Summary of Teaching Religion To Young Children
(taken from, The Child in the Church, by Dr. Maria Montessori)
As Catholic teachers our main problem is not so much what to teach as how.
Education is an ‘aid to life’.
Religious education is therefore to be looked upon not so much as a school subject as an aid to spiritual life which unfolds itself. It is a religious person we are aiming at rather than one who has received certain instructions.
We place at the center therefore the personality of the child.
This personality develops in accordance with certain interior laws which have been revealed to us by the children themselves working freely and spontaneously in our schools.
It is essential that we should acquaint ourselves with these laws (especially the Law of Sensitive Periods and of the Absorbent Mind) and adapt our whole approach to the child in accordance with them.
We can best help the child – during these pre-reason periods – indirectly; by placing him in a Prepared Environment in which we have provided those elements of knowledge which we wish him to absorb – and up to a point this is also true of religious knowledge.
This spontaneous absorption of knowledge – in the sensory-motor period – is always accompanied by an activity which unites hand and brain, body and mind.
The Prepared Environment would be useless without the Prepared Adult – the adult who understands and forms the dynamic link between the children and this environment.
The Directress will also – and predominantly – direct the children, as free individuals, living their own lives, and acquiring knowledge spontaneously through self-chosen work with the materials. These materials are to be presented to them in response to the various sensitive periods through which they are passing.
Such activity with religious materials is not confined to any particular school `period’. A child is free to work with them all morning if he is so minded, just as -on another day – he might concentrate for an equally long time on arithmetic, history or grammar. In this way religion (like the other subjects) becomes an aid to a life which develops freely and spontaneously from moment to moment and day to day.
Thus it will be seen that the work of the Atrium would be a much broader thing than merely teaching the child his catchism – often with the avowed aim of making a good impression on the diocesan inspector or the bishop! It will rather be a life complete in itself something which will affect the children at all points. It will be like a surrounding and pervading atmosphere in which they will live and move and have their being.