I grew up praying the traditional way. There was always a blessing before meals and two prayers before bed: The Prayer of Protection and The Lord’s Prayer.
In church, I would hear the pastor praying prayers with complicated names like “intercession,” and “invocation.” I appreciated his beautiful words but felt removed from the process. These were not the prayers of my heart.
It wasn’t until I was with my church’s youth ministry group as a college student that I realized that there were many, many ways to pray. Prayer was blown wide-open for me when I saw the leaders teach kids to pray in all kinds of ways: singing, clapping, yelling and yes, even quiet. While I still relish the traditional prayers of my childhood, that experience changed the way I teach prayer. It wasn’t just that the prayers of these middle-schoolers were “fun,” although some were, it was that these prayers clearly respected the ages and personalities of the young people we were mentoring.
Children need a way to connect with God that fits their developmental stages and growing understanding. Because God and prayer are such abstract concepts, it helps them grow in faith and maturity to have these ideas connected to concrete practices. Further, because their little bodies are bursting with energy, using prayers that engage rather than suppress this energy is key to helping them develop their own relationship with God.
This isn’t to say that memorizing the traditional prayers has no value for children. While an ultimate goal is for children to turn to God in prayer in all things, children often need words to get started. I am reminded of this every day when I pick my daughter up from school.
“How was your day?”
“What did you do?”
It is only later, when we’ve had time to unwind and reconnect that the details of her day begin to emerge.
If this is true of children’s conversations with their parents, how much truer is it in their relationship with God? As we expose children to a variety of prayer forms, we give them conversation starters for their life-long relationship with God. With this in mind, here are 5 child-friendly prayer ideas:
- Gratitude Box: The importance of a thankful attitude is well-researched. Studies have shown that gratitude leads to greater happiness, more energy and eases depression. For Christians, thankfulness is also meant to be a spiritual practice. It is a way of living that draws us closer to God. Encouraging a prayer practice that focuses on gratitude is perhaps the most important foundation we can lay for children. Happily, it’s also quite easy. Begin by creating a classroom gratitude box with the children. Before the group meets, cover a shoebox in plain paper, cutting a slit in the lid as you would for a Valentine’s Day mailbox project. Give children old magazines or newspapers and invite them to cut out pictures of things they’re thankful for. You can explain this to children as “things that make you happy.” Children can glue their pictures to box. Label the box, including a Bible verse about gratitude, if you like. Each time the children come together, have them write down something they’re grateful. It’s ok if it’s the same thing week after week! The important thing is that they’re beginning to learn the practice of being thankful. Here’s the gratitude container we made last year:
- Bucket of Blessings. This is a great way to model intercessory prayers and blessings for children. Begin with a small metal bucket from the dollar store. Using colorful craft popsicle sticks, write the name of each family member on a stick. Children select a popsicle stick from the container and then spend a moment in prayer for that person. Older children may be able to craft a prayer on their own but some guidance will still help. You might provide them with an idea like, “God, please bless _____________ today. Give them ______________.” Take a look at Happy Hearts for her take on the idea!
- Digging Deep. This is a fun and meditative activity for children. Using a permanent marker, write down prayer concerns and joys on medium size sea shells. (Small rocks work for this, as well.) Bury the seashells in your sensory table, small sandbox or a dish tub filled with sand. Provide children with a small shovel or spoon and let them dig for the seashells. As they find each one, they can offer up a prayer for that item. Encourage them to simply take a moment to hold the seashell while they picture the person or thing for whom they’re praying.
- Candle Devotions. Set up a small table with candles. Write several prayers on an index card under each candle. Include the Lord’s Prayer and any other prayers your children know by heart, or select a few verses from the psalms. Psalms 91:1, 5:8 or 18:2 are all good devotional verses for children. Encourage children and other family members to use the space throughout the day by praying the written prayer and lighting a candle. While kids love high-energy activities, they also appreciate the interplay between quiet and loud. If your routine includes a lot of group activities, this quiet devotional time invites kids into stillness. The ancient and meditative act of lighting candles resonates with children. Adapt this for pre-readers by using prayers they know and draw a picture rather than writing the prayer.
- Prayer Cube. Prayer cubes take many forms but the basic idea is the same. It is simply a small box shape, the size of a large die or a rubix cube, with prayer ideas written on each side. For an even funner version, make your own prayer cube from a large moving box. Write a prayer prompt on each side of the box: “I’m sorry for _____________.” “I was happy when _______________.” “I’m worried about ________________. “I need help with _______________.” “Please bless ____________________.” “Free choice/roll again.”
(No box? Print this pattern from Enchanted Learning and make a cube from paper.)
One by one, children take turns rolling the prayer cube and following the prompt they land on. Expect children to need help thinking of their prayer ideas, especially at first. This is a developmental skill! Young children have a hard time remembering events of their day and emotions. However, the more they do this and other prayers, the better they’ll get at reflecting on their lives, joys, hurts and concerns for others. Children’s Ministry has this one with just dinner time prayers–another great id
As adults, we realize that everyone prays differently. Allowing freedom for children to explore their own prayer styles is a way of recognizing and loving the God-given uniqueness of each person. By engaging children in a variety of prayer practices, you guide them down a life-long path of prayer. While these ideas are good starting points, they are certainly not the only options. Explore different modes of prayer yourself and teach them to the kiddos in your life. You may even be surprised at your own expanding conversation with God!