Saturday, November 15, 2008

Exploring Possibilities 2b Infants and Toddlers

Words come next. They hear words often. Eventually they begin to associate words with people and objects. Eventually they begin to use their own words to identify the world they know. Their vocabulary grows to include action words, feelings, abstract ideas. What simple words do infants and toddlers hear (and learn) specific to church and worship? Light? Bell? Candle? Daddy?(in the choir) Sing? Pray? People names? Shh! NO!

"Permanence of objects" When it's here, it's here. When it's gone, it's gone. Quiet hide and seek with a toy or book. Under the blanket. Where is it? "If you look for Me with all your heart, I'll let you find me." People, pews, floor, carpet. Quiet toys to mouth and touch and explore. Simple objects that help draw attention to a theme or Bible story - dolls, plastic loaf of bread, board books, puzzles, toys that only come out during worship.

Sensations. A wax candle. A cup ( metal, wooden, plastic, paper cups each feel and taste different) A metal bell without the ringer. A glove. A scarf. A little Gideon Bible from a thrift store that feels like a Bible with leathery cover and thin pages?

Multi-tasking required of parent? Absolutely!

"Trustworthiness of relationships" People who make me feel safe and secure - not just parents.Parents/guardians who come back. People who hug and comfort me when I'm crying. People who respect my fears but don't reinforce them. People who smile at me and talk to me and interact with me. People who give me back to mom or dad when I need that.

How do we extend hospitality to infants and toddlers? Letting them scream for an hour? This is the place where mom and dad leave me or this is the place where mom and dad come back?

There's a time and place for swings and cribs and baby seats but Dr. Yust's point about the association of warmth, touch, cuddling, swaddling with worship and faith is worth pondering. Front packs*, back packs (If you don't sit on a chair with a back) vs plastic carriers is worth considering especially if children spend more time in daily child care situations sitting in a baby carrier or play pen than they do being held when they need to be held. Parents who aren't used to carrying children around all the time will have to build up their muscles but regularly holding and carrying a child who is growing everyday is the perfect muscle builder. Opportunities for safe exploration - not impossible. Cry rooms, playpens, gated washable cotton sheet covered carpet in the back of the sanctuary or on the floor where you're sitting.

"Reliability of perceptions" (I'm not exactly sure what this means.)

Is it what I think it is? Have I seen this before? Routine? Predictability? Not sending mixed signals?

Blessing children Blessing is very much an attitude and it can be expressed in lots of ways
- speaking blessing, touching blessing - that controversial topic of touch again. Why? Jesus' touch (in full view of others - the market place, the family) was a healing touch.

Bringing children with us to do what we do (as appropriate), whatever our spiritual service of worship. Maybe it means bringing a babysitter or single family member or both parents and you take turns working and holding tending your child. Let your toddler help you put hymn books on chairs or sit on the bench when you practice piano or organ or sit next to you during choir practice before church or help you get something ready in your Sunday School room. Letting them give something to someone you know. Handing out bulletins with you to other children or adults (one at a time!). Bring them with you to visit a shut-in friend.

Growing memories in infants and toddlers. Routine. Words, actions, people, experiences specific to church. Where are we going? We're going to church! Pastor. Candle. Bible. Hymnbook. Angel. Cross. Window. Door. Kneel. Pew. Carpet. Alter. Stairs. Holding a hymnbook. Gently turning pages. The music notes in a hymnbook when we sing don't look like the words we read in the Psalter or the Bible. Recognizing objects, animals, Bible characters in stained glass windows. The water in the baptismal font. You get the idea. Fold your hands with me. Close your eyes. Pastor is praying. Hopefully not the pastoral prayer. Ok. The pastoral prayer and you have a plan! Cheerios, one at a time. A quiet story book with pictures about prayer? One you read at home? A book borrowed from a Sunday school room.

Storytelling "The goal of story telling with this age is not rational understanding, but providing plenty of material with which children can populate their inner life and through which they can begin to interpret their environment." (Yust p. 3-4) Can you bring a story-telling tool or two to worship? A stuffed animal, a puppet, a Bible story book, a puzzle? Paper and crayon. You draw.

Rudimentary contemplation Think about the objects present during worship. Let a toddler or infant strum a guitar or hit the keys of a piano or talk into a microphone or pat a drum before or after service. Supervised, of course! Shake a rattle or plastic keys when people are singing. You just need something even better to replace it when you have to take it away and everyone gets quiet. Let them finger that tiny Bible, or play with the doll or puppet. Give them something safe to play with and study that only comes out on Sunday. How about a small mirror? Something your child is enthralled with at home. Something that holds their attention and requires a lot of concentration. Squirrel it away and save it. Bring it out again during service. Putting on a mitten. Taking it off. Stuffing a toy into the empty mitten, pulling it out.

Yust mentions celebrating the changes in the liturgical year - remembering Christ Jesus and the milestones in His-life-with-us. Remembering them in ways that are meaningful to children. A creche, red banners, the cross, palm branches. Simple is better.

Be brave! Take your time and really explore this. It doesn't matter what kind of worship model you use. Explore whatever model you use from the literal sensory kinethetic point of view of the infant/toddler.

Oh. This is a job for parents, you say? Yes, it is. But how can we inform, encourage, equip, help, encourage, encourage, encourage? What parent would do any of these things in a sanctuary unless someone said "it's ok"? Only the rebellious . . . just kidding. . . This is major multi-tasking for any parent and parents who love to worship (without their children distracting them) are some of the hardest people to convince that an approach like this is good for everyone.

* [Wrap demonstration, more wraps and slings. Notice the child with a doll sling like mommy! There are many many sites like these.]

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