Christian Play Areas in Churches
A number of churches in Britain are developing Christian Play Areas for children and adults to explore their Christian faith through play.
Young children learn through looking, touching and playing. In a Christian faith based play area, children are surrounded by and play with images of the Christian faith.
Experiencing aspects of the Christian faith and worship through objects, symbols and play can be an important part of their growing up in the Christian faith.
The idea is not new, Maria Montessori in the 19th century started developing hands on tactile materials for children to learn about the Christian faith through play.
In "Offering the Gospel to Children," Gretchen Wolf Pritchard suggests developing Montessori style Christian faith play areas in churches, which she calls "Good Shepherd Nurseries".
The materials for these play areas are all connected in some way with Bible stories, Worship or Sacraments. Craft and drawing materials may also be available. The materials are in the worship setting so storage should reflect the nature of the surroundings and be glorifying to God. Ideally materials should be attractively displayed in baskets or on trays so the children can see and reach the materials. Items are more easily kept tidy and organized if they have their own locations and baskets to which they are returned.
Young children, especially the under fives, are likely to be the main users of these areas but older children and even teenagers may use the area.
It is helpful to have the area close to the central focus of the worship so that they can see and engage in the worship whilst playing.
As children get older they may dip into the area during the service but may also be encouraged to take items back to the pews.
Adults also still play and at times may delight in and even play with the materials provided.
The children playing during the worship does not mean they are not also engaging with what they are seeing and hearing. They will be making connections between the materials in the area and aspects of the worship and Christian faith they encounter in the service.
However, the provision of a children's area in the church is not a replacement, rather, an addition to, offering good multi-sensory inclusive worship for all ages.