Godly Play is a reflective and imaginative way of working with children which explicitly recognises and respects children's own spirituality.
It was developed by Jerome Berryman in the United States, based on the work of Sofia Cavaletti and Maria Montessori. Godly Play uses symbols, artefacts, religious language and silence to help children make sense of their own spiritual experiences.
The setting is an important part of Godly Play. From the moment the children arrive in the Godly Play room, they are aware that they are in a special place.
In front is a focus table with the figures of the Holy Family, the Good Shepherd and a candle to symbolise Jesus as the light of the world.
Behind the Holy Family is a figure or painting of the risen Christ.
Elsewhere in the room are the materials for the Godly Play stories - wooden figures, a desert box filled with sand, golden parable boxes. The art materials that will be used later in the session are also displayed.
The session begins with creating community. There are two adults in the Godly Play room - the Storyteller and the Doorkeeper. The Doorkeeper greets the children at the door and invites them to sit in a circle facing the Storyteller. When the children are ready the Storyteller fetches the day's story.
There are three different genres of story in Godly Play: Parables, Sacred Stories from the Old and New Testament, and stories relating to the church's liturgy - Baptism, the Eucharist, the Circle of the Church Year.
The stories are told on the floor using wooden figures, coloured underlays and pictures. Some of the stories are told using a sand tray - the "desert box." The parables are kept in gold boxes.
When the Storyteller has finished telling the story, the children are asked "wondering questions" designed to help them reflect on the story and make their own meaning. There are different types of wondering question for each genre. For example after narrative stories the wondering questions might include, "I wonder which part of the story you like the best?" and "I wonder if there is any part of the story we could leave out and still have all the story we need?" After a parable the children might be asked, "I wonder where this whole place really is?"
After the story and wondering questions the children are given the opportunity to make their own response to the day's story. They can work with a variety of art materials - paints, felt tips, pastels, clay or saltdough, glue and scissors. The children can also choose to work with the day's story or with a story they have been told in previous sessions. The children are expected to be responsible for getting out and putting away their own materials.
The Godly Play session finishes with the children coming back to sit in the circle. There is an opportunity for children to pray - aloud or in silence - or to indicate that they don't want to say a prayer. The session finishes with a feast where the Doorkeeper helps the children to serve a drink and simple snack. The Storyteller says good-bye to each child individually, who then goes to the door where the Doorkeeper prepares them for leaving.
Godly Play gives children the language and opportunities to reflect on our existential limits such as freedom, death, suffering and being alone.
It gives them the space and silence necessary for their own spiritual development and a creative environment for them to make their own personal response.
They experience Godly Play as part of a nurturing community.
Godly Play takes place in many different settings - churches, schools, clubs - and with a variety of age groups from pre-school to adults.
The setting and the structure of the session is adapted to fit this - for example a school group may only have a focus shelf and a church may miss out parts of the session to fit with the time available for children's work.
It may also used with people with special needs such as children in hospital or adults with dementia.
Godly Play resources
Setting up: How do you start doing Godly Play? What materials would you start with? Our thoughts about developing Godly Play in four stages from "Trying it out" to "Developing a Godly Play room".
Beginnings 1: The experience of a small village church setting up Godly Play in the space under the tower!
Beginnings 2: A town church's experience of starting Godly Play...
Free response: Why do we have a free response following the storytelling and wondering? Wouldn't it be better to have a set activity?
Godly Play resources: Links for places where you can buy Godly Play resources; suggestions for books, websites and blogs
Godly Play in school: How does Godly Play work in a school setting?