Patricia Stenton said parents can engage children in a deeper level by creating a space where they can participate in hands-on activities. Photo by Conrad Stenton

Advent workshop targets a youthful audience

By 
  • November 25, 2016

Celebrating Advent doesn’t have to just be about Advent calendar chocolates and writing letters to Santa Claus.

Patricia Stenton said Advent can be a time for parents to invite their children to a deeper celebration.

“I strongly believe, and there has been lots of evidence, that even the youngest child already is in relationship with God,” she said. “They have an innate knowing of the presence of God and the catechesis is a way to help them enjoy this relationship, to enter more deeply into it and to have a particular space that they can come to, to live this joy.”

Stenton facilitated an all-day workshop Nov. 24 called “Living Advent With Children.” The workshop, held at St. Margaret’s parish in Midland, Ont., gave parents and grandparents tools to give young children a hands-on experience with the prayers and traditions of the season of waiting for Christ’s birth.

Stenton suggests creating a space in the home where children can have spontaneous celebration. Parents can set up a low table where their child can place their own items, such as an Advent wreath or a nativity scene.

“Instead of setting the whole nativity scene up, highlight the season of Advent as a season of waiting, which is countercultural to the instant Christmas that’s going to erupt everywhere else,” she said.

Stenton also suggests reading Bible stories with children and allowing them to freely explore the words on their own.

“Children love the poetic language of prayer,” she said. “The prophecy of the great light in Isaiah…. It’s amazing how even at age three, they have the sense that this is no ordinary light. That it’s bigger than everything. They say so many things about this light.”

Stenton said that children are naturally drawn to the beautiful language. When she leads this workshop in her own parish, children would ask her to write words like “Emmanuel” onto paper and they would trace the word or draw pictures around it.

The workshop is based on teaching principles founded in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a children’s ministry based on the teachings of Maria Montessori. The ministry was founded in 1954 by two Italian laywomen, Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar, and Gianna Gobbi, a teacher who trained with Maria Montessori. The ministry has since expanded to 37 countries across the globe.

Stenton is trained as a catechetical consultant for the Archdiocese of Toronto chapter of the ministry. She hopes to develop the workshop as a template for other parishes to use in their own communities. She is also working on a workshop for the Lenten season.

To host your own parish workshop or for more information about Toronto’s Catechesis of Good Shepherd ministry, contact the archdiocese office by email at gscatechesis@archtoronto.org.

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