Editor's Note: This topic was created during the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak. It is meant to be a brainstorming and "how-to" discussion about what churches can do to engage children both during online worship services and during "in-person" services as churches reopen in limited capacities.

One of the particular concerns is what to do with children who would normally attend a "children's church" rather than regular worship with parents, but whose programs have been suspended during the pandemic and which may not be restarted as churches return to worshipping together with distancing restrictions.


 

I have heard from some friends and have seen posts on Facebook from others that their children are having a hard time participating in worship services while sitting in their living rooms and watching their televisions and computers.

And others are panicking about what they will do when their churches begin to meet again and families will have to worship together because they do not feel it is safe to offer children's programs initially.

Share your best ideas here, as well as your problems and concerns, so we can help one another.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen
Original Post

While my congregation worships online, I am continuing my weekly task of preparing a students’ worship guide for our congregation. The only difference is that PDFs are emailed (or mailed to families without printers) instead of sitting on clipboards in the sanctuary with colored pencil bags. Generally there is a coloring sheet, a word search, and a reflective drawing or writing activity based upon the day’s scripture and sermon outline.

Your favorite search engine will help you find coloring sheets and puzzles. Here are a few of my favorite sites:

This is the word search generator that I like to use.  I also usually include a generic sermon note page, such as these by Path Through the Narrow Gate (you may have to give your email to access this site, but you will receive lots of nice free coloring pages and things). 

I am attaching today's kids' worship guide, so you can see what sorts of things I include each week. (Scripture was the passage from Acts 1 about the disciples gathered in the upper room to pray and the sermon was about waiting and praying.)

 

Christie Thomas has a helpful poster in her blog to help you (and the parents in your congregation) think about ways children can respond to Scripture (and to sermons). During worship, draw it, write it, and play it (with PlayDoh, LEGO, dolls) would be most appropriate.

 

Another great idea to introduce children (and adults) to during scripture reading and sermons is Scripture Doodling. See our article here. Scripture Doodling will be particularly effective if parents know the Bible passage in advance and can print out the scripture with doodling space and read the passage with early readers.

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Last edited by Amy Crane

We had our first worship service "in person" today!  In Louisiana we are allowed to worship outdoors with six foot spacing between families and other restrictions.  It was a beautiful (but cold! 60 degrees) morning as 36 of us gathered in a big tent.  

This week we offered children our usual worship guides (described in my post above) and asked families to bring their own colored pencils or crayons. There were five families with children and three remembered. (We had $1 boxes of colored pencils from Dollar General on hand -- just in case -- that the other two families could use and keep.)

Next week my church will have bags that will be presented to each family. They will keep these bags, add to them, and bring back to use again every week (fingers crossed). So I have been doing some research (thanks "I Love Kidmin" group on Facebook!) to see what sorts of things churches are putting in their worship kits. I am sharing that list, with some comments:

  • children's Bible and/or storybook Bible
  • individual packets of crayons (amazon, Oriental Trading, and others sell the 4-packs that restaurants give away -- they are a cheap solution if you want to have something to give each week that is "disposable")
  • colored pencils
  • pencils or pens
  • golf pencils
  • erasers (fun shapes)
  • stencils
  • zipper pencil bags to hold things or ziplock bags
  • clipboard (for a hard writing surface for coloring sheets, puzzles, etc.
  • laminate cardstock and use a binder clip to make cheap clipboards (disposable; much cheaper than the cost of clipboards and no cleaning)
  • Play Doh (best for outdoor services or no carpet)
  • individual packs of Model Magic (maybe a bit less messy than Play Doh?)
  • small blank book (for doodles and notes) 
  • plain white paper
  • construction paper
  • worship bingo
  • stickers
  • pipe cleaners, fat pipe cleaners (A number of  people commented, including "Believe it or not, the pipe cleaners are a great fidget toy and one of the most popular items in the bag. I used to keep a bag of pipe cleaners in my boys' stuff when they were kids - best quiet toys ever!!!!")
  • pompoms
  • Wikki Stix
  • dry erase board
  • MagnaDoodle or other erasable drawing board
  • Lego (for quietly retelling the story - this one may be best at home)
  • lacing cards
  • quiet rhythm instruments such as egg shakers/plastic maracas
  • snacks (probably not a good idea - encourages hands to mouth contact; not good for this season, especially if masks are required)
  • individually wrapped hand wipes or hand sanitizer
  • things to avoid: bubbles, slime, balls (they roll into other people's space), candy
  •  suggestions for containers to put it all into:
    • paper gift bags or lunch bags - families keep or dispose

