A child’s world is rich in wonder and mystery. Though we experience children as busy little beings with darting attention, they can form deep connections with pattern and ritual even in the first few years of life. And they form them fast.
When our family recently sat down to dinner, and as we began to sing the table blessing, my 3-year-old son shouted: “No, Mama! First you light the candle.” Ah, yes. He was right. We had been lighting a small candle before evening meals for a week or so. In that short time, it had become tradition.
Without much of a plan, I’ve been borrowing bits of language and symbols from Sunday worship to help illuminate God’s presence in daily life. Many families follow daily liturgies without calling them that. Consider the common bedtime ritual: brush teeth, use the potty, pajamas, story, song, prayer, lights out. That nightly pattern helps children and parents navigate the end of the day and rest in peace.
Mealtime, waking and sleeping are great moments for crafting such simple, daily liturgies. The small seeds we plant in these transitions come back bearing fruit.
As winter approached and the nights lengthened, my son wondered why it was so dark in the morning. “Brother Sun is sleeping in again,” I explained, borrowing a phrase from Francis of Assisi. Sure enough, that is how we speak of the sun all the time now. “Brother Sun is trying hard to peek through the clouds today, Mama.”
I can’t be certain yet how that language will shape my child’s perspective on the sun or nature as a whole, but I’m hopeful that he will grow in his sense that the natural world is beloved of God and worthy of our respect.
Our days flow together into seasons. Days shorten and lengthen again, trees bloom and fruit and shed, creatures move about. Noticing these movements helps us stay connected to God’s wondrous world. Marking time at home teaches children that God holds all the earth in tender care. Keep a nature table on which to display such seasonal items as seed pods, flowers and pinecones. Take nature walks. Give thanks for specific changes in weather and environment. (See below for more ideas.)
The sweetest thing to see as a mother and a pastor is a child who gleefully puts her hand in the baptismal font, splashes around and traces a cross on her forehead. This child knows she belongs in worship, belongs in the water and belongs to the promise it contains. It’s this sense of belonging I want to give each child, my own and those I teach in Sunday school.
Daily life is both common and amazing. It’s the place where God meets us. Attending to God’s presence in daily rhythms is a perfect place to start forming faith in children.
Songs of faith to sing at home
Pushing a button on a CD player or iPod is easy, but there’s nothing like the voice of a parent or grandparent. Songs of our faith tradition don’t just belong in church, but can be incorporated into home life. Invest in an Evangelical Lutheran Worship or ask your church if it has an old hymnal no longer in use. Sing to (and with) your children:
• Songs of faith for the seasons
“In the Bleak Midwinter” (ELW, 294)
“Beautiful Savior” (838)
“Now the Green Blade Rises” (379)
“Shine, Jesus, Shine” (671)
• Songs for waking up
“For the Beauty of the Earth” (879)
“Morning Has Broken” (556)
“Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth” (735)
“We Are Marching in the Light” (866)
• Songs for bedtime
“Joyous Light of Heavenly Glory” (561)
“Children of the Heavenly Father” (781)
“The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Has Ended” (569)
“Thy Holy Wings” (613)
Activities to mark the seasons
Just as we observe the seasons of the church year during worship, we can do so at home. Children enjoy making such celebrations part of their family tradition.
• On St. Francis Day, Oct. 4, bless all household pets. Stuffed animals too.
• On Epiphany, the day the wise ones came to honor Jesus, donate new or gently used books to your library or an organization that collects them. Let the children select and deliver the books.
• Create an Advent wreath, letting the candles mark the passage of time.
• When jumping into the lake, ocean or pool this summer, shout: “Remember your baptism!”
• Weather (and local ordinances) permitting, celebrate Epiphany, Easter or Pentecost with a family bonfire. Invite the neighbors.
• On the night before Ash Wednesday, spell “Alleluia” on a long strip of fabric and let your children hide it in the house where it will wait to be rediscovered at Easter.
• At winter or summer solstice, take a nighttime nature walk with lanterns. A small candle in a jar with a wire handle makes an easy lantern that can be set in a window later. Give thanks to God for light.
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers