Can we use Godly Play with schools?
This is probably one of the most common questions asked about Godly Play. The answer is definitely, “YES!” For over ten years Godly Play has been used in a variety of schools: nursery, primary, secondary, S.E.N., church and community schools, inner city and rural.
- for key festivals and seasons e.g. Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter
- to learn in a different way e.g. learning about baptism through the baptism story
- as part of the RE curriculum
- as a lunchtime or after-school activity
- as part of a themed day
- as a regular activity, a way of learning and doing things differently e.g. each week or term
For information about Godly Play training please go to Courses
Imagine being someone who…
- slows down the pace
- creates a safe space to think ‘big’
- provides the tools then stands back
- builds a community
- learns as well as teaches
- doesn’t always know the answer
- enables children to make connections
- is open to the unexpected
Imagine an approach to religious education that…
- promotes knowledge, skills, empathy, values, spiritual growth
- develops the needs of the whole child: mind, body and spirit
- provides a multisensory approach to learning
- develops language and communication skills
- gives everyone the opportunity to speak for themselves
- develops thinking skills
- provides depth and reflection in every session
- gives time for learning
- promotes originality, independent choice and decision making
- uses visual, auditory and kinaesthetic approaches to learning
Godly Play is an approach to Religious Education that promotes not just the learning of knowledge and skills, but also empathy, values and spiritual growth. Read here about the 3 year project by the National Society that enabled teachers to explore the Godly Play approach in the classroom See things differently Do things differently
Who delivers Godly Play? Sometimes the initiative to use Godly Play arises within the school, with a member of staff taking the lead to introduce Godly Play within the curriculum. In many situations someone from the local church works with the school, hosting visits of children to a Godly Play space in the church, or taking Godly Play into the school. Across the UK there are many examples of local churches delivering Godly Play sessions to schools as a part of their mission and outreach into the community.
What is required of the person delivering the sessions (school staff or church member)?
knowledge of how to do Godly Play link to courses / trainers and schools reading list
- ongoing training in Godly Play ethos and methods
- time for preparation, learning stories by heart, gathering together materials
What is required of schools?
- an enthusiasm and confidence in the method
- a commitment to nurturing the spiritual development of the child
- time and space within the school timetable
What is required of churches?
All of the points listed above plus
- energy and commitment for regular sessions at school and the necessary preparation and training
- a relationship of trust between church and school
- regular communication between teachers and Godly Play practitioners
- an understanding of the role of the teaching staff in a Godly Play session. For ideas see Godly Play information for teaching staff
- a willingness to be flexible to fit in with the changing needs / routines of the school
The space could be in church or in the school hall, classroom, or other room in the school.
Here are some general factors to be considered when choosing where to set up the space.
- Can the space accommodate the number of children? Is there room for the children to sit comfortably in a circle? Children will not be able to enter into the story if their view is blocked. (it might be possible to have an ‘overflow space’ for the response time)
- Can the space be made safe and sacred? … special, warm, comfortable, inviting, calm, free from intrusions
- Is the space accessible for children with disabilities?
- If the space is outside of school how easy is it to get to? Will extra adults be needed to walk over?
- If the Godly Play is in a church will some children be excluded because their parents will not give permission for them to enter a church? (this may be the case for some children from other faiths or no faith)
- Can the same space be used each time so the children become familiar with it?
- Can it be permanently set up as a Godly Play space or will the resources need to be stored elsewhere (in school or in a church) Could portable shelves be used?
- How often will the children be experiencing Godly Play? – taking them for a ‘one off visit’ to a fully equipped classroom may not be helpful as they may be faced with too many options of stories or response materials
- How long will it take to set up the space each time – will it be free for you to set up or will a class be using the area?
Once you have decided on your space here are some factors to consider how you set up the space:
- Where will the children enter the room (the threshold)?
- Where will the storyteller sit? – opposite the threshold is ideal but other factors include the position of windows, furniture, distractions on the walls, which route people use if the hall is a thoroughfare (best if the storyteller is facing the thoroughfare to reduce the distraction on the children)
- Can you move things in the room? As a visitor have you discussed this with the class teacher?
