This week, I’m starting the beginning stages of a training for a local church’s preschool ministry. As I’ve brainstormed and began to prepare, I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for “play” in young children. Children learn through play, it’s how they’re wired. As Early Childhood Specialist, Lisa Murphy, often shares, “the house of higher learning is supported by a foundation built on play” .
Play is the child’s work. If we take play away, we rob them of their full learning potential. I share all this information on play because the church Sunday School classroom needs more play; intentional play. Not the “I don’t have a lesson plan, so we’re just going to let them play the whole hour” kind of play, but real, intentional play-based experiences that will reinforce biblical concepts and stories. This kind of play is a necessity so that preschool children can understand the Bible on an age appropriate level. When done correctly, we can see amazing things out of young children. Recently, my three year old can explain the gospel clearer than some adults, but that is because she’s been exposed to it and experienced it through play and other methods. If I handed her a coloring sheet of a cross and rattle off an explanation, she won’t fully understand the story or it’s significance. Yet, if she hears the story and then its reinforced in a variety of meaningful and purposeful play based ways, the importance starts to sink in.
Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television personality said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning”. If you ever listen in on a child’s play you will hear them processing what they’ve been exposed to. One day, my oldest, took her daddy’s shoe and pretend knife and told me she was making a “shoe cake” because we had recently been watching a YouTube cake show. I didn’t tell her how to make a cake, I didn’t give her instructions, but she was processing what she had learned and been exposed to. If we expose children to God’s Word, we must provide ways for them to process it, to help digest the content they’ve been given. As you go through my site and see the preschool lessons I share, each one comes with “story reinforcers”. These are play-based activities that help reinforce biblical concepts and ideas. I try to provide a variety of means from dramatic play, sensory and even process-based art to help children understand what they’ve just heard.
Preschool curriculums are (most of the time) going to give you color sheets and cutesy crafts which are typically not age-appropriate or play-based. To best reach our ministry of preschoolers, you have to first understand them, you have to learn how they develop and what activities or play experiences can strengthen not only their spiritual development, but their cognitive, social and emotional development. When we can prepare our classrooms on Sunday mornings or during a weekday preschool, with solid, developmentally appropriate activities, our preschoolers play will increase and so will their understanding of Jesus Christ. It’s taking the time to make the Bible real and tangible to them. As concrete thinkers, they need those tangible means to make the truth of God’s Word stick.
Now I’m not saying, go into your Sunday School classrooms and throw out every coloring sheet and non-play based material, but instead go into the classroom with a critical eye. Evaluate the curriculum, is it meeting their developmental needs or is it just helping the teachers survive the hour? Is there anything more than just free play in the classroom? Are there centers? Are materials being changed out? Is there an excitement about God’s Word or do they just breeze through it to get back to free play? Take the time, weeks even, to critically see how your preschoolers are learning. If the information isn’t sticking, it’s time to up your play.
Our weekly time with young children is so limited. We need to make the most of it. We need to make sure we are doing the best we can so they can learn and process God’s Word as much as they can. Let’s lay a foundation that strengthens their walk with God for years to come.
Thanks for letting me share,