Pat Conover: Sharing the Journey
Christian Education Through Play

Around Every Bend by One Eighteen

I have been including play in my teaching methods for younger and older children in the Seekers Church Church School for twenty years. Here are a few basics of what I do and why. I use a lot of play but I use other things too. Play can be a small part, a large part, or no part of a particular Sunday lesson.


With younger children include:

Building and improving relationships between the children and between the children and me. Games can help with self-esteem, feeling comfortable in the class space, integrating new children, experiencing success in new skills or media, feeling cared for and accepted.

Learning about rules and improving cooperation.

Building morale and engagement with the class.

Exploring mystery.

Putting an experiential shared base for the class under themes of love, trust, caring, responsibility, hope, etc. Sometimes we use the words.

Exploring and experiencing stories, including Bible stories.

With older children include:

Older kids (and adults) need a lot of the same things that young children need.

Deeper engagement of story by discussing the experience rather than by wordy speculation or argumentation.

Simulations of complex challenges, such as understanding poverty.

Learning new communication skills that include attention to the emotional and not just the cognitive aspects of conversational and non-verbal interchanges.

Learning about the social construction aspects of building the empire of God (What is human reality and what can humans build together that embodies God's grace.)

Theory Base

We now know that the brain is not just a cognitive organ that is only about connections between nerves in the brain. The nervous system part of the brain is closely connected with the limbic system, organs that secrete hormones into the blood stream. This means that intellectual and feeling aspects of experience are closely and multiply inter-connected. Play is aimed at exploring the experiential base of learning not just the words we use to communicate about the realities we engage.


There are three basic parts of play.

Exploring and developing skills. (Learning by doing)

Exploring stories and concepts. (Experiential base for ideas, themes, lures into mystery, concepts, relationships, and more.

Manipulating objects individually and together.

Play is about rules. Actually play is about making, keeping, and exploring rules. Baseball as a game is a bunch of rules for selecting and using bats, balls, etc., in defined spaces. Playing is actually experiencing what you can do with things and ideas. Playing baseball is hitting, running catching, etc. Some games, like baseball, are highly stylized and very rule explicit. Other games can be much less explicit and some of the best teaching games are really about exploring the rules. What constitutes a win? Why is it more fun to do it this way than that way? How should we define a turn? What if we did it this way rather than that way?


There are a lot of ways to play with a story.

Tell a story and then get the kids to choose to be the characters in the story and then have them tell the story and/or act out the story. Maybe do this several times with different kids in different roles. Discuss the different experiences of the story or just let them have the experience that stories can go different ways.

Tell a sentence story. This is a collaborative play in which one person starts a story, another add a sentence to the story, a third person add the next sentence, etc. You can use a picture as a story starter, or a description of a person, or a theme, or an activity, etc.

Have one person tell a story and then have another person tell it back.

Have one person tell a story and then ask a "what if" question. "What if here are a lot of ways to play with marbles.

There are a lot of way to play with marbles.

You can roll them or shoot them.

You can have a defined shooting area or a whole room to explore.

You can just use the marbles or introduce a variety of objects (blocks, playing card buildings, etc.).

You can have the game being about hitting each others marbles (hide and seek, chase, obstacle course with extra turns for hitting a rival), etc.

You can have a simple skill game such as trying to hit a target

You can have a cooperative game of getting all the marbles into a "barn" onto a target, etc. with the win being the score of all hits by all players. A player can stay with one marble or you can take turns with any player shooting any marble in play.

For the teacher, you can have a goal, such as teaching cooperation, but once play is underway you can observe the kids and build or change a game as you go along.

Pat Conover
February 2008

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