Good Shepherd comes into focus at St. Margaret Mary

Although the Bible is bound as a single volume, it is composed of many books.

It’s a concept that many youngsters – and even some adults – have a hard time remembering, but second graders at St. Margaret Mary in Slidell have it down.

Earlier this month, their teacher opened a portable cabinet entitled “Holy Bible” to reveal 73 individual wooden books of various sizes that compose the book known as the Bible. The books – color-coded red for the Old Testament and green for the New Testament – enabled the youngsters to hold each component in their hands, making the notion of a collection of books more tangible.

“Some (books) are really tiny and some are really big,” said Amanda Schneidau, coordinator of St. Margaret Mary’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program, a hands-on approach to teaching children Catholic Scripture and traditions developed in 1954 by Scripture scholar Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi, a protégée of Maria Montessori.

During her Sept. 4 lesson on the Bible,  Schneidau seized the opportunity to reinforce terminology such as the Pentateuch, oral tradition, the printing press and covenant.

“These are the books that tell us all about Jesus’ words and deeds,” said Schneidau, holding up the set of wooden books representing the four Gospels.  

The hands-on classes, offered to students in pre-K3 through second grades, take place during each grade’s regular religion period in a special classroom called the Atrium. After gathering around the prayer table for an opening prayer and hymn, Schneidau and her students unpack a short Scripture passage.

Once Schneidau’s main lesson is completed, students are free to fan out over various work stations, including one where they can set a low altar table with miniature replicas of the chalice, paten and altar linens; and another where they can fill cruets with water and wine (tinted water) – as the priest does – and read the related prayers.

Other stations include an aerial, 3-D map of Jerusalem showing sites related to Christ’s life; a flower-and-vase area where students can make an offering to Jesus; a prayer-writing center; and dollhouse-like models, complete with painted figurines, where youngsters can dramatize the infancy narratives – such as the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Nativity – and moral parables including “The Good Samaritan” and “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.”

A color-coded puzzle acquaints young minds with the liturgical year, the meanings of the seasonal colors of purple, green, red and white, and their connections to the priest’s chasuble.

“We change the prayer tablecloth to match the liturgical season,” Schneidau said. “We’re always trying to prepare (students) for Mass, to make the Mass make sense to them.”

Since the program was initiated in 2011, 15 St. Margaret Mary teachers have completed the 90-hour training required to teach the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

All materials – from the tiny altar cloths to the model of Jesus’ empty tomb – were made by faculty and school friends, Schneidau said.

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