The Godly Play approach encourages learning through play, but what does this learning look like in action? It is often hard to measure spiritual growth or know what children are internalizing from the Bible stories they hear. One way of observing what children understand is to observe their play. The practice of observation allow you to both see what children already understand and observe the connections they are making as they are learning through play.
What do children remember when you teach the Bible as story?
Have you ever wondered if the children in your ministry remember any of the Bible stories you have taught them? What are they internalizing from the stories and Bible Activities they participate in? How do you know if they really “get” the story or if they are just memorizing Bible facts? How much should we expect from young children in regard to Biblical understanding.
Transitioning to the Godly Play Approach…
About a year ago, my church began using Godly Play curriculum for our children’s church. One of the main switches in thinking for me was that instead of going from story to story each week, Godly Play makes the stories available all the time so that children can come back to the story as they are interested.
The Godly Play materials are sitting on shelves that are at the kids eye level–not tucked away in a closet somewhere. Godly Play also doesn’t plan in a bunch of bible activities or kids Bible crafts, instead the children get to choose how they will respond to the lesson either by choosing a story from the story shelves or creating their own art response from materials available in the classroom.
A Beautiful Story of Godly Play in Action…
This Sunday one of the four-year-olds in my Godly Play group wanted to choose the “Sea of Galilee” for her work. This was not the story she had just heard, but one from a few weeks prior.
We have been telling the stories from Sonja Stewart’s Following Jesus and many of the stories take place in and around the Sea of Galilee so we have many Godly Play Materials and Materials from Worship Woodworks in our classroom for the children to interact with after hearing the day’s story.
I watched as she laid out the piece of blue flannel we use for the sea. She then went to the shelf to get the boat and then She carefully lined up all the disciples in the boat. As many as she could fit.
She had a few more people in the basket and so she said, “we are going to fish for people.” She laid a few people in the sea and the disciples “caught” them with the net. A literal rendering of fishers of men and her own addition to the story she had heard…it made me smile.
After catching the people she asked me “which of the disciples is Peter?” I said, “what do you think?” She chose one of the figures to be Peter and proceeded to tell the story where Peter jumps out of the boat and goes to see Jesus on the shore.
She found a piece of grass (green felt), put Jesus on the shore and then gathered the disciples around Jesus in a circle.
She remembered that Jesus gave them fish and bread and she asked if she could get the “real” bread. She went to the story shelves and borrowed the cup and bread from the world communion lesson and had Jesus share it with His disciples.
Worth Noting: Learning through play…
Intuitively she is making some very deep connections such as the disciples becoming fishers of men and Jesus sharing bread with the disciples being connected to the last supper.
- She shows story retention and modeled parts of at least three different lessons from the last several months in her play.
- In her retelling, the story becomes her own. It resembles the stories as she was told them, but she has crafted a meaningful interpretation of the story that is unique to her understanding.
This child is particularly verbal and so her thinking as she handles the materials is quite obvious. That doesn’t happen with all children, but it does give me hope that other children are meaningfully retelling the stories they’ve heard when they interact with the materials during response time—even when I don’t get a full play by play of what is happening in their imaginations.
I love seeing Godly Play happen right before my eyes!
Creating Space for Learning through play…
Even if you don’t have access to Godly Play materials there are many ways to create this same type of learning environment with children. Small world play and sensory bins allow children to “act out” the story with their own dialogue. Simple materials such as laminated figures or peg people combined with everyday materials such as shredded paper, sand, blocks, and beads come alive in children’s imaginations.
How do you invite children to explore Bible stories through play? Have you seen children make connections between the stories you have shared with them, remembering the Bible in ways even beyond what they have been taught?