Leading Young Children in Prayer with the Bible

Leading Young Children in Prayer with the Bible

Just as we tell and retell family stories from year to year, so too we read and reread Sacred Scripture and pass on these stories from generation to generation. In Sacred Scripture, we hear God’s Living Word spoken again and anew. Preschool children are not too young to be introduced to the stories of our faith tradition found in the Bible.

The stories from the Gospels, which introduce the life and teaching of Jesus, are especially appropriate to share with preschool children. Look for additional resources for sharing Scripture with children, including children’s Bibles and storybooks with Bible stories adapted for children.  When telling Scripture stories in your catechetical sessions, be sure to emphasize that these stories are from the Bible, God’s holy book. Enthrone the Bible in a Prayer Center and show reverence for God’s Word as you handle the Bible and speak the words of Scripture.
Sacred Scripture is also a source for prayer. We use the words of Scripture in prayer, and we also pray with Scripture, meditating on the words and asking God to help us uncover the message for us today. We do so seeking to live faithfully according to God’s Word. Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught a way to pray with Scripture that engages the imagination, which can be adapted for praying with children.

The process for leading Scripture prayer is as follows:

1. Set the Environment

Invite the children to sit on a rug or carpet squares, arranged with sufficient space around them to minimize distractions. You might choose to have the children sit near the Prayer Center, arranged with a Bible and other items related to the faith theme. The environment should help the children to be attentive to the Scripture and also prepare for a time of quiet prayer. A helpful rule to establish when beginning Scripture prayer is “Everyone listens to the story and allows others time for quiet.”

2. Introduce and Read Scripture

Introduce the Scripture story and relate the story to the lesson or the children’s experiences. The introduction can be very simple, as in this example based on Luke 2:1–7, the story of Jesus’ birth:

“Today we learned about Advent, the time before Christmas when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We learned that Mary and Joseph also prepared for Jesus’ birth. In the Bible, we find the story about Jesus’ birth.”

Invite the children to listen carefully as you read the Scripture story. You might hint at the kind of reflection that will follow by indicating something that the children should listen for while you read. For example, “Listen carefully to the story of Jesus’ birth. Let’s find out about the special place where Jesus was born.”

Then read aloud the story, taking your time and using full expression as you read. If you are using an illustrated children’s Bible or a Bible storybook, show the pictures and be sure that all of the children have an opportunity to see each one. You might call attention to certain features in the pictures as you show them. When sharing stories from the Bible, be sure your actions, tone, and attitude help to convey reverence for the Scripture.

3. Encourage the Children to Reflect and Respond

When you have finished reading the Scripture story, invite the children to reflect on the connection between the lesson and the Bible story. You need only ask one or two questions to guide the reflection. Continuing the example from the Advent lesson, you might ask, “Where was Jesus born?” or “How would you describe the place where Jesus was born?” You might invite the children to reflect on their own experience. For example, “Where did you sleep when you were a baby? Did Jesus sleep in a crib or a cradle on the night he was born?”

Prepare these questions in advance and keep them focused on the connection between the Scripture story and the lesson. When asking questions, be sure to allow enough time for the children to arrive at well-considered responses. Encourage all the children to answer each question quietly for themselves before inviting one or two children to respond.

4. Invite the Children to Pray

Conclude by inviting the children to take a few moments to pray. Prepare the children for the prayer by encouraging them to become as quiet and still as possible. Give directions such as, “Be sure you have space around you to be comfortable and not distracted by anyone. Place your hands quietly in your lap and try to keep your feet very still. Listen for the sound of your breathing.”

You might suggest that the children close their eyes for prayer. For very young children, sitting quietly can be a challenge, and many will prefer to keep their eyes open.  However, if there is space enough among the children, a few wiggles now and then will not be disruptive. Over time, as the children become more familiar with this routine, it will be easier for them to quiet themselves for prayer.

Wait until everyone is quiet, and then lead a simple prayer. Begin by making a simple suggestion that connects the faith theme and the prayer. For example, “As we pray, let us imagine that we are in the stable on the night Jesus was born. What would you like to say to Baby Jesus, asleep in the manger?” Allow a moment for the children to reflect on the prayer suggestion, then pray aloud a simple prayer. For example, “Jesus, we remember the night you were born. Help us to prepare well for Christmas, the celebration of your birth. Amen.”

Bring the time of prayer to a close with a simple prayer gesture, such as inviting the children to place their hands together as they say “Amen.”

This prayer model can be incorporated into your lessons regularly throughout the year. Time may not permit this style of prayer each week, but perhaps it can be included once each month as a special time of prayer. You may find that the children look forward to and ask about when you will next read Scripture and take this opportunity for quiet prayer.