19 October 2020 (updated)

Church at Home, Part 2: Praying With Kids

Josie Ortega describes how to set up a lovely space for praying with kids, and how to read the Bible together in a joyful, peaceful way.

We’re all sharing tips for homeschool and #WFH (work from home) life . . . now let’s chat some more about CFH—church from home! In part one, we listed ideas to help parents get into a good frame of mind for worshiping and praying at home with our families. Now I’ll get more specific about what that could look like with kids.

Church at Home with Kids: Praying and Bible Study at Home

Our family attends a small Anglican church in a diverse Northern Virginia neighborhood, and I’m the one in charge of children’s church. (After all, the three children in our family make up a large chunk of our congregation’s kid population!) We created a lovely hands-on Montessori-style Sunday school that I’d learned about when my family lived in Nashville. It's called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).

I love CGS because it’s all about setting up a special place for kids at church and providing materials for them to learn about Jesus at their own developmental level. Imagine wooden figures of a shepherd and sheep or a miniature altar table for a child to set up on his or her own, built with care by one of our church’s own kind grandfathers.

When we realized the church was moving online, I worried about how to replicate this hands-on CGS experience for kids at home. We might not have the exact same materials, I realized, but most of the ideas I started compiling for parents could be adjusted and used at home whether church is meeting online, or together in person on Sunday as usual, or for family prayer time during the week or anything in between. Here are some of the suggestions I sent for the families at our church, with some links to CGS resources:

Set the Scene for Church at Home, with Kids’ Input

Invite your kids to help—or take the lead—in setting up a sacred (i.e., set apart, special) space for family prayer or home church. At our church, we have a small prayer table for the children to prepare, and it’s easy to create something similar in our own houses.

Of course, we can pray anywhere! Certainly, we’re learning afresh that the church is not just a building. Nonetheless, we are whole, embodied people, and setting up the physical space will help everyone engage, especially kids.

Your prayer space at home might be a permanent shelf or side table. It could be temporary on the dining, kitchen, or coffee table where you’re gathering. You could designate a basket, box, or shelf to hold the prayer table items when not in use.

Those items might include:

  • The Bible
  • A cross
  • A candle: we light a candle in our Sunday school whenever we gather for prayer or read from the Bible, as a nonverbal indicator that Jesus, the Light of the world, is present with us in prayers and the reading of scripture.
  • Flowers or something beautiful from outside. Allow for creativity here!
  • A nice cloth in the color of the church season: purple for Lent, white for Easter, for example.
  • Religious art or images
  • Prayer cards, made by you or the children (more on what that means below)
  • Other items that might be seasonally appropriate or aid your family’s worship

In addition to designated times of church or praying with kids, we can tell our children that this prayer table is available for them to set up and use whenever they’d like. You may discover dandelions or other treasures reverently placed there!

Praying With Kids: Value Connection Over Productivity

At the beginning of COVID-19 homeschooling, I read a nugget of wisdom that when kids’ brains are stressed, it’s impossible to learn new material. Therefore, parents would do well to focus on fostering a sense of connection and safetyat home, before getting into fights about schoolwork!

I think the same principle could apply all the time to our religious formation. The process is more important than the end product. (What would the end product even be? Kids spouting perfect Sunday school answers, everyone looking great in Facebook pictures?) Learning about how much God loves us isn’t busywork or completing a checklist for school. It’s something to enjoy and soak in more and more.

We don’t want to give our children the impression that learning our Bible stories or praying with kids is like completing the worksheets our school teachers have sent home for distance learning. We’re not trying to pass a test then move on. We’re engaging with it, wrestling with it and letting it form us.

Great in principle, right? But how to make it practical?

Contemplative Bible Reading with Kids

In CGS, we often offer materials that go along with a specific reading in order to give children something physical to use when they come back to a scripture. This way even children who aren’t yet reading have a way to keep thinking on that passage and internalizing it without the help of an adult.

To do this as parents, we can read scriptures together in a different way. At home, this might mean slowing down when we read the Bible together. Reading just one short Psalm, for example, and turning it over in our minds and hearts.

  • Here are two lists of suggested scripture readings for different ages.
  • As mentioned above, lighting a candle when we read the Bible often helps us slow down and focus.
  • We might read selected Bible verses together, then use a sand timer to sit quietly for a minute. This is great practice for adults and kids: remembering that silence can be prayer, too.
  • We might ask our children to take a turn selecting a Bible reading. Or ask if they have a favorite verse, and help them find it if necessary.
  • It will change our experience of Bible study to think of our children and ourselves as being members of an audience together, listening to God’s words for us. (Rather than parents as the lecturers and children as the audience.)

I often find myself very fidgety, wanting to feel affirmed in my good parenting, and wanting to hear that the children grasp the thing they were "supposed" to learn. Often, we won’t see our kids' responses. But it’s OK to just sit in silence or to let the children move on to their other games or projects, knowing that they’ll continue thinking and can come back to it later in their own time.

Pray and Ponder Through Art

Making what we call “prayer cards” is another way that children can extend their encounter with scripture. (Adults, of course, are welcome to participate too!) It’s nice to stock an art shelf with beautiful paper, calligraphy pens, and special supplies available for the purpose of praying with kids, according to their ages.

We can invite our children to write a prayer card and decorate it. Any scripture could be a jumping-off point, but here are more specific ideas:

For the 3-6-year-old children, these are simple cards with one-word prayers, images (like a cross or a sheep), or short scriptures.

  • Amen
  • Hosanna
  • Alleluia
  • “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” Psalm 23:1
  • "I am the Light of the World" John 8:12
  • Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." Matthew 19:14

Older children can copy a selected verse on a larger piece of paper, and decorate it—essentially an illuminated manuscript!

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd association here in the United States created this document for parents to use that goes into more detail about making prayer cards at home and setting up a prayer table. It also includes suggested gospel readings from the life of Jesus.

A six-year old's meditation on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Consider Parables With Kids

Using the parable method, Jesus gives us something we know about—or could know about with some study of first-century life—such as caring for sheep, baking, or farming. As we learn about that physical thing, we also learn more about the metaphysical or spiritual thing that's compared to it.

To tell you the truth, I’d probably never select the Kingdom of God parables to read with children, because I like things tied up with a nice bow and answered correctly. And parables are confusing to me! But in CGS, it’s preferred that we not wrap things up. Instead, convey that the beautiful mystery of faith is something that we can continue to think about. What a good practice for me, to try to keep the questions open-ended. I officially give you the freedom not to know answers to your children’s questions, but to join them in wondering!

I’m chuckling that packets of yeast and seeds have become hard to find in some areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone seems to be attracted to those two great hands-on ways for kids and adults to think about what the Kingdom of God is like.

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of God is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33

We made Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread last week, by the way, and the power contained in yeast remains a mystery to me!

Parables help us as we live through a weird, difficult time. Theologian N.T. Wright recently shared, in times like this, “It is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.”

Praying With Kids and Child-like Faith

I hope that this slowed-down time will allow all of us to ease into a child-like faith. Our at-home church and praying with kids will sometimes go in an unexpected direction—in the form of singing, silence, art, or questions with no answers. May we take it in stride, and experience joy and peace on the journey.

How's your family doing? Share your CFH—Church From Home—experience in the comments, or with loved ones via FamilyApp!