Sunday, October 12, 2014

Room to think and explore

One of our goals in Godly Play is to give children room to move around in and explore the biblical stories that they hear. Often in church settings, children are presented with a biblical story and are led to focus on a certain aspect of the story. This is not necessarily bad, and there is room for this in children's ministry. However, what if a particular child is interested in another part of the story? A part of the story that is different from the aspect being highlighted? How can that child explore or play with the part of the story that is important to her?

Let's take the classic story of Abraham and Sarah. Usually when this story is told, the activities that reinforce the learning are usually based on Abraham and Sarah. But what if a child identifies more with Rebekah, or Isaac or even the three strangers who come out of the desert?

The "Wondering" and Response Time in the Godly Play structure are designed to help the child go where he likes in the story and discover whatever God may be pointing out. 

Today, I told the story of Joseph from the Old Testament. It was fascinating during our "Wondering" to see where the children focused their attention. Several children found themselves in the bickering amongst siblings. Another child was absorbed with how Joseph was able to forgive his siblings for selling him into slavery. And still others were interested in how Joseph's suffering and life in a foreign land ultimately saved the entire family during the famine. 

These children all went in different "directions" within this story, but they might not have done this had I presented the story with an emphasis on one or two points. 

I'll never get tired of seeing the children explore and bring God's story into their own story!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Taking care of your own spiritual needs

One of the things we were reminded of at the European Trainers' Conference was to continue to look after our own spiritual needs and help others on their Godly Play journey to do the same.  Gemma Simmonds, one of our speakers, said that " . . . you need more than just you to sustain such a big ministry [as Godly Play]". 

Honestly, I needed to hear this, because I haven't always been really great at looking after myself, so to speak. And because Godly Play doesn't usually lead to burn-out through its understanding of us being co-learners with the children, I sometimes forget that I need outside input in my life.

One of the things that I am doing right now to look after my soul is an Ignatian on-line spiritual retreat. I am drawn to Ignatian methods, because they combine Scripture with imagination. Imaginative play was and is my favorite form of play, so it is a natural way for me to relate to God. 

If anyone else happens to be interested, here is the link to the retreat:

An Ignatian Prayer Adventure online retreat

I am also seeking some "live" mentors. I have had wonderful women in the past who have fulfilled this role for me, and I think the time has come to have some more in my life.

What are some ways that  you look after your own spiritual needs?

Friday, October 3, 2014

What effect does childhood play have on our future?

I've just finished my first week of the "Exploring Play" on-line course offered by the University of Sheffield. I've already learned a lot and some real-life and Godly Play friends from all over the world have joined in!

One of our first assignments asked the question, "How does our childhood play affect our future choice of profession as adults?" It was incredible to read all of the "Aha! moments" from my virtual classmates as they realized how much their choices of play in childhood played a role in choosing their future jobs. 

I myself have vivid memories of pretending to be a schoolteacher with my dolls and stuffed animals. I also played school with other kids and always wanted to be the teacher! I also remember making art, creating things, and telling stories. 

I, of course, still do all of these things with children in my roles as Godly Play and English teacher.: )

Did your childhood play choices have an impact on your future profession? 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Exploring Play

At the Godly Play European Trainers' Conference, some of the UK trainers let me know about a free on-line course from the University of Sheffield called "Exploring Play: The Role of Play in Everyday Life". 

In Godly Play circles, we spend a lot of time talking about exactly what play is and why it is important. There are philosophers, most notably Johann Huizinga of the Netherlands, who have argued that the ability to play is what sets human beings apart from all other forms of life. Indeed, we begin to play as infants and continue to do so in one form or another for the rest of our lives. And "play" looks different for each person.

One of my first assignments in the class was to define "play". I wrote that play is something that we do voluntarily and enjoy. We'll see if the professors there and my virtual "classmates" agree. 

Although the course started yesterday, I was still able to sign up today. So if any of you are interested in joining in as well, click here to do so.

How would you define "play"?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Godly Play European Trainers' Conference

After a rather long blogging hiatus . . .  I'm back! We spent part of our summer holidays in the U.S. visiting family and friends, attended a conference in the Czech Republic, and then started back to work.  I have taken on a new position as the children's minister for a larger church in the area, that our church plant partners with, in order to help them slowly implement Godly Play. (More on that project later!) All of these things have been a great adventure, but haven't left much time for blogging.: )

I have also just returned from the Godly Play European Trainers' Conference in Ely, England. What an inspiring time it was! Trainers from all over Europe (and one Australian!) came together to exchange ideas and discuss the progress and future of Godly Play on our continent.

European trainers wondering together about how to support Godly Play mentors
on their journey beyond Core Training that our countries offer. 

The theme of our time together was "The Spiritual Guidance of Children". Over the years, Jerome Berryman has gradually shifted the language of Godly Play from a type of religious education to the spiritual mentoring of children. While the idea of spiritual guidance has always been intuitively present, the new language, especially in Volume 8, brings this idea to the forefront.

One of our workshops focused on the newer Volume 8body of stories. Here are three different versions of the materials from "Knowing Jesus in a New Way" by Godly Play Resources, Godly Play Finland, and Peter Privett of GP UK.
Our speaker was a Jesuit nun named Gemma Simmonds who you can read about here and here. (If you ever have the chance to hear her, I'd highly recommend it! And you might recognize her voice if you watch the BBC.) Although Gemma doesn't explicitly work with children, she spoke to us about how to give spiritual guidance and reminded us that we as mentors need spiritual guidance as well. 

