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“Big Church” Transition

April 8, 2011

When Monkey was 2.5 years old we started bring him into the evening church service with us for the song service portion. And by “we,” I really mean “me.” The Chief is an usher and runs the sound booth, so he stays in the back of the auditorium. I play my trumpet on the very front row. So that’s where Monkey started learning about “big church,” on the front row by my side as I played trumpet. He transitioned pretty well. There were several songs I ended up playing with one hand while using my other hand to settle a wriggly boy. There were a few occasions where we needed to leave the room to address his behavior. But for the most part, he did well. Monkey’s biggest struggle is not the wriggling, it is the keeping quiet. That boy always has so many questions!

During his beginning transition I used a reward system to help motivate him to behave. I drew four numbered squares on an index card and slipped it into my Bible. Each service that he sat still and didn’t talk, he was allowed a sticker to put in one of the squares. When the card was full, he could redeem it for a date with just Mommy to Simply Yogurt (our favorite frozen yogurt store we pass going to church). Food is a very powerful motivator for my boys!

Once his card had been redeemed, I made a new one with five squares. The card that had six squares was his last one. By then he had learned how to sit well in church. (For the first 15/20 minutes of song service, that is.)

Monkey is now four years old. He has moved up to the Pee Wee Patch Club on Wednesday nights and is no longer in the nursery. When the summer comes, he will also move up to Junior Church during the morning service. That means that the only time he would be in the nursery would be during the preaching on Sunday evening. Even though our church allows 4-yr. olds in the nursery during that time, I don’t really want him there anymore. Recently he has started asking me after the second song or so if “it’s time to go and play yet.” I don’t want him thinking that church is just a place to go and play. It is a place to worship the Lord.

I do not want to go back to offering rewards for sitting still and being quiet, because he really ought to be beyond that now. (I am currently still doing the sticker cards with Bruiser). There is enough “action” during the song service to keep Monkey’s attention, but I just know he is going to be asking me questions every five minutes during the message. I don’t want to teach him it’s ok to ignore Pastor’s message by allowing him to read a stack of books during that time, or spend the time mindlessly coloring. I’m not really sure what else to do though.

The one idea I came up with for helping to keep Monkey’s attention for the 40-minute message is to give him a key word. Take “Jesus” for example. Every time he hears Pastor say “Jesus” in his sermon he would write that word down on a piece of paper. It would help keep him engaged listening to what Pastor is saying and would help him work on his penmanship too. I’m just not sure that he could keep that up for 40 minutes.

How did you teach your chatty/wriggly preschooler to sit quietly during church service?

I’ll take all the suggestions I can get with this one!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 3:03 pm

    One experienced mom told me she allowed her children to draw what the preacher was speaking on. So they had to listen. Then afterwards they would explain to their mom what their drawing was. She felt it taught them to listen and “take notes,” and also provided a way to talk about the sermon afterwards.

    My oldest is 5 and doesn’t have to sit in the service often yet, so we have yet to need this tool, but i plan to use it next year when she has to be in the evening service. For me, I think it is not really feasible for a small child to sit and stare at the preacher the entire time – they need something to occupy their minds and hands.

    • April 8, 2011 4:37 pm

      I like that idea. I’m curious to know how much he would actually get out of a message anyhow. He would certainly have to interpret his drawings for me though! The boy has NO art skills!

  2. Kelly permalink
    April 8, 2011 3:46 pm

    We did with Lauren what Nicole mentioned and it did work. She listened to the message but she interpreted it on her level. And it was a good way to talk about it afterwards,too. He will get it, don’t stress about it too much. Remember, he is still a kid after all. And while we all want our children to sit like cherubs, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Make sure whatever you do is actually on his level not a level you would like him to be on. Just my thoughts on it from a mom who’s been there. Take it or leave it I guess 🙂 Good luck with finding something that fits your little man and I’m sure you will!

    • April 8, 2011 4:39 pm

      Thanks Kel. This parenting thing is so much trial and error! The first-born me would really like a more direct instruction manual. =) It’s good for me to just remember not to get discouraged when the first thing doesn’t work and to just keep trying.

  3. April 8, 2011 3:51 pm

    You remind me of me. Do you remember Gian in big church when he was 3? That was the magic age back then, and David was an usher in the back, and I was always playing the piano or doing my other things, so Gian was “off the leash” on the front row. My, that gave me an ulcer every single Sunday. There were a couple of Sundays that I ran out and *eh-hem* taught him real good and firm, in between hymns, real quick-like. He had to know that he couldn’t get away with it just because he thought his mother was distracted. Obedience was still obedience.

    I’m sitting with my 4th 3-year-old now in big church. He has his own little Bible he opens during the sermon (it is a picture Bible). He may look at the pictures quietly, but when the page turning because loud and distracting, I take it away. Other than that, he doesn’t have anything to do. He should sit quietly and “listen to Pastor preach.” He may fall asleep. I teach the children to NOT fall asleep when they are old enough to listen intentionally for an hour, usually a couple years later.

    In the very beginnings of “big church” training, I use rewards like a small breath mint or sticker at the end of the service for a quiet boy. But that is phased out after a few weeks and easily forgotten. Consequences of disobedience/irreverence are always maintained. We may never talk or disrupt.

    The most effective training for “big church” actually happens at home, during family devotion time. The child learns to sit quietly, pray reverentially, and sing solemnly with his own family in the quiet, cozy atmosphere of his own family room or kitchen. And repetition aids learning. : )

    • April 8, 2011 4:35 pm

      I don’t remember Gian then…unfortunately, at that time I was the most important thing in church. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

      Your last paragraph is the answer I really knew in my heart, but didn’t type in my post. I know it doesn’t magically happen at church, that the training has to start at home. Right now, I still let the boys wriggle, fidget, and squirm during regular story time (not Bible time). I think I should start having some aural reading time where they have to sit still in chairs without anything else to do but listen.

      Currently our family devotion time happens around the table right after dinner. The Chief will read while they are finishing their meal or eating dessert because it is easier to keep them quiet with food in their mouths. It’s a crutch, really. . . the easier thing to do. I think we might need to rethink the format of our family time to better simulate a church setting during these “training times.”

    • Kelly permalink
      April 8, 2011 5:09 pm

      I love hearing things from moms who have been there. I like the balance of understanding certain limits of ages. Good parenting! Your kids are turning out pretty good so something must be working!! 😉 And the teaching at home is key!! Good thoughts, much appreciated!!

  4. Anne permalink
    April 8, 2011 9:18 pm

    I remember as a child myself that I read a Bible story book during the service when I was old enough to read. I honestly don’t remember what I did with Robert, but we didn’t have evening service, just Sunday morning with Junior Church during the sermon portion for 4 year olds to 2nd grade. Our church still does that. We had Junior Church when I was little too – I think I did the story book reading when we had summer services with no J.C.

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