We know that children learn through play, but can their spirituality develop through it? Claire Wells gives an emphatic ‘yes’ and shares her experience of working in the field of Godly Play.
To the casual observer, the sight of children gathered together for ‘circle time’ in a small room within the context of a busy school day is perhaps unremarkable. The children are invited to do their own work in response to the story. Some find art materials and a quiet space to focus their thoughts. Some help themselves to books, bricks or story materials displayed on open shelves within the room and others re-enact their own ‘mini worlds’, caught up in their imaginative narratives. After a while, a bell rings to invite them to gather in a circle once again and they enjoy time together with a sip of water and a cheesy biscuit. Then they leave the circle, putting on their shoes again to return to the world beyond the room.
You might recognise the pattern. This is ‘Godly Play’ … a way of wondering together about God. There is much to read about the methodology and application of this concept which seeks to nurture the spirituality of the child through creative opportunities, reflection, sharing and listening and above all, ‘play’. It may take place in school as part of RE enhancement in a school curriculum, but this is where the dynamics of teacher and child are turned upside down as the child leads and opens up thoughts and explorations beyond an outcome based lesson.
In recent years I have been going into a primary school to offer Godly Play to children from Reception class up. It is a wonderful privilege to experience profound questions and thoughts raised by children who are discovering who God is as they wonder and play within the freedom of the space that the structure provides.
The ‘artwork’ resulting from freedom to choose how to express the moment is not something to be marked or assessed. Something very small, can have deep meaning. On one occasion, I was approached by a girl aged 5, who gave me a rolled up piece of white pipe cleaner stuck onto some blue paper with some tape. I could have invited her to put it in the bin as it was an insignificant scrap, but instead, I paused and held it. She said ‘This is my guinea pig. He died yesterday.’ She then went on to explain how much she was going to miss her pet and how sad she was to let him go… but he was very sick and he had gone to heaven to be with God and Grandma. God wanted them to be together. Some very profound thoughts and feelings were held in the group that day.
On another occasion, a boy aged 8 was playing with wooden figures on the carpet. In his imagination, he acted out a battle as the ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ clashed and Jesus (the ‘goodie’) defeated the ‘dark side’ with his powerful light sabre.
It may seem unremarkable, but this playful, creativity runs deep. I am caught up in the wondering of young children and return home inspired and challenged.
If you would like to learn more about Godly Play, there is a national website, a Facebook group and range of training courses offered by ‘ Godly Play UK’. In addition, there is a growing Godly Play community of practitioners who share good practice and encouragements.
The Diocesan Office holds sets of storytelling materials for lending and there is a joint Kent Dioceses Facebook group for networking across Rochester and Canterbury.
To find out more, contact Cheryl Trice, Diocesan Adviser for Children and Youth Work.
Look up Facebook Group ‘Kent Godly Play Network’ and the National initiative www.godlyplay.uk