Assess and Refine your Atrium for the Coming Year

by Catherine Maresca

Evaluation of the space

The end of the catechetical year is the perfect time to sit in the quiet atrium and evaluate your space. Every environment can be improved in some way, according to the materials it holds, the children it serves, and the preferences and gifts of the catechists. While some group space is important, especially with older children, it is vital that the room and its furnishings be organized primarily around the work of the children. Ask yourself:

  • Where was the best work happening? Take care not to disrupt these good places.
  • Did the children spread themselves out to work in the room, or congregate too much in one or two areas? How can I rearrange furnishings to help the children use the whole room?
  • What were the problem areas in the room? Too crowded? Bad “flow”? Dangerous? Causing accidents? Kids congregating without purpose? Out of the sight line of the adults?
  • What changes can I make to each of these areas to address the difficulty? Rearrange furniture? Change the arrangement of a material? Reorganize the materials on the shelves?
  • Are related materials grouped together as much as possible? (See below)
  • What materials were used well? Why? Presented clearly? Complete? Usable? Attractive?
  • What materials were ignored? Why? Not presented? Too difficult to use? Presented to too many children at once? Incomplete? Unattractive? 
  • What changes can I make to these materials, or the presentation of these materials, to help children to choose to work with them?
  • Are the materials on the shelves too crowded or stacked? Each material should be complete, with comfortable space to accommodate it. Arrange for additional shelving if this is not so.
  • Is everything in the room essential, and for the child? Have you accumulated objects that do not belong, or that should be in storage? This is a good time to clean off shelf tops and windowsills, and clear out corners behind doors.
  • Is there adequate work space, mats and/or tables for all the children to be working. Is this work space close enough to the materials on the shelves? (Many atriums have 1-2 large tables near the art materials but none near the liturgical or biblical materials.) Is most of the work space for 1-2 children in Level I, and 2-4 children in Level II.
  • Was practical life in Level I used to develop concentration, deepen meditation, prepare for work like the cruets (pouring) and serve the independent life of the child in the atrium? Were some exercises too difficult? Too simple? What exercises should I remove completely or after a short time in the atrium? (The guide in the Montessori classes is that if an exercise is only a preparation for a future work it should be removed when that preparation is complete.) What exercises should I add?
  • Was practical life in Level II carefully arranged and supplied so the children have complete independence in the care of the room and materials? What needs to be added? What is not necessary and should be removed?
  • In Level II, is there a space for the children to do the fettuccia? If not, could the fettuccia or the space be modified to make this work available?

As you answer these questions begin to move materials or furniture to address the difficulties and maintain the strengths of your current environment. Be sure to let all the adults who worked in the room have some input into this process, and get their feedback on the changes you propose.

Grouping materials by theme

As much as possible, related works should be together. The broadest divisions of the materials are liturgical and biblical. There is also space for prayer, practical life, and art.

Level I

Liturgical materials include:

Baptism: all materials required for Baptism 1, 2, and 2.

Altar nomenclature: all materials for Altar 1, 2, and 3, and the liturgical colors

Gestures: all materials for cruets, chalice, epiclesis, offering, peace, lavabo.

Biblical materials include:

Good Shepherd: all materials for Good Shepherd, Found Sheep, Psalm 23 and Eucharistic Presence

Historical Narratives

  • Land of Israel materials
  • Infancy Narratives
  • Paschal Narratives: Cenacle, Women at the Tombm and Jerusalem

Kingdom Parables

Level II

Most Level I areas are expanded.

There will be new areas for:

  • The history of the Kingdom of God
  • Moral formation: maxims and moral parables
  • The Books of the Bible

There are often good reasons to break up these groups somewhat, but as much as possible keep them together.

Inventory of the materials

You should have a complete list of your materials organized as follows:

-Name of material:

-Repair/ Replace

-List of each part of the material




-Related works

-Supplies such as candles

This inventory becomes your summer work plan. You can create a master shopping list from it and watch for needed items during the summer. Order the raw materials for items that need to be made early so you can work on them when time allows, or distribute to volunteers with plenty of time for them to work on sanding, painting, calligraphy, etc.

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