Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey

by Sofia Cavalletti, Patricia Coulter, Gianna Gobbi, and Silvana Q. Montanaro

I purchased this book in the summer of 2011, before beginning my training as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I finally started reading it in October 2012 and I should have finished it long ago. It's actually quite a nice brief introduction to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, especially for parents with children in the program, who are considering enrolling their children, or who do not have access to the program but are hoping to integrate some of the aspects of it into their home. It only took me so long to read because I kept it in the bedroom where I read only a paragraph or two every now and then before bed.

Rather than one single book, this is a collection of essays. Put together, they give an overview of some of the most important presentations and the reasoning behind them.

In the Introduction, Patricia Coulter says:
Our theme is God's covenant with young children and a way of being with children that helps them to live their relationship with God. It is a book about initiating children into that covenant relationship, helping children to receive and respond to God's unconditional, personal, love for each of them: "I have called you by name, you are mine...Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you" (Isaiah 43:1,4)
Kansas Dad and I laughed over some of the sentences written by Silvana Montanaro, like this one:
Mother and father, and every person in contact with an expectant mother as well, should be aware of and try to feel the presence of this new human being.
I think there's plenty of evidence that babies in the womb can hear and even respond to voices and bumps from outside the womb, but some of Silvana's language seems to make it a bit too touchy-feely for me.

Sofia Cavaletti in "God and the Child Together" talks about the child's relationship with God, which is at the heart of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.
The relationship with God is basically an experience of love, of love without limits. In the covenant relationship there is a meeting between God who is "Love," and the child, who is so rich in love; different in their capacity and yet alike in their quality, they truly encounter one another. In the covenant relationship the child finds the Partner who is limitless, unfailing love, who meets the child's deepest need, and the child is in harmony with the world.
Our goal then, as parents and as catechists, is merely to introduce the child to God and let God and the Holy Spirit work within the child. We prepare an environment in which that relationship can be developed and grow.

In "Helping the Child" Silvana returns and has (in my opinion) some good advice for parents as the child grows in the first few years. In particular, I liked the small section, "Help Me to do it by Myself."
Helping little children in their own efforts to grow is truly a form or service. The child's intense desire is, "Help me to do it by myself."
I have found that little children can do a great deal when given the opportunity, but they often do so more joyfully and promptly when an adult or older sibling works beside them. Even when they are capable of completing a little task independently, they do not want to be alone. Stand back, but stay near by.

And this quote is pertinent to the reading I've been doing in Unconditional Parenting:
Try to be patient and slow down your pace when you are with your child. Helping your child to develop--the purpose of education--is not something that can be achieved quickly.
How often we start demanding instant obedience and yelling when we are in a hurry! With more time, we can work with our children. It's not just for the benefits of a calm and soothing environment, it enables us to collaborate with our children rather than order them about.

In Part Two, Sofia Cavalletti and Patricia Coulter give a lot more information. For example, the chapter, "Presenting the Good Shepherd to Children," details exactly how to give the presentation and a description of the materials and how they are used. It provides background on presenting parables to children as well as meditating with children.
It is the nature of the parable to leave the door open to further exploration. This is the time to help the children explore its meaning in a meditative spirit. If we say to children, "This is the meaning..." by words or attitude, they will stop looking for anything else. Then the parable becomes something already done in a sense; however, a parable always remains open to deeper reflection.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on "Prayer," in which Cavalletti and Coulter present their understanding of how young children pray, based on their years of working with children in an atrium environment. Sofia and Coulter think children do not make many prayers of petition naturally and we should not suggest them or lead them in prayers like that. Doing so may redirect their attention from their true prayers.
First, the primary concern is helping the child's prayer, rather than teaching prayers to children. Our hope is to help children enter into prayer: that inner disposition by which the heart turns to God in openness so as to listen and respond to the presence of Love.
This is the chapter that talked the most about providing an environment of silence and contemplation.
To create a climate of silence is a way of helping the child's inner meditative spirit. Creating time and space for silence is a way of nourishing that special need for listening which is at the heart of the child's prayer. Silence becomes the soil in which the child's prayer may flourish and grow.
 In "Moral Formation," the last chapter, there's a wonderful summary of the whole book (and really the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program):
All the major themes of the Christian message outlined in this book have one aim: to help children discover and enjoy the presence of Someone in their lives. There is a Person who calls them by name, who creates the most steadfast and enduring relationship of love; it is Someone who, in giving them the gift of his own life and his own "light," gives them his whole self.
Appendix A is a great introduction to the program of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and provides background on Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi. You may even want to read it first. I have now completed my training for Level 1 (3-6 year old children), but this book is a good supplement to that training. (It's one of the recommended books.)

By the way, if you really want to purchase a copy, you can find reasonably-priced copies at the store of the National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

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