Many of us may have heard of Robert Raikes and his first Sunday schools in England in 1780 and on. Children learned to read via Bible stories, learned the catechism and attended worship services. In America, the American Sunday School Union was begun in 1824 in Philadelphia, while the Sunday School Society began in Boston in 1831 and both spread across the country.
A little later, an alternative program for children’s spiritual quest and from a tradition outside the Sunday school movement, was being started by Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907. Montessori believed that children are “inherently spiritual,” and her teachers were trained to guide children in their spirituality. The assumption was that children have an inner faith from their beginning and they should be supported life long on their journey toward spiritual maturity.
Berryman provides a detailed history of the Montessori tradition and those who were searching for teachers with the right combination of religious interest, educational talent, confidence and skill to express Montessori’s ideas, and realization of the importance of religion to a young child. When little children respond to something new or beautiful in nature, we may see on their faces that they believe and they want to know more.
A prominent name in this history is Sofia Cavalletti of Rome, author of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and its teachings, plans, and helpful books. A little later in the U.S., Berryman and his wife Thea were putting together the Godly Play program. There are both similarities and differences in the two programs, though both built on Montessori’s earlier work in the Roman Catholic network. Berryman says that neither program is finished, and both continue to try to find better ways “to help children help themselves to know God.”
Begun in the Episcopalian community, the Godly Play program is quite ecumenical today. The final chapter provides information on ten examples of how Godly Play is being used and diffused into the mainstream of Christian education around the world.