    • ziplock bags (gallon or smaller) (can decorate plastic or paper bags with stickers) - can be kept, disposed of, or wiped clean

    • cloth bags (Oriental trading has them at reasonable prices)

    • plastic shoe boxes labeled for each family (filled with things they can wipe off. That way each family’s items are only used by them and they wipe them off. Keep the boxes at a check-in station so that no one else touches the other ones. Then they return them to a cart.)

 

There seem to be three schools of thought: worship kits in disposable bags (where the families keep the contents or they are thrown away after use), kits that are given to the families and they are responsible for bringing them back (and adding to them based on their kids' needs), and kits that need to be cleaned after use and are reused. The best choice is different for each church based on size of church, budget, space, staffing, .....

Regarding what to call these kits, I would encourage you to call them Worship Activity Bags rather than Busy Bags. We’re not trying to keep children busy; our hope is to engage them in worship. 

Note also that I have seen some discussion that if there is only one weekly worship service, it will be an entire week before materials left at church are touched again. Maybe there is no need to clean reused items as any virus won't live that long??  👀 Proceed at your own risk on this idea, based on what your local authority thinks is appropriate.....

 

  What else do you include in your worship kits?

Last edited by Amy Crane

The perfect activity for children worshiping at home (and possibly even at church if there is carpet and padded chairs): recreating the Bible story/sermon scripture with Lego or Duplo blocks.  Many of the ideas for the Story Table Workshop can be scaled down to one or two children at home.  Lego dramas can be as simple or elaborate as time and ability and materials allow. 

There are many reasons why Lego are a great worship time activity:

  1. Kids of all ages (and adults) love to build with Lego.
  2. Construction focuses their mind's attention. It's the fine-motor skills that do it!
  3. Construction can foster cooperative behavior.
  4. Legos have a cool factor. 
  5. Many church families have Lego!  (Dolls and blocks and other toys can also be used to retell stories.)
  6. Creating the scene of a story helps student Imagine and better remember the story, and consider details they may not have noticed by simply reading or hearing the story. This is also a great family activity for after worship to help everyone remember the story and sermon.
  7. Lego characters are POSABLE. They can move through scenery built during the sermon in a retelling afterwards that conveys action and reaction in the story.

 

Whether children are constructing one Bible story scene or a family is working together after worship to create several different scenes in a story, Lego creations are personal ("I made that") and they are shareable ("let me tell you the part of the story I constructed").


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(
This Elijah scene is from the Writing Team's Elijah Super Set; check it out to see how to teach using a Bible story and Lego.) 

 

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Last edited by Amy Crane

Thank you Amy for that great PHOTO and all the suggestions!  Kudos to your church for going the extra mile. (I see that you are now offering outdoor, indoor, and online worship!)

Here in Ohio, outdoor worship is super-iffy this time of year.

Two weeks ago we attended a local church's "drive in" worship in our car. They had done this in past summers so they had the radio broadcasting equipment (which isn't expensive). Saw lots of kids bouncing in seats and sucking on juice boxes. (It all felt strange and like a novelty, but I didn't have any kids with me so maybe it was better than nothing for those who do.)

Over the years, I've run hot and cold on "worship bags." I've seen them become a distraction to both kids, parents, and others seated nearby. Yet I've heard parents say how helpful they were. Interestingly, in churches where we did not have them, I don't recall anybody asking for them.

