Saturday, June 13, 2009

Godly Play

Kal-El will begin his "official" religious education tomorrow morning!

We have been unsuccessfully searching for a church home for the last several years. I finally decided that picking a church based on the strength of their religious education program was as good a criteria as any (combined with strength of the sermons). After much research, I looked for churches that used the "Young Children and Worship" or "Godly Play" approach. You can watch a video that talks about "What is Godly Play" here.

Godly Play is a Montessori-based religious education program. Godly Play is linked to Maria Montessori through the Catechesis of the Good Shepard program which is based on the work of Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi. In 1952, Roman-Catholic Hebrew Scholar (Cavalletti) worked with Roman-Catholic Montessorian (Gobbi) to open the first "atrium." Gobbi was a direct student of Maria Montessori (who signed Gobbi's teaching certificate). Together Cavalletti and Gobbi were beginning the work in religious education that Montessori herself began. (Some of the materials found in a Godly Play or CGS space were developed by Montessori herself).

Cavalletti defines an "atrium" as follows:

The atrium is the name Maria Montessori gave to the environment dedicated to the child's religious life, recalling that space in the ancient Christian basilicas which served as the anteroom of the church, both in the material and metaphysical sense of the world. Montessori intended the atrium to be an intermediate space between the classroom and the church. It is a place where the child comes to know the great realities of as a Christian, but also and above all, a place where the child begins to live these realities in meditation and prayer. There is nothing of the academic classroom about the atrium; it is not a place for religious instruction but religious life. ((RPOC 56)

Jerome Berryman (Presbyterian) trained under Sofia Cavalletti and then went on to develop Godly Play as a Protestant version. Later he and Sonja Stewart (Reformed church) together published the book "Young Children and Worship" which contains a series of presentations that are most often used by Godly Play teachers.

On the Montessori message boards that I read some have opined that the CGS program may be better than the Godly Play program. They have gone on to recommend that Protestants enroll their children in a CGS program and ask the teachers not to present the "most Catholic" lessons. Not only do I feel that this approach may not be theologically sound and an imposition on the teachers, but it would also seriously impede our goal of combining our church home with the boys' religious education. (A Catholic church is probably not the proper fit for one former-Lutheran and one former Presbyterian-turned-Methodist-turned-Baptist who have both become mostly Baptist/no-denomination-at-all).

I also know of a Quaker version which you can read about here.

I am really excited about the prospect of the boys attending Montessori-based Sunday school. First and foremost I feel that an unusual amount of thought went into the development of these programs no matter whether CGS, Godly Play, or any other non-Montessori program is "better." It is also particularly neat that two "homeschooled" kids, whose parents can't afford Montessori school (and who would, frankly, probably keep them home anyway), to have an opportunity to spend an hour in a Montessori environment every week for free.

After learning about Godly Play, I compiled a list of churches in our area that used the program, crossed off the ones that were probably going to be a poor fit (Episcopalian mostly), and went on tour. I attended each church twice, once to observe a Godly Play session and again to hear a sermon. After I narrowed the field to two I brought my husband along to hear a sermon at each as well. I didn't bring the kids to any of this because Kal-El gets very attached to people and I didn't want to drag him around to so many churches until we were sure that was where we would attend.

We are still not convinced we found the perfect place. At the perfect church the sermon alone consistently ran a full hour. My husband just can't seem to stay focused on a sermon of that length. The service times were also inconvenient. They were either before Me Too is even awake or right during lunch, neither of which are times the boys are likely to learn well. I know! We're horrible people! What kind of people make this kind of decision based on what time they talk to God and for how long? We do, apparently. I apologize if I've shattered any illusions you've had about us.

At any rate, perfect or not, we need to get on with it already! Tomorrow is the perfect day to start because it is the beginning of their "summer session" so they will be on "lesson one" and reviewing classroom "rules" with the children. I wish I would be able to give everyone a play-by-play tomorrow but I won't be able to. I think if I'm in the room he will focus on me as his "teacher" instead of the person leading the session. In my observations the children usually observed the teacher quietly. If I'm there he'll be saying "did you see that Mommy!" every two seconds. Thank goodness he is already mat-trained and familiar with how to treat works on the shelves! I think he'll be fine. I am more worried about Me Too. He'll be in his first group "childcare" situation ever and without his brother. I have a feeling that parent-pager will be vibrating through the whole service.


  1. I think it sounds as if you have made a choice that fits with your family and you'll be able to see it through. I am very happy for you that you have so many options.

    We have not been so lucky and are therefore home educating our children as far as Judaism is concerned. It's a bit slap-dash though!

    I hope it goes well and you get to hear at least some of the sermon!!!

  2. I actually went to a Catholic Montessori school (for Primary)when I was a wee one. It was not under the Catechisis of the Good Shephard, though. Rather, it was a Montessori school within a Catholic school run by nuns. Though, my teacher was not actually a nun (my brother's was, though). I can't remember much of the religious part of my Montessori education, though I do remember saying grace before snack, christmas plays (I think I was an advent candle one year!), and going up to this small chapel that was inside the school.

    After that, I went to a traditional, private school that was actually Episcoplian based. So, I went to chapel 3 times per week.

    Nowadays, I don't attend church regularly. However, (and this is point in all of my ramblings) I really enjoyed having a dash of religion mixed in with my education. So, I think it's great that you've thought about this and researched it. I'm sure your boys will tell you that they like it later too. Although, don't be surprised if they tell you they hate it WHILE going through it, becuase I did that too!

  3. Annicles,

    There seem to be quite a lot of Jewish Montessori schools out there, but probably mostly in New York or California. If you could find one within driving distance it might be fun to at least go observe and see what they do.

    I know the Godly Play website sells could do just the Old Testament lessons or peek at the catalogue to get ideas...not that you need more materials to make. I decided it was hard enough keeping up with the Montessori I am already doing, I didn't want to have to make religious materials too if I could get out of it.

  4. P.S. Montessori,

    I asked Kal-El if he liked it. He said "Yes, I liked the cookie afterwards and drawing a dinosaur." Hmmmmm.... (He drew the dinosaur during the part of the class where they were supposed to work freely with art materials to express how the story made them feel. The story was that of Simeon and Anna when baby Jesus was presented to God...I don't remember a dinosaur in that story).

  5. How did you find out which churches in your area used Godly Play? Did you just call around or is there a database on-line that you can search? I think we are happy where we are at, but I'd like to at least check it out.

  6. Andie,

    To find the churches that used Godly Play I first Googled "Godly Play" along with my state. This found a church relatively close by. I contacted the children's worship coordinator there who put me in touch with training program coordinator in our state. (You can attend training yourself, there was a one-day training session I could have attended for around $80, but I felt I already understood so much about Montessori that I could follow the book if I wanted and didn't need it. Also, I have it in the back of my mind that in the future teaching some of the sessions at our new church may be a good way for me to which case I assume they would have me go to training then).

    Anyway, the coordinator gave me a list of every church she knew of in our area that used Godly Play. She also e-mailed my information to some of them who sent me lists of even more churches. Everyone was stunningly helpful.

    If you are having trouble finding a starting place through Google replace the "Godly Play" search term with "Young Children and Worship." If that doesn't work just call around and start with Episcopalian churches. They are ALL OVER this program. Presbyterian would be the next approach. Once you find someone who can put you in touch with the training coordinator you should be all set.

    Good luck!