Worshiping with kids under 5 has never been easy. It’s a true challenge to follow along with the sermon while also keeping a toddler semi-corralled and supplied with snacks! And during the pandemic it is even more difficult still. My kids are still too young for the protection of the vaccine, but they’re also extremely uninterested in livestream worship or Zoom Sunday School. Without the tactile, sensory experience of in-person church, how then can I keep our worship life alive for them — and for our family as a whole?
Early in the pandemic I had high hopes of worshiping together as a family, putting the livestream up on the big TV. In reality, they paid attention for maybe the opening processional, then spent the next hour trying to drag me away from the screen so I could come play with them. Hardly the connection with God that I was hoping for, for the kids or for me.
So we tried something new: a bite-sized moment of prayer each day at breakfast. Our mini-service took inspiration from the prayer book’s Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families – those one-page gems that “follow the basic structure of the Daily Office of the Church” – distilled down to its absolute quickest for wiggly small children.
Here’s our basic pattern:
Praise: Light a candle and sing a short song.
Bible Reading: Read and discuss a story from a story Bible.
Prayers: Pray the Lord’s Prayer together and offer intercessions and thanksgivings.
Dismissal: “Let us bless the Lord / Thanks be to God!” and blow out the candle
It didn’t look like this every day – there were days, even weeks, where we stopped after the song or the story. But the practice itself was just enough to bring us in tune with God and each other at the beginning of our day.
If you’re worshiping at home with your kids in this season and want to try something similar, here are a few of the things I’ve learned:
Embrace the sensory experience. The candle was probably my son’s favorite part of the whole endeavor. He’s riveted by the candle’s flickering, and begs to be the one who gets to blow it out at the end. Of course I’m in charge of the lighter! Other sensory moments we enjoyed were getting to dance or march to the opening song, or interject animal noises (BAA in any story about shepherds, ROAR when Daniel is in the lion’s den).
Embrace repetition. As anyone who’s spent much time around this age group can tell you, toddlers and preschoolers love hearing the same thing over and over again. This taps into the wisdom of our liturgical tradition — repeating the stories and songs helps them sink into the kids’ memory. Repetition for us looked like singing the same song, simple enough to repeat several times, each day for an entire liturgical season. We also repeated Bible stories, using 1-2 stories per week and reading them several days in a row.
Find your own lectionary. Prayer time went easier in the morning if I already had a plan for which story to read. Sometimes we just started at the beginning of our story Bible and read straight through (this was especially helpful for a Bible with fewer stories, like the Children of God Storybook Bible). We also have a Spark Story Bible which was designed to follow the Sunday lectionary. I printed out the lectionary plan and read through the coming week’s story each day. Originally I had hopes that knowing the story would make them more interested in participating in zoom worship… and that didn’t pan out, alas. But it was still life-giving for me. While the kids played during livestream, I listened with a new appreciation for the text after having read it with the children throughout the week.
Embrace flexibility. Some days “having a plan” was simply letting the kids choose the Bible story. (We spent a lot of time in all the stories with the coolest-looking animals.)
Trust the Spirit’s work. I felt the pressure throughout the pandemic of making sure my children have a connection to God and to the church – even when I felt like I wasn’t up to the challenge. But of course it is not the kids’ attention, or my expert liturgy/education skills, that will bring the kids to faith. That is God’s work – not mine.
We haven’t done our morning prayer ritual for several months – new jobs and new schools upended our morning routine. But as the pandemic stretches into its third year, I’m planning to give it another try. I need time to sink into these stories alongside my kids. And I need the joy in my son’s voice, as he draws in a deep breath to blow out the candle and shouts as loud as he can, “THANKS BE TO GOD!”