Friday, 18 November 2011

Bible storyboard

This is our new activity in our Friday children's church. We have a structure of a service which stays the same each week and in the middle we have a slot that we use for exploring something biblical.

We have been trying to use some godly play resources with them even though they are a bit young to do it properly (they are all under 3). LittleLanky found it difficult to concentrate during the story and wanted to pick up all the wooden characters which made it difficult for everyone else to follow what was going on.

So then we thought we would just let them play with the godly play resources in an unstructured way but that wasn't massively successful either.

So... the latest idea is the bible storyboard. This is an A2 board with a nice thick piece of A2 paper that we told the story on. Today I told the story of the Feeding the Five Thousand. They all had a packet of crayons and I told them from the start that they could draw anywhere on the paper at any time.

So I drew a hill that Jesus stood on to talk to the crowd and then the children found a wooden figure to be Jesus and then put other figures out to be the crowd. Then I asked them to draw extra figures on the paper as well as there weren't enough wooden figures to be a big crowd (the adults helped too!).

I carried on telling the story while we all drew and moved figures around. So then the children found a figure to be the boy who brought his bread and fish to jesus and stood them together. Then I drew 2 fish and 5 loaves and explained that he blessed them.

I wasn't really thinking too hard about how to draw all the different elements on the paper and when I described Jesus blessing the bread and fish I drew a cross to show this. I didn't know why I did this and didn't really think to hard about it at the time. Reflecting on this now I think it was a good choice. I think I chose the symbol because it's how a priest blesses the congregation. It's intriguing from a theological perspective using a cross symbol for Jesus blessing something, as obviously the cross is all to come but I don't have a problem with this.

I then explained that the miracle that happened that day was there was enough food for everyone with plenty left over. So we all drew extra bread and fish across the paper.

After we had finished the storyboard time the children then rolled out their own bread (I had made a pitta bread dough before hand) and then this was baked afterwards and they had a great time eating. LittleLanky with some help from LankyAnglican made a pitta fish, which she later devoured with relish!

It seemed to go well. I enjoyed it. LittleLanky enjoyed it. I think the bible storyboard will be making an appearance next week and we'll use the godly play resources to add to our stories. It's all good.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Church in a bag

We have just had our thursday evening service in the college and this evening we shared the church with a large amount of pottery which is part of an exhibition in the church. There was a bit of trepidation over how the small children would cope with this, as they didn't have their usual space in the church and had to stay within pews in order to keep the pottery safe.

I'm pleased to report all went perfectly. We brought out the 'church in a bag' concept for the first time and this evening it worked really well. LittleLanky did not go near any pots, which is good because we couldn't afford to buy any she broke!

Church in a bag - this is the name that we have given what we're doing but the concept is also known as 'liturgy in a box'. I got much of my inspiration for it from a children's communion service that I go to at the Michaelhouse in Cambridge.

Basically it is a simplified service booklet for young children that has photographs and some simple text to guide them through the service (with help from an adult) with physical resources to help them connect to different parts of the service.

In our bags so far we have:

Gathering - we will have some small wooden dolls once I have found them at the right price!

Confession and absolution - we have some puzzles and lacing cards. The idea is something you can do and then undo or break apart and remake.

Gloria - multi coloured streamers. It's basically a wooden curtain ring with ribbons stitched in place. I have chosen liturgical colours! I got this idea from the michaelhouse. They look fab.

The Word - a book of bible stories and other biblical items. They also have pencils and crayons to colour and draw in their booklet which has lots of spaces for this.

The gospel (subsection of The Word above) - they have battery operated tea lights. These are to connect them to the gospel procession. The ones they have are a little fragile so I may need to find more robust ones.

Intercessions - they have little wooden crosses. Damien crosses to be precise. They are quite ornate.

Eucharist - they will have little wooden egg cups and coasters each to represent the chalice and pattern. They have this at the Michaelhouse and it's remarkably effective. I just need to find them at the right price!

