Creating Accessible Prayer Activities

A colourful collection of marbles

[This article is aimed at children and family workers and volunteers, but may also be useful for grownups who want to do creative prayer with their own children]

Do you want to create your own prayer resources?
Or how about adapting resources you’ve found so they work for all abilities?

Do it – you won’t regret it!

Here’s some thoughts to help you on your way…

I use creative prayer in lots of ways:

  • At the end of a session, to allow children to ponder and process what they have just learnt. (Some children need more time to process and space to question. We find some children just hold the activity and ask a ton of questions!)
  • To think about a specific aspect of God’s character.
  • To work through worries and anxieties.
  • To think about current issues such as refugees, bullying or anxiety.
  • And, of course, to help us get to know God better!

The first things we need to think through are the what, the how and the who.

What:
What is the topic? Be clear in your own mind and make sure you can sum it up in one short sentence. If you can’t easily sum it up, the children will struggle too.

What do you want the outcome to be?
This is a bit like teaching outcomes, just a little more fluid (We don’t want to contain what the holy Spirit might do!)

We need to know the direction of what we’re doing – even if it changes! So do try to have these outcomes in mind, such as: 

  • An ‘in the moment’ response to God and doing something to ground that response. 
  • A decision to do something in the future and allowing the activity to frame that response in their own understanding and life. 
  • Having an item to take away to remind and encourage ongoing prayers.

What are you going to use?
You can use almost anything to focus prayer, but it needs to be an obvious link that takes only a little explaining.  For example. after the Manchester bombing we used plasters. The children put the plaster on their hands or wrists to pray for those who were hurt – in any way. It was an obvious link with a simple application.

It could be something to hold, something to do and/or something to take away. For example – we had inflatable crowns to wear when we were talking about being children of the King [God]. We sent them home with a small wooden crown cutout to remind them what it means to be a child of the King.

Who is it for? Is it for a church all age activity, your children’s group or being sent home for a family to do together? As you will already know – this will affect the how and the what. But if this is something to go home to families, either send the props or make sure you use items that are easily accessed. Not every family has or can afford plasticine, bubbles or crayons etc.

How:
How are you going to do the prayer?
How are you going to make it accessible?
How are you going to make it easily understood?

Keeping it accessible is really important: 

As already said, keeping the link between the theme and the activity needs to be obvious, as is keeping it simple. 

By simple, I don’t mean babyish. I mean clear, with basic language and only a few instructions that are easy to follow (given one at a time). 

Providing a finished example is always helpful – when I’m doing a set of prayer spaces, there are always one or two done already that give different directions of thought.

Make ‘writing’ the last option.
Instead, make non-writing and non-verbal approaches the first choice, speaking or drawing a second option and writing presented as an aside ‘if you really want to’. It’s probably the opposite of what normally happens; write this here, but if you can’t, just draw something….. We want the first option to be something everyone can do and doesn’t set apart those who struggle to write or speak, for whatever reason, but rather something that normalises how they work and flourish. Knowing the children and families well helps you to know how to pitch the ‘how’ of what we do.

Make sure things that need to be read are visually accessible or have another way of accessing them – even if that is someone verbally guiding one step at a time.

In making this accessible, don’t assume that all children with additional needs have a learning disability or that they can’t understand deeper spiritual things. Many children classed as having additional needs can access more than you think, regardless of what their disability is, and will often come to profound conclusions.

Give multiple ways of responding:
We do a shouting prayer – that you don’t have to shout for. We give the option of whispering, saying, signing/doing an action, *shouting, drawing or writing (if they wish to do so). *If we know we have children who would struggle with the noise and suddenness of shouting – we leave that option out. 

In this particular prayer, we are asking for one word that describes God – we offer that one word up to God in what ever way we choose as a way to praise God.

Another example of multiple ways of doing a prayer can be seen in the praying about Anger activity on the site.
Where all the children can cope, we use the little pop up creatures to show explosive anger. But, if we know we will have children would struggle with the suddenness of those, we change to a different way using an elastic band – either flicked at the wall (That way the child is in charge of the sudden bit) or put around a cup to ‘twang’ it against the cup – there’s lots of ways to adapt to the needs of your particular group of children.

The final things to remember are very short:

Pray about it yourself and have fun.

Happy praying!

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