All in a Day's Play

dean michael shire demonstrating godly playJAN. 15, 2013 — It’s a common refrain of Jewish educators: How do we successfully engage our young students in the spiritual and religious aspects of Judaism?



The Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education at Hebrew College thinks it has at least one answer: Godly Play, an innovative educational method that introduces young children to the notion of God and spiritual wonder through storytelling, guided by the use of artifacts and symbolic objects.



Though Godly Play is not new — a version based in Christian theology was developed some three decades ago by lawyer and theologian Jerome Berryman — it has only recently been adapted for use in Jewish school settings.

Shoolman School Dean Michael Shire is among those who are persuaded of the program’s efficacy. Over the past year, he has demonstrated Godly Play to more than 50 Jewish elementary-school educators from the full range of the denominational spectrum, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform.



With the help of a recent $20,000 grant from the New York-based Covenant Foundation, Shire intends to introduce Godly Play curricula into several area supplementary schools, day schools and early-childhood centers over the next year. The curricula will be developed by a group of educators and practitioners — a so-called community of practice — who come together with the common goal of promoting sacred teaching and spiritual learning in Jewish educational settings.



“Our goal is to devise new conceptions of learning that reflect spiritually rich Jewish educational environments,” Shire said. “If we are successful, the community of practice will establish a new paradigm of religious growth in Jewish education.”



The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies and the Jewish Education Service of North America. Since 1921, the foundation has provided more than $23 million to develop and support Jewish education and community-building projects and programs in North America.



The Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education develops and nurtures outstanding leaders in the field of Jewish education through its two advanced-degree, five certificate and four professional-development programs.