A Religious Education message from Gina
This year our Religious Education program offers six different classes, each of which uses a unique curriculum designed to meet the intellectual, spiritual, and developmental needs of the children in the class. From time to time I like to spotlight one particular class, to provide a close up look at what it’s all about. This month I’ve chosen to spotlight Spirit Play, our class for children in Pre-K and Kindergarten.
Spirit Play is a UU program that has been in existence since the year 2000. In fact, we were one of the first congregations to begin using Spirit Play. It is currently utilized in congregations across North America. Modeled on the Montessori method of education, it is based in story and ritual, play and creativity. In the words of Nita Penfold, co-author of the Spirit Play Manual, “Spirit Play gives children the tools to make meaning in their lives within the container of Unitarian Universalism.”
So, what does Spirit Play look like? How does it work? Upon entering a Spirit Play classroom you will notice that the environment is neat and visually appealing. All materials are carefully chosen to support the children in their “work” – exploring the day’s lesson through art, movement, and other creative mediums. All supplies are stored within reach of the children, which encourages them to make independent work choices. You will also notice several long shelves that hold baskets. Each basket contains a story based on one of our Seven Principles or from one of our Sources. In addition to the story, there is a cloth underlay and props or other manipulatives that the teacher uses to tell the story. A unique component of Spirit Play is that the teacher’s role is simply to share the story and then ask “wondering” questions that encourage the children to explore what the story means to them. The teacher does not interpret the story for the children or pull it together at the end with one neatly packaged lesson or moral.
Following the story, children are invited to choose their work. For some, this means using that morning’s story basket, or a basket from a past week, to retell the story on their own. Others choose to explore the story by painting at an easel, using clay, building a temple with blocks, creating a collage, or using wooden tangram pieces to make a chalice. Some children work alone and others work together, but they are engaged in their work because they have chosen it for themselves.
Currently we have two teachers in the class who have attended Spirit Play training with Nita Penfold, and three more volunteers are scheduled to attend the training in June. If you’d like to learn more about Spirit Play, or are interested in volunteering, I would love to talk with you.