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!

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