Over a decade ago, while in seminary I began researching children’s spirituality. I read whatever I could and looked at (and tried) lots of things, but I just kept coming back to Godly Play as a beautifully holistic way of journeying with children. I found it to be an approach that takes children and their relationships with others, creation and God seriously in a delightfully playful way. Soon after I began learning about Godly Play I welcomed my first son (who would have three brothers to follow) and I immediately worked to adapt the Godly Play approach to use in our home. (I chronicled some of this journey on my blog years ago.) I was delighted to receive a fresh-off-the-press copy of Jerome Berryman’s new book Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach this spring and am glad that there is now a resource for transferring this method to the home.
The book has six core stories to share at home: creation, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Good Shepherd, and the circle of the church year. For Godly Play teachers, these stories look and sound very similar to what is found in a Godly Play classroom, but, they differ in two ways. First, the story scripts (which are provided in the book) are generally much shorter. This is helpful for the parent leading sessions as Godly Play works best when the story is memorized. The weeks of the Christmas, Easter and Pentecost stories are only a line or two. While this is a simple yet beautiful way to draw children deeper into the biblical narrative, I wouldn’t recommend this book as a stand-alone resource for a child who doesn’t know the stories well. I suggest reading the story out of a high quality children’s Bible earlier in the week if your child hasn’t worked with the story recently. This will not only prepare them, but refresh the storyteller’s memory should questions arise during the Godly Play session.
Berryman is clear about his purpose in writing the book. “This book is about a long-term approach to celebrating your family and to prepare for the unknown family challenges in the future. It shows how to do this in a deeply playful way by building up layers of family stories woven together with stories of God to fill a reservoir of meaning to draw from when needed” (Berryman, Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach, pg 2). It is important to note that the book’s primary purpose is not biblical knowledge.
The second way these stories different from a traditional Godly Play classroom, is that while they offer a time to wonder about the story together, the wondering is focused on telling family stories and seeing them as part of God’s big story. This means you focus less on going deeper into the specific narrative, and instead try to draw connections from your own lives. Ideally this will lead to diving deeper into the grand narrative of God’s story. Connecting our own stories to the biblical narrative and knowing that our own lives are part of the great story God is writing is so very important for spiritual development.
After the first six chapters about the core stories, Berryman offers two more chapters. The first focuses on using children’s literature at home as a form of spiritual formation (those of you who know me and my bookish children know that I was delighted by this addition!). The books he suggests are not what you would typically find on Christian bookstore shelves; they are children’s classics that draw out themes of home, wonder, love, becoming real, generosity and wholeness. It is worth picking up a copy of this book solely to read this chapter, especially if reading aloud is something you hope to enrich in your family rhythm.
The last chapter is about how to ‘be ready’ for family challenges. Berryman shares a story from his own life about welcoming his second daughter and the unexpected challenges they faced due to medical complications. He reflects that having a well formed Christian language system helps one navigate unexpected challenges in family life. Berryman writes more intensively on how Godly Play teaches this language system in his book The Spiritual Guidance of Children.
Godly Play at home, just as in other settings, is a materials rich curriculum. Having beautiful items that a child can work with on their own is important. You can purchase the materials from Godly Play Resources, but this may be beyond many family budgets. I wish there was an appendix in the book showing how to make or find items to tell the stories for those on a budget, because there are lots of ways to resource materials. I would encourage you not to be intimidated by this if Godly Play at home is something you want to try. There are several ways to find materials. First, you can make them. I have made creation cards with crayons and cardstock in a matter of minutes before a Godly Play session when I forgot the wooden ones at home; they weren’t the most beautiful, but they worked. Second, you may wish to invest in one set and build the collection over a number of years. Third, you may be able to find items among your child’s toys to use. And fourth, I think it would be lovely for churches with a Godly Play program to purchase family sets that could be checked out for a number of weeks. You might ask if there is extra money in the church budget to support families in this way. Pastors know that the most significant spiritual formation happens at home and are eager to support families who want to be intentional about growing together.
Overall the book is a gentle mix of practical scripts for telling stories and deep sometimes slightly mystical thoughts on children’s spirituality and how the family can support growth. Either the scripts or the thoughts make the book a good resource, but more importantly, by reading and using some of these stories you will begin to learn the art of wondering with your children about God and the big questions of life whatever story you encounter. This skill is invaluable and, if for no other reason, makes it worth finding a copy of Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach.