On Sunday 3 October 2010, Godly Play classes began for a group of 3 to 7 year-olds, at the Evangelical Church in Castiñeiras, a small fishing town in the Galician province of La Coruña. They have continued uninterrupted every morning Sunday since. Throughout the first term (Oct-Dec 2010), detailed monitoring of the classes was carried out, with special emphasis on observing the responses made by the children through their wondering, expressive art and play. Open-ended response is encouraged by this imaginative approach to engaging with Bible stories. This brief report provides only general information on a few of these observations. For a more detailed explanation on how Godly Play has been implemented in the Castiñeiras Sunday school, we hope that local inquirers, or indeed visitors to Galicia, will feel free to speak to one of our Godly Play teachers about it, ideally in our specially prepared classroom. Alternatively, they can contact me (David Pritchard) by email.
GODLY PLAY CLASSROOM, FURNITURE & TEACHING MATERIALS
The Godly Play sessions took place initially (from October to December 2010) on the 1st floor of the chapel in Castiñeiras, in one of the small classrooms. Following the pastor's recommendation, we later moved to a more spacious classroom (since January 2011). In both cases, careful analysis of the available space was made so that the furniture could be arranged and the teaching materials displayed in the most suitable way possible, taking into account the nature of Godly Play and its cyclical curriculum. It is important for its development that a safe and stimulating environment is created which is conducive to learning Bible stories and reflecting on existential matters. Furthermore, the teaching materials need to be attractive for children of all ages. They must also be sufficiently robust and durable, and their simple design should evoke the imagination of boys and girls as they use them in free play to draw meaning from the Biblical narratives.
Shelves were constructed before the summer of 2010 to house the teaching materials and art supplies. At around this time, too, the task of crafting our own resources was begun, and this is a work still in progress. Our do-it-yourself resourcing has advanced very rapidly thanks to the collaboration of a large group of volunteers, including church members, young people and other folk who are not themselves churchgoers, but offered to lend a hand. The result has been materials of excellent quality and beauty. The team of Sunday school teachers, who represent the children attending the class -- and these youngsters are surely the real beneficiaries of these resource materials! -- feel tremendously grateful for this collaboration.
As of today, most of the basic resource materials have been created. This is the stuff necessary for teaching the core lessons in the Godly Play curriculum. We reckon that the task of crafting the remaining basic materials will be completed by the end of this term (January-April 2011). Following that, it is hoped that materials for the enrichment lessons will be added bit by bit.
By making our own materials, a substantial amount of money has been saved. We reckon that, had we purchased the equivalent materials from one of the official Godly Play resource suppliers, the bill would have come to at least 1,600 euros, plus additional costs of post & packaging from abroad. Taking into account the stuff that is still being made, the amount needed to equip a Godly Play classroom with the essential materials for the core curriculum would come to around 2,700 euros, plus p&p. That is the overall amount that we would have saved. Obviously, money has been spent: the main expense was the shelving. However, thanks to the collaboration mentioned above, other expenditure has been limited to the purchase of supplies (wood, felt, paint...) needed to make the resources, as well as accessories such as trays, rugs, art materials, etc.
A series of workshops have been organised in order to present the Godly Play method and to train teachers in its techniques, as well as to promote a deeper grasp of its theological and pedagogical underpinnings. These workshops have been run by Castiñeiras Evangelical Church in collaboration with Unión Bíblica (Scripture Union Spain). Registration has been open to anyone interested in attending from any church. The training events have taken place on Saturdays (8 hours each workshop):
- 8 May 2010… ‘How to Share Parables with Children Using the Godly Play Method’ - 13 members of churches in Castiñeiras-Ribeira, Ferrol and Santiago de Compostela attended this training event.
- 12 June 2010… ‘How to Tell Children Sacred Stories through Godly Play’ - There were 9 trainees from churches in Castiñeiras and Ferrol.
- 11 September 2010… ‘Godly Play Space and Materials’ - 7 trainees attended from Castiñeiras and Ferrol.
- 29 January 2011… ‘Children and Liturgical Action in the Godly Play method’ - There were 13 trainees from churches in Castiñeiras, Ferrol, Moaña and Ramallosa.
CHILDREN'S RESPONSE TO THE METHOD
Without a doubt, the most thrilling and satisfying aspect in this process of implementing Godly Play has been the entirely favourable response of the children. We have observed the following features, amongst others:
- Their eagerness and ease in learning the different routines and phases of a typical Godly Play lesson: (i) THRESHOLD – getting ready at the door; picking up their individual rug; quietly joining other children on the floor as together they form the Godly Play circle; greeting the storyteller…; (ii) BIBLE STORY – observing and listening to the storyteller as s/he presents the lesson; wondering out loud as the storyteller leads the group in active reflection; listening to and respecting the opinions of the other children in the group…; RESPONSE – though expressive art or by means of free play and interaction with the story materials; working individually or in small groups; finding a place for their work and respecting the space of others…; FEAST – taking turns in serving the rest of the group, bringing napkins, glasses, fruit, water, etc.; passing the offering; praying and hearing the Bible reading; watering the plant…; DISMISSAL – waiting their turn to approach the storyteller to say goodbye and receive their blessing; collecting their rug and depositing it in the rug box; leaving the room…
- Their progressive asimilation of the implicit values in a Godly Play session: silence and slowing down, active listening, wondering, respect shown to others and their work space, respect in taking turns, serving others, care for the environment and the materials, freedom/responsibility, sharing, blessing, awe at life's mysteries and the presence of God…
- The enthusiasm with which the children receive the Bible stories and their level of engagement with the stories; their curiosity and openess to ongoing discovery; their ability to draw connections between one story and another, and with their own life experiences…
- The gratitude that the children have displayed at the opportunity to freely choose their work and means of response, that they can engage playfully with the lesson materials without undue teacher interference, and for the attractive range and quality of the art materials.
- The creativity displayed in the children's expressive art and play.
A 6 year-old girl was observed during the work time, as she began to take out several lessons and lay out the materials on the floor. First the green underlay of the Good Shepherd parable. Then, at its side, the brown felt cloth of the Parable of the Deep Well. She then placed the figures of each of these stories on their respective underlay. Then she began to move the Good Shepherd and the sheep through the green pastures towards a small piece of blue felt representing the quiet waters. She then broke with the 'normal' Good Shepherd parable as, instead of leading his sheep towards the 'dangerous places' on the green felt, the figure of the shepherd led his sheep over to the second story, across the 'desert' towards the deep well. The girl then asked the door person to help her tie together the 6 golden threads and miniature bucket. She then proceeded to lower the bucket into the well, draw out the refreshing water and hand it to the sheep to drink. Finally, she took out the Baptism lesson and proceeded to baptize a little wooden figure in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit... This 6-year-old had never witnessed a Godly Play 'side-by-side' presentation. However, she was already intuitively anticipating such presentations (normally reserved for older children) and playfully making hermeneutical connections through her project on water.OTHER COMMENTS
- Our classroom has already served as a reference and a source of inspiration for visitors from other churches. They have expressed curiosity and interest in learning more about Godly Play, and some have attended workshop trainings as a result.
- There are already plans for extending the Godly Play classes to the groups of older children in our Sunday school. This will probably start in the 3rd term of this school year, as well as enjoy periodic sessions during the summer holidays.
- There are also plans for offering parents the chance to take part in a number of Godly Play sessions so that they can get a first-hand grasp of the type and style of teaching that their children are receiving on Sunday mornings.