27 February 2011

Advent - my story materials

[I've travelled back in time, to tell about our first Godly Play sessions, last December, in my own house.]

I was only going to write those first two posts today,

but then I realized they're hard to interpret if you don't know anything about how Advent is observed in Godly Play.

Here are my Advent materials (apologies for the rushed photo - no, candles should never be used on a couch!). The wooden boards and all the wooden cut-outs on them were made by Johanna Kaarto-Wallin, and stained / painted by me at the Godly Play European Conference last spring. While at that conference, I saw some German materials with the plaques not painted or stained, but covered with felt - an idea which I copied. (This very rosy purple was the only purple felt available when I needed it.)
(Update: for more about my Advent materials, read this post.)

On the first week, we remember the prophets, who pointed the way to Bethlehem, and we light the first advent candle. On the second week, we remember Joseph, Mary, and the donkey, on their way to Bethlehem. We put the figures from a nativity set right onto the plaque (or the felt underlay, depending on the size of the figures), and we light the second advent candle. And on the third week (with figurines again if possible), we remember the shepherds, the sheep, and the angels, singing a song of joy, which is why the third candle is a joyous pink.

Advent - the focal shelf

[I've travelled back in time, to tell about our first Godly Play sessions, last December, in my own house.]

On the second Sunday in December, the third Sunday of Advent, the two children returned. It was a little difficult to get them settled down before the story, but as soon as it began, it captured their attention beautifully. I had asked them to bring their own nativity set, since mine has no sheep or shepherds. (Theirs had none either, but I knew it had an angel, which commemorates the same event.)

So the first thing we did was to carefully move my nativity set to its stable on another table, and set theirs up on the focal shelf. This time, when I said that Junior Church was over and they could play freely, I was fully prepared to bring out toy trains or legos... but the first child asked very tentatively to play with the Advent materials. Of course! I replied, thrilled.

Then the other child wanted to do the same. Well, you'll have to ask N. If N wants to work alone then you'll have to do something else. The reply from the first child was so quiet we could hardly hear it, Want to work alone. With no fuss, the second child and I curled up on the couch together to read Bible storybooks instead. Out of the corner of my eye while reading the books aloud, I could see the first child carefully unroll the underlay, and place all the plaques in the right places.

That's the end of that week's story, but for the Godly Play die-hards, I thought I'd add a picture of our focal shelf. Everything on it, apart from the Christ candle, had been used before in Junior Church. (Well, the Advent materials and Holy Family had been new the previous week.) On the floor are table cloths for the other seasons. On the bottom shelf: a few storybooks (which we had read in previous months), materials for the story of the flood, and the gold box containing the parable of the Good Shepherd. The top left shelf held the Advent materials, and the top right the Lent or Palm Sunday story from Young Children and Worship, "Jesus the King". [It only occurred to me in January that it would have made better sense to place the Holy Family in the center, as they are on most focal shelves, and put the risen Christ cross above the Lent materials.]

Advent - at my house

We had no Junior Church today, because on the last Sunday of each month we gather together, all ages, for a child-friendly service.

This gives me a chance to go back in time and write about December, when this Godly Play project really began to get off the ground. Our normal Junior Church meeting place was taken up with Christmas activities, and we had nowhere to meet. It was suggested that maybe we could meet in the sacristy (where the priests get ready for services), or possibly in a side chapel, but with a busy schedule of Christmas concerts and carol services I was worried that we would be in the way and get distracted. But what other solution was there, except to cancel Junior Church altogether during Advent?

Why, Junior Church at my house!

The first week I kept it to a single family - two children. They walked in and made straight for the shelf of materials, touching them gently, with interest and delight. I told the stories for the first two weeks of Advent (the first Sunday in December was already the second Sunday of Advent), and they were rapt with attention. They wanted the third plaque already, but I said, No, not until next Sunday

I had laid out some art materials next to the kitchen table: crayons, colored pencils, and clay. Clay! CLAY! We had never had clay before at Junior Church. That was what both of them wanted to do in their work time. And then we had our first feast. I was delighted by how easy it was to get them to stop working with the clay and clean up when they knew a feast was coming. After the feast I thanked each of them for coming and said that Junior Church was over, and they could play freely until their parents came to collect them. But the wonderful mood of Godly Play lasted right through.

