A few weeks ago our family attended one of our favorite conferences, the Church and Family Life Annual Conference. Besides the excellent preaching and fellowship, one of the things that encourages us most is seeing all the families worshiping together. Moms and dads and grandparents bounce babies in the back and little ones color in the provided sermon notes coloring book during back to back (to back) sermon sessions.
The around 1500 attendees are there because they believe, like we do, in family-integrated, intergenerational worship. We believe in this so much, in fact, that my husband Scott wrote a book looking at the biblical principles behind and practical steps toward training children to sit in the worship service (and doing weekday family worship at home also). It’s called Let the Little Children Come.
But this is no easy task. Small children are vocal and wiggly and can be disobedient at the most inconvenient times! So today I’d like to offer a few resources that have helped our kids over the years to sit still in church. Every child, family, and church is different, so you need to find what helps you most, but these activities are quiet and generally allow children to listen, even if it seems like they’re doing something else. These resources cover a variety of ages.
1. Felt food (I prefer food to dolls or animals or vehicles that might suddenly “find their voice” during the silent prayer or sermon.)
2. Paint by Sticker or other sticker books (for the preschool ages)
3. Fabric books (Make sure you don’t get ones with crinkle pages! The one I linked to doesn’t have crinkle, but many, many fabric books do.) or “Indestructibles” baby/toddler books (Babies can pull and chew, and these thin books slip easily into a diaper bag.)
5. Quiet book
6. Multi-color pens (may not be best if clicking bothers you, but I find that, when used reasonably, it’s not so loud that it bothers people in other pews; these are infinitely preferable to a pile of various colored pens or pencils)
8. Coloring book and washable, triangular crayons (that don’t roll) You may also want to bring your favorite stain remover if you bring pens or crayons, especially if your pews have light fabric.
9. Tracing book
10. Chunky yarn for finger knitting
11. Lacing cards
12. LCD drawing board (get one with the stylus tethered on a string; just trust me)
I also encourage churches to provide sermon notes papers or booklets geared specifically for children. If your church doesn’t provide these, you can find generic ones abundantly online.
A few additional tips:
Rocking back and forth from left to right stimulates a child’s vestibular system and gives them the sensation of activity without them actually moving their own bodies.
Mom or Dad tracing a child’s fingers with their own fingers (or rubbing the child’s arms or back) can divert wiggly, grabby hands and relax the child at the same time.
Teach children, as soon as they can talk, to whisper. Practice at home.
As always, you’ll see the most improvement in your child’s ability to sit through the sermon if you practice sitting still and listening at home. Reading books aloud and family worship are both great times to stretch these skills. But don’t be discouraged if it takes time (even years) for you child to sit through the entire sermon. This is a season, and you are doing the important work of rearing worshipers of God.