Attend the 11:20 a.m. service at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, and you may discover something new: a “prayground.”
This special section in the back of the fellowship center is reserved for babies, toddlers and children up to 8 years old so they can play quietly and still participate in the service.
“It’s not a program. It’s a wonderful enhancement to and truly part of our worship service,” Director of Children’s Ministries Cristi Moore said.
The initiative kicked off on January 7 and has evolved as parents started bringing picnic blankets and quiet toys so that their children could worship with them and have freedom to move about.
|Parents and volunteers set up the prayground space before the service.|
The prayground area has foam playmats, hands-on activities, soft blocks and more. Parents and volunteers set the area up before the service and put everything away afterwards.
“We have things for itty bitty ones, as well as coloring books and items for older children to keep their hands occupied,” Moore said.
Children who only attend Sunday School might not know anything about worship, so prayground introduces them to it in a fun and engaging manner. Some of the older youth also help with the younger children.
When they initially launched prayground, Moore was slightly concerned about the logistics.
“At the very beginning, I wondered how loud it would be and how distracting. What surprises me is how seamless it can be; and when the children get a little louder and more excited, it’s not frowned upon. It’s nowhere near as distracting as I imagined,” she said.
“The kids really have learned how to behave through watching how other people are responding to worship. They know that when we’re standing up and clapping that they can stand up and dance, but when we’re being quiet they know to be quiet, too.”
The kids’ participation has affected the congregation, as well.
“There are opportunities for them to dance during worship,” Moore said. “And there’s just nothing like watching children dance with abandon. Or watching daddies dance with their little girls in church—it’s such a beautiful thing!”
Moore is a huge proponent of intergenerational worship.
“The most interesting thing I’ve found with prayground is that the children are paying attention. They’re talking about things that come up in worship with their parents. I love watching parents interact with their children, and I love when children ask questions,” she said.
“I think there is a misconception that when children are doing something, they are not paying attention. I think children’s minds sometimes need distraction to absorb what they’re learning,” she said. “Amazingly, they are getting so much out of that service because they are able to be children. If you make them sit, their little minds are going to check out. Giving them the freedom to be children gives them the freedom to buy in.”
For more information on prayground, contact Cristi Moore at First UMC Lakeland at 863-686-3163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.