Our church was in the midst of giving our nursery a fresh, new look and as this project took off, we found ourselves wrestling with ideas of what to include for dramatic play. After visiting a kindergarten classroom and watching the children play “house”, it dawned on me that kids mimic adults in everything they do. We have play kitchens, tool benches, vacuums, and fishing rods. This is how kids learn about the world around them. All of a sudden, I could just imagine how kids could play “church” and experience church in a tactile environment!
Dramatic play isn’t a new concept by any means. Maria Montessori’s theories about giving children opportunities to learn in a hands-on, sensory way were developed early in the 20th century. That educational idea has now become mainstream, and we accept that children learn and grow through active play.
Pretend play gives children an opportunity to practice adult roles, solve problems, and act out feelings they can’t yet express in words. It occurred to me that we can put this into context on Sundays too, engage children in what they see happening during sanctuary worship…but in a size that is functional for kids to play.
After brainstorming with Mimi Larson (the Children’s Ministry Catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries), I discovered that play churches had already been created in some European churches such as the Diocese of Edinburgh, Linköpings Cathedral (Sweden), and St. Catherine’s Play Church in Malmö, Sweden.
Originally, our Play Church was intended for nursery use (children aged 0-2) but because Covid restrictions inconsistently closed the nursery; we temporarily set it up in the foyer. In this location, it was open to all ages and we noticed kids aged 1-10 playing before, during and after worship services, but also throughout the week with other ministries.
Jennifer Uitvlugt is the Director of Family Ministries at Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, AB.