Growing up, I learned that praying was for dinnertime, bedtime and for boring, old, long-winded men in church. At dinnertime, my Daddy was the only one who prayed. At bedtime I prayed the same words every night: Dear God, thank you for Mommy, Daddy, Sissy & Jamie. In Jesus’ name, Amen. And in Church? Prayers must last at least 10 minutes and the man praying must use only big, flowery words too intimidating to teach & foster in me a desire to talk to a God whose demands for prayers seemed too lofty and dull.
No one ever sat me down and “taught” me this is how & when you have to pray. These were the observations, understandings & misconceptions of a child. As an adult, I still love the prayers of my Daddy at dinnertime, and I’m grateful for the leadership of those men who prayed from their hearts and loved speaking to the Lord on the Church’s behalf.
I’m grateful, too, that along the way I learned there are more ways to talk with God than were impressed upon my memory from childhood. While on one hand it seems obvious and a waste of time to talk about practicing prayer with kids (because don’t we always have at least one prayer as part of our lessons?! – Note the sarcasm because I’ve lost count how many times I’ve forgotten to pray with my kids during a lesson.) I’ve learned from my own childhood experience that we are teaching and modeling prayer for our kids both directly and indirectly. I’m not always aware of what kids are learning from me indirectly so it’s important that we directly teach kids how to pray, too. After all, even Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.
Growing up, I was taught – both directly & indirectly – that to pray one must fold their hands, bow their head, close their eyes and sit very, very still while praying. As a teacher, I love this model. It helps me communicate that a certain level of respect & reverence for God is expected while we talk to Him. For my friend, Matthew, who is in 2nd grade and hates any activity that requires him to sit still, this is the worst possible model to use 100% of the time. This model won’t help Matthew connect to God or desire to spend time with God. I’ve lost all the Matthews out there when I try to teach prayer styles for the Self Smart learner only. The discipline of prayer is probably one of the easiest disciplines to adapt for each learning style. Let’s explore different ways to practice prayer with our kids that will address each learning style.
- Journaling – Create a prayer journal. Pinterest has no shortage of ideas & aides.
- Ancient Prayers – Share prayers written from Christian Mothers & Fathers.
- Scripture Prayers – Find prayers in scripture and allow children to pray these prayers & meditate on them.
- Praying in Color – LOVE this method and you don’t have to be artistic. Sybil MacBeth is available to lead workshops and I would highly recommend bringing her to your church. Kids & adults alike love this method of prayer.
- Art Response – Allow kids space to create with their hands with various mediums to pray & respond to God.
- Listen to music – Make space for worship music to play and speak to the souls of these children as they worship God.
- Write songs – These children can write their prayers through song lyrics & music.
- Make music – Provide instruments for children to speak their prayers through the beat and rhythm in their soul.
- Wonder questions – Give these children prompts to wonder with God and ask Him big questions.
- Love Letters from God – Have children write a love letter from God to themselves.
- Labyrinth Prayers – Find a labyrinth near you or create one out of masking tape. Pray-ers walk a physical journey as they prayerfully walk a spiritual journey with God.
- Praying with the Body – Pray-ers learn to use their whole body as they pray and worship God through scripture.
- Prayer Walking – Prayer walking is a way of physically walking with Jesus through places that you are concerned about. Take kids on a prayer walk around your church building, neighborhood, their school, etc.
- Prayer Walking – This is great for Nature Smart kids, too.
- Just get outdoors – What is near you where you can get outside in God’s creation and encounter Him? One church I used to work for had a rock prayer garden. Another has a wooded amphitheatre with 3 crosses, which was very secluded. My kids loved utilizing these prayerful natural settings.
- Prayer Journals – Create a prayer journal.
- Breath Prayer – Breath prayer is a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythms of breathing: (1) breathe in, calling on a biblical name or image of God, and (2) breathe out a simple God-given desire. For example:
- Breathe in “Lord,” breathe out “here I am.”
- Breathe in “Jesus,” breathe out “have mercy on me.”
- Breathe in “Abba,” breathe out “I belong to you.”
- Listening Prayer
- Prayer Partners – Group children into 2s or 3s to pray for the friend on their right.
- Group Prayers – These children will love prayers that are done as a large group:
- Popcorn style – One person begins the prayer than others can pray aloud as desired. Another designated person closes the prayer at the appropriate time.
- Repeat Prayer – Class repeats after the person praying aloud.
- Complete the sentence – Children are given a prompt and the class goes around the circle with their answer.
- “God, thank you for…”
- “God, I love you because…”
- “God, please help me …”
Like all Spiritual Disciplines, it is important to model prayer in healthy & realistic ways. The words you pray, the way you pray and the frequency of your prayers will all indirectly teach your children how they should pray. It’s tempting to script our prayers to ensure we “say it right.” But maybe the best way we can teach our kids to pray is by stumbling through a conversation with God – aloud – for everyone to hear and judge. Our kids need to know how & when we struggle to pray and connect with God. They need to see us wrestle with the “right” words, too. They need to know that sometimes we don’t know what to ask God for but that God still wants to hear from us anyway.
Let them pray.
Like all things with being a Christ-follower, we can’t just talk about doing it; we actually have to do it. Allow kids the opportunity to pray out loud. Give them space during class to practice praying through these different methods. Even if a method is outside of their learning style. The more we give kids the opportunity to pray, especially out loud around other people, the more they will become comfortable with doing so.
Prayer is a basic spiritual discipline that when taught intentionally can set our children up for a lifetime of desiring to connect with God. And if we listen & watch closely our child’s praise will challenge us to connect with God in deeper ways, too.