Waves of Work

It is June 6th. We have only two Godly Play sessions remaining, and a post which I began over two months ago was still a draft. Where has this year gone?

I’ve been thinking a lot about work time and how each session is unique. I am always convinced that the children are doing the work they need to do, on that day. I have been blessed with having  90 minute Godly Play sessions (which allow for 30 to 45 minute work periods) in both churches where I have practiced Godly Play with young children.  Each week I am reminded of the words  so familiar to Godly Players…these things are for you and  we have all the time we need. In reality, many Godly Play programs have consistently shorter work times, and I wonder if children feel the materials are really for them if there isn’t much time to work with them. We simply cannot say to a child “hurry up and do this very important work!” All we can do is give them time.

Following our session on March 30, when we needed to tell the entire Faces of Easter since we would not meet again in our room until April 27, the Second Sunday of Easter, I began writing down some thoughts about that morning’s work time. The first five plaques were summarized or “custom presented” considering who had/had not been present in previous weeks, but the 6th and 7th  plaques were presented in their entirety. We finished our wondering, and just like every other session, I began with the first child to my right, and continued in a counterclockwise direction, asking each child individually… what does this story make you want to do for your work? Often about half the group will work with story materials. On that day, one by one, each of the ten children chose to begin with an art response. The room was as quiet as that Saturday in the story! The only sounds were those of big work. There were several very dark creations, filled not with things these four and five year olds often draw, but filled with feelings. There was one paper covered with black, purple, and blue, and on the reverse (white) side, the child drew bright flowers. There were many crosses drawn or cut out. One child cut out a collection of crosses very much like the crosses in the enrichment story. Someone else glued a cross, cut out of white paper, onto his nearly black drawing. There were several creations with “two sides”, and they were turned back and forth. Some children worked with their original work for the entire period, while others went on and created something else. No one took a story off the shelf. But we can’t say that no one worked with a story. Sometimes children bring their finished work to show us, but very few did that day, I believe because they did not need to.

In our work times there are usually two noticeable waves. Children usually decide quickly what their work is going to be, and within just a few minutes, everyone is working. Then someone will be finished. Sometimes, within a few minutes, several will be finished, and they will start roaming around the room. A storyteller might be tempted to signal that it is time for feast! But it is wonderful that in our room, we can ride this wave of unchanneled energy. We have time for this energy to fuel even more work. Sometimes children are surprised that they still have time… time to do something else! It is in this second wave that the children become even more absorbed in their work. This year one child came and sat down in the circle a full half hour before he needed to. He quietly sat. We can not say he was not working! Another time, a second wave activity for this same child was very quiet rolling around on the carpet. He was not in the way of anyone. He rolled for at least twenty minutes, but everyone was oblivious to everyone else. Everyone was doing the work that was right for them, that day.

I am fascinated by how different each child is, and what speaks to each child regarding work choices. The children may work with (take off the shelf) any story with which they have had the lesson. Some always respond through art, while they still may be “working” with stories that surround them. Some will suddenly want to work with stories – perhaps when a story from a different genre is first presented. Some have favorites they work with again and again. One child a few years ago very systematically worked with all the stories he’d seen, and then would repeat the cycle over again. Last week, a child returned after being away for several months. He worked with (at least) four stories that he’d had in the past, including two that he’d seen but had not worked with beforeWhen ever I ask a child what part of the day’s session was their favorite, most often the answer will be “work time!” Usually I feel we could easily use another 10 or even 20 minutes. But we gather anyway, for feast, confident that we have had “good enough” work time!








All the Faces of Easter! (Please see the edited story schedule)

We recently found out that GP will not meet on April 13 (Palm Sunday), so our schedule was edited to reflect that Faces of Easter began a week earlier than we’d originally scheduled. This coming Sunday the children will see the entire story! Please see the edited schedule. Even though this is still March, you will see that we have just a few sessions left in this 2013- 2014 Godly Play year. Soon the children will see the arrow on the Circle of The Church Year wall calendar move ahead four weeks, showing the time since we last met. Endings are as important as beginnings, and while it is unlikely that everyone can be with us for our final session, the process of an ending will be experienced by all who are present, when ever they can come.     

Parables and Preschoolers

I remember being surprised when I heard another Godly Play practitioner say she never tells parables to her young children, except for the Parable of the Good Shepherd. I don’t remember exactly what ages she had, but the children were not all the same age. For many years I worked with 3-5 year olds (turning 6) in one room, two of those years with the addition of a 7/8 year old with high functioning autism. For three years in my current location our group has consisted of 3 and 4 year olds, and this year, just 4 year olds (although two of the “regulars” began last year, but they too, sometimes, are seeing a parable presentation for the first time. I wish I had kept my weekly notes  from my former parish with me so I could write based on records! Then too, many variables influenced what children did over ten years ago and what they do today, so all of this is just based on a feeling.

