“Did you know that Peter Pan could ask Jesus into his heart and be saved from his sins and live in heaven forever?” I asked my daughter as she played with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell dolls in the bathtub.
“He can?” she asked.
“Yes, he can. And then Jesus will live in him forever, and he when he dies, he will go to Heaven.”
She was in awe, and this began the conversation in which she asked Jesus into her own heart. It was a precious moment, and one that probably would not have happened if I had not approached the subject using her toys.
Play is powerful for children. Incredible amounts of learning happen through play from birth until about age 6 (even later according to some experts).
Play therapy is a popular way to help kids deal with strong emotions. One of my daughters has an anxiety disorder, and talking to her therapist over a dollhouse and dolls helped her to process those feelings in a tangible way. It was extremely beneficial.
While kids do need time to play alone and with other kids without adult interference, research shows that playtime with parents is also important.
We all know that our kids crave time with us; it makes them feel special. It’s so important to find time to spend playing with them on a regular basis – sometimes one-on-one with each child and sometimes group time with all of the adults and kids in the family.
According to researcher Dorothy Singer, “Through make-believe games children can be anyone they wish and go anywhere they want. When they engage in sociodramatic play, they learn how to cope with feelings, how to bring the large, confusing world into a small, manageable size; and how to become socially adept as they share, take turns and cooperate with each other. When children play, they are learning new words, how to problem solve, and how to be flexible”.
In pretend play, let your child decide the situation. Get into her world. Let her go with it. Ask questions. Play along. Be silly along with her and have fun. Know when it is time to stop.
When you can, use stuffed animals or puppets to act out real-life situations. Let the puppet or doll or stuffed animal demonstrate the wrong way to handle a situation. Then ask your child how to act out a better way. Afterward, let her do the same.
Why not use this time to talk about God?
When you’re playing alongside her and not talking to her as a parent, she will be much more open to conversation. Here are some ways to start out (of course, substitute whomever your kids are playing with for Peter Pan here):
- “Do you think that Peter Pan should pray for Wendy? It looks like she is stuck there.”
- “What do you think God thinks about that?”
- “Do you think that Peter Pan should ask God to forgive him for that?”
- “How do you think Peter Pan should have handled that?”
- “You know, God still loves Peter Pan even though he did that.”
- “Can you build a place to worship God (with blocks or Lego or magnetic tiles)?”
All of these scenarios involve you being the parent, and talking to your child from outside the playing. It is much better if you can work them in from one character to another, but that’s sort of hard to tell you how to do without actually being a part of your play. Just keep it in mind as you are playing.
The most important thing to remember in the above scenarios is to listen. After you bring up God, make sure you listen to what your child has to say. She may surprise you with her insight.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of playful books. Stories like Night Night Train give lots of opportunities to talk about God.. Written in sweet rhyme and showing a family of dogs as they fall off to sleep, it will be a favorite of your little ones for years to come!
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How have you used play to help teach your children important lessons? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!