Monday, 2 April 2012

Stories in Action – playgroup visits with Penny Reeve.

“Are you ready for another adventure?”

That’s the opening line of my picture book God Made Something Amazing, the book I used as for a playgroup visit last week at Hornsby Baptist Church. It’s also the thought that runs through my mind as I prepare resources I’ll need for each and every playgroup visit I do’. Am I ready? For another adventure?

Sometimes I think writers for adults have more opportunities to do speaking engagements (and therefore promotional possibilities), but there are some unique openings for audience engagement that only a children’s writer has. There is something magical about the way a child engages in story. They are more likely than adults to let their mouth hang open in suspense. They have a tendency to lean forward, stand up, butt in mid sentence with enthusiasm. But they are also more tempted to let their attention drift when confronted by the choice of listening to the visiting speaker or watching a fly escape out the window.

Then, if you multiply that child by 16, add several talkative mums in the background, three sets of fussy babies and several toddlers who really, really want to get back to the train set, you have the ingredients for adventure, whether you wanted it or not!

I find playgroup visits, especially church based playgroup visits, really worthwhile. Each one I’ve done has been slightly different because I like to tailor my visits to the needs of the group. I also like to consider my part in their program as a contribution to ministry. Although the section I run may only take 15 minutes of time I commit to being there the whole morning. There are several reasons for this:

· I like to chat with the mums and get a general feel for the group. The children also relax more if they see me interacting with their adults.

· I ask about church background, it comes up naturally when asking about attendance etc, and that helps me know where the adults stand. Many playgroups are full of non-church mums.

· I let people know I’m a mum and refer to my children and my writing, again this just builds credibility.

· I wander around and engage with children, learning as many names as I can for use in my story time, and breaking down barriers.

· I watch how the children are interacting with each other and with their toys – this gathers clues for how they’ll respond during my program/craft and if necessary I can adapt what I’ve got planned.

Generally my focus when preparing a playgroup visit is to introduce/remind children to the idea that God is creator and God loves them with an enormous love. In conjunction with the playgroup leaders I then choose a story that suits their group. For example, one group I visited was doing a theme on body parts, so I chose to use God Made Something Funny which is my monkey book because the monkey’s arms in that story are always busy. Another group was doing a Christmas theme so I used God Made Something Tall, which explores just how far God’s love can reach, and I coupled it with a story from one of my favourite picture Bibles.

Sometimes I’ll prepare games, some singing (even though as feel like a goose doing it!) and maybe an action rhyme to reinforce the theme. Always, I offer to bring along a craft activity suitable for the age range in the group.

Then I pack my bag with books for sale, my soft toys for the games, my program in case I get nervous and forget what I’m doing, and arm myself with prayer.

I’m always exhausted at the end of a playgroup visit – partly due to my introverted personality, partly due to the very age group involved. But I keep taking bookings because it’s worth it, no matter how many or few books I might sell at the event. It’s worth it to see a little group of eager 3 and 4 year olds bouncing on their knees to see the pictures, eyes shining at their correct guessing and mouths wide in smiles as they point to each other and say “God’s love reaches me and you!” And it’s worth it knowing for this brief morning I had the chance to show Christ’s love to harried mums and they got to hear, from the very lips of their children, just how big God’s love for them is.

P.S For more ideas and inspiration about preparing for author visits with children be sure to book into this year’s Word Writer Fair/Getaway. I’ll be presenting on this topic there also.

P.P.S. Join the adventure with children, faith and stories at my facebook page.

Penny Reeve is a children's author currently residing in Western Sydney. This week she hopes to finish a cross-stitch book mark, remember to bake the bread before it rises over the pan and get lost in Philippians chapter two while writing a Bible Study for tweens.


  1. Hi Penny

    You have an excellent approach to kids and you really *get* how they work. I've forwarded your info to two Christian mums who go to three or four playgroups. I love your work! (I hope you finish your bookmark.)


    1. Thanks Jackie for the word of mouth advertising! And yes, the bookmark has been completed. (A good thing as I really don't enjoy cross stitch.)

  2. Hi Penny,
    sounds like your sessions are a real blesssing to all those who hear you speak. Fantastic, praise God.

    1. I hope so, Jennifer. And yes, praise our loving God who chooses to use us despite our flaws.

  3. I love the preparation of your heart as you go into each session, Penny. I'm sure the mums and their children are touched by your gentleness. I ran playgroups for 5 years. I called my group Dots Tots. I appreciate anyone who takes time to come along side and share God's love with these precious families. God bless as you continue your writing and speaking ministry. xx

    (Shame you're not anywhere near Melbourne to come and visit our groups)

    1. What a great name for a playgroup! Love it.
      (And we do occasionally pop down to Melbourne as we have family there, but it always tends to happen during holidays rather than term time so I haven't done any bookings down there yet. Maybe one day...)

  4. Great stuff, Penny! God bless you in all your efforts.

  5. I could just picture you in the way you described your tots program, Penny. I spoke with our play school coordinator and I believe she already has you on her list for the future.

    Once during an outreach week with a church, my husband was asked to speak to teenies and even though we told them we weren't used to that age group they insisted. And like you said the noise level before we started was quite high. My husband began with a great big, "HO!" and that got their attention, then I began a quick sketch and we made it short and sweet. But believe me, it was nerve racking! This is a very specialist work, and we praise God for dear folk like you who know the way to a toddler's heart.

    1. Yeah, it is nerve racking! it's always a matter of how to catch the attention, how to keep it, and how to catch it again when it inevitably wanders off! It certainly keeps me thinking ahead and being flexible.
      I hope I do get invited to your playschool group, its always interesting visiting different groups.

  6. Replies
    1. Ha ha. Yes, I'll admit it. Sometimes it is!

  7. Penny, thanks for sharing your wonderful Playgroup ministry with us :)

  8. Well done Penny for a great blog and a great ministry. Loved the way you described kids as they listened. You got that right! :) No wonder Jesus asked each of us to become as a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

    All the best in your playgroup sessions. Am sure the bread must have come out just right?

    1. Hi Anusha,
      So far this week has been a good bread making week! Last week i rose the bread in the car (perfect place) but forgot about it so the dough was climbing out of the pan and making a huge sticky alien looking mess!
      And, yes, I think God has a special spot in his heart for children. :)