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Purposeful Play that Teaches Timeless Truth
By: Jeremy Echols

Why do you schedule games at your children's events or plan for recreation at Vacation Bible School? Because kids need time to get up and move around. Children can learn biblical truths by participating in different activities, but some will best understand about God in teachable moments while playing games.

Because children learn at many cognitive levels, an effective teacher will seek ways to share biblical principles in the context of recreation or to engage them in "purposeful play."

You can have what it takes to lead great recreation activities! Just remember these guidelines. Preparation is important. Preparation is an investment that will always pay huge dividends.

Work through this preparation checklist:

* Read through the games you are to lead and familiarize yourself with rules, concepts, and the flow of game play.

* Visualize the game if you've never seen the game before.

* Gather all the equipment and supplies you will need.

* Check your space for potential items that could hurt.

* Set up early. Curiosity and anticipation build when kids arrive to discover a prepared recreation area that looks colorful and fun.

* Keep them active. Plan your games to maximize participation and minimize sitting out or standing in line.

* Always have a bag of tricks. Be ready with additional games for extra time or unexpected kids.

Communication Is Key
Be enthusiastic! If you convey to the kids that you are having fun, then they will have a great time with you.

Also, plan how to clearly word your instructions. Make sure the participants understand the rules and what they are expected to do, but don't use five minutes to explain something you could say in five sentences. Get them playing the game as soon as possible.

Make a Connection
Make the most of every opportunity to love on kids, and use every chance you have to connect with them and share meaningful spiritual truths. A well-prepared leader can make every minute serve its purpose, from playing a game to transitioning between games to debriefing games in order to help the children apply the principles of the game to their lives.

Share a Devotion
Debriefing a game doesn't have to involve a long devotion, Greek word studies, or a set of commentaries. Once you've played the game you wish to debrief, the recipe for sharing a simple devotion is easy. Prepare to hold the kids' attention, mix in wisdom from the Bible for spiritual truth, and always add your own words and testimony from your heart.

There are three ingredients for debriefing (devotion).

First, create an atmosphere where your message can be heard. At our camps, recreation usually takes place outdoors, so we train our leaders to minimize distractions by having kids sit facing away from potential disruptions. Most times, we debrief games sitting in the shade after getting a drink of water.

The second ingredient is best used when opened. Keep your Bible in front of you and show them that the verses you share come from God's Word. Don't preach at the kids, but gently guide them by asking questions to lead them to discover spiritual truths.

Finally, always add your heart. As you read a verse that they can understand and relate it to the game they have played, be sure to smile and enjoy the experience of sharing Christ's love with children in a meaningful way.

Let's use a hoop toss activity to see how all this looks in action.

Gather: Supplies for a group of 8 to 10 children (hula hoop; blindfolds; several soft, squishy balls; and a long, nylon rope). Next, survey the playing area for holes, obstacles, vehicle traffic, or anything unsafe. For setup, simply stretch out the rope to form a large circle and place the balls in the middle.

Object: The object is for a blindfolded person inside the circle to throw a ball through the hoop that is held by team members outside the circle. The rest of the team yells directions to the thrower to guide the direction of the throw and can maneuver the hoop to the ball. The team must retrieve the balls and direct the thrower to find them in the circle. Variation: Have only one sighted guide for the team. Both the thrower and the teammates holding the hoop would be blindfolded. The guide would give directions to both the thrower and the hoop holders.

Debriefing Direction: Select a place to debrief the game under the shade tree away from the road so the kids can face the side of the building. This is a great opportunity to talk about following instructions/directions. If the variation is also played, then discuss the ease of having a whole group that could see compared with only one person who could see.

The debriefing might go like this:

What did you notice about this game?

For the throwers, how did it feel to be blindfolded?

For the guides, how well did the throwers follow your instructions?

This game can teach us a lot about following instructions. If the thrower didn't listen and follow the guide's instructions, then he probably would never make a hoop. The instructions lead us to the way to play the game successfully.

In Psalm 119:11, the Bible says, "I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You."

God has given you instructions in His Word that can keep you from sin. His instructions are the way to live your life successfully.

In that day's Bible study, read a story about someone in the Bible who followed God's instructions. (Congratulations, now you've intentionally connected recreation with the Bible story for the day!)

Be on the lookout for these types of teachable moments because they are in every recreation session, and soon you'll notice that teachable moments pop up all around you!

Jeremy Echols is active in ministry at the Olympia, Washington, campus of Mars Hill Church. This article is courtesy of Lifeway Christian Resources, www.lifeway.com.

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