If I had to pick just a few things, I'd only pick ONE actually:  the Magna doodle. They keep the kids' attention, don't create waste, ...and the "pencil" is attached with a string    Various websites sell a bunch of different brands/types/price points. Buy one to test it as some aren't made very well.

I'm a big fan of LEGOS, but I would not recommend LEGOS in a sanctuary. LEGOS are noisy and bouncy when they are dropped. On your outdoor gravel floor that wouldn't be a problem. Now... if the pastor somehow integrated their use into the sermon/service, I might change my opinion. 

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Scripture Doodling is a quiet way to interact with God’s Word during worship. Doodling can help a child -- or adult -- engage with God’s Word at a pace that allows one to pause, reflect, and respond to the wisdom received. The whole time spent doodling a passage is spent thinking about the passage. In a way, Scripture Doodling is a form of meditation that helps the student engage the Bible more deeply. Doodling helps improve concentration as it prevents an individual from daydreaming.

What to doodle? Read the Scripture passage or prayer prompts and respond on paper with colored pencils or pens to these questions:

  • Is there a word or phrase the jumps out?
  • What visual comes to mind? (It might be a color, a shape or squiggle, a word, or a stick figure, a name.)
  • If I were going to explain this passage or prayer to someone else, what picture would help him understand?

 

Doodles should be spontaneous, self-paced, repetitive, and meaningless. Do not expect great art; it is just doodling. Celebrate this as an opportunity to help yourself or your kids connect with the Word on a deeper level and have fun!

(For early readers, this activity will be more fruitful if you read the passage together before worship begins.)

AbbyCropperLPdoodle

See the Scripture Doodling article for more information as well as a sample guided activity.

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WORSHIP ENGAGEMENT

Some thoughts about engaging children in online worship services and also in "in-person" services when the church reopens.

 

For many people, the world has changed, and young children are no longer in nursery or children’s church during the weekly worship service. Parents are distracted and need help equipping their children to sit through a full worship service.

Our first response is to give these children something to keep them busy and entertained. A phone or tablet with a movie or video game will certainly distract a child - to the point that he or she is no longer a participant in the worship service. So what about “busy bags” as a solution?

I am troubled by the idea of "busy bags" or even "activity bags" as I think those words imply that we need to keep children busy during a worship service because they cannot worship. Instead, let’s consider ways to engage children in worship, in a developmentally appropriate way.

The Bible doesn’t say we have to pray sitting still, with our hands folded and our eyes closed. Scripture reading doesn’t have to be boring. If we want kids to connect with God and His Word in a meaningful way, we must help them.

The first step in engaging children in worship is for parents to let children know what is expected of them during worship. Expectations will vary with the age of the child and the situation. Perhaps children should stand during the hymns, even if they can’t read the words (over time they will learn the words by hearing them repeatedly in worship, or you can pick a few favorites and play them in the car or at home). Or maybe your child can dance in place or play a quiet rhythm instrument along with the music (egg shakers are relatively quiet and cheap). Children can understand from a young age that times of prayer are times for quiet stillness and can be taught that those times are not when they should ask whispered questions. Children can memorize the Lord’s Prayer and pray it with the congregation.

However, sitting perfectly still is not an expectation that makes sense for young children in worship. Research shows that physical activity — even a little foot-tapping or gum chewing — increases levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain that control focus and attention. A subtle fidget may help block out distractions and fight boredom. An effective fidget doesn’t distract from the primary task (worship) because it is something the child doesn’t have to think about. For example, doodling while sitting in a meeting or listening to a sermon enables you to better absorb what’s being said. Experiment with a variety of strategies; encourage your child to try different fidgets such as swinging her feet in her too big chair or squeezing his soft toy or fiddling with her ring or making shapes with pipe cleaners or coloring a Bible story picture.

