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Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach Review by Julie Kieras

Jerome W. Berryman
Church Publishing Incorporated
Church Publishing Incorporated
19 East 34th Street
New York, NY 10016

Have you ever wondered how to make biblical truths come alive for your children? I’ve found that while our family often reads the Bible and Bible storybooks to our children, sometimes our kids are passive listeners. We long for our children to attend to the narrative of the Bible closely, to wonder, to ponder, and to ask questions that lead them to discover God. In Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach, author Jerome W. Berryman lays out what to do and say to encourage kids to engage actively with the Bible stories you’re already sharing with them. The paperback version retails for $18.95 and does not come with any materials; materials described in the book must be purchased separately or could be crafted at home.

Stories of God at Home shares methods for “storying,” as the author calls it – using narrative stories (from both the Bible and our personal experience) - to create and find meaning in God’s World. The eight chapters detail how to “story” The Creation, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, The Good Shepherd, and the Liturgical Year. Plus, there is a chapter on using classic literature to reveal truths about God, and a chapter on how to get in touch with God to face family challenges. Most scripture passages included are quoted from the NRSV.

Author Jerome W. Berryman is connected to the Episcopal Church, which is evident in the text, with references to Lent, Advent, and the Eucharist. He founded the Godly Play Foundation, and this book is published by The Center for the Theology of Childhood. The book contains references to ideas and concepts not commonly held by biblical Christians, which may make this book incompatible for some families. For example, he talks about children “experiencing ‘magic,’” and claiming God as “the ultimate source of meaning.” He writes from an evolutionary standpoint, evident when he says, “communication formed…by the evolution of our brains across vast eras of time. Our ancestors appeared in Africa some 200,000 years ago…” He refers to existentialism, prehistoric times, focusing on “creative energy flowing,” and “the movement of creative energy,” finding “our deep identity as creators,” and “centering” yourself. At the end of the book, he recommends a meditative activity by instructing the reader to “put everything out of your mind…to feel the creative energy of God.”

This book could be used by parents, homeschooling or not, to teach children of all ages, either individually, as a family, or in a group setting like a church. It fits a Montessori approach because of play-centered and open-ended learning strategies presented. Although it’s not a full curriculum, it shares specific methods for five Bible stories. There are no assessments or schedules included.

The bulk of the book demonstrates how to communicate through stories and “storying,” so that children find meaning about God. The process is clearly scripted with accompanying full-color photos to show how to use and place the materials (purchased or created separately). The instructions are divided into two columns, one for the movements or actions the parents should do with the materials, and the second for what to say about the materials. The materials are simple pieces of wood, pictures, or figurines representing parts of the story; they are housed in a wooden box with a piece of rolled felt for laying out the story pieces. As the parent lays out each piece in order, they share that part of the story. After the story is told, parents go back through the story, and invite listeners to “wonder” about each aspect with open-ended questions suggested by the author.

Both before and after the scripted ideas for the “godly play” activity in each chapter, the author outlines reasons and philosophical support for why it’s important to tell stories and invite children to ask questions. He shares story origins, Bible references, and quotes various Christian and secular child experts and psychologists.

The chapter on using secular stories explains how to look for themes of God’s love and creativity in classic children’s literature like The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, and other tales. The book choices coincide with the five Biblical stories detailed in previous chapters, so they could be read in tandem. He doesn’t flesh out a script for these books, but rather gives examples of where these stories convey a truth about God.

Since I didn’t have the Godly Play materials described in the book, I simply attempted to tell my children one of the stories using just a storybook and the script provided. Inviting children to wonder about their place in the stories of God is likely going to be a new experience for some families as it was for mine. My children didn’t really know what to say at first, and the author says that is fine; they will learn over time that they are welcome to share their thoughts about the story.

I liked the concepts and scripts for interactive story-sharing described in this book. I hope to incorporate a few of these storytelling techniques in our family reading and Bible study. While I couldn’t agree with the author’s existential and mystical concepts of God, I think the strategies for helping kids think deeply about their place in God’s story are valuable and could be extracted from the book as a whole.

This book introduced me to interesting concepts about using narratives to inspire conversation about God in a child-friendly way. However, I would not purchase this title for myself because it’s more of a reference book than a curriculum, and because of the divergent theological premise this book is based upon.

Readers with a background in Episcopal beliefs and / or a love for literature and Montessori-inspired learning might enjoy the concepts in this book. One critique, however, is that while the scripted applications of this method were easy to follow, sometimes the philosophical and theological discussion before and after was heavy to read. The author may have to bring these concepts down into a layperson’s language to make the concepts easier to access. Also, it would be helpful to include a statement of faith or theology at the beginning, so prospective readers could clearly identify the particular theology of this author and this book.

-Product review by Julie Kieras, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2018