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.