The conference took place in the small village of Ely, which has a massive gothic cathedral right in the middle of it! We spent a lot of time exploring this beautiful place of worship.

The Ely Cathedral

This is a piece of modern art entitled "Way to the Cross". As one nears the cross, the path becomes lighter. The distance is also exactly the same as one would walk inside the prayer labyrinth below. 
This is one of the few medieval prayer labyrinths left in Europe. It was
a beautiful experience to pray with it in the mornings.
Heidi, one of my colleagues from Germany, and I on top of the cathedral's Octagon Tower.
A view from on top of the Octagon Tower. 
What would a trip to England be without a spot of tea?
With Rachel, another of our trainers in Germany.
I'm so thankful to have been with such inspiring people who are passionate about children in such a beautiful place!

Monday, June 30, 2014

YCW: John's Vision of a new Heaven, a new Earth, and a new Jerusalem

This is the companion story to "John, Follower of Jesus, Teaches throughout the World". You can read about the first story here and as well as view the story materials, which are exactly the same for the companion story. 

Both of these stories are about John the Apostle and his exile on the isle of Patmos. They are almost identical, except that each one deals with a different passage that John wrote from the book of Revelation.

The stories come from Young Children & Worship, another Montessori-inspired curriculum whose creator, Sonja Stewart, drew heavily upon the work of Godly Play creator, Jerome Berryman. One plus of YWC is that it has some interesting New Testament stories not contained in the Godly Play curriculum. A big minus, however, is that the stories can be too simple for children over 7 years of age. 

Last year, when I told Part 1, the children complained that it was too short and a little boring. This time I carefully thought through how to elaborate to make it more interesting for older children.  I started by explaining more about the geography and pointed that the part of the earth we were looking at is now modern-day Turkey and the Middle East. I also explained that Patmos had been enlarged so that we could see it better, and in reality it is quite tiny. 

I also added more historical details about the city of Ephesus, how it was a center of worship for the goddess Artemis, and how many people earned their living from selling articles related to worship her temple. This helped the children to grasp the larger picture of why John's teaching about Jesus might have made people angry enough to have him arrested and sent into exile. 

The story ends with the focus on a passage in Revelation about the new heaven and earth from Revelation 22 that John wrote to his friends in Ephesus while he was in exile. 

The underlay that depicts Asia Minor and the Mediterranean Sea is quite lovely, and the children were drawn to the geography during the Response Time. 

One child carefully copied the map and John's journey. Then, she fashioned a boat, John, and a ball and chain to represent his captivity out of modeling clay.

Another child re-created the entire map in miniature with modeling clay.

Sometimes, when our group is smaller, I also choose an activity during Response Time. (I find as a mentor that it is important to myself continue to wonder and create.) I chose to wonder about John's chains with modeling clay and how it would have felt to be in chains because of my faith. Then, I turned the links into a "prayer chain" and used it as a rosary of sorts to quietly pray as the children continued their work.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Have Godly Play, Will Travel

Although most of the Godly Play training that I do is in Berlin, occasionally I get to travel to new places. Recently, I got to visit Brussels, Belgium when some friends and colleagues at an international church asked me to come and do an introductory Godly Play seminar. 

Since Godly Play is all about community and ecumenical connectedness, I immediately contacted my Godly Play colleagues in Belgium to see if they wanted to join in the fun. To my delight, Katie, a trainer in Flanders whom I knew from our Trainers' Training in Holland in 2012, agreed to come and co-lead the seminar with me. 

Our time together began on Friday evening where we wondered together about children - what we can learn from them, how they are perceived culturally, their history with the church and theologians, how to encourage their spirituality and cultivate faith, and what their role within the church could be today. Being an international church, the participants were from all over the world, so this added to the discussion.

Then, on Saturday, we got into the nuts and bolts of what Godly Play is and how to do it. In the picture below, the participants experienced a full Godly Play session with a Response Time. Katie, the Storyteller, sat near the story materials and observed. I was her Door Person (Co-Teacher) and assisted anyone who needed help. 

Katie and I told stories from the Sacred and Parable genres and then explained the theory and practicals of Godly Play. The participants will need further training at some point, should they decide to fully implement Godly Play, but our seminar was enough to get them started. 
This is Katie, my friend Kristyn who invited us to come, and me.

I also got to see a bit of Brussels! 

Kristyn and I in front of the Notre Dame du Sablon, a lovely Gothic structure. 

Doesn't this food look amazing? 

We had to see the famed statue of "Mannekin Pis", but my picture didn't turn out so well in front of the actual fountain. So I opted for this kitschy replica in front of a waffle shop. He's wearing Belgium's colors in the World Cup and holding a waffle. I have a bag of Neuhaus pralines in my hand, something that Belgium is well-known for. If you have never had real Belgian chocolate, you are missing out!
One thing I realized on this trip is how ignorant I am of Belgium's history and culture. Really, the only things I knew about Belgium were its location on the map and that French and Flemish are two official languages. It was nice on this trip to hear more about the country's history and its impact on Europe and the world. 

In talking to Katie, I learned that interestingly enough, there is no "Godly Play Belgium", so to speak, but rather "Godly Play Dutch" that includes the Flemish speakers in Belgium and the Dutch speakers in the Netherlands. As of yet, there are no French-speaking Godly Players in Belgium, and that is one reason that there is no "Godly Play Belgium".

Fortunately, I am not the only one who is not well-versed in Belgium's history. If you want a laugh, check out Jon Stewart's take on Belgium below.: )