We are excited to have one of our lovely Christian Montessori Network Facebook group members, Megan Cottrell, guest blog with us today on Why I Love Godly Play. Megan is an accomplished writer and will be with us for the next weeks sharing all her wonderful knowledge on Godly Play. Check back next week for more great Godly Play conversation. ~Marie
Why I Love Godly Play
I’ve never been big on Christian education. I mean, it’s not that I think young children shouldn’t learn about God, but I never wanted to be a part of it. At our last church, I told our Family Ministries director, “You can ask me to help with anything and I’ll say yes, but don’t ask me to help with VBS.”
I never, ever thought I’d be a Sunday School teacher, but I’ve learned God is like that – you say “never, ever,” and you’ll probably end up there someday. It wasn’t until I became interested in Montessori education for my young son that I came to appreciate a Montessori-style Christian Education curriculum called Godly Play. I started volunteering in a Godly Play classroom at our church to get more exposure to a Montessori-style classroom, not thinking I would ever want to teach it. Again, God had surprises in store for me.
I quickly fell in love with Godly Play. I became a Godly Play teacher and went through the official training. And now that we’ve moved to another city, I’m desperately searching for a church that does Godly Play, not only for my son when he’s ready, but for myself!
So, what is this crazy thing called Godly Play? Godly Play is a Christian education curriculum written by Episcopal priest Jerome Berryman. As a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, he became frustrated with the lack of thought about the role of children in the church. Children, it seemed, were just empty vessels waiting to be filled with Christian ideas and not really able to contribute to church life until they were older.
So, Berryman researched Montessori’s methods and tried applying her concepts to a spiritual development curriculum. Over the course of 20 years, he designed Godly Play as a way of introducing Christian language, stories and ideas to children.
Here are the basics: Godly Play is a weekly program for kids age 3 through 12 (although many adults enjoy participating too!). A Godly Play classroom is filled with beautiful materials designed to tell the stories of the Bible. Each week, the teacher shares a story from the Godly Play curriculum – commonly an Old Testament story, parable, New Testament story or a lesson about church life – using these materials. After the story, the teacher and the children engage in “wondering” – a time where the teacher asks questions about the story, like “What part of the story did you like best?” or “Where are you in this story?” The teacher then invites each child to work in response to the story – like playing with that week’s lesson, another lesson they’ve heard or through art materials. After their work, children come back together to share a “feast” – a snack shared together that mirrors the idea of communion.
Godly Play hits on important Montessori concepts: beautiful, hands-on materials, respect for the child, a quiet classroom designed to help children focus, the importance of meaningful work, and the ability of the child’s mind to absorb ideas and concepts easily and fluidly.
So what makes me so crazy about this program – even me, a VBS-hating, Sunday School snob? Here’s 5 reasons why I think Godly Play is important for children:
- It respects children’s inherent spirituality. Children are created by God and know who God is. Godly Play helps children give a language to their inherent spirituality, rather than seeing them as empty vessels who don’t know anything.
- It’s slow. In a fast paced world where it seems like no one believes children are capable of concentrating on anything, Godly Play seems positively glacial. In fact, when I first saw the stories presented, I thought “There’s no way any child would sit through this!” After I became a teacher, I had parents tell me the same thing – there’s no way their child would be interested in such a slowly unfolding story. Yet, every week, I had a circle of captivated three to nine year-olds hanging on my every word. Godly Play doesn’t entertain children – it draws them in.
- The materials are beautiful. Godly Play stories are told with beautiful wooden materials, the kinds of materials that you just can’t keep their hands off of! They are so beautiful that they make complex lessons that seem boring into captivating tales. Remember all those Bible passages about exactly how the Israelites set up their tents in the desert and the exact materials and dimensions used to build Solomon’s temple? When you read the text, it can be difficult to get through, but the Godly Play materials bring these stories to life and help tell about the evolution of God’s people and their worship.
- It leaves room for mystery. As adults, I think we’re afraid of telling children about complex Christian ideas like the Holy Trinity, the meaning of the parables, the resurrection of Jesus and so many other beautiful but mysterious ideas of our faith. But we forget that children are open to magical, mysterious ideas, as much of the world is a mystery to them. Godly Play allows children to wonder about stories, without being told they’re wrong or right, and also to respond how they want to, not with a prescribed craft or activity.