- What will you use as a focal shelf?
- Will the creative response materials be set out for the children to collect and take to their own space? Will you set up some particular tables or designated areas on the floor for paint, clay, collage, drawing materials, construction?
- How will the children know where to sit? Setting out mats/carpet squares in a circle can indicate to the children that “one of those special stories is about to happen” and they help the children to stay in the circle
- Is there space in the room where other stories, previously experienced, can be available for the children to work with?
- Can you put a notice on the classroom door to prevent unnecessary interruptions?
The unused area in the church sanctuary has been transformed into a Godly Play space that can accommodate 30 pupils. The area was carpeted and set up with a focal shelf and response materials. The other stories will be added as they are introduced. Each class from the local school has an afternoon of Godly Play every week over half a term block.
‘…i thought it was magnafsint place when i walked in i forgot
my problems and began to smile i realy enjoyed my viset
because it is a splended place’
(comment from a Y5 pupil)
Click on this picture to see details of the focal shelf, the different areas for Creative response and the 3 sacred stories that the class had already experienced.
There were also response materials laid out along the wall
- Using stories for key festivals and seasons e.g. Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter
- Using stories to learn in a different way e.g. learning about baptism through the baptism story
- Using stories to fit in with a particular RE curriculum – an example can be found here Blackburn scheme with Godly Play stories although the disadvantage can be that classes are experiencing ‘one off’ sessions rather than having the opportunity to go deeply into a series of Godly Play stories
- Offering Godly Play as a lunchtime or after-school activity
- Using Godly Play as part of a themed day
- Godly Play in school as a regular activity, a way of learning and doing things differently e.g. each week or half-term
- If a series of Godly Play stories are presented, say weekly, then the children are able to make connections between the stories, eg the stories from Creation all the way through to the Exile and Return could be presented over 8 weeks. If all those stories are available each week the children will able to work with.
- If you are new to Godly Play you could learn one story and then present it to different classes in the school (this can be a great confidence builder)
Godly Play enables children to learn the art of using religious language to make meaning. Although ‘one off sessions’ work there is a much greater depth in the wondering and response time that comes when children are familiar with Godly Play. For instance you could offer to take one class regularly over a period of time as described in the case studies The Voice of the Good Shepherd for school children in an urban parish and From ‘one offs’ to an integral part of school life – establishing Godly Play at St Marys School, Sheffield
One of the best ways of getting ready is to attend a 3 day accredited core training course (link to training) and to read Jerome Berryman’s book ‘Teaching Godly Play How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children’
Taking Godly Play out of a church setting into a school context requires us to ask a whole new set of questions, some of which are highlighted below. Keep asking yourself these and other questions and you will find creative solutions that support the spiritual nurturing of the children.
Communication and negotiating with the school
Have you discussed with the Head Teacher and the class teacher the essentials of what Godly Play might offer and how it differs from other approaches? Could you offer a taster session for a staff meeting or twilight training time?
- Is it a church or community school? Godly Play needs to be adapted for a non-confessional setting (see link to Religious Education in schools – what you need to know)
- Have you negotiated the best place to set up the space for Godly Play (Link to Factors to consider when setting up the space for Godly Play)
- Are you presenting to a whole class of thirty or can you negotiate a smaller group?
- Have you negotiated the time allocated, and planned what can realistically be offered to the children in that time?
- If there is time for a creative response, where will that happen? How will you prepare that space?
- Do the teachers understand their role? For ideas see Godly Play information for teaching staff
- How will you and other staff discuss and evaluate the session to enlighten future practice?
Creating the space
Creating a space which feels special and safe for the Godly Play experience is very important. For information about where and how to create the space please go to WHERE? Children can be taken to a local church or a Godly Play space can be set up in the school.
Preparing for the different elements of the session
A Godly Play session includes:-
- Getting ready: welcoming children into the Godly Play space
- Telling the story using objects and artefacts
- Wondering: exploring the story with open questions and discussion
- Responding playfully
- Enjoying a simple feast
- Ending the session: saying goodbye
Getting ready: welcoming children into the Godly Play space
- Will you have an actual threshold with a door person asking each child if they are ready to enter? If you are a visitor to the school then will you come with another adult who will be the doorperson? If you are a teacher is there another member of staff who can do this?
