Have you ever gone for a walk with a child? Have you noticed how children take delight in little things, how they see beauty and intrigue all around them? For children, the environment that surrounds them is very important, as it either awakens curiosity and awe or dulls their senses. Likewise, worship spaces should have an awe-inducing effect on children.
Think about how important it is to create a beautiful space for adults to worship and the great care we take of that space. We should pay no less attention to the space for worshiping with children—after all, it is a place where their faith is acknowledged and formed.
It is important that the rooms you use for worshiping with children, just like our sanctuaries, are taken care of and include beautiful things. They need to be places that have a sense of the holy. Let children know that the items in the room are special, that they are there for a purpose, and that they are for the children to use. Practice and show the children how to take care of the room. When you are thoughtful and careful about the environment that is created for children to worship in, it allows them to rest and know that God is there.
Seeing from a Child’s Perspective
When considering your space and beauty, try to see it from a child’s perspective. A good place to start is to sit on the floor of the room. What is your eye drawn to? At child-height the world looks different, so here are some principles to keep in mind.
- Hang things lower. If something is on the wall it should be at child height, not adult or older child height. This is their space.
- Consider colors and materials. Use materials made from natural sources as much as possible. Use natural wood rather than plastic; use clay rather than Playdough. Do your best to use colors that remind you of nature throughout the space, changing the colors only to draw attention seasonally.
- Keep the room the same when possible. This gives a child grounding. Young children are easily distracted by too much sensory information. They find comfort in order. Everything should have a place, and that place should not change. This allows children to move deeper into the materials, the stories, their prayers, and other work with God.
- Less is more. Avoid clutter. Too many choices can be overwhelming to a child and may keep a child from seeing and finding what is important.
One Church’s Story
Pat Barton, leader and trainer for the Young Children and Worship program, tells how she overcame space challenges to create a beautiful place for the children to worship. Here is her story.
We were a new church meeting in an elementary school. Each Sunday we set up our worship space in the multipurpose room. We moved a large cube cabinet down a hall for our worship supplies.
First, we decided to meet in the hall—not in a classroom. The classrooms were busy, with lots of bright colors, decorations covering all vertical surfaces, and strings with signs hanging from the ceiling. The hallway was the most peaceful space with the least distractions.
The big challenge was how to transform a hallway with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights into a sacred worship space. We wanted the child to feel the transformation from an ordinary hallway into the beautiful, worshipful, sacred space. So we dressed the hallway space every Sunday using many of the solutions listed below.
Challenge: Cinder block walls, space feels cold
Solution: Transform the space with fabric on the walls. Use simple neutral colors like maroon or green.
Challenge: Linoleum floors or other “cold” floors
Solution: Try an oval or circle rug for your circle and order square cushions for sitting. If your space is big, add small rugs around the room.
Challenge: harsh or fluorescent lighting
Solution: natural lighting is ideal. If that isn’t possible, or enough, consider bringing in several lamps to place around the room.
Challenge: too many choices, many random craft supplies
Solution: Avoid large bins of materials. Instead, divide into smaller one-child baskets. Encourage independence by arranging materials so the child doesn’t need to ask for help.
Challenge: Unorganized, messy appearance; things move around each week
Solution: Everything has a place. Place things that go together (for a story, artwork) in a basket. Place matching baskets neatly on shelves that children can reach.
Other helpful things to keep in mind for your space
Labels/tags: Use labels or tags to help children (and adults) find stories and supplies. Labels should match the tone of the rest of the space—consistent, not distracting, designed for who you expect to use the materials. Use some sort of image or icon for children who can’t read.
Cleanup: Don’t forget to include resources for children to help clean up after themselves and care for the environment. This may be a dustpan and brush or sponges to clean the easel or trays. Be sure to give a lesson on how to use the cleaning supplies.
Adult space: Keep an eye on any surfaces that may gather the storytelling team materials, resources, or personal items. If you do not have other storage space, consider using a small basket to keep items from being visually distracting.
Include God’s creation: Bring in live plants, cut flowers, rocks, and so on. You may even consider a beta fish in the room.
Artwork: Generally, avoid posting children’s work to avoid comparison. Consider adding framed art to the walls. Remember that there is great beauty in the diversity God has created. When pictures or visuals are used, make sure they are indicative of all of God’s people.
An important area in the children’s worship space is the prayer center. In making a prayer center for children, use what is used in the sanctuary as much as possible. If there is a certain color wood or table in your sanctuary, replicate it in the prayer center. If there is an item that indicates prayer to your adult worshipers, use it in the children’s prayer center as well if possible. Keep it simple; you can include a pillow, Christ candle, a few books with prayers for kids to use. The prayer center can be located in a corner of the room. Some have created a prayer space and put a tent over it.
Encourage kids to pray aloud, silently, with hands open, raised, folded, or in whichever way they can best speak to God. Some children may pray best while moving to soft music. Encourage different postures while praying. Look at the gifts your children have and use what would help them pray.
Some of these ideas are simple, and some will take much more thought and effort. But creating a beautiful space for children to worship in is worth the effort. This is one of the places where children come to experience God’s presence and love and to respond to that love. The seeds of faith that are planted in these early years will continue to flourish as children grow.
Essentials of the Children and Worship program
The following are essential elements of the Children and Worship program. For more information go to childrenandworship.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The beauty in the Bible story
The beauty in the story involves how the stories are written, what is included, and, more important, what is left out. The stories introduce the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the light—big, abstract concepts for children—without some of the details that may be the focus of adults and older children.
The beauty in wondering
“Wondering questions” help the children and the adult storyteller to refocus and make connections. They also encourage openness to “not knowing” in a world where all our questions can be answered with a quick Google search. The beauty in wondering is not in the answering, but in the exploration.
The beauty in response
Young children learn through doing. They also experience, develop, and explore through their hands. The beauty in response is that the story becomes the child’s story. Open-ended art, movement, and storytelling actively involve the child in connecting the story, God, and God’s work in the story.
The beauty in the space
The story, the wondering, and the response are all wrapped up in a sacred space. Fill the space with beautiful materials, images and resources.