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Being attentive during the sermon seems like a particularly daunting task. But a little planning and preparation can help your children not only be quiet, but also help them engage in the Word being preached. Before worship, read the sermon Scripture with your children (if this is not normally provided in advance, ask your pastor for help with this). Take a few moments before the service starts to review the student worship guide with your prereaders to give them instruction on what they will be hearing and what they can work on or think about during the sermon. Hearing and thinking about the scripture in advance will help children engage in the scripture/sermon using Lego or Play Doh or pipe cleaners or Scripture Doodling to create something that reminds them of what they are hearing.

Then, after worship, take time to process with your children what they heard and how they responded. Have them tell you about their creations. Ask them to retell the story using Lego. Help them finish the puzzle in the worship guide. Talk about the sermon points over lunch. Share how you plan to apply what you heard in the coming week. These actions will make worship a part of everyday life during the week, not just a weekly interruption.

For more suggestions of activities that encourage active listening, see this blog post by Christie Thomas.

By the way, are you wondering WHY we are working so hard to include children in worship? Jesus himself welcomed children and told us to be like them. We were all (from birth) created to worship and glorify God. The experience of being in a worship service immersed in practices that have been formational for generations and being with the people who make up the body of Christ is important to share as a family. Children will feel a sense of belonging and will know they have a place in our community. Here is a good article by Christina Embree summarizing recent findings on the importance of intergenerational worship.

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WORSHIP ENGAGEMENT, PART 2

Practical ideas for parents to engage children in worship services online and “in-person.”

Now that your children understand your expectations and you have agreed on some strategies to help them participate in the worship service (see Worship Engagement, Part 1, above), what exactly should be in your worship engagement toolkit?

I encourage you to gather the things that meet your children’s wants and needs. You know them best. Here are some suggestions to get you started, gathered from a number of Christian educators:

  • Children’s Bible and/or storybook Bible.
  • A pencil case with pencils, colored pencils, eraser, crayons, or markers.
  • A clipboard for each child.
  • A notebook for note taking and Scripture Doodling.
  • Plain white paper or construction paper for note-taking, doodling, and drawing.
  • Dry erase board, MagnaDoodle, or other erasable drawing board (these don't create waste like paper does).
  • Stencils.
  • Stickers.
  • A small jigsaw puzzle.
  • Lacing cards for younger children.
  • Pipe cleaners (chenille stems) – a great fidget toy that can be used (and reused) as crafting materials to make objects that help retell the Scripture or to make figures to act out life application points.
  • Wikki Stix.
  • Lego for retelling the Bible story (this may be best as an at-home worship supply).
  • Play Doh (best for outdoor services or no carpet).
  • Individual packs of Model Magic (maybe a bit less messy than Play Doh?).
  • Pompoms.
  • A Bible figure for posing and fidgeting.
  • Books of the Bible or memory verse flash cards.
  • Worship bingo cards with worship activities and objects to watch for and key “church” words to listen for (laminate and include a dry erase marker for reuse each week).
  • Quiet rhythm instruments such as egg shakers/plastic maracas.
  • Individually wrapped hand wipes or hand sanitizer.
  • Things to avoid: bubbles, slime, balls (they roll into other people's space), and candy and other snacks (encourage hand to mouth contact, which is not wise these days).

For more suggestions of activities and supplies that encourage active listening, see this blog post by Christie Thomas.

If your church does not provide a children’s bulletin or student worship guide, you can easily make one up yourself. In advance, ask your pastor what the Scripture or sermon theme is for this week’s worship. Your favorite search engine will help you find coloring sheets and puzzles. Here are a few of my favorite sites:

Find a sturdy bag or plastic tub to store and carry your supplies in, and keep your kit in the living room or by the computer for online worship, and move it to your car once your church starts worshiping together in person.

Remember to talk with your children after the worship service about what they created as well as any application of the sermon in their lives. That will reinforce that the worship guide and activities are not busy work, but are something that relate to what the children are hearing, learning, and experiencing in worship.

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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