- If you as the teacher are the only adult and you welcome each child at the door, asking each child to sit on a mat, then how do you help to build the circle once you have sat down? (eg you could make eye contact with each child in the circle or say set words together that build the circle)
- Have you asked the teacher to identify any child with additional needs which may affect their position in the circle?
- Would it help to make a name label for each child?
- How will you help build the community? (eg if it is your first time with a class you might ask each child to say their name and share one thing about themselves)
Telling the Story
Presenting the story in a way which offers the children opportunity to listen deeply and make meaning about it themselves, rather than teaching an adult’s interpretation, is an essential part of the methodology.
Whichever sacred story, parable, or liturgical action lesson you choose to present, the pace, language, actions, quality of artefacts and silence are all important. Telling the story from the heart rather than reading the script draws the children into the story.
- Do you need to change anything in the story language for a community school (this is mostly relevant for liturgical action lessons)?
- Can all the children see, hear and engage with the story as it unfolds? With a large circle (of 30 children), viewing 2D story materials in particular can be difficult. Consider holding the plaque/2D object vertically for a prolonged time.
- How will you ensure, in a large circle, that all the children can still see any 2D story materials? Do you need to consider presenting the whole story on a shallow inclined plane? E.g. Creation and parables can be hard to wonder about if you can’t see them
The storyteller’s sensitive guidance of the wondering time in the circle, using the scripted open-ended wondering questions and a non-judgemental reception of answers, enables the child to begin to relate their experience of the story to their life experiences.
- In a large group where there isn’t time to hear the verbal responses of all the children how will you ensure that all children feel valued and are given the opportunity to speak at some other time? (You might acknowledge that their unspoken thoughts are just as important and that they can talk to an adult during the Response time)
- Do you need to remind the children of the need to listen to each other’s ideas?
- How will you balance the time between the story, the wondering and the creative response time? Might you need to cut down the Wondering time to allow more time for the Response time?
This is a time when children can continue to explore and express their responses to the story. There should be a wide range of art and craft resources, books, construction materials and story materials. For Jerome Berryman this is the time when children begin to explore and cope with the big questions of life.
- Is there enough time for this activity (the ideal is at least 30mins)?
- Who will provide paint, clay, paper, pencils etc? There are advantages to having a different and special set of response materials to those the children normally encounter in school. link to a list of resources for response time
- Are these resources practically packed for easy and quick putting out and packing away?
- Can the Response time take place in the same space as the story circle or will you have to move to another space? Is there an ‘overflow’ space that can be used? How will you retain the atmosphere of wondering if this happens?
- How will you set up the Response materials? Will the art materials be set out for the children to collect and take to their own space? Will you set up some particular tables or designated areas on the floor for paint, clay, collage, drawing materials, construction, a basket of books? Which story materials will be available?
- If the children are collecting materials and taking them to their own space will they need trays?
- If there are lots of children in the room how can you help the child to feel they can have their own space? A mat on which the child can work on their creative response can help the child to have their own ‘special space’ in the room. Children can of course also choose to work together
- Have you prepared the children that this is a time to explore freely without any set expectations or value judgements of end results? Do they understand that it’s about process not product?
- How will you involve the children in the clearing up?
Enjoying a simple Feast
The feast is another important part of the Godly Play experience; as a time of sharing food and time with each other in the circle (and if appropriate a time of prayer or reflection). It also offers an opportunity for community building and social skills. It is important not to rush and to include the rituals involved in serving one another.
- What size is the group? How will this affect how much time it takes?
- What will you offer as a feast? …a biscuit, a piece of fruit, dried fruit..?
- What are the best practical solutions?… you may want to use plates or serviettes
- Have you checked about any particular food allergies?
- Do adult helpers know that the children will serve one another and that the storyteller or door person will manage this? It is helpful to ask the children to serve the story teller first so he/she can model what to do?
- Could you consider asking more than one child to hand out the feast in order to speed up the process?
- Will you pray? Will you ask the children if they wish to pray? How will this be modelled and managed? If it is a community school will there be a silent reflective time instead?
