Hosting a Devotional Program for which young children are going to be present can require planning in advance. Whether you’d like to start a weekly Devotional in your home or host devotions once a month, here are six points you may wish to think about while planning.
1) Recognize Your Goal
First of all, it is important to recognize your main reasons for having shared devotions in the first place. Here are some possibilities:
- Exalting the Word of God
- Sharing the Writings with others
- Showing hospitality to others
- Inspiring elevated conversation within your family and with those you invite
Discuss your goals with your family so everyone can work together to prepare for your Devotional Program with shared vision.
Responding to the inmost longing of every heart to commune with its Maker, they carry out acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character.
-The Universal House of Justice, 21 April 2008 Message
2) Consider Who to Invite
Devotions held in a family’s home can include many different combinations of people. Your family may wish to invite one other family to share prayers with, or you may want to make an open invitation to the entire neighborhood.
Consider what is sustainable and what will best suit your family at this stage. You can always start “small” and invite more people later on once your Devotionals are firmly established into your family’s routine. Also, it should be remembered that “big” does not mean “better.”
People can be invited in many different ways. Some families like to call, email, make invitations to post, or invite people when they see them. Consider many avenues for inviting your guests.
3) Plan Your Program
Once you have decided on who you wish to have at your Devotional, it’s time to plan your program. Keep your family members’ as well as your guests’ interests and situations in mind.
Probably the first thing to decide is the day and time to hold your Devotions. Consider nap times, meal times, and what time others may be available when making these decisions.
After setting the time and day, think about what you want to include in the formal program. Do not feel confined by the ideas you have seen at other Devotional Programs. Just because hosts of other Devotionals you have attended have handed out two pages of readings and played several songs on CD does not mean you have to follow the same format. Feel free to create a program which suits you and your family. (If you would like some ready-made child-friendly devotional programs, check out the Radiant Hearts lessons as each of the 20 lessons has a short devotional included. Click here for more details.)
It’s wise to keep in mind that young children cannot be expected to sit quietly for a long period of time. Here are some possibilities for making a program child-friendly:
- Set a target time for the program (15 minutes?) and run through the program after you have put it together to see if it matches your target
- Choose a topic your child is interested in (ie the virtue your family is studying, kindness to animals, or praying for friends who are sick) and get them excited about the program
- Incorporate music, especially songs your child is familiar with and ones the group can sing together
- Include your child in setting up for the Devotional by cleaning, setting up the room, and decorating
- Help your child prepare a prayer or reading to recite at the gathering
- Ask your child to participate by greeting guests at the door, collecting jackets/bags to put in a certain place, or handing out the readings
- Invite your child to help make and serve the refreshments
- On the invitation or when you start your program, kindly announce what your “end time” is (ie “Welcome to our family Devotional Program. We will have a song, several readings, and a few more songs, and then have some refreshments. We’ll finish by 11am since this is when we need to get ready for lunch and nap time. Thanks for coming and we hope you enjoy the program.”)
As far as how many decorations to have, the complexity of the program, and what sorts of refreshments you are going to prepare, it is often wise to strike a balance between “special” and “simple.” For example, to decorate it may be nice to light one candle during the prayers (if your child is old enough to know how to act around candles) and pick a few wildflowers to display around the room. An opening prayer and three short (ie one sentence) readings with a song in between each is a lovely program. One store-bought packet of cookies with tea is fine.
Don’t let your desire to do everything (handmade crafts hanging from the ceiling, a table full of homemade goodies, and a beautifully formatted document with all the Writings you will read) outweigh your ability to balance the worth of your time and effort. We often may have more ideas than we can practically implement. Just remember, elaborate decorations and refreshments can always be saved for Holy Days. (Here is a great article to read if you are wanting to plan something extra special.)
4) Prepare Your Child
We cannot expect our children to automatically know how to behave in new situations. We must prepare them ahead of time and work with them to understand and practice the behavior they should exhibit. These are some ideas for helping your child prepare for a Devotional:
- Practice sitting still and being reverent during family prayers. Explain how prayer is conversation with God and that we should use prayerful voices when reciting our prayers and respect others by being silent when they are saying theirs.
- Role play a Devotional Program a few days before the main event. Show your child how to invite guests in, where the guests will be seated, how the program will go, and what will happen after the readings are finished.
- On the day of the Devotional, tell your child a step ahead of time what is going to happen and what is expected of them. “Now we are going to sing a song, then Daddy, Peter and Sherry are going to read some Writings, and then we’ll all sing more songs. When someone is reading we need to sit quiet and still, and during the songs we can sing outloud with beautiful voices.”
- Consider inviting older children who are more experienced at sitting quietly during Devotions, so your child can observe how to behave.
- Make sure your child is well fed and rested (if possible) before the program so they do not have lack of food or sleep affecting their mood and ability to concentrate.
- Explain how, if other children will be attending, your child will need to share their toys during play time after prayers. (Be sure to put away any toys or belongings that your child should not be expected to share, such as loveys or other special items they may be especially attached to.)
5) Carry Out Your Plan
Say a prayer for service/teaching/patience (whatever you like) before you are in the midst of preparing for the Devotional Program, and remind yourself what it feels like to act in the spirit of service. Try to focus on the fact that children often rise to our expectations. Stay positive and try not to worry if things don’t go as planned. Be compassionate with yourself and your child.
Keep in mind that a Devotional doesn’t end with the readings, and that a lot of the “spiritual sustenance” from these meetings can be gathered from the elevated conversation that takes place after the formal program.
If something goes “wrong,” be patient and flexible. Remember that the capacity of a child at two years old is very different to a child at three etc, so do not be discouraged.
6) Review Your Experience
After your Devotional is over, consider how it all went. Sometimes we can forget the step of reflection for something that seems “simple” like having people over to say prayers. However, this step is vital to recognizing what went well and what we can improve throughout the whole experience.
Think about the practical element such as:
- Was there anything you would have liked to change about the program?
- Did the children know how they were expected to behave? Did they behave as such? What contributed to this?
- Were the children’s physical needs – food and sleep mainly – respected and allowed for?
- Did conversation on spiritual topics overflow into the social portion of the gathering or did it end with the prayers? Why? What could be done differently next time?
- Was the timing suitable for your family?
- Was your number of guests manageable?
- How did the set-up contribute to the environment during prayers and the interaction during the social portion? What worked and what may you like to try differently next time?
- Could you have asked for help in any way? (Keep in mind, asking for help is not succumbing to weakness but allowing others the special opportunity to offer service!)
Lastly, how did you feel the overall “success” of the program was – meaning, did you achieve your original goal as discussed in question #1? If hearts were uplifted and the Word of God was exalted, you should feel confirmed in your efforts. Even if things didn’t go exactly as expected.
Click below to download a worksheet that will help you reflect on the points above.
What is your experience hosting a Devotional in your home with young children? Do you have tips for other parents?