By my best recollection, we started Godly Play at our church the year my almost 21 year old daughter would have been in 4 year old preschool. Since about that time, children ages 3 through fifth grade use Godly Play in Sunday School September through May each year.
So, here’s a few of the questions that I’ve answered over the years:
Q: Why do you do it THAT way?
A: Because when we started it was the only way we knew. Right or wrong, we jumped in. 16 years ago there wasn’t much floating around and not a whole lot of internet usage in the “Mommies Doing Sunday School” world.
Q: Why do you use big chunky wooden figures instead of the small wooden thin ones or painted ones sold by Godly Play Resources?
A: Back in the day, the “bible” for creating a Godly Play Program was “Young Children and Worship” by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman (we all called it “The Orange Book” because the cover of that edition was orange). The first part of the book has instructions and scripts; the second part has patterns for creating the “manipulatives.” In the beginning, men in our church cut out hundreds of the big chunky wooden figures. They did it with love, for our children. We don’t want to replace them with the “right” kind now that we see what “everyone else” is using. Occasionally a child will ask, “Where did this all come from?” When we establish he or she doesn’t mean “from the Bible,” we explain that almost everything in the room was made for them to use in this place. It is a meaningful moment.
Q: Why do you use baskets instead of trays or boxes?
A: During the summers, I have easy access to a Ten Thousand Villages shop in Montreat, NC. I appreciate that the baskets are handmade and Fair Trade. I am also a bit of a control freak (not a good attribute for a Godly Play teacher), so I like that the stories are all in the same baskets. (Originally, the baskets were $3-5 each! I am thankful for the inventory I now have!)
Q: Do you make all your stuff?
A: Heavens, NO! We have a generous budget, but we try to buy only the things that are very difficult to reproduce. The Circle of the Church Year and the Synagogue and the Upper Room are the first two I’d put on my wish list to buy if I were starting out. My husband has access to a woodworking shop but is not a craftsman like the people at Godly Play Resources (or the ones in your congregation). I always try to find someone in the congregation who would be willing to make something first. Storyteller at “Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way” has several places on her blog that gently remind us that it’s NOT about the materials, and she says it beautifully each time. Read this, and this, and this – and that’s just a few of her many words of wisdom.
Q: What if our stuff isn’t the RIGHT stuff? I don’t want to do it wrong.
A: I’m not sure who told us or where we read it, but we still say – almost weekly – “There is no Godly Play Police.” The simpler, the better. It always turns out that the simplest items make the best manipulatives, and I usually have to find that out for myself every single time I collect items for a story.
When I was assembling the materials for the “Samuel” story in Volume 6, I needed a baby – a nice wooden baby. I could find plastic tiny babies (I believe they were meant for baby showers). I considered buying wooden dollhouse nursery “sets” and using just the baby (prohibitive cost, and who wants the leftover dollhouse nursery set without the baby?). Nothing suited until I mentioned it to an employee at the craft store, who suggested a clothespin. How simple and elegant! Just what is best for Godly Play! (Note: the spoon gives me an idea of the scale. My spoon is a hard worker and shows up frequently in my “inventory” photographs, below.)
And what can we leave out, and still have all the story we need? Much more than we think we can. I love stuff. I REALLY love Godly Play stuff! However, more often than not it bumps someone out of the story, and I, again, have to keep learning that over and over.