Jerome Berrymans Contributions
Jerome Berrymans theory of Godly Play is a variation on the Maria Montessori method of education (Allen, n.d.). Berryman conceptualized Godly Play as more like spiritual guidance than what is typically thought of in the church as childrens education. It involves children and adults, as guides, moving together toward fluency in the art of knowing how to use Christian language to nourish their moral and spiritual development (Allen, n.d.). The foundation for this view on childrens education was, ultimately, in the Montessori tradition, for Berryman considered himself to be a Montessorian (Hyde, 2011a, p. 342). Central to Berrymans conception of the education of children was Christian language: he believed children should be fluent in Christian language before they reach adolescence; this way their holy religion is in them, is like second nature to them, is what contextualizes and frames their thoughts, words, and actions (Berryman, 2019).
Berryman was born in 1937 in Ashland, Kansas, a ranch and wheat farming community. He has been a lifelong Christian who married his wife Thea in 1961 and with whom he had two daughters born five years apart. His youngest daughter was born with spina bifida, which likely contributed to Berrymans sensitivity to the topic of children with special needs, which he frequently touched upon in his writings (Allen, n.d.). Berryman received a Bachelor of Arts in 1959, and went on to receive a master of divinity in 1962, a doctoral law degree in 1969, and a doctoral degree in ministry in 1996, just before his sixtieth birthday. Ordained an Episcopal priest in 1984, Berryman He had an accomplished career but is best known for his theory of Godly Play. He has held many workshops, conferences, and has consulted widely among various schools and hospitals.
His main interests were in associating the teaching methods of Maria Montessori with childrens play, learning, imagination, and the Christian religion. He wanted the education of the child to be something organic that develops naturally rather than something that is forced on the child that the child might resist and push away because not ready for it or not comfortable with it. A child is a developing human being with a free will, an imagination (often expressed through creative play), and a desire to learn (often expressed through the watching of others in their play and interaction). Berryman saw that the role of adults in the education of children was simply to serve as guides and supports so that children could be kept safe during this learning, searching, and playful development. Central to Berrymans approach to what he called Godly...…that time during which they are most vibrant. Berryman recognized the beauty in the play-centered educational process and promoted it whereas Montessori felt the need to get around that label. In this sense, Berryman believed he was developing and enriching the Montessori method.
Berryman also believed that play was ultimately the driving factor in all learning and that when people are at play they are full of life and are open to life and the mysteries that God teaches through life. He viewed fake play or pseudo-play as parasitic and as dangerous to education because it was closed to life and numbing to a childs mind and creative spirit. For Berryman, the proper use of the imagination was the most important factor in the education of the child and so long as that imagination was guided by religious inputs and Christian language it would retain the Christian character that is most pleasing to God.
Berrymans major influence on education was, therefore, to help educators see that in Godly Play children could come to possess a deep down religious education while enjoying a proper development of imagination and will. Through interactivity with others, and meaningful serious play, children could make full use of their time. And through immersion in Christian language, they could be like seeds planted in good soil…
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