If play is the primary heart language of children and toys are their primary words, doesn’t it make sense to harness the power of play as a vehicle for spiritually formative interaction in the home and in the context of children’s ministry? In my ministry I frequently use elements of play, both organized and free form, to engage children in spiritual conversations. Play is not simply an activity in which children engage to fill their spare time. It is serious business which allows them to process their experiences and their growing awareness of the world.
Do you want to understand what children really care about? Observe carefully their times of free form play. Listen and watch for themes and patterns in what they say and how they respond to situations. Ask yourself how these themes emerge in the context of play. What are the responses of specific children? How might this inform the direction of your teaching and your interaction with their parents?
If you haven’t already, consider adding both organized and free form play as elements in your children’s ministry. For young children, it helps to have a child-sized puppet stage with puppets they can use. It also helps to have large blocks of varied shapes which they can use for building structures. If you have adequate supervision and resources, consider a water color paint station, as well as a place for drawing. Play dough is often a winner for young children. And some kids love to paint sculptures as well, either something they have made or a pre-formed one.
Play is a necessary component for spiritual formation in the home and at church. Our church programming should harness its power. Our homes should celebrate it as families learn to play together in redemptive ways.