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What is our children’s program Spirit Play?

Spirit PlayWhat is Spirit Play?

First Parish Sudbury is proud to be offering Spirit Play for our four- to six-year-olds this year. Spirit Play is a unique model of religious education designed to deepen children’s experience in the classroom by creating understandable guidelines, age-appropriate rituals relating to our faith, and ways to participate in a community. The program utilizes elements of the Montessori Method and Jerome Berryman’s “Godly Play” approach to RE to teach a curriculum based on our shared Unitarian Universalist values. Spirit Play encourages independent thinking through wondering questions, gives children real choices within the structure of the morning, and develops an underlying sense of the spiritual and the mystery of life. Volunteers guide the children’s learning through the roles of the Storyteller and the Doorkeeper. Our volunteer guides find the program rewarding as part of their own spiritual process, as well. Parents are always welcome to observe a class, but I encourage you to check with either myself or the Storyteller for the week to make sure we do not “over-adult” the room.

During Spirit Play, children are offered a story told with manipulatives, and then they wonder about it together. They are not given definitive answers but are encouraged to figure out what the story means to them. Each story has its own basket of materials kept in a particular place on the shelves so that children may further explore the story. After the story and wondering, the children move on to “work time” where each child may choose from arts and crafts materials or other stories to engage through creative play for the morning. This program is especially designed to accommodate the multiple learning styles that children have and the multiple ways intelligence manifests itself in their activities. There is a great deal of freedom to move around the classroom during the work time, and then children come back together for a closing circle. This method develops a community of children in a sacred space and gives children the spiritual language to talk about what is most important to them. It also gives them a measure of freedom to choose activities that speak to them.

We use the Montessori approach and Berryman’s morning as worship approach for the structure of the morning.  As in Montessori, the key elements are the prepared classroom environment and the teachers. These elements free the children to work at their own pace on their own issues after an initial  lesson or story within a safe and sacred structure shepherded by the two adults.

Our curriculum this year has begun teaching the children the core values of the UU Principles: Respect all people; offer fair and kind treatment; yearn to accept and learn; grow by exploring; believe in our ideas and act on them; insist on freedom, justice and peace; and valuing our Earth. We call these our seven rainbow principles. But this is our ninth year offering Spirit Play at First Parish Sudbury, and we have many, many lessons developed over the years thanks to all the efforts of our previous RE teachers, or as we call them, Guides in the religious exploration for our children. For example, we have stories on the sources of our faith in wonder and awe, words of great women and men, world religions, Jewish and Christian teachings, science and reason, and earth centered traditions. Thank you to everyone in the past, present, and future who has made this dynamic and engaging curriculum come to life in the minds and hearts of our children at First Parish Sudbury.

Chris Scheller, M.Div

Director of Religious Education