I had an interesting discussion with someone this week about the need or otherwise for any program or form of learning to help the 3’s and under to make sense of the worship experience. Their view was that all that was needed was a welcoming community. This was the only thing we agreed on.
But is it enough.
My biological children learnt to sit quietly and eat a packet of sultana’s through the sermon.They sat in a very welcoming community, it was not enough. I failed at that time to understand that they needed further instructions on what we were doing, they needed further engagement with the different aspects of worship, as well as the opportunity to express themselves.
Having been influenced by Robbie Castleman’s book Parenting in the Pew https://www.koorong.com/search/product/parenting-in-the-pew-revised-and-updated-3rd/9780830837779.jhtml, along with my studies in children’s learning and spiritual development. I feel that a little extra guidance on behalf of the parents of the 3’s and under goes a long way in helping them to grow into worshippers instead of grow out of worship.
During my time at Wesley Church Melbourne I had the opportunity to put this understanding to the test, and started to deliberately create a program to help the parents/guardians of the 3’s and under further guide their youngsters. I did this because I could not find an appropriate lectionary based program for this age group.
A child does not just decide at three that it is old enough to start paying attention, that awareness comes gradually and with the normal stages of development. We know that to read requires many hours of being read to, and so I extrapolated that to worship requires many hours of repetition and practice too.
What I did notice was that those children that were regularly in church ( ie 2/3 weeks per month), had as they grew, a greater understanding of the worship experience and could express themselves age appropriately better than those who didn’t. So was just being present enough?
No, while we sat at the back of the church, roamed free and ate or were played with to keep quiet, they were learning other skills such as socialisation, parental domination, fine motor skills. Would moving them to the front where they could see more make a difference? yes it did. But they were not understanding what was going on. They were not practising the fundamentals of bible reading, of praying, of the ecclesiastic calendar, of singing, of being quiet so others can listen, of responding to what was happening around them.
Our children got communion, every fortnight they would participate with the adults and through their behaviours and use of terminology it was clear that they got it. How could I help them to get the rest of the service? By slowly giving them the opportunity to practice and build up their skill set too. So that’s what I did. Created a program to help the 3’s and under start to practice the basics of worship during a traditional service.
Have you had experience with this age group too? What has worked and hasn’t. Please let me know.
Then stay tuned each Tuesday as I share my suggestions for helping the 3’s and under participate in a traditional RCL service.