Children spend a lot of time in public spaces: shopping at grocery stores, waiting for buses, washing clothes at laundromats, or looking for books at libraries. Although these spaces have a primary purpose, researchers are encouraging families to use them for other developmental activities, including spiritual exploration, through guided play experiences.
Guided play draws on activities that are familiar to children and yet encountered in a new way. These activities are easy to do because there are no complicated instructions to follow. They are typically social in nature, which means two or more participants intentionally interact. And they are activities that generate good feelings, such as curiosity and joy.
A research team led by Brenna Hassinger-Das applied the principles of guided play to learning opportunities in public spaces such as parks and libraries. They discovered that targeted activities spark different types of conversations between children and caregivers than random activities. Both the quantity and quality of the conversations about the topic increased. This suggests that guiding children in spiritual activities related to the public spaces you visit regularly is one-way parents and caregivers can facilitate spiritual growth.
Next time you are at the grocery store, riding the bus, or visiting the laundromat, try one of these spiritually-oriented guided play activities.
Grocery Store Food Collection
Use these conversation starters while at the grocery store. Invite your child to push a small cart alongside your larger one and add groceries you will donate to a local food bank later.
- How many boxes/cans of x item does our family need? Can you count them?
- If we want to help another family who doesn’t have enough food, how many boxes/cans should we get for them?
- What’s your favorite food? Do you think other children would like it too?
- What are some foods you would like to share with another family who doesn’t have enough to eat?
Bus ‘I Spy’ Game
Play this version of ‘I Spy’ while riding the bus. Use the prompts to spot different items. Once you find something that fits each category, try to guess each others’ choices. Ask yes/no questions (e.g. Is it big? Is it on a person? Is it colorful?) to get hints about what each person has in mind.
- I spy something that gives me joy (peace, hope).
- I spy something that reminds me the earth needs care.
- I spy something that reminds me people are unique.
- I spy something that calls me to be a force for change.
Make up laundry-oriented verses to the Wheels on the Bus song, such as ‘The clothes in the washer go swish, swish, swish’, ‘The soap bubbles scrub the clothes all clean’, and ‘The water and the dirt go down the drain’. Between verses, pose some of these questions to talk about clean water as an important resource for humans to share.
- What do you think happens to the water and the dirt after it goes down the drain?
- What would you do if there wasn’t enough clean water to wash your clothes?
- Do you think it’s possible to make dirty water clean again?
- How can we make sure everyone has enough clean water to wash their clothes?