Thursday, August 6, 2009

Godly Play Update

Quite a few readers have e-mailed to ask how the Godly Play program is going. I was going to wait until I had a little more to say, but as I started writing I found I have plenty to say. I just can't promise it will be interesting and/or helpful.

Kal-El started attending on the very first day of their "new cycle." I was happy about this timing because during the first several weeks they spend some time explaining how things work to new attendees and they also begin with lesson one in the book they are using.

One of the reasons I don't have much to say is because Kal-El hasn't actually had very many classes yet.

week one: attended
week two: gross, runny nose...spared the other children the germs
week three: attended
week four: July 4th, no Godly Play
week five: attended
week six: attended
week seven: attended
week seven: no class (don't know why), conveniently coincided with pirate weekend at grandparents.

Another reason I don't have much to say is that I am obviously not in the room with him so I don't have any first person perspective. Likewise, my second-hand information is coming from a 3.5 yo and the information he thinks is important enough to report is slightly odd.

I can report that the teachers say he is well-behaved, is participating (although Kal-El reports that "the kids sing some songs but I don't"), and is "delightful."

Some positive things about the class so far:

  • Kal-El loves going.
  • He is learning to sit quietly in church (he is with us in the sanctuary for at least 15 minutes at the start of the service)
  • At the same time, he is learning (hypothetically) to worship "in a special place apart from the worshiping congregation so...[he becomes] able to worship meaningfully with the congregation (YCAW, 13).
  • He is listening to the other children sing songs.
  • He witnessing sensorimotor-style stories from the Bible.
  • He has an opportunity to respond to these stories through work with the story figures and art materials.
  • And finally, frequently people I meet are concerned that either homeschooling, Montessori, or both will prevent the boys from learning how to learn in a group setting, or how to learn from a teacher other than myself. I am happy to report that he is sitting nicely on his own rug in the circle, following instructions, listening to the teacher, and being quiet when it is time for quiet. He might even be good enough at it that he may not need eight hours a day of public school to reinforce the idea in the future! I will certainly admit that since babyhood, Kal-El has never wanted to do what what the rest of the kids are doing just because the rest of the kids are doing it. When we attended Mommy and Me classes I sat in the circle alone and sang the songs while he roamed the room investigation anything else. It is good that he is learning that in life sometimes we choose our activities and sometimes we have to show up to do what we are scheduled to do when we are scheduled to do it. (This idea was embarrassingly reinforced one day when he didn't want to go to swimming lessons and I made him go anyway. Ugh!)
Here are some things that are not going as well:

In class the children have a long block of time to choose their own activities. They may choose to work at their rug with one of the materials on the shelves, or alternatively to use art materials to express how the story that day made them feel. I can also report that to date Kal-El has always chosen to work with the art materials and has not chosen any shelf work. (Although, I have a theory on that).

After the first class I asked Kal-El if he liked it. He said "Yes, I liked the cookie afterwards [after class during the coffee hour, not during class] and drawing a dinosaur." Hmmm.. the story that day was that of Simeon and Anna when baby Jesus was presented to God...I don't remember a dinosaur in that story.

In the following three weeks he brought home two more drawings of dinosaurs (all cut to pieces, he is still doing that). The fourth week the teacher took it upon herself to draw pictures for him (a house, a man, an alligator). As a user of Susan Striker's book Young at Art I was less than pleased. He has had a different teacher every week so I don't think it was done out of frustration with his activity choices.

Obviously I think it would be better if he had the same teacher every week, but that is unlikely with the way volunteer work is done at most churches that I am familiar with.

Let me be clear that this is a free opportunity that functions only thanks to the efforts of kind, well-intentioned, and very necessary volunteers that I am sincerely grateful for. It was clear when I observed the class that although they completed a weekend training course the driving Montessori principles that are embodied by professional Godly Play teachers were not completely ingrained. For example, I observed one teacher reading the story off of a cheat-sheet as he told the story. (I'll pause a moment here for the collective gasp of all the die-hard Montessorians reading this blog.) Another example would be that a Montessori teacher wouldn't refocus a child's worship activities by drawing elements of the story for him on his paper. (I'll pause again for Susan Striker to keel over completely). Did I mention these were kind, well-meaning, volunteers who are super-helpful and not charging me? It has occurred to me that being the Montessori-Goddess dabbler that I am, this might be a good area in which I could help serve the church in the future and that I probably would really enjoy it.