With five Sundays scheduled for parables this year, and snow and ice preventing us from meeting on one of those Sundays, this group saw The Parable(s) of the Good Shepherd, Good Samaritan, Great Pearl, and Mustard Seed. It is not that the children did not like the presentations, or want to work with the stories! They seemed to enjoy them, and had plenty ideas about what a particular part “might really be”…but it was strangely flat, one dimensional. Parables are so abstract that even adults, especially adults who have been told what particular parable means, sometimes have trouble with a freedom to play with possibilities. But even young three year olds who see older children playing with possibilities, can learn how to play with possibilities, and their playing is triggered by the playing of others on a different level of understanding. In my experience, I think parables are very appropriate for young children, but especially in a mixed age group. Will they understand them? Is understanding them what is most important? Or is learning how to play with them what is most important? And does the mixed age group help children learn how to play? I think so!

Advent… this year

This year, our Godly Play Family has created a model of what Advent is all about. The children are not talking about Christmas! They KNOW that we are in a period of waiting, and of listening. and of preparing. During our session on Sunday I heard the word “Advent” several times, but never “Christmas”. The children have been quiet. Work time has been quiet. They have been quiet as they have waited for their name to be called for dismissal. I believe this is what the children need, and they have found it. It is absolutely beautiful.

“I wonder why they wanted to put God in….. a box!”

“This is Jerusalem”, I said, and drew the lines in the sand to represent the walls of the city, “and here is the temple, where the people believed they needed to go to find God”. Then came a soft “I wonder why they wanted to put God in…. a box.” I know I responded with a “hum” and a raised eyebrow, while continuing on with the introduction of The Exile and Return last Sunday. But as I continued with the story, another part of me was wondering what kind of images of the temple the children had in their minds – some saw the Ark and the Temple the previous Sunday. Would any of them actually be picturing those nice pieces of wood so beautifully cut and finished by the workers at Godly Play Resources? What is it like to be four? Perhaps at that age I was still peering through the perforated masonite back of our big radio at home, trying so hard to see the tiny orchestra or the tiny football players that were in there, somewhere. Another part of me was thinking about our human nature to want to put special things in special containers, and then… about just how interesting this comment was.

Later, as I continued… “The people had to do everything the soldiers told them to do…”
“That’s just like the Pharaoh!” said several in unison.

And at the end of the story, the child who wondered why they wanted to put God in a box, noticed how this story looks like another story… a story where God was everywhere! Hum…..

Something else was interesting, too! This group actually seemed more interested in the fact that the calendar color was going to change than that Christmas is coming. Now, no one actually said “I’m so glad that Advent is almost here” – but they were looking toward the story with the blue underlay to go with the blue on the calendar. They know that there is something in-between.

A Very Good Journey

This week the children saw The Ark and the Temple. I often introduce this as a mini lesson immediately following The Ark and the Tent, because we rarely have enough Sundays for all the stories we’d like to tell between our beginning in September and the beginning of Advent. It has been years since The Ark and the Temple could have it’s own day. The children seemed most interested in the fact that there were the same things in it as there were in the tent, and they liked the larger laver outside! Good facilities for hand washing impress children this age. 

Next Sunday our 2013 Desert Journey will end with The Exile and Return. Being able to tell all the stories in sequence this year gives me, the storyteller, that special gift of connection, and new appreciation all over again for the way Godly Play stories allow us to become a part of what was, is, and will be. More than any other time in the year, I wish each child could experience each story! Then I remember that they have many years ahead with lots of time for their circles of meaning to grow. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do my own big work as we help create space for the children to do theirs! 

In this sand Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and many others met God, many times. In this sand, you too, can meet God…

Sand is not the only place where one can meet God.  But in a Godly Play room, sand certainly is one place!

This year as a storyteller, I feel a new relationship with the sand in the desert box. The stories I have told for years feel different. Something seems different for the children as well, something hard to put into words.

Words are readily available to help us remember stories and to help us get a sense of time and place. But in addition, I have always wished we could have a large map, drawn as much to scale as possible, with desert box shaped rectangles showing locations of the sacred stories in Volume 2. Even with young children I like to do a brief geographical/historical story review in preparation for the next story. For example, before I begin the Exodus story, I retrace in the sand the path taken by Abraham and Sarah in The Great Family, and then we imagine the desert continuing… onto the carpet to my right of the desert box…this is where we are going! Then we imagine that we pick up the journey made in the Great Family story and move it onto the carpet to my left of the desert box….and then I begin the presentation of Exodus. The following week, we begin by imagining the location in the Exodus story as being on the carpet to my right of the desert box…only with the celebration of freedom at the end of Exodus now being remembered in the sand, at the right hand end of the desert box as I look at it…. which is the beginning of the Ten Best Ways. Perhaps I do this as much for myself as I do it for the children… I know that I need to see and feel the bigger picture! Considering that we try to be as geographically correct as possible and have consistent orientations for the four directions, I believe that even young children will benefit from thinking outside of the (desert) box. In practice, this mini review takes only a little longer than the time it took to read this! Godly Play Resources, is such a map a possibility?

This coming Sunday the Ark and the Tent will be presented during Godly Play for Adults, and the children will see it when our sessions resume on November 10th.