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Silence and Altar

For today I recorded two different works from our atrium. This post concludes with their connection. Welcome!


Our time in the atrium begins at our little oratory (our prayer table). Here we light a candle, read from the Bible, and sit together for a moment of silent reflection.

“Stillness and silence foster reflection and the capacity to listen to the Other, to receive God’s presence in our whole being. According to God’s teaching, an emptying of self is what God desires, an emptying of self that will allow God to fill us with the gift of God’s own self.” (Listening to Children with God, Gianna Gobbi)

(Is this not more relevant than ever? Advent means “coming.” This is a time of waiting and preparation. It can also be a busy, noisy time. In our home we’re slowing down to create “room” for Christ’s coming. I hope my children grow to independently find stillness and silence throughout their lives.)

Two weeks into "our atrium year" silence is still a work of its own.

This doesn’t discourage me whatsoever. I’m not teaching lessons to check off a syllabus. They learn through experience. Meanwhile, I model the correct behavior—I slow down, speak soft, and separate my gestures and words. I’m confident it takes patience, joyousness, and consistency.

To help in the work of silence and indirectly prepare the children for prayer, we use a bell activity. The kids love it!

Silent bell

This is an exercise in controlled movement. Perfect for helping littles ones slow down!


  • Bell

  • Painter’s tape


  • Prayer: I always ask the Holy Spirit to guide our time in the atrium. I pray the prayer of Maria Montessori, “Help [me] O God to enter into the secret of childhood so that [I] may know, love, and serve the child in accordance with the laws of thy justice and following thy holy will.”

  • Tape a path for the children to follow. (We made a square on our area rug.)

In the Atrium

We all sit together on the rug. Holding the bell at eye level, I say, “This is a bell. Bells up us direct our attention.” I pause. (The ringing bells in the liturgy remind us of the miracle of the Holy Eucharist.) Then I ask, “Would you like to hear it?” After I ring the bell, the kids try. They love it.

Together, we observe the silence of before and after the bell rings.

I model holding the bell while walking along the painter's tape line very carefully so to not make a sound. They observe. Next they both want to try for themselves. We are all very quiet—sitting and listening as we take turns walking the line and sitting again. 

When we’re done I putting the bell back, showing them where it's kept. They are welcome to use it whenever they want!

Model altar

In our first week of atrium at home, we began our work with the model altar. In this work we focus on naming the articles and setting them up. 

“The metaphysical nature of young children (their being simultaneously attuned to the concrete and sensorial qualities as well as to the spiritual dimension of things) makes them fully appreciative of the fact that Jesus’s meal, our most holy meal, as being such a special meal that it calls for the most beautiful table setting and articles. Young children have the eyes and heart to grasp what a lovely and important gift this is.” (The Good Shepherd and the Child, P.68.)


  • Model ciborium

  • Model chalice

  • White linen

  • Candles

  • Matches

  • Candle snuffer (we don't have this yet, but we need one.)

I hope this list doesn't discourage you if you don't have these things at home. We found these items at Goodwill and our local thrift stores.

I keep a list of the items I would still like to find (like a small model altar table, cruets, etc.). But we don’t even need everything now because the articles are introducedgradually.


I always begin with the prayer above. Then I prepare my materials and walk myself through the presentation. This helps me prevent any disruptions (and distraction for the kids) due to a forgotten item.

In the Atrium

Together we sit. I share the name of each article with a simple, short description. For example:

This is the ciborium.
The ciborium holds the Body of Christ.
This is the chalice.
This beautiful cup holds the Blood of Christ.

I model how to set up the altar—laying down the cloth, setting the candles, and so on. Before I light a candle I say, “We remember that Jesus is the light of the world.”

When our model altar is set we pause to appreciate the beauty and silence.  Then, as we did with the bell, I model putting it away. The kids are able to work with it whenever they want. (They can ask me to help them light the candles.)

A connection

On Wednesday we worked with the bell again. I asked, “When do we hear bells?” We have discussed the use of bells to alert our attention, including during Mass, but I hadn’t asked her this before.

She was silent for maybe fifteen seconds before she lit up. She sprouted straight up with a huge grin and replied, “Oh! Can I show you?! Can I show you?!”

“Yes.” I replied, with a smile that I couldn’t help but have while witnessing such joy.

She hopped over to the atrium shelf to pick up the model ciborium and chalice. She lifted them up in the same way the priest gestures in the Eucharistic Prayer.

“Like this!” She exclaimed. “The bells!”

I smiled and affirmed her statement. 

“Why do we use bells during this part of the Mass?”

“Because Jesus IS HERE!” 

Kids are so beautiful. 

“We are dealing with ephemeral moments, like a flash of light that shines vibrantly and then fades away. However, they let us glimpse in some way the mysterious reality present within the child; they manifest the child’s potentiality and richness, the nature of which we are not successful in defining clearly. The fact that we are dealing with flashes does not invalidate their importance, because it is proper to the child to live at first in a discontinuous way the riches he possesses, which only gradually and through the aid of the environment later become a constant habitus in him.” (The Religious Potential of the Child, Sofia Cavalletti, P.36-37.)
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