25 February 2011

on discovery

In most religious education children are told who God is. In 'Godly Play' children discover who God is...we respond to the child's request to 'help me do it by myself’

*I found this in an article which didn't give a full bibliographic reference for it, but I think this must be the source: Rebecca Nye, "Christian perspectives on children's spirituality: Social science contributions?" in Donald Ratcliff's Children's spirituality: Christian Perspectives, Research and Applications: 2004).

on being non-coercive

I came across a quote today from Rebecca Nye (one of the people who trained me in Godly Play). I'm going to give that quote its own post, in a moment. But while I was looking for its source, I flipped through a copy of Rebecca's book that I own. And there I found this quote:

Notice that not once did Jesus make his disciples pray. He just kept on praying until they could contain their hunger no longer and asked Him to teach them how to pray.* 
It made me wonder if I'm pushing too hard in having a prayer time in our Godly Play sessions. But I feel that the older members of the circle really appreciate having that time, and their needs are important too. Upon reading further, I felt reassured that I'm doing okay. We use a holding cross, which is passed from person to person, and I just need to keep reiterating that there are three equally valid choices - pray out loud, pray in your heart (which might include just holding the cross for a moment prayerfully), or just to politely pass the cross to the next person. Maybe I should even phrase it the other way: If you want to stop and hold the cross for a moment to pray, aloud or in your heart - that's okay.

*source: (Pat Lynch, Awakening the Giant, quoted in Rebecca Nye, Children's Spirituality, 2009)
** An update on some feedback that I got from one child is here.

23 February 2011

just a glimpse

Here is just a glimpse of my new materials. My helper snapped this photo with her phone on Sunday. As you can see, I had no fence for the sheepfold yet, so used the enclosure from the parable box. Three sheep cannot stand yet, but two are upright (one is hard to see - I wonder what color you think it might be). 

The Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd and World Communion

22 February 2011

"Legs criss-cross"

There aren't many Godly Play blogs that I'm aware of. Today I went browsing, following links from GP blogs and skimming through more general blogs about Montessori education (which is the roots of Godly Play, after all). I've found a bunch of inspiration, and come up with three resolutions for our next class.

One difficulty right now is how to communicate my expectations for the classroom. I don't want to over-do it by giving so many rules that I cannot enforce them all, or by nit-picking. For example, one child in my classroom likes to pick up the sides of the sitting mat, facilitating a rocking motion from side to side. Other children quickly pick up the idea, and movement and silliness increase until they're not in a good frame of mind for listening to a lesson.  

Chi Chang Wu (licensed)
I tried emphasizing the "getting ready" position as including having the hands on the knees or legs, but it was not a great success. Today I came across the idea of having a getting ready song. The writer of My Montessori Journey wrote, I have a little song that we sing to remind ourselves of what is expected at group time.  We sing it to the tune "Frere Jacque" and it goes like this: "Legs criss-cross, Legs criss-cross, Hands in your lap, Hands in your lap..." What a great idea! This is definitely on my agenda for our next class. 

I also came across this advice (from Creative Jewish Mom): Build your child’s understanding of life by taking the extra 20 seconds to explain a rule. I realize I haven't explained anything about standing up for communion and blessings; I just told them to do it. So that's something I need to do better next time.

And finally, I've had one more brainstorm - this one entirely my own, but motivated by reading about breaking activities down into smaller steps. I have tried a couple of times to give each child an opportunity to pray by handing a cross around a circle (an idea from this video  - jump to timer count 15:11 (Young Children and Worship))... 

Bouguereau (public domain)
But although I have tried to stress that it's perfectly okay to pray aloud, to pray silently, or even not to pray at all but just to hand the cross to the next person... it's clear that not everyone is comfortable with this yet. It finally struck me that maybe we need to go back a step and just practice nicely passing the cross around in a circle. Maybe I'll try that next time too... or maybe I'll decide that "Legs criss-cross" and showing reverence by standing are enough for one session! 

