by Catherine Maresca
Recently a six year old child in the lower elementary class spent most of the morning in the atrium. She worked quietly, focused on her drawing and writing. As I walked past, I read the prayer she had written; it said, “iluve god. god lovme.”
Sofia Cavalletti, who began the work with children in the atrium, wrote, “In the religious experience the youngest children respond with their whole selves and with particular enjoyment. They linger in order to savor the experience with the entirety of their being.”
The atrium is a space where the children are invited to linger. This Lent I have been wondering, how can we, the adults in their lives, create spaces where the children can pray and linger and “respond with their whole selves and with particular enjoyment”? Here are a few ideas.
At Christian Family Montessori School, children in the primary classes most frequently pray by giving thanks, by singing and with silence. You can share what you are thankful for and invite your child to name what they could like to give thanks to God for. You could even try singing your thanks with them*. Our primary catechist, shares this invitation with the children: “Would you like to talk to or listen to God with me? And how shall we do that?” If the child chooses silent prayer, she asks if they would like for her to join them. The child who chooses silent prayer ends the prayer time by saying “amen.” Whether the prayers lasts 30 seconds or seven minutes, she recommends waiting until the child says “amen” – even if there is wiggling, this time of silent prayer is meaningful and received as a gift by the children.
The lower elementary children joyously embrace the opportunity to plan and lead prayer service for their class. During atrium work time, many choose to create their own private prayer service with a partner at the prayer table service. Your child may welcome an invitation to plan and lead a time of prayer for your family.
Recently the children preparing to receive First Communion wrote this prayer:
We pray for the friends and family who love us.
We pray for all those who grow the food we eat.
We pray that God will help us to protect nature and animals.
We pray for all those who are hurt by violence.
We pray for all those who have died and for those who have had great loss.
We pray that all people will know that Jesus and God love them.
You can ask your child if they would like to write a prayer or create a prayer card with you. Or gather as a family and pass around an object, like a cross, and the member of the family holding that object can then share their prayer out loud or in silence. You could also explore with your child if there is some way that they would like to share God’s love with those for whom they are praying, perhaps making a card for someone who is grieving or volunteering with an organization that protects nature or supports those hurt by violence.
The upper elementary children are generally more private in their prayer. Many of the children in this class spend time writing or drawing in their private journals, praying with a sand labyrinth or sand garden, knitting a prayer shawl or writing in calligraphy. You can ask your child’s catechist how your child chooses to pray in the atrium, and then check with them if they would welcome a journal, or maybe a labyrinth, at home.
may want to consider finding a place in your home for a prayer table, a place where you or your child or entire family can linger. You could invite your child to choose what to place on the table, or you could choose together. Some ideas of items that you could place on your prayer table include: a candle, a candle snuffer, gifts from nature, the Bible, cloths of purple, white, green or red (the colors of the liturgical year. Purple is the color for Lent,) a photo of someone you want to pray for or give thanks for, prayer cards with a scripture verse or quote, a cross, a plant or flowers, or an image of the Good Shepherd.
Sofia Cavalletti also wrote, “The child’s contribution in his or her relationship with God is of the highest quality: the enjoyment of the presence of God.” This Lent, may we linger and enjoy with the children.
* The Center for Children and Theology has books, with accompanying CDs, available with many of the songs sung in the atrium. Sing with Joy has songs for the three to six year old child, and Songs of Love is for the six to twelve year old child. They also have a book entitled, When I MakeSilence, for praying in silence with primary children.