special time of life. They have passed through a fierce rate of development in their infancy years arriving with the newly inhabited will. The will is the instrument that executes mental activity into action.
Judgment and decision replace impulsive activity as mental activity spurs physical growth and accompany movement. Mental activity is the catalyst for physical development as the child exercises judgment and decision. Movement is the result of mental activity at this age. Mental activity is the result of initiated movement. The will initiates movement.
The Early child just out of infancy has a new world about him- The Prepared Environment. The adult prepares the environment that satisfies the mental urges giving way to interaction with the prepared environment.
What is a prepared Environment?
The prepared environment is structured with many activities for the child to work with. The activity is first demonstrated by the adult so that the child can see how the items are handled. The child is then free to choose that activity and process that which it is designed to teach. By handling the materials in a specific way the child is able to work independently at a chosen space and a chosen pace. The child can also repeat the activity whenever it is available. The work is available when it is on the shelf, in other words when it is not being used by another. Making choices and channeling random energy into purposeful activity is one result of the prepared environment.
During the early childhood years, the brain develops more than it does collectively for the all of life. Language development, the ability to concentrate, order, and classify are determined in the early child during the sensitive periods of development. Maria Montessori explained the specific sensitive periods of development and taught us how to prepare the environment so that the child can develop their human potentialities and develop self discipline through the structured freedom.
How does this apply to Sunday School?
We have prepared the environment with activities that assist the understanding of the Holy Bible and the Divine Liturgy. The “Children’s Room” is prepared with many activities for the child to choose after receiving the lesson from the adult. The activities are based on the following:
Parables of the Kingdom of God
The specific parables have been chosen according to the response of the young child. The chosen parables lead the young child to contemplation and wonder. The parables are read from the Holy Bible and there is an activity for each one. For example, The Growing Seed, seeds and plants are examined in a particular way.
Infancy Narratives about the life of Jesus Christ
The chosen narratives begin with the Evangelismos and are specifically chosen according to their appropriateness for the young child. These narratives are read from the Holy Bible and then the child has the opportunity to work with the materials for each narrative. This provides the opportunity for the child to ponder the meaning of that which was heard.
Geography of the Holy Land
The maps and the city of Jerusalem diorama help the child to become familiar with the names of places that are mentioned in the Holy Bible. They also are manipulatives that are used to explain places and events in the life of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. This assists the young children’s ability to process that which is heard when the Holy Bible is read.
Response Gestures and Hymns of the Divine Liturgy
The response gestures of the Divine Liturgy are carefully shown and the children have the opportunity to practice them. This makes them feel more at home in The House of God as they become familiar with their role during the Divine Liturgy. The children become greater participants in the church services as they know what is expected of them and they just love to master these gestures.
The richness of the hymns of the Divine Liturgy speaks for themselves. The children Chant in both Greek and English. Ideally the Sunday school program will be a few hours long so that more of this wonderful chanting can take place.
Holy Communion and Baptism
Both Holy Communion and Baptism are explained to the children in a way that they can absorb the meaning of both. While remaining theologically sound and grounded in Orthodoxy; the steps for each sacrament are carefully presented slowly and one at a time over the course of the Sunday school year.
The Holy Altar
The children are shown miniature altar items (not to be confused with the real thing). The children learn the names of the items and then recognize them while in Church. Again the child becomes more familiar with the Divine Liturgy.
Liturgical Colors, Vestments, and the Liturgical Calendar
The color of the vestments and altar cloths change with the Liturgical calendar. The colors in the children’s room also change accordingly. The Liturgical seasons can be associated with certain colors. The children begin to recognize the season by the color of the altar cloth and the priestly vestments.
The Good Shepherd
Good Shepherd parable is a central theme in the children’s room. Also the Found Sheep parable and Psalm 23 are celebrated.
The Mystical Supper, Jerusalem (Holy Week), and the Women at the Tomb are presentations in the children’s room that lead the child to a more complete faith experience.
The Gathering Table
The gathering table is just that; a table for children to gather around and hear the chosen
Prophesies and prayers. In addition, the Icon corner is a place where the children are invited to offer spontaneous prayer. Prayer at this young age is often spontaneous as it is often prayer of thanksgiving.
This course will present the fundamental principles of the Practical Life area as a foundation for the child’s development of confidence and competence in daily life. Topics include how to prepare the exercises of Practical Life, grace and courtesy, control of movement, control of the person, care of the environment, and food and nutrition. Teachers will also learn how to analyze each child’s development of independence that occurs from using the exercises.
Catherine Varkas, Director
Palm Harbor Montessori Teacher Education Center; Nationally Accredited (MACTE, AMS)
Hellenic College Alumni Board