Becoming Familiar with Godly Play…
Until a few years ago, I had never heard of Godly Play, but it isn’t new. The life work of Jerome Berryman, it is an approach to Christian education deeply rooted in more than 25 years of research and begins with the assumption that God is already powerfully present in the life of a child.
While not strictly an Episcopal curriculum, if you are outside the “high church” denominations you may, like me, not know about the world of Godly Play. I found it on Pinterest of all places. I clicked on a video. It was one of the stories that uses the desert box. And I had to know more. I didn’t even know what it was called at the time but something had sparked within me and I started hunting down more information; learning all I could about these people who use sand and wooden people, and other objects to tell God’s stories in ways that go so deep while remaining so simple.
What is Godly Play?
Here is a definition as defined by the Godly Play Foundation:
Children have an innate sense of the presence of God. The Godly Play approach helps them to explore their faith through story, to gain religious language and to enhance their spiritual experience though wonder and play. Based on Montessori principles and developed using a spiral curriculum, the Godly Play method serves children through early, middle and late childhood and beyond.
An important part of my journey…
My exposure to Godly Play has profoundly shaped my philosophy of ministry to children. I have had to contextualize some of the material to better fit the practices of my denomination, but the majority of the material extends far beyond denominational affiliations and provides children with a deep understanding of the meta-narrative of Scripture–something sorely needed in most American Evangelical churches!
A note about the curriculum…
If you are interested in learning Godly Play, or starting a program in your church it can be a little bit difficult to know where to begin. Just ordering the eight volume curriculum really won’t help you until you know what to do with it.
The Complete Guide to Godly Play Volumes 1-8 are the scripts for the stories and the questions for wondering. Along with the scripts there is:
- Helpful background information to the stories,
- Help in organizing your story and art shelves,
- Really good information for starting a program
- Resources to help you evaluate whether or not Godly Play is really happening in your space.
But you won’t find:
- Patterns for the materials,
- Lesson activities to go with each story
- Parent pages,
- A detailed scope and sequence,
- or other “extras” that are common in popular Children’s ministry curriculum.
Once you understand the approach–you won’t miss these extras (I promise!) Do I sound like someone who has totally drunk the koolaid?
Growing in Godly Play takes some time and research…
By the time we launched our first Godly play session at our church, I had been researching this Godly Play thing for a year until I felt confident enough to start ordering materials and setting up our worship space. And even then I rearranged the space three times in the first year before I felt like the space worked for us.
We are now starting our third year and are expanding our program by creating a second classroom because our group has gotten so large that we need to split.
Godly Play and this blog…
You will find many posts related to Godly Play on Grace and Wondering, but this is not strictly a Godly Play blog. I have attended a core training, but I am by no means the expert on Godly Play. I just love it and want to share it with you!
We use Godly Play during our Children’s worship, but still have Sunday School and AWANA at other times during the week. I will say that we have adapted how we carry out both Sunday school and AWANA to reflect more of the principles of Godly Play even though these times with the children are not Godly Play sessions.
Resources for Getting started with Godly Play…
If you are just getting started with Godly Play, here are some resources you may find helpful:
Books, specifically about Godly Play:
- Godly Play, by Jerome Berryman
- The Spiritual Guidance of Children: Montessori, Godly Play, and the Future, Jerome Berryman
Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman collaborated to write Young children and worship and then went on to develop separate materials. The books from Young Children and Worship do have patterns that are helpful. We use a hybrid approach and include many of the stories from Following Jesus in our classroom.
- Young Children and Worship, Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman
- Following Jesus: More about Young children and Worship, Sonja Stewart