They have all this in a brightly coloured cloth bag. I have six different colours. I actually got them from the university book shop. They have the logo emblazoned across them but they're brightly coloured, cost £2 and we could get student discount. I wasn't going to be sniffy about a logo for that!

So this is where I'm up to with it all. I'll post some pictures of it all when I go into college tomorrow. I will put the service booklet I have created up at some point but currently it wouldn't pass any copyright guidelines so I'll get that sorted and then show it.

It will be interesting to see how this goes. I want to take a bag with me on a Sunday to see how it goes with LittleLanky there. I think she'll appreciate it.

I think this is the idea that we will trial for the long term now. It can be used in lots of different settings and the children can sit together or apart so it has flexibility (as tonight showed!). The service booklet will change for the children week on week to reflect the seasons and to stop them from getting bored and we will add seasonal items to the bags as well. (That's liturgical seasons rather than normal seasons!).

Tonight I had one of the best experiences in church with LittleLanky that I have had in a long time. We were without LankyAnglican as he helps with the older children and hemmed in on all sides by people (the pots spread across the pews meant we had to worship close together, very close together!). This is normally a recipe for disaster but it wasn't. LittleLanky and I worshipped side by side. And it was good.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Weve just had our usual Thursday service and I'm definitely starting to see some things with more clarity.

The first is that trying to get all the children working at the same thing at the same time is very difficult.

The second is that play doh is a pain in the neck!

The third is that it's all a journey and there is no right or wrong in this.

This evening we were fighting lots of unusual constraints such as: musicians in the space that the children spill over into (so we felt cramped), an unusually long service, an unusually quiet service and mid term tiredness in everyone. This could have led to disaster but it didn't. LittleLanky did get fed up towards the end and was not engaged in the service much but she was fairly contented considering.

However it made me think that I want to make some changes.

1) When LittleLanky can't see what's going on she completely loses interest - therefore the children's area needs a good view of the altar and the aisle for the gospel. I need to plan ahead and look at moving the children if there are musicians who block their view.

2) I think it needs to be more based around the individual child working through the service with their parent/carer rather than trying to do it as a group. I think it's great that they can sit together and interact but if we try to do too much as a group it's just becoming Sunday school in church rather than trying to be part of the service.

I have some great plans for how to bring all this about and I hope to be able blog about it soon!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Where should children be?

I think about this question over and over again in relation to churches. I don't think children have a prominent place in the thinking in many Anglican churches. I don't feel that children should be the focus of the church but that they be recognised as equal members who have a right to belong.

I was pondering this thought experiment whilst settling LittleLanky down to sleep earlier. I stress this is a thought experiment before I get myself into hot water!

You belong to a church that has lots of young people and middle aged people who are all quite vibrant. You like similar music to the people around you, you appreciate the liturgy, the times of silence during the prayers are magical and the sermons are a wonder of academic excellence that take at least 25 minutes. (I've never been to a church like this so don't worry that I'm having a dig at someone!).

The only fly in the ointment is that you have a number of older people in the congregation who are a little bit noisy and can be a bit disruptive. They sometimes take unexplained journeys round the church with their zimmer-frames (with their carers in hot persuit) and the rustling of the toffee wrappers always starts up during the Eucharistic prayer (ok this one point is real - my grandma could always be relied upon to supply some kind of sustenance during a service, I like to think I will continue this tradition!).

So it seems like a good idea to take the older people out to the church hall during the sermon and give them a slightly simplified version of it and a cup of tea. They seem to really enjoy it and they go back in for communion, so all is well.

So what's wrong with my thought experiment church? I find it a hideous idea that this would ever happen with elderly people and I've never seen it happen ever, but why is it any different when we do it with children? It's not a perfect thought experiment as we can't directly compare the two groups but it struck a chord with me.

We don't take children out of churches due to any poor motivations, far from it, but we are reducing their interaction with the church service every time we do it.

I don't know what the answer is, I barely know what question I'm asking.

I think the following things are true:

1) Younger children often make noise in church (in LittleLanky's case sometimes an enormous amount of noise!)

