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Getting Ready for Godly Play by Naomi Turiano

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

Hi, I’m Naomi, and I coordinate the children’s ministry at the South Wedge Mission. I’d like to give everyone an update on what the children’s ministry team has been doing this summer. Read on to learn more about our new Godly Play curriculum and how you can get involved.

This summer, the children’s ministry team has been exploring new ways to meet the spiritual needs of our youngest members. We have been crafting kid-friendly liturgies during our summertime morning services. Kids have had the chance to assist with communion and other parts of the service, which has helped them join in the “work of the people” that we share as a community.

Deacon Georgia has also offered activities for kids at Gather at the Garden every Wednesday evening. Gather at the Garden has given young people a chance to get involved in growing food to share with our neighbors. Deacon Georgia says that the kids have really enjoyed helping out with the garden and looking for ripe tomatoes this summer.

I’ve been using this time to work on bringing a new curriculum to our children's community (SWM's Sunday School) this fall. Through my own research as well as having conversations with Michael, one of our children's community teachers, I discovered the Godly Play curriculum and thought it would be a good fit for our community’s values.

Godly Play is a children’s spiritual formation curriculum created by Dr Jerome Berryman and inspired by the work of Maria Montessori. Godly Play uses the foundation of Bible stories that are taught by a storyteller (i.e. teacher) using figurines and sets made of natural materials.

A good example of this is the story of the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. A box of sand is used as the setting for the story along with wooden figures of Moses and the Israelites with blue felt to symbolize water. After the story has been told, the storyteller then invites the children into wonder through discussion.

Certain questions form the basis of what is called response time such as “I wonder where you are in this story?” or “I wonder what part of the story you would cut out if you could?”

I really appreciate that Godly play gives children space for questioning and/or changing parts of the Bible. Many of us didn't grow up in environments that gave us the tools to make Bible stories our own or even the ability to question them.

After the discussion of the story, the children are then given time to process what they learned through play or art. By having options that will help them reflect on the story, children learn the story on a deeper level.

This is a big part of where the Montessori outlook takes place. I’ve always loved the quote “Play is the work of childhood,” and I think a play-based approach makes learning more impactful for children—and more personal to them.

Unlike other curriculums, Godly Play is focused on the personal spirituality of the child and how they experience God in the moment. Some of the other models the children’s ministry team considered were too focused on didactic learning or merely entertaining children. In contrast, Godly Play focuses on spiritual practices that help children listen for God in their own lives.

Another important component of Godly Play is that the curriculum can be structured for a mixed age group of children. This is a good fit for our growing children's community because it allows kids to learn from each other. Younger kids have the chance to learn from older kids—and vice versa. Having a mixed age children’s community also gives the adults in the room space to be more welcoming for families of all ages.

Here are two videos that are short but do a good job of showing what Godly Play is like.

The first one is a little intro to Godly Play and gives some basics.

The second video shows an Episcopal church in San Francisco and how they use the Godly Play Curriculum in their children’s time.

Here’s where you can help! The children’s ministry team would love to introduce Godly Play to our children’s community, but we need your help in these two areas:

  1. Teacher’s assistants to make our time together possible.

  2. Materials, financial assistance, and/or time to help create a physical space for our children to experience spirituality.

For teacher’s assistants, I am hoping to get a group of four people to assist with Godly Play. In Godly Play, a teacher’s assistant helps the children get ready for their time--essentially doing church together--by asking how they are doing before they cross the door into the classroom, helping children maintain attention to the storyteller’s (teacher’s) story, and helping the children with their response time--or when they play with the story sets and/or make artwork.

With four teacher’s assistants, we’ll have enough volunteers to have a four-week rotation to share in the work of our children’s community. One person would serve on the first Sunday of the month, another for the second Sunday, and so on. We use this same rotation for our teachers, and it works well, and we can easily switch with each other if needs arise.

In terms of materials, we need a 8x10 area rug and at least two more bookshelves to go in our classroom. As a church, we love using secondhand materials as a way to honor the earth, so if you have something that could be of use at your home, that would be lovely. We also need wooden or felt toys to use during the kids’ free play time. My material requests are a bit more detailed, so feel free to reach out to me for more details.

From the interactions I've had with my own daughter and with the other kids in our church,I can sense that our children enjoy having their own spiritual formation time in their own space set aside for them. I'm really excited to introduce Godly Play into our children's community because of how well this curriculum works to respect kids' individual developmental needs and their ability to discover their own innate spirituality. Children live in a world of wonder and imagination, and Godly Play understands that. Godly Play will give our kids time to experience God together through wonder, imagination, exploration, and play.

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