What is Godly Play?
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say “do it again;” and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again!” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again!” to the moon. For we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. – G. K. Chesterton
I’ve been teaching this style of Sunday School since my oldest child was five years old – 10 years ago. What I’ve seen is that kids who cycle through these stories a few times are able to enter them on increasingly deep levels. I have yet to find a child who wasn’t more excited the second (or third, or fourth!) time through a story cycle, which lasts approximately a year. The way the stories are told gives space for the child to appropriate them at their level of maturity. It is not so much that children need ever-new stories (and ever-new ways of being entertained), but the stories change as the child changes.
All our storied scripts are taken from Scripture, and come primarily from books by Sonja Stewart: Young Children and Worship and Following Jesus. What makes this curriculum unusual is the Montessori method in which they are taught – which works from the principle that children learn best by doing and playing. So – we ‘play’ the Bible stories. Using wooden figures and scripts with minimal words, the Scriptures come alive for the children who respond both through art and questions.
Shaping their Biblical Imagination:
We are committed to telling Scripture to children in such a way that they can enter the stories deeply and personally. Our goal is not pat answers, but an encounter with Christ. We find that this best happens when the story is told quietly and compellingly, followed by a series of questions where the children get to ‘wonder’ together. Questions we ask are: I wonder what was your favorite part of the story? I wonder what was the most important part? I wonder how you would feel if Jesus looked at you? (… and other story-specific questions). I wonder where you are in this story, or if something like this has happened to you? I wonder if we can take away any part of this story, and still have all the story that we need? During this time, the children share deeply and relate their own lives to the story. Following this ‘wondering’ time, the children respond further through art or quiet play – again, allowing the story to have its way with them in the deepest places in their lives and hearts.
Currently we have children between the ages of 3 and 10 who are slowly absorbing the central drama of the Scriptures over and over again.
Our volunteers come from all walks of life – and serve in different capacities. ‘Doorkeepers’ greet kids at the door, keep the space calm, and help tidy at the end. ‘Storytellers’ retell the day’s story, with help of a script and wooden figures.
All volunteers have attended the church for at least 6 months, and have passed a background check as well as completed a child safety course.
Sample ‘wondering’ session:
This happened earlier this year, after the story of Jesus choosing the twelve disciples.
Storyteller: ‘Why do you think Jesus chose these 12, when there were hundreds of other disciples?’
Kid1: ‘Because they loved God the most’
Kid2: ‘Wait a minute – he called Judas too.’
Rumblings of a debate among the children. Did Jesus know Judas’ heart was bad? Why would Jesus pick him if he knew his heart was bad?
Storyteller: ‘How did Judas feel when he was called?’
Kid3: ‘He felt special, and nervous because maybe he wasn’t as good as Jesus thought he was.’
Kid4: ‘I know … maybe Jesus didn’t call the best ones. Maybe he called the worst!’
Kid5: ‘That would be a bad idea. Why would he pick the worst ones?’
Storyteller: ‘What do you guys think? If you were picking a football team, would you pick the 12 best or worst?’
Unanimous: the 12 best!
Storyteller: ‘So why would Jesus pick the 12 worst?’
Kid6: ‘Because they could change the most!’ General agreement.
Kid7: ‘Nope, even the best ones can change. And they can change a lot!’