21 February 2011

Our new room, part 3

Our new room means:
  • plenty of open space 
  • permission to re-arrange furniture (if we put it back afterwards)
  • four low benches, which I use as shelving and to define our circle
  • windows which let in a lot of light (but aren't distracting)
  • it's large and echo-y (hard to walk slowly and speak softly)
  • all the furniture apart from the benches is adult-sized

Here's how I'm setting it up for our sessions (I've used gray for furnishings in the room that we don't use). (You can click on the picture to enlarge it.)

For info on the various shelves, including the "getting ready" bench, scroll down to the "part 2" post. Our seating mats are Ikea bathmats, a great bargain at €1/mat. The Bible stand is just a music stand which was already in the room. The art materials are currently stored in a little wire trolley - not ideal, but lightweight, easily transportable, and something I already had in my attic.

Edited to add photo (from last week, before the addition of World Communion material):

Publish Post

20 February 2011

Whew! Exhausting Day

What a day! I'm exhausted! Some good, some less good (but mostly good).

I had wanted to have the materials ready today for the lesson about the Good Shepherd and World Communion. Good: I was able to present the lesson. Less good: We'll have to pretend the rest of these sheep can stand up too. That and the fact that the priest was the only adult at communion! Once I realized that I wasn't going to get all the figures done, I prioritized them as follows: Good Shepherd, priest, children, other adults. (The adults didn't get done at all. The only figures who could stand up were the Shepherd, the priest, and two sheep.)

A different priest was serving our congregation today. Good: He was absolutely willing to come across to our building to give us communion and blessings, and was complimentary about our Godly Play set-up. Less good: I misjudged when he would come. I was desperately scrabbling around for things to do to keep the children occupied and in the circle as our feast drew to a close. We sang a silly song. And sang it again. We talked about what we were all wearing. I finally wound up giving the kids a quiz on our stories. Hmmm. Which story has a rainbow in it? Uh-huh. And which story has a star in it? Montessori educators are probably horrified.

The children and I are still finding our way with regard to what is and isn't acceptable behavior in the room and in the circle. (Parents who are reading - your child behaved just fine!) My helper said to me today, "You're so patient!" Good: the "Getting Ready" bench came into its own today, used absolutely not in a punishing sort of way but just in an appropriate you can sit there if you aren't ready yet, and I'll tell you the story later.And two children chose to sit there. Less good: I'm probably being too patient. When I told my husband about this on the drive home he suggested that probably I need to be more explicit sooner about behavior that isn't ideal, because this is all so new for all of us.

Early Christian image of Christ as the Good Shepherd (Fourth Century A.D.)
Museo Epigrafico, Rome (Foto: Kleuske) (licensed image)
So, it was almost all good today, but now I'm just wrung out. I'm so wrung out that I couldn't help it. I just had to come here and write about my day before I could cope with supper. Thanks for reading!

*In fact, nobody wondered aloud today, except me, so I just brought the Getting Ready children back to the circle (they had listened and watched very attentively from the bench), and asked if they'd like to hear the story again or if they were ready to do their work, and both decided to go straight to work.

18 February 2011

Our new room, part 2

One feature of Godly Play (in an ideal set-up) is that the participants are surrounded by the stories and language of the church. All materials have a place, so that children can find them easily and so that they know how to put them away. The placement also signals some of the relationships between stories - all parables are stored together, for example.

We have four low benches at our disposal in the room we use. All four are dragged into a large square, to define our circle space. One I have designated as the "getting ready" bench, in the absence of an official door person. If children need a space in which to take extra time to get ready, there it will be. (So far, it hasn't been tested. We haven't needed it or even talked about it.)

The other three benches are used as shelving for lesson materials.

The focal shelf: Although really a circle has no sides, there is still a sense that this is the front of the circle. Here we have the holy family and the risen Christ (you can see a close-up on the "About Godly Play" tab), center stage. To the left is the Christ candle, and underneath it are the materials for the baptism lesson. There is a glaring empty space on the right, which will be filled soon.

On one side of the circle is the parable shelf: So far we have only one parable box, but I have most of the materials almost ready for another one, which will come eventually. At the end closest to the front are the Palm Sunday materials, which we worked with a lot during Lent last year. (This is the "Jesus the King" story, from Young Children and Worship.)

