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8 ways to nurture faith in young children

Faith formation isn't limited to time spent at church. United Methodist children's ministry experts share tips to help parents make the everyday more holy for the entire family. Pictured: Sunday worship attendees at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Fremont, Calif. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
Faith formation isn't limited to time spent at church. United Methodist children's ministry experts share tips to help parents make the everyday more holy for the entire family. Pictured: Sunday worship attendees at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Fremont, Calif. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

It’s never too early to begin sharing faith practices with our children. “Helping kids to know God’s love and to know that God loves them is a really foundational concept that little ones, even from diapers, can be taught,” says the Rev. Kathy Pittenger, Children’s Initiatives Coordinator for the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Joanna Cummings, pastor with children and families at East End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, agrees, “I believe that children are spiritual beings and I believe that they have a lot to show us about who God is.”

Weave faith formation into the everyday

Nurturing faith in babies, toddlers and preschoolers is not only meaningful, it can also be a lot of fun. It is possible for your busy family to incorporate this important work into day-to-day life, you just have to find the spiritual practices that work best for your unique family.

Cummings and Pittenger share these practical ideas:

  1. Evaluate your daily rhythms

    Identify transitions and pauses where you can add prayer, discussion and Scripture to your routines. For example:

    • Write or print prayers and hang them above the changing table as a reminder to pray in those moments together.
    • Keep a stack of conversation starters in the car. Ask questions that have no “correct” answers, such as, “I wonder what it would have been like to see Jesus walk on the water?”
    • Use meals, naptime and bedtime as opportunities for reading Bible stories and sharing prayers.
  2. Pray in different ways

    Explore a variety of prayer practices to find options that your child most enjoys. As they grow, try new ones to meet their changing needs.

    • The Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology: Repetition is helpful for children. Saying the same prayer over and over is fine; in fact, it can bring familiarity and comfort.
    • Body prayer: Use movement to express a prayer.
    • Take a walk: Head outside to marvel at God’s creativity and give thanks for it.
    • Artistic prayer: Ask your child to draw what they’d like to say to God.
  3. Read, play and learn

    Reading a story Bible, such as the Celebrate Wonder Bible Storybook, brings Scripture to life through illustrations and approachable vocabulary. Also consider board books, snuggle time books and books focusing on prayers for families. Since children learn through play, finger puppets or interactive tools can help make story time fun and memorable. Check out free Digital Faith Formation Playlists, created by Pittenger and her team, which include readings, questions, prayers, music, activities and more.

    Resourcing parents for faith formation

    A Sacred Home subscription-style boxes are lovingly created and shipped to families yearning for daily faith formation practices. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Joanna Cummings.   

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rev. Joanna Cummings saw a need for accessible, creative resources for faith formation at home. She founded A Sacred Home, offering subscription-style boxes that she and her team lovingly create, design, pack, pray over and ship to families yearning for engaging, intentional, daily spiritual practices.

    Boxes contain thoughtful tools that can be adapted for children of all ages, such as a guidebook, handcrafted interactive items, elements to create a beautiful focus space, conversation prompts, family craft projects, prayer practice tools, devotional readings and more.

    Past boxes have focused on Lent, Advent, Pentecost, Thankfulness and Everyday Faith. Learn more and explore current availability at ASacredHome.com.

  4. Model your faith

    Our kids learn from us by watching us. As you lead the way in prayer, Bible study, engaging in worship, talking about God, serving others, being part of a faith community and exploring spiritual practices, children will want to join you. They’ll come to expect these components of your routine and they will begin to incorporate them into theirs as well. Kids might even remind you to complete a forgotten activity or suggest a new one.

  5. Welcome hard questions

    It’s okay to not have answers to big questions, to say, “I don’t know – let’s try to find the answer together,” and then turn to a pastor, resources or friends to help you unpack challenging topics. After all, parents are on a spiritual journey of growth, too, and it’s great for kids to see you learning alongside them. For preschoolers, answer questions with one in return: “What do you think?” This will encourage them to lean on their spirituality and prior learning to draw conclusions, discover other topics they wonder about and generate further conversation.

  6. Offer a blessing

    Saying a blessing over your child at a key point in the day, such as before preschool or at bedtime, can help them connect deeply with you and with God. Hold or make eye contact with your child to create a special moment. Cummings shares this with her baby: “I bless you as you grow, I bless you as you go, I bless you as you play, I bless you today.” Pittenger shares this with her school-age children: “God bless my children and help them to grow bigger and stronger and wiser and more in love with God and all people every day.”

  7. Help others

    Engaging in community service can be an excellent way to bond as a family, and it provides an opportunity to talk about loving our neighbors, being a Jesus follower and living out our faith. Projects such as sorting items at a food bank are often appropriate for volunteers of all ages. Participating in an advocacy effort related to a social justice issue that your family is passionate about is a powerful way for kids to see that their voice matters and that they can make a difference on behalf of others.

  8. Find connection

    Being active in a faith community helps children see their role in the body of Christ. Including young children in worship services broadens their understanding of church and what it means to praise God. It’s also important that kids know they can trust and learn from adults other than their parents, whether they be Sunday School teachers, grandparents or family friends. As an added bonus, the community provides parents with a support system as you seek ideas and resources from pastors, church staff and other families who are in a similar life situation.

Encouragements for parents

“[Parents] may not be the expert on all things theological, but they are the expert on their kids. We don’t have to have all the right words or all the right answers,” says Pittenger.

Cummings shares, “Parents, give yourself grace. You are loving and nurturing the faith of your child in the middle of a season that’s really difficult and challenging, especially for young families. Anything that is intentional about sharing the love of God, about sharing the story of God, or even just sharing your faith with your child in conversation is really impactful.”

Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.

This story was published on March 2, 2022.