Play is the foundation for this fantastic, faith-based enrichment
Do you remember playing outside all summer? Up at dawn and home when the streetlights flickered on? Nothing could keep you from being outside in the sunshine and fresh air. You played tag with friends, rode your bike, climbed trees, went swimming, and played on the playground. You were running, jumping, laughing, and having fun with your family and friends. Remember those days? Playing was so important—and not directed play, either. I’m talking about free play. You used your imagination, made up games, and the world was your playing field.
The world has moved on and the culture of play for our kids has changed. Think about it: How much time do kids play outdoors compared to when you were young? I’m not talking about structured sports practice, but free-time playing. Now consider how much time we spend indoors watching television, playing video games, surfing the internet, or texting friends. Too often in our over-busy lives, we view free play-time as a waste of time.
Play: Something’s Missing
This lack of play troubled me for years. It started when, after many years of coaching children in sports, I saw that kids needed a faith-based sports camp where they could learn the basic fundamentals of a sport and work on their skills in a positive and encouraging environment. The camp would be unique in that kids could also learn about Jesus.
But I noticed something else: children were missing opportunities for simple play. So I began the Ultimate Fun Sports and Recreation Camp. Ultimate Fun focused on playing games outside, creating new games, and just having fun outside along with kids learning about God’s Word and how it applies to their lives. Kids were laughing, playing, using their imaginations, meeting new friends, and learning about God. The camp was based on play and faith. For instance, one summer kids learned the old games Kick the Can, Hopscotch, how to shoot marbles, and more. During that week, the kids attending were running around outside the church with parents, playing until it was dark. The new routine of evening play didn’t stop after that week; it continued throughout the summer and into fall. Parents said they noticed a change in their kids: their kids were motivated, healthier, happier, and loved to be outside.
The “Work” of Movin’ and Groovin’
Play is a fundamental need physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually for preschoolers, children, youth, and adults. We were created to play and to use our imaginations. From a neurological point of view, when we play, our brains grow. This is especially true for very young children and preschoolers. Play is important for healthy brain development. When children play, they learn problem-solving and communication skills, and they use their imagination. Their creativity, confidence, and social skills blossom. We learn some of our most important relational skills through play. For children, play really is their work.
After years of providing the sports camps and Ultimate Fun camps for kids, I wanted to create something that was specific to preschoolers. I serve in a church that has its own preschool, Trinity Lutheran Preschool in Loveland, Colorado. One day, the director of the preschool, Kari Butzman, and I were discussing the importance of play for preschoolers. We talked through the kinesthetic movement, health and fitness, and physical development of this age group We decided we needed a program specific to this age group for preschoolers.
Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith
That conversation spurred me to begin developing a resource called “Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith” just for preschoolers. Movin’ and Groovin’ teaches kinesthetic movement and gross motor skills to preschool children along with a faith aspect. The objective of Movin’ and Groovin’ is to help all preschool children develop their gross motor skills and fine motor skills through play and defined kinesthetic movement in a controlled and fun-filled Christian atmosphere.
Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith is an enrichment program in which preschoolers get to try new skills and cheer each other on. Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith helps little ones develop skills in running and jumping, skipping, throwing and catching, balance, core movement, dancing, listening, teamwork, and perseverance—all through play.
Today, kids at the preschool ask for Movin’ and Groovin’ all the time because not only is it fun, but it gets their heart rate up. They’re moving, stretching, playing, growing, and laughing. Plus, the teachers at Trinity Lutheran Preschool love it.
“I knew in the first five minutes the children were hooked,” says Mary Jane Schilling, the junior kindergarten teacher. “We’ve run obstacle courses, done relay races, tried crawls that involve counting and hand-and-foot coordination, and played games with the teachers. It’s wonderful to see them excited and participating. Before we depart, we call a huddle and read a Bible verse that ties the activities. For instance, if the huddle is on perseverance, we learn to never, ever give up because God never gives up on us. We learn to continue the race and finish to the end. Children quickly pick up on aspects of faith through intentional play and actually retain it because of the connection of our faith to our physical beings.”
Play That Lasts
Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith has become a permanent enrichment program at Trinity Lutheran Preschool in Loveland, Colorado. It’s been a great assessment tool for preschool teachers. At the beginning of the year, we assess each child developmentally on running, jumping, catching, throwing, and balance. At the end of the school year, we redo assessments to see how much kids have grown over the year.
Director Kari Butzman is emphatic about the importance of play and movement in preschoolers’ lives. “Through this enrichment program, children are able to freely express themselves through movement and creativity and have the support to develop skills and succeed through early childhood practices,” she says. “Children need this opportunity to develop and grow in an environment where they can develop their faith, their confidence, and their self-esteem and gain a positive outlook on physical development.”
Movin’ and Groovin’ is growing and evolving with the creation of new games and activities that stretch preschoolers’ imaginations and offers new challenges for kids and teachers. It’s high energy, it’s loud, and there is a lot of laughter and cheering. It’s connecting God’s story to ours through play and fun. So keep on running, jumping, swinging, throwing, catching, dancing, climbing trees, swimming, making mud pies, roller-skating, laughing, and playing—because God created us to play!
“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).
Movin’ & Groovin’ in Faith: A Snapshot
Here’s what a typical lesson looks like.
1. Kids hear the Movin’ and Groovin’ word and definition for the day.
“Perseverance: This means we keep trying new things, and if you don’t get it right the first time, you keep trying. Never give up.”
2. Kids hear the corresponding Bible verse in age-appropriate terms.
“Romans 5:4: God wants us to stay strong and never give up.”
3. Kids stretch during Warmin’ Up Time.
- arm circles
- reach for the sky
- leg stretches
4. The fun begins.
Teachers build a wacky and fun obstacle course for gross motor movement that develops kids’ core strength, agility, and balance all while they’re having fun and cheering for each other. Then kids move on to a physical challenge where they jump over the outstretched jump ropes to avoid the “river.”
5. Kids join the Dance Party.
Kids dance and move to Christian music, improving cardio health and focusing on gross motor movement.
6. Kids do The Huddle.
This is a time for kids to slow down and kneel together, listening to God’s Word and sharing prayer requests. During this time, the teacher restates the Bible passage and ties it to the day’s activities for reinforcement.
(The total time for a Movin’ and Groovin’ lesson is 20 to 25 minutes.)
Patty Stroupis the director of faith formation and creator of the Movin’ and Groovin’ in Faith program for Trinity Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.
For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!