- It’s for all ages. Often, Godly Play is described as being for young children, and it’s definitely a great way to introduce spiritual concepts to the preschool set. But it’s also for older children, and I find the hands-on materials are even more important for older children, who often spend most of their time reading and writing in school, rather than playing. And Godly Play is also deeply meaningful to many adults, including myself. God has spoken to me often through the lessons and through the children in my classroom.
Although Godly Play is designed to use in a church setting, it can definitely be implemented at home as well! In future posts, I’ll be sharing how a Godly Play lesson works, some ideas on how to learn the curriculum, make your own materials and share these beautiful stories with your children at home.
So, now that you’ve heard about Godly Play, what questions do you have about it? What do you want to know more about? Tell me what you’d like to know so I can best serve you and your family in future posts. You can find me in Christina Montessori Network Facebook group or you may comment below!
Megan Cottrell is a mama, writer and journalist who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Megan’s life changed as a Christian when God spoke to her through a summer-long internship on the Westside of Chicago where she learned about God’s heart for the poor. She spent six years writing about race, housing and poverty in the city and was awarded the Studs Terkel award for writers who capture profoundly human stories.
Megan attended a Montessori preschool, but didn’t become formally interested in Montessori education until her son, Teddy, was born in 2012. Through her interest in Montessori, she fell in love with Godly Play, a Montessori-based Christian education curriculum, and has been a Godly Play teacher every since. She and her son work on Montessori-inspired activities at home daily, and she loves to watch him grow in independence and curiosity.
Thank you so much for sharing! I’m really excited about this series and even more so after reading your post – wonderful, engaging style. I’m very curious to learn more about Godly Play. I’d love to know more about how to implement at home and if you’ve done something at home with your toddler (what you did and how did it unfold).
Megan Cottrell says
Hi Carrie! Thanks so much for you feedback and excitement! I haven’t done any Godly Play at home with my son… yet 🙂 The reason is that we used to have Godly Play at our church in Chicago, but we recently moved to a new city, and I’m searching for a church that fits our family and has Godly Play. So, I sort of want to wait and see if we will find a Godly Play class where he can fit in with other children. However, when I was teaching GP at my old church, and Teddy was between 1 and 2, I would often let him sit with me as I practiced the stories, and even though he was so young, he sat so still and quiet, listening intently. Also, last year, we did an advent calendar at home, and I used a lot of the text from the GP advent stories to help shape our devotion time.
This is really interesting. I’m familiar with Montessori, but had never heard of Godly Play. It sounds like a great concept though, so thanks a lot for sharing your experience and teaching me a little more about it.
Thanks for linking up to our #MondayParentingPinItParty x
Marie Fernandez says
It would also be of interest to look into the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd from which Godly Play has received much of it’s inspiration.
Jeanann Cook says
Would you be willing to grant me permission to use your explanation of Godly Play on our church website? I really like the way you explain it. Thanks!
Marie Mack says
Hi Jeanann! We are happy you have found the information helpful! Megan is very talented. You are welcome to link to the post, but please be sure to give credit to our site. Have a great rest of the week!
Hi Megan, its really a grace from God that I got this link, I thanks to you so much for doing this web. I was in tge different field long years ago but I became teachers for God’s calling and I am from Bali Indonesia who is planting christian school to put a strong christian foundation in for the children and planting school for the poor where in here still many of the kids did not have preschook or kindergarten, even elementary.
And I am looking forward to have your printable activity but not the tools where its not effordable for us.
Naomi Barnes says
I love the idea of Godly Play, and am hoping to set it up in our ‘Pebbles’ Sunday School room at church. However, Pebbles is of the age group 6 months – 4 years.
Do you have any ideas of how I can bridge this age gap/set it up for this age range?
We were originally age 2 – 4 years, but have since opened it up to any parent who is willing to leave their baby/toddler with us during the service (and the child is happy too!) We don’t have the option of a separate crèche at this stage.
I practice Montessori at home with my 3 young boys, so am familiar with setting up this environment for varying ages…now I just need help with how to set up Godly play for varying ages, or simply incorporate it into the space.
Thanks so much for sharing your heart for Godly Play!
Betsey Poe says
Are you still involved with Godly Play? I am trying to adapt The Circle of the Holy Eucharist (Vol 4) to my non-denominational church communion service, but I can’t find any images of the original GP cards used for the story. I don’t want to purchase the originals, because they don’t match our service. Do you have access to the images, just so I know how to design my own?