Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday for the Kids: Godly Play

I was a Christian Education major in college.  The program was a combination of ministry and educational theory with some developmental psychology thrown in.  So I took classes like Discipleship,  History and Philosophy of Christian Education, Human Development and Ministry, and Dynamics of Spiritual Growth.  The program has since been renamed Christian Formation and Ministry, which is a much more apt description.  It focuses on how people are formed spiritually and how to effectively minister to people in a variety of settings.  My absolute favorite class was Transformational Education, taught by the amazing Scottie May.  I learned all sorts of things in that class that changed the way I think about...pretty much everything.  But what I want to share with you today is a method of teaching called Godly Play.  (I promise this is going to get hands-on, kid-focused, and sheep-related really soon.  Hang in there.)

Godly Play is a Protestant adaptation of a Catholic practice called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  There is a slew of interesting history, theology, and child development theory behind the methods.  (I'll provide some resource links at the bottom of the post if you want to learn more.)  But I mainly want to show you how it's done so that you can do it with your own children because at its heart, it's quite simple and adaptable to your child's interests and the things you have on hand.

Here is a short video that offers a good introduction to what Godly Play is:

Step One: The Materials
Godly Play is centered around story-telling.  A story-teller uses simple 3-D materials to relate a parable, Bible story, or something about the church (i.e. church calendar, sacraments, etc.).  One of the primary stories used is the Parable of the Good Shepherd.  In order to share this story, you will need the following:
  • A box (preferably a gold box, but any box will do in a pinch)
  • A large green something (fabric, felt, paper, etc.)
  • A medium blue patch
  • Several small black patches
  • 4-8 brown strips or popsicle sticks
  • Something to represent sheep (I used wool felted balls, but you could use cotton balls, wooden figurines, or little sheep from our shop.)
  • Something to represent the Shepherd (I used a wooden figure from a nativity set.)
Step Two: The Story
The method of story-telling in Godly Play is very distinct.  It is designed to invite children to engage their imaginations while maintaining a very calm and receptive atmosphere.  Please forgive me for including another video (and one of not very high quality at that), but the easiest way to explain it is just to show you.  Here is a video I found of a woman telling the Parable of the Good Shepherd.  Notice that she keeps her eyes and her full focus on the materials throughout the story and uses a lot of "I wonder" statements, such as "I wonder what this could be...I wonder what that feels like...etc."  Notice how she isn't at all rushed or overly animated.  She just slowly relates the narrative as she moves the pieces through the story.

Step Three: The Response
Once the story is told, children are then given the opportunity to interact with the story in some creative way.  They could draw or paint a picture based on a part of the story.  They could write a poem or a story about what it's like to be a sheep in the Good Shepherd's flock.  They can use the story materials to tell each other the story.  They can reenact the story moving around the room, deciding where the green pastures and rocky places are.  Generally, the child is allowed to choose how he or she wants to respond to the story.  The response portion is meant to help the child remember and internalize the story and also to take ownership of his or her relationship with God.  It gives them the tools and the language to be worshipers.

Make It Your Own
The practice of Godly Play is easily adaptable for the home.  Here is a catalog of the "official" Godly Play story materials and resources, but you really can use whatever you have on hand to share the stories of the Bible with your children...fabric, yarn, needle-felted or clay-sculpted figures, wooden figurines from your local craft supply store, household objects...  You know how you can spend a bunch of money on toys for your children, and they prefer the box?  That's because children LOVE to use their imaginations.  So you really can keep it simple and invite your children to imagine that those cotton balls are sheep.  That paper is a cool lake of the freshest water.  This empty spool is a person.  You get the idea.  So pick a story, and gather materials.

When you share the story with your children, you can adapt your style to fit your children's personalities.  You can be more interactive than the video I included if you'd like.  The main point is to communicate the truth of the story in a way that invites your child to enter into it.

As far as response activities go, you really can do whatever sparks your child's interest.  Does your child respond to music?  Teach them a song that goes with the story.  Is your child really active?  Turn the story into an adventure that you take together through your backyard.  Does your child love to draw?  Give them a paper and crayons and ask them to tell you what they're drawing and how the different characters feel.  Maybe your child's preferences change day-to-day or moment-to-moment.  That's the beauty of Godly Play.  You don't need to assemble materials for a craft project or a structured activity that your child may or may not be interested in.  Just tell a story and let their imaginations do the rest.  It will teach them Biblical truths and also give you insight into their relationship with their Creator.  It's really a win-win-win all around!

Here are just a few links to get you started if you'd really like to dig in:
Godly Play Homepage
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Homepage

Young Children and Worship
This is a very helpful Godly Play book written by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman.  There are other "curriculum" books that break down the lessons more, but this book gives you patterns for all the story materials and the basic rundown of everything.  So it's really all you need if you're interested in doing Godly Play at home.

For further information on the theories behind these practices, see the works of its founders, or a simple google search of any of the following would do:
Godly Play: Jerome Berryman
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Sofia Cavalletti
Montessori: Maria Montessori


  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this method of teaching. Molly has an amazing imagination, and I can't wait to try this with her. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I forgot to mention that youtube has a ton of videos of people telling the stories with this method. Just search Godly Play or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

  3. I can't WAIT to use this with little munchkin! I think "Daddy" may get pulled into a few projects to create these kits ; )
    Would love to see more of your versions of the different lesson material kits.

  4. I'm sure they will be showing up from time to time. :o)