An article from the Cathedral Times
by Canon Mary Hunter Rouse
My mother has been a high school math teacher my whole life. I don’t totally understand the love she has for calculus, but I do understand the love she has for her students. One time I overheard her responding to another teacher about how she dealt with a particularly challenging student. “Oh,” she said matter of factly, “when I have a student who I don’t like for some reason I go out of my way to make sure they think they are my favorite. I pay attention to the things, no matter how small, that are good, and I praise them. By the end of the year they almost always are my favorite student. And they usually end up learning the math they need, too!”
Godly Play, the curriculum that we use for children two years old through fifth grade, often includes asking those gathered in the circle for the day, “I wonder what part of the story you like best.” The story usually comes from the Bible, though there are also “stories” about the things we do in church, like Baptism or the liturgical year, as well as stories about saints, both ancient and modern. The stories are told using three-dimensional materials specially designed to draw children (and adults!) deeply into the beautifully scripted narrative, which is memorized by the teachers.
Asking the children what part they like best is, perhaps, what I like best about a Godly Play lesson. What I love about asking our children that same question every week has little to do with their answers. In fact, their answers are not always original or even necessarily revealing. There are many days when child after child will answer, each with great seriousness, “All of it.” (Actually, I do love that, but it is not the point for today.)
The thing I love about asking “What part do you like best?” over and over again is that it is a way of teaching us, children and teachers, the practice of beginning our wondering about any person, situation, or story by asking ourselves, essentially, “Where is the good here?” This is not the only question to ponder, of course, but it is a powerful starting place for engaging the world with imagination, love, and hope.
As I prepare to leave the Cathedral after ten years I can honestly say that I have loved every child I have ever had in a Godly Play circle, taken on a trip to Kanuga, been stuck on a bus in a snow storm with, had to remind more than once that “feet are for walking, not for kicking,” watched go from toddler to teenager, and welcomed into Week of Wonder. I have loved each of those children because my mother and Godly Play taught me how. Expect to find good. Pursue it relentlessly. Find a way toward love.
I love that we teach our children to wonder about what part they like best because seeking the good is a practice that has made my life richer. It is a habit that takes work and attention to adopt, but one that has helped me to live into our baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and I'm thankful for the time I have had to share it with the children I love.