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Thursday, April 3, 2008

How To Integrate Toddlers And Preschoolers Into Family Devotion Time

In one respect, I’m thankful to be out of the toddler/preschooler timeframe in my parenting career. The only meltdowns my children suffer now are when the computer crashes and it takes more than a few days to fix. But I can remember with great clarity the restaurants, church services and other public forums we found ourselves vacating when one of our children decided it was time to let loose.

My two stepsons are 8-10 years older than their younger siblings, and one of the challenges we faced was how to accommodate the gap in ages when doing family devotions. I know other families face this same kind of challenge. We could have done separate devotions, each geared specifically to the younger or older age group, but my husband and I felt this would defeat the purpose of it being called a family devotion.

So how did we integrate the differing ages and avoid the distractions, meltdowns and otherwise short attention spans inherent with our toddler and preschooler? Diligent planning and a fair amount of compromise.

  • We avoided those times of day when meltdowns were most likely. I sometimes had to remind my husband of the importance of keeping a regular schedule with the little ones and not to tempt fate by running into naptime with devotions. We eventually ended up centering our family time around meals, when everyone was gathered and less likely to be grumpy.
  • Following along with dad’s Bible reading was difficult for our little ones, so they were allowed to cuddle in my lap while he read aloud. They would be admonished to sit
    quietly because, “Daddy is reading from the Bible now.” If one became overly restless, he or she would be allowed to slip down and play quietly on the floor, but oftentimes the child would bring the toy back to the table and play quietly from my lap. As long as they played quietly, they were still part of the family circle.
  • If they became rambunctious or contentious, they were gently admonished or removed to their bedroom and instructed that they could join the family again once they settled down. This didn’t happen too often because none of the children wanted to be left out of family doings.
  • Family devotions were kept relatively short in order to accommodate the attention spans of the younger ones. After ten or fifteen minutes, the younger ones were excused, while my husband may have continued with the older boys.

In time our youngest ones learned that family devotions were sacred and not a time for acting up or goofing off. There were instances when we held separate instruction for each age group, the younger ones being read to from their Bible, the older ones receiving perhaps diagrams or illustrations of whatever concept was being demonstrated. Sometimes the instruction was a bit over the heads of the youngest ones, but they nevertheless learned to sit quietly during these times. Afterwards, they could do all the running around they wanted, but family devotion time was special.

In the beginning, then, being a part of family devotion time for our toddler and preschooler wasn't so much participating in as much as it was sitting with the family while it took place. Over the course of time, as we engaged them more and more, it became a participatory event for them. It was sufficient for us at the time, though, just to have them there with us, making our family time complete.

1 comment:

ladylighthouse said...

One of my favorite ways to get my rambunctious four year old to listen is that both of my kids have Devotional art books. I give them a bunch of crayons and markers and as I read from the Bible I tell them things to draw that relate to the scripture. They love Bible time and they are getting a visual in their own language. Plus I have the MOST adorable drawings. Ever seen a four year olds take on Jesus. SO cute!