07 February 2013

it gets better

The title for today's entry evokes the videos for bullied teens, but really it's inspired by somebody called "Sweeter than Southern Tea", who wrote a comment on one of my older posts. I had written about being exhausted after a Godly Play session, and Sweeter asked, How long did it take for this to kind of even out? We are just beginning Godly Play... lately it seems as though each Sunday ends up being a circus.

Well, Sweeter, It gets better! 

Here the children are being silly by being
exaggeratedly still and quiet at a church service (!).

I was working with young children, some younger than 3. The oldest was four when we started. I had more girls than boys, and small numbers. All the children were generally well-behaved and inclined to do what they were told. That said, they spent a LOT of time exploring the boundaries of what was accepted in our classroom.
  • I am very glad to have made it clear from the start that we walk more slowly than usual in this space. I tried to remember to praise children who did that, and to remind (rather than reprimand) children who didn't. So that was a rule that never really got tested.
However, I had much more trouble introducing the concept of sitting cross-legged (criss-cross) to show that we are ready. I let the children experiment with what was allowed, and treated almost every posture they got into as a serious attempt to do the right thing. Maybe that invited more challenge than I'd have gotten otherwise; I did find it frustrating some of the time. (The kids seemed to think it was a highly amusing game.) But I came up with my own boundaries that I enforced. One of my adult helpers found it uncomfortable to sit cross legged, so the rule for everyone was that as long as legs were crossed it was ok. To sit with legs straight out in front was acceptable if your legs were crossed (at the ankle). Merely having the toes of one foot crossed over the other was not. Sitting backwards (facing out) was not acceptable. Hands had to be on knees. Hands on feet was not acceptable.
  • It helped immensely when I found a song for getting ready on the My Montessori Journey blog. My own adaptation of the words (to the tune of "Frère Jacques") was Legs criss-crossed, Legs criss-crossed, Hands on your knees, Hands on your knees. Quiet on the inside, Quiet on the inside, Ready for the lesson, Ready for the lesson. At the line, Quiet on the inside, the song gets (and stays) quieter, so that if we sing it a second time we end up whispering the second half of it. 
Within a couple of months it was no longer necessary to sing the tune through twice (the first several times that we only had to sing it once, I complimented them on getting ready so quickly). 

The other thing that helped enormously was holding an all-age service in the Godly Play style. When I explained to the adults how we show that we're ready I announced, N can show you how it's done. For a moment my heart was in my mouth, but there was no silliness at all. The child went straight into the ideal position, proud to be "in the know". And my recollection is that the children were better about the getting-ready position in the lessons following that one. 

photo by see-through-faith
  • Every time I've told a Godly Play story for children, at least one adult has commented on how well the children paid attention. So sometimes it might be worth getting started even if not everyone is, strictly speaking, "ready". Particularly if you're telling a desert story, moving the sands around as you begin the story can be mesmerising. 
It might be tempting to look up to make sure everyone is engrossed in the story but paradoxically this is the worst thing you can do. Keep your eyes and your attention on the story figures! Jerome W. Berryman recommends that the first thing you should do if a child loses focus is to make sure that you yourself have your focus where you need it, and sometimes the child will then be drawn back in.

This post is at risk of rambling on and on. So for now I'll just make two more points.
  • Something else that Berryman says is that it's ok if you spend your whole session just on forming the circle. Sometimes it is a circus. Sometimes what the children seem to need is just some time together, getting attention, being treated as though they are important and valued, and forming a tiny community together. And that brings me to my second point.
  • I always found something that I was pleased about in every session. Having debriefing sessions with see-through-faith (my faithful adult helper) allowed me to get another perspective on things but even before that I was always thankful for some little breakthrough or insight, some piece of work a child had done, some touching thing a child had shared... And when I think now about what our Junior Church achieved, the biggest thing is that I became friends with these children. They are always glad to see me at church, and often want to tell me their news. They know that they are important to me, and they know that they belong. 


  1. Oh my goodness, I was searching and searching for the post I commented on, and low and behold you created an awesome post for me. Sunday was along the lines of Barnum and Bailey under the big top (read as biggest circus ever). But like you said, you can always find something positive in the session and this Sunday we had our first 7 wooden stories on display from a very generous donor. The children and I viewed them, touched them, and talked about them at the display table in the narthex. Then we took two stories back to the room to explore. The excitement of it all could have been the intro for the circus.

    Such great advice and I am so happy that I have found you, this blog and the pinterest boards. What a blessing!! I am literally soaking up every word you are "saying" or have "said". Many blessings, Heather

    1. I'm so glad! It's hard to know how to speak to someone else's situation; mostly I just try to share my own experiences and hope that's helpful. Do also explore some of the other blogs in my sidebar! Some are about "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd", some Godly Play, and some are homey blogs by mothers who use some of these lessons with their children at home. I'm sure some of them will also be encouraging to you.

      And thank YOU for encouraging ME with your comments!


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