This can get irritating for all people concerned, as the sound of screaming will never be an attractive sound for anyone, least of all the parents. So after a while parents get embarrassed and fed up, so they take their children out to another location to let everyone else worship in peace.

I think often parents are much more acutely aware of the noise than anyone else. I completely understand though as you do feel like you're the centre of attention when your child is screaming.

2) Children can get bored by the service.

This is true. Counteracting this boredom is one of the biggest successes of Sunday schools and godly play sessions. It brings church alive for children.

I just wish it could happen in the same space as the rest of the congregation. That we could co exist rather than separate.

Perhaps the children should stay in church to do godly play and those who want to hear the sermon can pop out to the church hall. I think it would force the vicar into preaching a good sermon!

3) Children can learn more if they go to another location and have a lesson on a story from the bible.

I think this is true but at the expense of learning more about the church service they have left.

4) It's enjoyable for the children to be part of a group.

Again I think it's true, but they could have a sense of this and still be in the church.

Ultimately I think some of it comes down to being part of a group that doesn't just meet once a week.

One of the reasons that some of our church activities have been so successful is because the children are all part of a tight knit group and meet during the week at many different activities. If in a parish church most of your congregation only meet once a week for an hour you are naturally limited on what you can do for anyone.

I'm starting to think that children particularly need many opportunities to interact with the church during every week and that the church needs to get its act together to interact with them.

Hmmm, this all seems like a big job!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Creating spaces

Our midweek community service at college continues to go well. I've not managed to implement a fraction of the ideas that I have yet but actually I think it's a good thing.

We're having to take the changes slowly and steadily and we're all learning. We used the pattern of changing activities throughout the service again and it works well. In order to follow the different elements of the service we have to be able to change activities quite briskly and I'm glad the children are fine with it. We packed 20 pots of playdoh away in 3 verses of a hymn tonight and quickly moved on to the next part of the service without any tantrums or tears. We feel we've created the spaces in the service to bring different resources in now.

My observations tonight were the children were captivated by a battery operated tea light that one of them had brought in and they loved to follow what was going on in the service. LittleLanky was wowed by the gospel procession because they had candles too and she could compare. The other thing she loved was having her own hymn book. I had a music copy and she had a words copy that was smaller. She thought it was amazing and found her hymn book and stood up for every hymn.

It was lovely to watch how interested she was tonight. I feel we're onto something because they all seem so engaged not just ignoring their surroundings. I'm sure there will be plenty of bumps in the road ahead but for now it's enjoyable and LittleLanky is loving it. I don't ask for more in life!

Chatty parents

Following on from my post about noise I have been watching people around me in different churches and other settings and I've noticed that a lot of parents chat to their children a lot. Now this is great in my opinion; it's how children learn, they engage with you, they enjoy it. The positive things about talking to your children are just endless. However the thing I have noticed is that some of us don't seem to be able to switch this off ever. Not even in a quiet period in church or another quiet setting. I think you get so used to giving your child a running commentary of what you're doing/going to do that it can be hard to switch out of that.

I resolve that the next time I realise I'm babbling to LittleLanky about nothing much during the prayers I'm going to try and let her have some quiet space. She sometimes gives me a look which says "mother, just be quiet for a minute".

Sunday, 23 October 2011


One thing I suddenly thought of was how my attitude to noise has changed as a parent. I think you genuinely become desensitised to noise (especially in the toddler years). Pre LittleLanky I found the noise of children quite distressing especially when they were upset. I think partly from a desire to want to help in some way and knowing that I generally couldn't. Since having her however I tune out other people's children much more effectively.

It made me think that it's a tricky balance to strike in churches when children are making noise. The parents are generally a lot less affected by it than the older/non parent part of the congregation.

I try and work quite hard to stay sensitive about LittleLanky's noise output but I've also grown slightly thick skinned about it.

I suppose in all congregations people irritate each other with something. We wouldn't be human if we didn't but we just have to rise above it and try and explain our different positions in a non combative way.

I have no answers to this, I'm just intrigued about how I've changed.