And on the other side of the circle is the sacred story shelf: Here again, there's only one story so far ("The Great Flood", with an ark and two baskets of figures). And mirroring the Lenten materials on the other side of the room, the Advent materials are at the end of the bench closest to the focal shelf.

Then there is a Bible stand (with a basket of Bible storybooks below it), our art materials, cleanup supplies, and a 'prayer and peace' basket.

Frälsarkransen (Lutheran prayer bracelet), a holding cross, and a peace flower
I think that last basket is the only thing in the room that none of the children have been introduced to. It is just there waiting until it is needed, or wanted, or until somebody "discovers" it and asks about it. 

13 February 2011

Our new room, part 1

Last week was our first time in our "new" building, but we couldn't use our normal room. So today was another first, the first time in "our" room. It's only ours for this one time slot, so I bring everything from home.

The process of setting up helped me focus and felt good. Here's the view from the door. I'll post more pictures later, but maybe you can just about see that I've formed a square out of low benches, which become our shelves. The bench on the right of the photo is our focal shelf. The Sacred Story shelf is sort of hidden behind a pillar, but you can probably just make out a parable box in the lower left of the photo.

That parable box held today's lesson: The Good Shepherd. It draws on imagery from Psalm 23 as well as John 10 and Matthew 18 / Luke 15. At the feast we sang the song, "The Lord is my shepherd / I'll follow him always". Then our pastor came to give us communion and blessings, and we ended with "Go now in peace". 

"Store not your treasure here below"

One of the things I really want to blog about is my hunt for Godly Play materials. A lot of people find Godly Play off-putting because they see that the Finnish Noah's ark costs almost 280 or that the American Mystery of Christmas costs $230. That's for a single lesson that might only be used once a year. But the point of Godly Play is not about spending lots of money. One of my Godly Play trainers told us that the best presentation she'd ever seen was done with clothes pegs and pine cones!

The Godly Play ideal is just to provide attractive materials - materials that will attract the children. Materials that signal, "These are not merely toys, but liturgical materials". Materials that say, "Children are important to this church". (If your church can afford a silver chalice but your children are still fobbed off with plastic and cardboard, then that could signal a problem.)

I've been inspired to see the creative solutions that others have come up with, like these Advent Cards made out of felt. [EDIT: This post by the same blogger is also very useful.]  And similarly I'd like to share what I've come up with. I don't have any woodworking tools, I don't have a sewing machine, and I'm paying for this myself. And so I'm really excited about my nice Baptism materials! But I don't want this to become a materialistic blog, all about my shopping trips and my beautiful things.

image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos (licensed image)

12 February 2011


The most dramatic thing that happens in the Baptism lesson is the pouring of water onto a baby doll's head, to show what happens externally when a person is baptized. Probably the most emotional thing that happens is that each person in the circle is recognized and named, and a candle is lit for them.

But also very important is that the lesson begins with a symbol of the Trinity - three overlapping white circles - and "images of action" are placed on each one. Water for the God the Creator, the light of the Redeemer Son, and the dove and scented oil to represent the Sustaining Holy Spirit.

My white circles are a very soft white, maybe even cream. They aren't felt, but fleece, cut from a flea market blanket. My dove was bought new - a Christmas ornament from the Finnish design shop, Pentik. The oil is sandalwood massage oil, not ideal except that it's a very strong scent (the existence of the scent is emphasized in the lesson) and that the lid seals tightly. It's a plastic bottle, so won't get broken, but I'd like to replace it with a pretty glass bottle if I can find an inexpensive one. The ones at the flea markets all tend to be missing their tops!

I am most pleased with my pitcher and glass bowl. The bowl is really too small for the purpose, but it's so pretty, and goes so well with the little jug. I got them from two separate stalls at a flea market several months ago. I think they look great together, and the jug seems to fit perfectly into the base of the bowl. Even though some of the water dribbled onto the floor and one of the white circles during the baptism demonstration, it was easily wiped up with the white cloth I had used to dry off the doll's head.

So those are currently my baptism materials!

08 February 2011

My baptism doll

The Baptism lesson was the lesson I presented during my Godly Play training course. It’s also the lesson that seems easiest to furnish from a flea market or charity shop! So one of the first items I bought for Godly Play was a baby doll.

