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Playing with God

How young children connect with God through fun

Q. I want to help my 3-year-old learn more about God, but it's hard to get her to sit still for a Bible story or even a video. How can I help her grow in her faith when all she wants to do is play?

A. God loves your child so much that he is intentionally, actively present in her life even when she's just playing. It was God who wired your child's heart to include a huge desire to play.

To our adult minds, play sometimes seems like little more than a break from the "real" stuff of life. But for a preschooler, play is serious business.

Obviously playing helps young children develop their motor skills, but it is also essential to their cognitive development (discovering cause and effect), social growth (sharing, taking turns), and emotional formation (feeling excited about a new toy). Just as your child's brain kicks in to high gear during playtime, her soul is also busy absorbing the basics of faith such as joy, patience, and kindness.

In his book, Godly Play (Augsburg), Jerome Berryman explains the benefits of play: "Godly play can awaken us to new ways of seeing ourselves as human beings. It is the way to discover our deep identity as godly creatures, created in the image of God. Godly play is a way to know God."

Summer is a wonderful time to start bringing more intentional spiritual lessons into your child's playtime. And what better place to play than your own backyard?

The casual playfulness of garden planning and planting and exploring plants and gardens together can yield memorable family times. Dig in the dirt and notice all the bugs and worms God created. Let your child nestle the seeds in their beds and talk about how it feels to have a safe place to live. Point out the various colors and designs of the plants and flowers you see and talk about God's wonderful imagination.

Help your child find a favorite quiet place in your yard¬óby a tree, on a rock, even under the picnic table. Let this be her special spot to rest, think, and listen. If your child is drawn to music, hang a set of wind chimes in the yard so she can hear God in the wind. An unbreakable gazing globe that mirrors your child's face can remind her that she is a wonderful part of God's creation, too. A hammock is also a preschooler natural.

Point out God's actions in the everyday events of nature. Set up a bird feeder or birdbaths to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Pay attention to all the ways God is present in the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.

As you spend time in your yard, talk about the differences between the flowers (the good stuff) and the weeds (the bad stuff) to lay the groundwork for spiritual formation. The flowers reflect God and all the good things God wants for us. Those pesky weeds get in the way of healthy growth. Yes, it's a little heady for a toddler, but keep showing your child all the lessons God has for her in the garden and you'll be tending the soil in which her faith is already taking root.

LITTLE THOUGHTS, when planted in fertile minds in tangible ways, can yield a bounty of spiritual understanding. Look for opportunities in daylight, moonlight, or candlelight to integrate Scripture though songs and playful stories. Rather than struggling to create separate times for spiritual formation, a little time outdoors can help you make the most of your child's openness to discovering God through play.

Mary Maslen is the Early Childhood Specialist for Awana International. She lives in Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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