by Brittney Grimshaw
Like many fields of research, early education has transformed over the years. Our understanding of the development of children has sharpened and yet remains full of mysteries that have us in awe of the might and sovereignty of God. One of the major philosophies that has emerged from research is the powerful role that play takes in the lives of our children. Play allows children to build imagination, engage in creativity, develop skills in problem solving and an understanding of cause and effect, as well as increase language and social skills. One of the most important benefits of a child’s play is giving them the opportunity to role-play BIG ideas and BIG emotions that they otherwise would not have a context to work out. Isn’t it awesome to consider how God can meet our children in their play? The funny thing about these early education play-based philosophies is how they have failed to cross over into many approaches to early Bible teaching. Often there remains little room for discussion of BIG topics and at times, we avoid BIG topics as a result of feeling unsure about how they fit into the lives of our children.
I cannot stress enough the value of teaching Biblical truths to young children and giving them a space to explore and discover the incredible, immense, unending, unimaginable love and power of God! If we don’t, not only do we do a disservice to our children by ignoring their needs, but we also essentially limit how we think God can move in the lives of our children. We have recently taught our students three things about God: 1) God is Father; 2) God is Maker; and 3) God is King. Each student knows and remembers these aspects of God’s character, but that is not what is important; what is important is that we have given them space to experience who God is. In response to a teacher asking, “Who is God?” one student, who has been in foster care for a bulk of their young life, yells out above the rest “GOD IS FATHER!”…. YES! Sweet child, if you leave here with one thing in your heart and it was that God is your father, I am overjoyed. There is no doubt in my mind that God has rooted this knowledge in the deepest part of that child’s heart.
Bible stories reflect big truths about God, the truest things in the world. Some of these stories are difficult and messy and hard to understand. This is where play can come in handy. God tends to meet us where we are. He relentlessly pursues us, and I do believe he meets our children right where they are—in their prayers, in their praise, and even in their play. After teaching the story of Moses and Pharaoh, we filmed two students with a flannel board playing “Pharaoh Dino,” the faithful herbivore Moses versus evil, carnivorous Dino Pharaoh. Details may be less than accurate, but when children understand that God can make a way when there is no way, what more could we ask for?
Maintaining time for play in the lives of our children is essential; time for uninterrupted, engaged imaginary play has a great impact on the development of children. Our lives are often so hurried. How do you as an adult function in hurriedness? We are less productive, less creative and crankier! These small bodies our children have those same huge emotions that we do! If your children have forgotten how to play, if they are too immersed in the instant gratification of our culture, there is hope. You might just have to remind them of how to play by getting in there yourself. Have a tea party, build a fort, play action heroes, take a few minutes to enter their world. It’s a pretty cool place.