07 March 2014

The importance of worship through play

I love watching my children play. They have such incredible imaginations.  I love to see how they create entire worlds out of the position of an object or entire plotlines from the posture of a toy. I love to hear them create dialogue and action.  I love their narrations and the intricate backstories they create for their characters.

I think most parents find delight in observing their children's play.  But I've been surprised to discover that many parents do not consider introducing Biblical subjects to their children as a possible basis for play. I've observed that children have a unique ability to enter the Biblical stories at a level of understanding that eludes many adults. Because God has given them extraordinary imaginative powers, they are able to inhabit characters with their whole selves.  This means that they are also positioned to learn from these characters in an extraordinarily real way. I'd suggest that more than being a good idea, Play is essential to a child's understanding of and love for the Bible.

And in our family, the only way Biblical play happens is for my husband and I to commit to creating time and providing the tools for it to happen.

The time
We have found that Biblical play happens best when we make it a part of our daily lives. This is one reason we love celebrating the church year together through family worship. Our family has found worship to be an important part of creating a home environment of praise and growth in the Lord.  We observe the church seasons because ordering our lives according to the story of Jesus birth, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the church reminds us that God is present and active in our world. We are Protestants, and fairly low-church Protestants now, at that. But liturgical traditions have shaped and formed us and blessed us, too, so many of our activities reflect that background. 

If an example of how this works would be helpful, you can read more about how we celebrated a specific day in the church year, Ash Wednesday, here.

The tools
The Montessori educational theories on deliberate play and the internalization of play by children have informed my own thoughts on this.  The book, Godly Play by Jerome Berryman (see his YouTube resources here) may be a good introduction, though I definitely do not endorse all of Berryman's theological positions.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones is essential to our family's worship experiences, though we also enjoy Egermeier's Bible Storybook which has short, well-written versions of the stories-of-the-faith. 
Peg people created with woodburning tools and watercolors

Our first method of playing-the-stories is to act it out ourselves.  Blankets, sheets, cords for belts, and various props have created some wonderful scenes here.  My children still remember the year we acted out Mary and Joseph's visit to the temple and their encounter with Anna and Simeon when the children were ages 5, 3, and 1. They rode on a Daddy-donkey and the youngest child was Mary and Joseph's faithful dog. It made a big impression!

As the kids have gotten older, we use peg people. Most recently I created some with woodburning tools and watercolors. Wood pegs are generally available at craft stores or can be bought in bulk at Similar sets are available on etsy. (Or we make a limited number of sets- contact me to see if any are available for purchase.) 

The most important thing to provide, in my estimation, is encouragement and the space to play without judgment. We have our worship-play items
Zaccheus climbs a tree to see Jesus
set out on a small table under the stairs in the foyer of our house.  It is a relatively private space, so they get moved when more than one sibling enters the fray. I invite the kids to act out a story as part of re-centering when the environment gets tense or as part of their devotional exercises at the beginning of the day or anytime they are looking for something to do. And then I step back and let them discover whatever it is that God has for them in those moments.

For our family, worship through play has been a wonderful experience of meeting God in a new and different way. But I'd love to hear from you.

Have you incorporated play into your family worship? If so, what are your favorite resources? What has God shown you and your family through play? If not, what is holding you back?

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