Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Godly Play 101: Creative Phase (Response Time)

Welcome to Godly Play 101, where we discuss the basic elements of Godly Play! (For my non-North American readers, "101" is the course number for introductory level courses on any subject at university.) Today's topic is the "creative phase" (what we call it in German), also known as the "response time" or "work period". It is a time of creative play with God and each other, where the children have a chance to respond to what they have heard or whatever happens to be on their hearts and minds.

The creative phase follows the presentation of the story and the Wondering time.  The storyteller will then ask each child individually, "I wonder what work you would like to do today?" Each child then has the chance to choose between the different story materials in the room and art materials to work with. Here, to quote the film "Was ist Godly Play?", the roots of Montessori education are most evident. The story and art materials are all carefully chosen to aid the child in expressing his or her spiritual thoughts and experiences. Since children begin life as non-verbal beings, they often lack the  linguistic skills needed to formulate their thoughts and experiences into sentences. It is easier for them to  explore and express in playful, non-verbal ways. And through this play, they develop a verbal language to express what is inside. Jerome Berryman, the developer of Godly Play, describes the response time as "deep and personal play" where learn "how to use the Christian language system to cope with the limits of our being and knowing". (For more on these existential limits, see this post.)

As with the Wondering, there is no "right" or "wrong" play during the creative phase. Because children "be" with God in entirely different ways than adults, many times their play may not make sense to the adults around them. In my experience, they do not usually immediately respond to the story they just heard, but rather to something they heard several weeks earlier. Three-year-olds have astounded me at their ability to return to a biblical story that they heard several weeks before.

Many times children draw or play something from their everyday life. Children are often much more holistic in this aspect than adults. For them, everything is spiritual and they don't categorize certain topics as being worthy of church or Sunday. So if a child draws dinosaurs for several weeks, that is just as holy in Godly Play as drawing something direct from the story. After all, are we not called to share our whole lives with God?

It is important to provide a variety of story materials and quality art supplies. If your church has a room to see up as a Godly Play room (see this post for more), then the children are able to have a large selection of things to work with. However, many of us doing Godly Play, including me, do not have a room and transport our materials. Obviously, it is not possible to transport the materials for all 90+ stories and not necessary. One can provide the children with a smaller selection (see this post) and still have everything we need for Godly Play. Most important is that the materials are well-made and aesthetically pleasing and that the art supplies are of good quality. (No cheap crayons that cramp the fingers or markers that run out of ink.)

Most often the art materials are on "shelves" . . .
But with larger groups of children, I make stations
on tables. The most important thing is that the
children can get to the supplies without help from
an adult.
Usually, the storyteller will sit near the story materials and interact with the children if the children invite the interaction. Sometimes the children want me to know what the materials for a certain story are and ask me. Sometimes they pull a story off the shelf and want to tell it to me.

The co-teacher in the room assists the children working with the art supplies. When a child has finished a work of art, the co-teacher can help in the language development department by asking simple questions or making observations about the child's work. Please don't ask, "What is this?" This can put a child under pressure to make a "perfect" piece, or the child may not know how to explain what "it" may be. Instead, questions like "Is there anything you would like to tell me about your work?" and then honoring the child's answer or his silence if he doesn't want to talk. Also, we can make observations like "I see that you have drawn a lot of circles" or "There is a lot of blue in your picture" and then wait for a response. This can help the child to open up and express his thoughts verbally.

At first glance, it is difficult to make sense of this picture,
made by a 4-year-old artist who had just heard the Pentecost story.
When questioned, she was more than happy to talk about it,
and explained that the black paint strokes
were the "rushing wind" from the story.
Although not officially a part of the Godly Play curriculum, if you have a basic understanding of Montessori education, you can include practical life exercises for preschool children. (For a great discussion on this, see this post from Leslie at Thoughts from the Sheepfold.)

This is a practical life activity that I made last spring in which
the child strings bug buttons on a pipe cleaner. It's a
great exercise for strengthening developing hand muscles
and training fine motor skills.
Embedded within this play are opportunities for social growth as well.The children may work alone or in small groups. If a child has something and another child wants to play, too, then the second child must ask the first if he can play, too. There is intentionally not enough of each type of material for each child in the room in order to create real-life opportunities for the children to learn what to do when there is not enough of something. Should they share? Should they take turns?

Taking care of the environment is also emphasized by having the children clean up the space together before the feast.

The creative phase was what first drew me to Godly Play. I love the freedom of choice and movement that the children have, and I love that I learn with them. Many times a child's artistic or playful response has caused me to think about my faith in a different way.

If you have any thoughts about the response time from your own experiences, please tell me about them in the comments!

Here are some other posts in the Godly Play 101 series:

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now


  1. Thank you for these ideas! As a Godly play beginner, I really appreciate this post, and I will be reading through some of your others about Godly play soon, too!

    1. You're welcome, Katie! Thanks for reading!