Taking little kids to church can sometimes be a challenge unto itself, but for some kids finding ways to be involved in the Mass or service cuts down on the behavior problems boredom and having to sit still can sometimes create. The following are suggestions for using literacy activities to engage your child in church!
- Let babies watch your mouth during responses and hymns. When my daughter was around five or six months old, she suddenly became very interested not just in the sounds I made but in how my mouth would move as I made them. During Mass, whenever there was a congregational response I would turn her around to face me and often she would just fixate on my mouth, watching each subtle motion. While I was mainly doing this for entertainment purposes, it turns out that lip reading is actually a key part of language development!
- Provide a kid-friendly copy of readings/books. When I was a kid, my parish provided a children's bulletin every week that included activities related to the readings for that day. I don't like kids to have non-religious books or toys in church because it takes away from the solemn tone of the experience, but having kid-friendly books with bright illustrations and simple vocabulary that show the child what is happening at each point in the Mass help them follow along and give them an understanding of one of the practical applications of reading skills.
- Sing along. Singing is a key practice for helping kids acquire early literacy skills, and church is a great place to do it! Older kids who are starting to read will especially enjoy being able to look at the music and follow along, watching as the notes break up the words into their smaller parts. Music also makes it easier to memorize certain prayers and Bible passages, so if you're looking to teach those to your kids, the hymns they hear in church will be helpful in that way as well.
- Take time afterwards to read plaques and other displayed pieces of print. Churches are full of little bits of print - the Stations of the Cross in my childhood church featured simple labels explaining what was happening in each wood-carved image. Some churches have lists of donors on the wall, or of past priests and ministers. Taking some quiet time when the Mass or service is over to explore these signs and plaques is a great way to reinforce print awareness and to learn a little something about your church's history.