By Jill Crisp
Jill is from a network of fellowships in Australia
We call the time we do things with the kids ‘whole church activities’ rather than marginalizing it by calling it ‘children’s activities’.
0 – 5 Year Olds
We make sure that they are given attention by more people than just their parents. If they are ignored by others, they are very likely to act up and try to monopolize their parents.
One adult or a couple of older kids, sometimes plays ball with them outside, to use up some of their excess energy and give them the feeling that they are worth spending time with.
We have colored pencils and paper on a low table for them to draw with, while people are talking. (We have found that texta colours and crayons can make unfortunate marks on carpet and furniture, so it is best not to make them available to this age group.)
We have found that a ‘difficult’ toddler will often benefit from an adult, who is not one of the toddlers parents, but who is prepared to be a ‘special friend’ to him or her. This involves the adult paying this child special attention in meetings but not being monopolized by him or her. It starts the child on the path of positive interactions with adults when perhaps most previous interactions were negative (‘don’t do that!’, ‘be quiet.’ ‘get away from there!’).
We have a box of ‘quiet’ toys for the little ones, in the room where church meets. Because they don’t play with them all the time, they are likely to be more interesting than the ones they could bring from home. Noisy toys like ‘corn poppers’ and hammer toys need to be put out of sight before the little ones arrive. This age group seems to learn about Christian life by EXPERIENCING Christian love and attention from other people in the group more than from hearing about it in teachings.
The little ones in our church love action songs.
6 – 10 Year Olds
We have acted out whole books of the bible, a chapter or so at a time, for the benefit of this age group (older kids like this too). Over the years we have done Acts, Matthew’s gospel and are now planning to try Exodus. (Sometimes we skip over the very philosophical parts, which would be difficult for the children to understand.) Everybody seems to enjoy this kind of exercise. The smaller ones love playing Jesus or some kind of a ruler because it reverses the role they usually play in life.
The adults benefit from doing something physical and the stories stay in people’s minds because we have seen them unfold before us.
This age group is often happy to share a prayer time with the adults, where everyone says a one-sentence ‘thank you’ prayer. In general, however, our 6 to 10 year olds hate to sit through long adult prayers. For this reason, we save up our expansive, peaceful praying to a time when the adults are alone together.
11 – 15 Year Olds
The children in this age group in our church, love special church outings. We have a tradition of going once a year into the foothills near Canberra to pick blackberries and have a picnic. Also, around this warm time of year we have an afternoon of boating and sailing together on the lake. Home church camps at the beach are also very popular.
We are just beginning a roster with adults and children alike being responsible for different home church activities, e.g., choosing the songs, accompanying songs with musical instruments, getting the food heated and on the table. 11 to 15 year olds often seem to have practical skills that can benefit the church. We have discovered that it is worth looking for them in each child. Perhaps they are enjoying cooking at school and would like to cook something for everyone. Some of our girls learn singing and are able to lead us in part-singing. It has been quite a heavenly experience at times.
Some of our kids, at this age become morose and a bit uncooperative in church (Probably because they want to be somewhere else with their friends. Other times I think it is just because they are tired from high school, home work and a heavy social life.). I find that I have better ‘spiritual’ talks with my teenager, when crises and questions come up at home than I do at church. Because these are the real and important issues of life, I try to make time to listen and talk when she is ready to speak. This is hard, but I think it has paid dividends over the years. Adult mentors from within home church are good for kids of this age and older.