I have no idea how to pray. It’s never something that’s come naturally to me. The times in my life I’ve felt closest to God have come about through communal worship, or singing, or conversation with friends about spirituality. They have only rarely – and never predictably – come through quiet individual prayer.
If we only worked with children whose spirituality was identical to ours, that wouldn’t be a problem (except for the fact that it would prevent me from developing my own discipline of prayer). But there will, inevitably, by children in our Sunday School rooms who encounter God in different ways, and so it’s important not only to play to your spiritual strengths, but to try to develop the parts of your spirituality that do not come as easily to you.
Here are some ideas and resources that have been helpful to me in praying with children.
The “God the Father” song. I haven’t been able to trace the original author of this idea, which has become very popular on many websites. It’s sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping?),” and is a useful way of introducing young children to the concept of the Trinity and to the sign of the cross, using simple words, movements, and a familiar tune. We use it at St George’s to open prayer time with our younger group.
God the Father Place hand on forehead
God the Father
God the Son Place hand on navel
God the Son
God the Holy Spirit Place hand on left shoulder
God the Holy Spirit Place hand on right shoulder
Three in one Place hand on heart
Three in one. Fold hands in lap
Prayer Flowers. The blog “All Play on Sunday” includes a great activity for children to make their own prayer flowers. These include words and pictures for prayers saying “thank you,” “sorry” and “please.” The pictures show signs young children can do to accompany each kind of prayer. Children can decorate their flowers and use them at home for different kinds of prayers.
To extend this idea, you could encourage parents to pray with their children at bedtime, and to choose one flower to take to bed with them, showing what kind of prayers they want with them while they sleep.
I’ve had some success with this group using a simple abbreviated form of the intercessions used in the Eucharistic service. Following a conference run by Meditatio, a Christian Meditation group, I started introducing a focal point for prayer – I hit a triangle to begin and end prayer time, and make sure we have lit candles for children to look at. I’ve introduced a few prayer positions, which children can choose between – sitting with hands folded in your lap or sitting cross-legged with your hands, palms up, on your knees. Occasionally, I will let children lie down, if we have a fairly calm group.
I then say the following words, with pauses in between each petition:
If there’s anything you want to say ‘thank you’ to God for, you can bring it to God.
If there’s anything you want to ask God for help with, you can bring it to God.
If there’s anything you want to say ‘sorry’ for, you can bring it to God.
If there’s anything that’s making you sad, or scared, or worried, you can bring it to God.
If there’s anybody you know who has a problem or is in danger – a person in your life, or people you may have heard about in the news – you can bring them to God.
If there’s anybody you know who is ill, you can bring their name to God.
If there’s anybody you know who has died – a person you love, or an animal you love – you can remember them with God, knowing that God will give them new life that lasts forever, in his Kingdom.
Jesus Doll/Cross: Sam Donoghue mentioned this in a previous post, and I immediately adopted it, with great success. You use an object – a wooden cross or, in my case, the Jesus Doll from Articles of Faith – and pass it around the room, one child at a time. They have the option of praying out loud for something, praying silently for something, or saying “pass” and passing the object on to the next person. At the end, you can gather all the prayers together in a closing prayer (if you can remember them all).
Labyrinth. This could also be used with secondary school children. Lots of research is coming out showing that having something to do with your hands stops fidgeting and allows your brain to focus. A labyrinth is an ancient symbol of our journey with Christ, and a good sensory focus for prayer. Handheld labyrinths are available from Labyrinth Walks for less than £5 each, so you could easily buy enough for a small group to all use them at once. Put on some calming music, dim the lights, and encourage children to pray or meditate while tracing the labyrinth with their fingers.
A row of candles. My sister, who is a priest, says that she mentally lights a candle for each person on her prayer list. This helps her remember everyone, and the image of a row of candles in her mind’s eye gives her a focus for her prayers. This idea can be adapted for children either by having children come up one at a time and light candles as they make a prayer request, or by having pictures of paper candles and a “prayer board.” Children can write or draw their prayer on the candle, and then pin it to the prayer board to create a row of prayers, shining as lights in the darkness.
Finally, First Steps Spirituality Centre has some wonderful ideas on many different kinds of prayer – based around Movement, Object, Scripture, Breath, Words, and much more. Their ideas and suggestions run from toddlers through to teenagers. I encourage you to visit their site, bookmark it, and come back to it as you and your children grow in prayer together.