Thursday, 20 October 2011

Playing or praying in church

As my previous post explained, I have become interested in how young children are incorporated into church worship. Older children tend to go out to some kind of Sunday School and young children are often sidelined a bit.

At LankyAnglican's theological college we are in the process of providing provision for the younger members of our congregation during our college services. The children who are 6+ normally go out during the service to a separate group and then come back in and the 0-5s stay in with their parents.

We have an area in the church that has had the pews removed and it is quite a large space. We put some rugs down and for the first three weeks brought lots of toys over for them to play with. We thought we were onto a winner, they would be entertained and we could concentrate on the service.

It's not worked out like that. LittleLanky was entranced for the first week, got bored after about 20 minutes the second week and spent the third week trying to climb over the pews at the back of church and shouting. And this was even after changing the toys round each week to stop them from getting bored. I noticed the same behaviour from her over the summer when we were attached to a placement church that also has a play area. I was bemused by the pattern of behaviour because she can concentrate very well and has often seemed to be understanding some of what goes on during services.

After thinking about it, I have concluded that she is just playing (nothing wrong in that in the slightest) but in her normal play I chat far more to her and she goes between activities very quickly. She has the normal attention span of a two year old, which is five minutes if you're lucky!

I don't expect her to be silent in church (it's never going to happen!) but I do want her to learn to be respectful of other people and to learn that there are times when people do want to be quiet in services, like prayer or sermons. I'd also like her to learn to appreciate the beauty of services. She already really enjoys many of things that happen during church services and gets excited about going to church. I suspect much of this enthusiasm will wear off once she can understand a sermon and has to sit in a pew rather than playing with play-doh on a comfy rug!

So the way in which we're changing the children's area is to reflect the service in a way in which 0-5s can understand. We had a successful trial tonight with a number of different sets of resources that appeared at different points during the service and I think the children seemed calmer and much more engaged than previous weeks. LittleLanky didn't go pew mountaineering this week anyway!

We have much more work to do in selecting the right resources for the different points during the service but I'm hoping we're onto something. I'll keep on updating the blog with my findings.

I could tell LittleLanky was more engaged this week with what was going on, because she watched very intently as the procession passed us on their way back into the vestry. However that may have been because she thought the candles were to celebrate her birthday (which she has just had) and that we were all going to sing happy birthday. But we'll never know!

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