Finnish flea markets are like big supermarkets. The sellers are not present: all the stuff for sale is just labeled with a price and a stall number. The customer pays for their goods at a cash register by the exit, and the market itself keeps track of what was bought from whose stall. The disadvantage, I suppose, is that you cannot haggle – the price on the tag is the price you have to pay. But a big advantage to my mind is the lack of hassle! You can pick up an item and carry it around with you until you find a better one (or a cheaper one) in somebody else’s stall. And then you can put the first one back.

I started browsing for dolls. Funnily enough, it hadn’t occurred to me how many dolls have hair. I wanted a smooth head that would be easy to dry off. Soon, though, I found a nice bald doll wearing a little track suit. Then I started hunting through the stalls of baby clothes, trying to find a white dress or shirt that might work as a christening gown. Nothing seemed right – they were all too big for the doll, not fancy enough, and otherwise unsuitable. Imagine my delight then when I came across a stall selling doll clothes (brand new – this seemed to be a stall rented out by a seamstress)… including a range of christening gowns!

I stripped off the track suit to make sure the gown would fit and – Oh. It’s an anatomically correct doll. Ok, I’ll take one pair of bloomers as well, thank you!

(It’s not just a matter of propriety. It’s that I would like the children to be able to imagine the doll as whatever they want it to be, boy or girl. At least until the first time a child takes its bloomers off.)

Ah, Finland. A land where so many babies are baptized that there’s a good market for dolls’ christening gowns, and where the dolls are likely to have, um, all their parts. :)

To read about my other Baptism materials, click here. In July 2012 I bought another doll for our church to use, and mused on a couple of downsides to this doll. You can read that here

07 February 2011


Yesterday was our first official Godly Play Junior Church, in new premises (although not the room we will usually use, as that had already been booked by someone else), and with a new extra-long time slot (parents drop off their children before the adult church service starts, and we do not join them again until their coffee time afterwards). Also new: the celebrant joins us as soon as the adult service is over, to administer communion or blessings to everyone at junior church. Wonderful!

Our congregation is served by both Anglican and Lutheran clergy, following the Porvoo Agreement. The Anglicans celebrated Candlemas the Sunday before, but the Lutherans have it on the Sunday after, and both last week and this week the adults were following the Lutheran lectionary. So yesterday I began by putting all of our candles (including a brand new Christ candle) in the middle of our circle and praying for God's blessing on them and on us as we use them. Our lesson was the Baptism lesson. During the feast, I also told a short story of Christ's presentation in the Temple.

I made a control card, with the reference to the story in Luke on the back, and a series of small photographs on the front:

the Christ Child (who was not baptized as a baby...)
his mother Mary, who stayed at home with the baby Jesus for 40 days after he was born
his father Joseph, who, with Mary, took him to the Temple, to dedicate him to the Lord

the prophet Anna, who recognized Jesus as the child who would change everything
Simeon... who prayed a poem which we still sing at Evensong today 
Simeon's poem said that Jesus would be a light, not just for those who knew they were the People of God, but for everyone. And that's why we bless candles on Candlemas.

Beginning at the beginning

I have started this blog because I'd like to be in conversation with others who are using Godly Play. When I come home from the flea market, thrilled to have found a doll-sized christening gown, I want to be able to post a picture here. And when I find out three hours before church that the venue I was planning to use had been booked for someone else, I want to be able to grouse a little here (although I've read enough blogs to know that I ought to be careful about posting while irked). I worry a little that my long-suffering partner is subjected to more than enough of my burble about junior church and Godly Play, so thought that this would be another good outlet for me. Besides, I want to share my friends and family some of what I've been doing.

A little background: I completed a three-day training course in Godly Play in late winter, 2010. Soon thereafter I led a one-day retreat for some adults in my congregation, held in a Godly Play classroom in a nearby town. Bit by big, I began "infiltrating" the junior church program with Godly Play stories and ideas. In some ways that was easy to do, because I was the junior church program! (We are a very small congregation.) In other ways it was hard to do, because we had no space to set aside for the children. But gradually, things are changing. And that's what I intend this blog to be about.