Godly Play is an approach that attempts to combine aspects of the Montessori method with religious education. Jerome Berryman and Sofia Cavalletti began developing the method in Italy in 1971. Pediatric chaplains have found Godly Play to be particularly useful in ministering to critically and chronically ill children. They believe it allows children to better place their emotions and questions within the context of a spiritual discussion. Your ministry may find it helpful when ministering to children who are ill, have experienced trauma or to use when visiting children in their homes.
While we cannot explore Godly Play in depth within the context of this post, there are a few general principles that can help you incorporate godly play into how you minister to children. Godly play requires the use of objects that represent people, animals, things and ideas in the Bible. You can purchase Godly Play sets or create your own with handmade or purchased figures dressed in biblical and modern clothing, representations of various objects in the Bible – like animals or every day items – and a play surface that a child could use while playing with the objects. The surface should be large enough to accommodate several objects, but small enough that it can be managed by a child in the environment in which it will be used.
Once you have gathered the objects the child can use, you must decide the beginning theme or Bible story with which you would like to frame the child’s play. For example, you may want the child to explore prayer through his or her play, or the story of Creation. Each play session uses a script the adult can use to guide the child’s play. You can find many of these scripts online for free or write your own. (Some scripts found online may need to have the theology within them modified.)
The typical Godly Play script consists of the adult asking questions like, “I wonder…” followed by the child using one or more of the supplied items to answer the question in ways that have personal meaning. When using Godly Play to explore a Bible story, the adult must find ways to engage the child without altering the story itself. This can be done by asking the child to guess who certain figures or items might represent in the story or using objects to make applications from the story to his or her own experiences. Bible stories are generally greatly simplified from the normal version that would be told in a Bible class setting.
As the child reveals spiritual ideas in their play, help them explore those ideas by asking more “I wonder” type questions. Naturally any incorrect theology presented by the child can be gently corrected in the course of play. Emotions should not be corrected, but rather how God can help the child manage his or her emotions can be explored through continued play.
Godly play may not work in every situation, but for many children it’s a non-threatening and fun way for your ministry to engage children in spiritual discussions.