Although some weeks don’t always go as well as others, the big kinder really do pretty well with sitting in and participating in church. They know that church is important for them too and not just something that we do that they must endure.
Here are a few of the things we do to help them interact well with the service.
- Practice sitting still and being quiet at home. A wise older mother got me started doing this when F was about 4 months old. We started with just five minutes of sitting still each day and gradually increased it. I am now doing this with W on my lap? and the other two do their practicing in chairs. We set the timer for a specified period and reset it every time someone wiggles or talks.
- Learn the songs. At our old church the service ran for about 2.5 hours and the first 1/2 hour or so was singing. At the church where we currently attend there are usually 4 hymns plus the service music. We have hymnals and we make a point of singing the songs that we normally sing often enough that the children learn the words, or at least the choruses. Since our current church prints its bulletin a month at a time we know what the songs are going to be on Sunday and can learn at least one of them during the week.
- Have clear expectations and review them ahead of time. I find this especially helpful when there was poor behavior the week before. One of us will sit the child down before we leave for church and remind them what they had trouble with and what the consequence was before we leave. This helps focus their minds on self-control.
- Have clear and consistent consequences. At our current church there are usually cookies and lemonade after church, and a child who is excessively wiggly, talkative etc. does not get one. Seeing a sibling get a treat when you don’t is a powerful re-enforcer.
- Take them potty between Sunday School and Church. This is pretty much a no exceptions rule. They can’t be still if they have to go and it is disruptive to others to have to get up multiple times to take them potty.
- Expect them to participate in everything they can. They stand (on the bench or floor) when we stand, sing when we sing, kneel when we kneel etc. They have learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed (said at every service) and say them with the congregation at the appropriate time.
- Get to church early enough to settle everyone before the service starts. I like to be in our pew at least 5 minutes before the service starts. That way I can scan the bulletin with them, tell them what we are singing for the first hymn and if anything different is going to be happening in the service (baptism for instance). I can also assign seats and remind them what is expected.
- Give little explanations as the service progresses. I often whisper to them what will be happening next, what the next song is etc. If we are going to sing a song that they don’t know but which has “Alleluia” in the chorus I will whisper that to them ” I don’t think you know this one, but you can sing the “Alleluia. “” “The response to the prayer is “Lord, have mercy.” “Now we’re going to sing “Holy Lord” (the Sanctus in the Episcopalian service order).
- Give them a specific and finite thing to do during the sermon. I give each of them a Primary Journal in which I have written words from the texts for the day, or short stories. They can trace the words with their pencil or draw in the picture space on each page.? I’ve found that giving them only a sharp pencil and no crayons etc. greatly reduces the whispering, dropping things etc. Now that they are learning to read I’m trying to move them up to listening to the sermon and drawing pictures about what they hear as a kind of pre-note taking..
- Talk to them about church afterwards. Compliment them on specific? good behavior – “F you started to get wiggly but you listened when I said “hold still.” that was good.” Ask them what they liked about the service and what they heard. Ask who the Bible reading was about or if there were words they didn’t understand. One family I know goes around the Sunday dinner table and asks each family member to give a point or something that struck them during the sermon. The preschoolers ask questions or recite their memory verse for that week. This activity helps to reinforce that worshiping together is a family activity.
Of course I don’t manage to do all of these things all of the time and sometimes the kinder are less than cooperative but working with them at even this young age will help them to understand the importance of gathering with other believers to worship and learn together and will help them to develop life skills of sitting, listening and absorbing that will serve them throughout their lives.