- How will you organise the children to tidy up the feast?
Ending the session: saying goodbye
You need to think how to create a sense of closure and completion as the children return to normal school routine.
- If you are the class teacher how will you help the children make this transition?
- If you are a visitor at what point will you hand the circle of children back to the class teacher? Are you able to send the children out of the space before you hand over to the teacher?
- Can the storyteller say goodbye individually to each child? You could go round the circle, smiling, making eye contact and saying goodbye, at which point the child can leave the circle and go out through the threshold. The door person could also say goodbye at the threshold.
The case studies that follow show a variety of ways in which Godly Play can be used in schools. The practitioners have shared what they have learned along the way. If you have an experience to share then please do get in touch with one of the trainers.
This is an extract from a report by Rebecca Nye (Soul Searching at Park Street School). The project involved a year long, multi-faceted exploration of spirituality in the life of a school. This included sessions using Godly Play, some for pupils and some for staff. This extract focusses on how the pupils responded to Godly Play, and found in it an accessible and attractive medium for their spiritual insightfulness and needs.
The Voice of the Good Shepherd for school children in an urban parish
Godly Play is offered every week to Y2 children from a community primary school in a deprived area of Middlesborough and has a powerful impact on the class.
From ‘one offs’ to an integral part of school life – establishing Godly Play at St Marys School, Sheffield
This case study describes how Godly Play developed from ‘one off’ sessions to an important element of the curriculum
Getting the adult out of the way to promote the spiritual development of the child
Godly Play allows school children to develop in their relational consciousness and in their search for meaning. Through a case study, Kathryn Lord examines how Godly Play reduces the power differential between the adults and the children, fosters respectful interaction of the adults with the children and protects the child-oriented space. She discusses how the adult attempts to ‘get out of the way’ by creating community, giving children the tools to enter into the story, providing the opportunity and choice for different ways of knowing and allowing children to make authentic meaning for themselves.
Frequently asked questions
Some elements of the methods of Godly Play can be used successfully in collective worship, and can have a profound effect on the quality of worship. However it is not a full Godly Play experience and cannot be described as spiritual guidance for children in the way that regular full Godly Play sessions can. The question must always be asked; What elements of Godly Play do I want to use and to what effect?
1. The creation of a different and sacred space where children’s contributions are valued and not judged.
How will you achieve this? What makes it different to other collective worship?
- By the setting up of a focal shelf with Holy Family and Christ Light.
- The way the children are greeted and received into the room.
- The first words you say and the manner in which they are spoken.
2. A story told simply and slowly with beautiful materials handled with reverence.
In a Godly Play story materials are designed to be used for story telling in a small circle. A few can be adapted to make them accessible to a larger group
- Creation plaques can be made larger and held up vertically rather than laid down.
- The shields from Jesus and the Twelve can be made large and the Leonardo Davinci painting can be projected onto a screen.
- The Faces of Easter can be photographed and projected to make sure everyone can see the detail but still held one by one by the story teller to show reverence, and then held vertically or held by a row of children in front of the gathered worship group.
3. The open ended wondering questions which encourage children to offer their own thoughts.
How will you develop with the children the understanding that you are not trying to reach a predetermined answer or teaching point? How will you make every child feel their response is valid in the constraints of the time pressure and number of children?
- The open acceptance and affirmation of all that the children offer, even the negative. State that there are no right answers; we are all wondering together.
- Make clear at the beginning of the wondering that you will not be able to listen to everyone but that their ‘unspoken wondering’ is also important
- Suggest that they may want to go on wondering with their class teacher or each other or their family later.
Other issues to be addressed:
Is there time in the allotted worship time to do these elements well? Can you negotiate longer time with the Head Teacher for this occasion? (In the case study accompanying this section 30 minutes was allocated).
Who will be present? Is it suitable for the full age range? Can the youngest children really engage in this situation? Will you prepare any staff present in any particular way?
Godly Play has a great deal to offer in helping pupils to learn about and learn from Christianity. There is also rich potential for nurturing pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. What you need to know about Religious Education in schools gives you some helpful basics.