Engaging Young Children in Church
1. Practice at Home
Often before bedtime prayers begin, it’s been a little wild in my house. My husband is away for evening services many nights, and so creating a prayerful environment in the tiny corner of a messy room with three energetic children sometimes feels like banging my head against a wall.
One small thing I do, though, is to get them standing in front of the icons and have them take in a few deep breaths, letting them out slowly. And then I pray our evening routine out loud slowly… more slowly than I would on my own. These kids are learning the prayers with me, and as with practicing an instrument, it’s better to learn to play the notes perfectly at a slow pace, because that’s how you imprint the melody into your muscle memory. The same is true for prayer. Practicing prayers and how to approach prayer will help children to take that with them to liturgy and make the connection.
2. Arrive Early to Begin in Peace
By arriving early, you allow yourself enough time to take a communal deep breath and get ready to dive in. Do the things you need to do: hang coats, take bathroom breaks, get that casserole into the church kitchen, light your candles, gather your service books. You don’t show up late to important things, like doctor’s appointments or the beginning of school. Arriving early signals to your children that this time is important. It also means that your unhurried mind will be ready to hear all the prayers and fully prepare your heart for the Eucharist. But even if you’re late, don’t get into a hurried rush. In my mind, while being on time to the services is vastly important, it’s more important to teach how to approach worship than how to be somewhere on time. Begin in peace.
3. Explain the Service as You Go
Children’s service books help, but often the kids will want to jump right to the grown-up ones when they can. One of the lovely things about church liturgy is that so much of the learning is implied in the structure of the service and the sequence of prayers. However, it takes a grown-up brain full of experience to see many of the patterns and to understand the reasons why things are done the way they’re done (sometimes, even the adults don’t even fully understand!). Pass your knowledge onto your children in whispers. Start very young. Even two or three-year-olds, who have only begun to ask why, can be given simple explanations. “We’re standing up because Jesus is here,” was one of the first things I said to explain the strange habit of popping up and down at seemingly random times during the church services. Keep it simple in the beginning, and then go deeper as they grow. You’re their teacher. Kids are always thirsty for knowledge.
4. Talk About the Liturgy in Your Home
Don’t let the services–or the sermon–be “out of sight out of mind” phenomena. A good movie gets you talking about it on the way home with your friends, and the liturgy should follow the same pattern. See if you notice anything different about who was commemorated, something interesting about the Gospel reading, or if something in the sermon stuck out to you. Bring that up with your family and with your kids, perhaps on the car ride home or at dinner. Discuss it. Let people freely express their likes and dislikes, confusion and excitement. Explore and grow together in this way.
These are some very general principles to get you started. I’ve found that the specifics of what I do has changed quite a bit as my children grow and mature, but that these things have remained true throughout. Good strength in your journey!
The above excerpt was taking from an article by Pres. Jocelyn Matthews. Read the full article here
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