Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Godly Play 101: The Space

In a perfect world, we would all have a Godly Play room.  It would look something like this:

Picture borrowed from Godly Play Deutschland e.V., of which I am a proud member!

In case you can't read the German descriptions, the circles in the middle are where the children and the storyteller sit in a circle to hear the story.  Directly behind the large circle, representing the Storyteller, is the Focus Table, which as the name suggests, gives the children a visual focal point in the room. Above this story circle are tables where the children can use art materials during the creative phase. The other shelves in the room hold the art materials and the many different Godly Play stories told throughout the year that the children can choose from during the creative phase.

That having been said, I only know of a few GP storytellers in Germany that actually have rooms like the one described above.  Most of us are religion teachers or children's workers who use borrowed rooms and transport our materials from place to place in suitcases.  In my case, I am a children's pastor for a church plant (that doesn't have property of its own) and teach religious clubs at an elementary school.  My Godly Play "rooms" are my kitchen, the park in summer, and a borrowed classroom.  Even my on-line friend Storyteller in Finland (whose blog Wonderful in an Easter kind of way you should definitely read), who is part of an already established church, doesn't have a GP room and transports her stuff each week.

So, if you are thinking of starting Godly Play or Young Children in Worship with some group of children and don't have access to a room to permanently set up as the GP room, don't let that deter you from plunging into the great adventure! Think rather of creating Godly Play "space".

Maria Montessori wrote of the necessity of a "prepared environment". This would be an environment that includes aesthetic beauty, structure, appropriate freedom and child-friendly materials.  A Godly Play "space", whether it is in the park or in a classroom, needs to have these elements and requires a little forethought.  I have to admit that I haven't always gotten it right and my thoughts have evolved in this area.: )
  • A GP space should be aesthetically pleasing.  A disorderly room does not allow the mind be at ease for prayer or meditative thought.  If you are in borrowed space, you may have to rearrange some furniture before you begin.  (In the Easter Club, the children themselves helped with this each week and it was a bonding experience for us all.)  Outdoors in the park, look for an area where trees or bushes provide natural boundaries and where there is less traffic.  
  • Godly Play spaces need structure, so that the children know what to expect and are able to build community together. The materials should be positioned in an orderly way that the children can reach them without help from an adult. There should also be a routine to the children's service, so that they learn what comes next without too many surprises.  
  • The children should have an appropriate measure of freedom in making decisions about how they want to spend their time.  In a permanent Godly Play room, all the stories and all the art materials are available at each worship service.  However, in my case, I couldn't possibly haul all of those things around in a bicycle trailer each time.  So, I offer a smaller selection of stories, art materials and practical life activities. The children are then still able to make their own decisions about what to work on. 
  • A focus table in the room/space is not 100% necessary, but is very helpful for the children. (I obviously didn't have one in the park!) The things on it, such as the Christ candle, Nativity, Cross and Risen Jesus help children to draw connections between the stories and give their eyes a place to rest if they wonder away from the story. 
A simple focus table in my kitchen. 
So, prepare your space, wherever it may be, have fun, and let yourself learn (even through mistakes!).  If I've left out any aspects that other fellow storytellers feel are important, please feel free to join the conversation.


  1. Ich mag dein Focus-Regal in der Küche. Warum habe ich so etwas noch nicht?

  2. This is a great post! I would add that materials should not only be reach-able by children, but also easily seen by them. I read once that Montessori teachers always kneel or sit down to check how things will look from a child's perspective.

    And (*blush*) thanks for the compliment about my blog. :)

  3. Danke, Markus! Du kannst jetzt eins für deine Kinder in der Küche machen.: )

  4. Storyteller, Thanks for another good idea. I will have to try that.

  5. Think of creating Godly Play "space".

    When Storyteller's substitute last weekend I had to schlep the stuff to yet another room. I was a bit cross about it beforehand ... why? ...why? ...why? .. but on the day I found it was a time of doing exactly what you wrote "creating Godly space" and taking time to pray for each adult and child who would enter.

    At the beginning of the session I took time to explain why storyteller wasnt' there ... why I didn't have everything (I had gone there by bicycle not car)but then together we looked around the room to find out what WAS there (in the right 'space' even if at a different level or displayed differently to normal ... andthen we had a I wonder what is missing ... (with a promise that it would all be there again next week when Storyteller was back and we were once again in our 'usual' room where she sets everything up on low benches which are exactly the right height for the little ones in our care.

  6. Those are some important points, See Through Faith. I especially need to be reminded to prepare the space through prayer for each child. I often get too busy with the practicals that I forget this one. Thanks for bringing that one to my attention again.