What do we do with our kids when we return to in-person worship? This has been the question so many of us have been asking. For so many of our communities a return to in-person worship doesn’t mean worship as it was before. Even if restrictions loosen up in our communities we want to be cautious as we plan how we worship together. With vaccinations levels rising, but no vaccine for those under 12 just yet, and concerning variants found across Canada, we want to be safe.
That said, I find myself more and more attracted to something I was resistant to before! The church Busy Bag.
Hear me out. I know that busy bags have been used in the past as a way of silencing children in church. As you can imagine that just doesn’t jive with our theology here at JG&G! We believe children were beautifully and wonderfully made by God, that their noisiness is a way the Spirit sometimes breaks through to us, and that just by being their messy excitable selves they are worshipping God.
But, if we know anything, it’s that sharing items is where we often get into trouble during COVID (or flu season, or with pink eye if we’re honest!). So, an activity bag offers us an opportunity to provide families (and adults, if they’re interested) with items that can enhance their worship experience and also help us be cautious with viral/bacterial transmission.
You can have bags set aside for each of your kids with their name on them, or have a rotating selection of slightly different bags they can pick from each week, since leaving the bags untouched for 6 days helps with concerns around transmission.
Here’s my top suggestions for worship-enhancing busy bags
These suggestions come from surveying other families and congregation’s “pew bags”, “busy bags”, “activity bags”, as well as speaking with parents about what they would find helpful. I’ve also added in some items that, to me, would enhance anyone’s worship experience. (Let’s make liturgical streamers cool again!)
Streamers and or musical instruments – One great way to reinforce that these bags aren’t about silencing our kids is to give them something they can use to engage more fully in our worship time together. Putting a ribbon streamer, jingle bells, shaker or tambourine in the bag invites them to participate–especially when communal singing may still be prohibited by your health authority. Think adults will find it annoying? Maybe it’s time to talk about ways we can all participate more actively in worship together! Worship isn’t an armchair sport!
Children’s worship bulletins or colouring pages – This is one I think adults also secretly enjoy! There are lots of printable bulletins available for children, like those from Illustrated Ministry. They use puzzles and images to draw kids deeper into the text for that week. I’m developing a companion worship booklet for our families following the Narrative Lectionary this fall–we’ll send them home with families for now and then they can bring them to church when we finally return to in-person. It will cover the months of September-November. I’ve heard of one church in Southern Ontario had communal sketch books you could grab each week to contribute to!
Books! – Churches often have a wealth of reading material on hand. Add an age-appropriate book to the bag, or have a box of books kids can pick from before the service beginnings. Here are some favourites of ours that reinforce life-giving theologies.
A Children’s Bible – Help kids read along with your scripture readers, or explore other bible stories during the service. As always, we highly recommend the Spark Story Bible (toddler to gr. 2), and I love my Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible because of its comic-book style, humour and choice of character skin-tones (check-out these free bible worksheets they offer which each story, there are 35 in total). For those following the Revised Common Lectionary you can also checkout the Lectionary Story Bible from Woodlake Publishing, or the Whirl Story Bible: Lectionary Edition (pre-k to gr. 2) from Sparkhouse.
Crayons, coloured pencils, or markers! – This is a must. You can pair it with a sketchpad or a mini-clipboard and paper.
Small Toys – There’s lots to choose from.
- Play Dough
- Small Bag of Lego
- Silicone Bubble Poppers
- Fidget spinners
- Velcro building blocks/popsicle sticks
- Paper dolls, maybe biblically themed for the season?
- Mini-feltboard, also great to pair with your lectionary readings.
- I Spy game (these are an awesome craft to make with kids and a great opportunity to recycle!)
Prayer Cards or Meditation Sheets – Remember that rainbow meditation sheet we shared on our Pride page? Add a laminated copy of it. Or why not add a prayer card for kids to try out? I made this printable sheet for Pope Francis’ five-fingered prayer.
Hopefully you found some of these suggestions helpful! And, if you end-up making your own activity bags for your church please let us know how it goes. Maybe you even want to send along a photo to share.