I will say that I am disappointed in their choice of books/lesson plans for the summer session. Almost always what is used in a Godly Play program is Young Children and Worship. This book is intended for use with children between the ages of three and six. In that book the choice of stories was made as follows:

Our decision of which stories to tell young children was influenced by the nature of biblical stories. If the principal of telling the essential and omitting unnecessary description is applied to the choice of stories to be told to young children, it means that we first tell stories most characteristic of our formation as the people of God.

Young Children and Worship includes such stories as: Creation, Noah, the Exodus, Christmas, The Good Shepard and the Wolf, etc.,

The program was using Young Children and Worship when I observed the class. However, this summer they are using Following Jesus instead. This book states in its introduction: "This book intends to show a way of being in worship with children aged five through eight years of age, although some of the stories may be appropriate for three- and four-year-old children." Since this church only does the Godly Play program with children aged 3-5 I don't think this book is the best choice. I assume they are trying to keep from repeating the stories from Young Children and Worship too frequently. However, Young Children and Worship book includes about 40 stories. As it stands, each story would only be repeated once a year. Because the children only hear the presentations once on the day they are presented, I don't think they will have heard the story enough times to feel comfortable choosing the material from the shelf and working with the story. I think it would be beneficial if the stories cycled more frequently. .

So far the stories presented have included: Baby Jesus is presented to God, Jesus and the Paralytic, Jesus and the tax collectors, and Jesus calls the twelve disciples. I'm not confident Kal-El has understood any of this yet. Tax collectors? Don't scare the poor children! These stories seem a little less kid-friendly than Noah and the Ark.

The choice of books is my only legitimate gripe, the rest is just nit-picky stuff that I would never want to mention in front of a volunteer. I think I just need to get off my rump, contact the coordinator of children's worship, listen to what she has to say about what book they are using and why, and then (if I still have any) voice my concerns.

It has also occurred to me that I could reinforce the stories myself if I bought the book (instead of always looking it up in Google Reader) and re-presented them myself at home during the week. Then he might feel more comfortable choosing shelf-work during class. However, my whole search for a good Godly Play program began because I am already busy enough learning about, making materials for, and presenting Montessori work at home. I didn't want to take on responsibility for making materials for Godly Play too.

So...a summary? Godly Play is a great program as it is designed. Its implementation will obviously vary from church to church. If you are going to be a purist about its implementation, find a program you can pay for somewhere.

As for the rest of us:

Me Too has braved the two- to three-year-old child care room five times now. He has not ventured off of the caregivers lap yet. He has completely monopolized at least one caregiver every time thus far. I take that back. We check on him once or twice (without him seeing us) during the service. Once when my husband checked he reported that he saw 15 2-yos playing happily in the room and one sad little boy crying with his face in the corner. The volunteers said that day that Me Too cried harder every time they even looked at him so they left him alone. My husband calmed him down for a couple of minutes and Me Too resumed his post on someones lap for the remainder of playtime.

My husband and I are, unfortunately, not enjoying the services as much as we had hoped. I don't think this will be our permanent church home, but we will probably stay for a while. If we decide to move houses we will have to search again anyway.


  1. It is SO hard, especially in matters of faith because it is so important. It sounds as though it is going over his head rather than frightening or disturbing him.

    As for Me-too's reaction. I would say that is a totaly normal one for a child of his age who isn't dumped in playgroups or nursery during the week. He is demonstrating entirely age appropriate reactions and the only way to get him over it now would be to change your life style. As I can't see that happening (thank goodness) my experience is that in another year he will be able to separate from you without too many problems (like his brother) and that will be age appropriate too!

    Good luck with all your different questions!

  2. Thanks Annicles!

    I was joking, by the way, about them scaring the kids (tax mom used to joke when Kal-El would cry as a baby that someone must have told him about taxes). I don't think there is anything scary in the stories.

    I'm interested to see how Me Too does over the next couple of weeks, one would think he would get used to it sometime soon? Oddly, he keeps asking to go to church. He likes getting dressed up and going for a ride in the car. It's funny how he doesn't put that together with going to childcare.