Now that the family is together every day and worship is virtual, families begin to wonder how to keep their children growing in the faith. Family devotions begin to seem more necessary. But how to begin? How to keep everyone’s attention? Maybe you’ve tried before, but things didn’t seem to work. You want family devotions to be a joyful family time, a peaceful time. Begin by making a prayer space in your home.
When we enter a church, our surroundings help us to focus on God. We immediately begin to feel more peaceful and to anticipate a time of worship. A home prayer space can do the same. It can be a permanent space in a quiet corner or a space you make on your kitchen table. You and your family can collect materials which help make the chosen spot a space for worship.
Gathering the Materials
First, see what you have around your house. To remind your family of the church season, find a cloth in the liturgical color as the base for the prayer space. This could be a tablecloth, pillowcase, cloth napkin, or placemat.
No appropriately colored cloth anywhere? What about a white cloth—add a colored ribbon. Or take a large piece of white or beige paper (paper bag?) and ask your children to decorate it with the appropriate color. If you want to order a multi-colored set of napkins, these will work, with plenty left over for dinner napkins.
Then, try adding the following:
- A candle and a candle snuffer or an iced-tea spoon. (It works as a snuffer!)
- A small cross.
- A Bible, preferably a small one for the children to hold or examine.
- An image of Jesus. I suggest a small icon card from Monastery Icons, like one of these:
- Something attractive from the outdoors: a small branch, a flower in a bud vase, a smooth stone.
- A basket or box to keep everything in.
On a quick tour of my house, I found 4 sheets of purple cardstock that I can tape together, a left-over Advent candle (purple!), a snuffer previously used at Advent, a 3” wooden cross that was a gift, a pocket New Testament, and an icon card of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Use whatever you have on hand.
Planning and Preparing
How often do you plan to do prayer time together? If daily, try to gather at the same time every day. Choose a time of day when there are few distractions. If daily doesn’t work for you, make it a regular time like “every Sunday night” or mark the days on the calendar. Whatever you decide, make it part of your family routine.
As you think about what you want to do, take into account the ages of your children. Often in our eagerness to pray and worship with our children, we just do too much! Young children have short attention spans and can’t sit still very long. With preschoolers, five minutes is long enough. Better five minutes of true prayer than twenty of inattention. What to do in five minutes? Read a brief passage of Scripture and sing a song or have a time of quiet prayer. As the children grow, so will the length of the prayer time.
How to find the Scriptures and prayers? You can check out the Family Prayer section of the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. With preschool and young elementary-age children, the entire prayer service is long, probably too long at first. Choose a short Scripture or prayer either from the Sunday readings at church or from one of the BCP Family Prayer services (morning, midday, early evening, close of day.) Young children’s prayers are most often ones of thankfulness, so psalms of thanks and praise are great. Elementary-age children become aware of their own needs and of others, so they will often pray prayers of intercession for others. Be sure to keep the readings and prayers brief to allow time for the children to respond with spontaneous prayer.
To begin, invite your children to help prepare the space. Together, you can lay out the cloth or paper on a table or shelf, and place the objects in the basket on the cloth. Have a Bible at hand, if you are reading from it, and a Book of Common Prayer (or the online versions.)
Next, light the candle. As you light it, you might say, “The candle reminds us that this is a special time to be with Jesus.” Once you are in the routine, say instead, “Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” or “God’s word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Allow a brief moment of silence.
Read the Scripture or prayer you have selected. If there are difficult words, define them. Encourage the children to discuss the passage or say it in their own words, if they like. Then invite the children to respond in prayer. When all have finished, say Amen together and snuff out the candle. (The children love to do the snuffing!)
At first, you may not get much response. Don’t be discouraged! Younger children often pray silently, as they don’t yet have the language to pray aloud. Older children may be self-conscious. You can take the lead, modeling short prayers about everyday life. As you do this regularly, the children will learn to pray. They will begin to pray from the heart. Be prepared for anything when they start praying! One of my children liked to sing her prayers, singing whatever she was thinking. My son loved to draw and his prayers became pictures.
To help children learn prayer language, you (or your older children) can make cards to add to your prayer space materials. Write on these cards brief prayer words like “Amen,“ “Praise the Lord,” and “Glory to God.” Older children enjoy writing longer prayers like the Lord’s Prayer.
If you keep the prayer materials in a handy spot, you will find that your children get them out on their own and have their own prayer time. Older children often write their prayers down to create their own prayer journal. As your children grow, you and your family will develop your own ways of praying together. Their attention spans will expand, and children who are reading will want to read aloud. You can learn songs and hymns together and sing at the prayer table.
Begin small and with practice, your family prayer and worship will grow along with your family.
Victoria Schwartz is an educator trained in both early childhood and elementary education. She has 40 years of experience in children’s ministry with the last 25 years working in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd method. Not coincidentally, she also became an Anglican 25 years ago. She has founded and directed CGS programs for several churches. Victoria also is a speaker, writer, and consultant on children’s ministry.