Pray and Play 2

A few more images of great children’s areas have come through.  If you’d like me to feature yours, email pictures or links to

This one shows an area focused on providing different activities for children to do at different times in the service.  This type of idea might need an adult helper, or clear notes for parents.  This corner supports the “gathering” time at the start of the service – many different items made of different pieces that can be put together.


There are lots of seasonal ideas for children’s areas. This one is set up for Advent and Christmas (the gathering area above can be seen just at the right):


While many children’s areas are specifically designed for Under-5s, there are ways of providing opportunities for older children as well.  Here are a few.  For the first activity, a book of the story is available for children who don’t know the story:




Pray and Play

Many churches have children’s corners.  It’s hard for little ones to sit still for the whole of a 1-hour service, or to come back in from a Sunday School session where they were allowed to move and play, and suddenly be expected to sit quietly in a pew.

This can mean children get restless and fussy, and parents end up taking them out. Parents feel embarrassed, both parents and children miss out on the service, and worship can get disrupted by a large-scale tantrum.  Not good.  By providing a children’s corner, where parents can take their children at the first sign of restlessness, this escalation can be largely prevented.  (Though kids will sometimes kick off regardless – it helps if it’s a vicar or churchwarden’s kid, so other parents feel more relaxed about their own.)

It’s easy to make the children’s corner just an ordinary secular playspace, but with a slight change in mindset, this can actually be turned into an opportunity for developing children’s spirituality.

Here’s one I made earlier …  the “Pray and Play” space at St. George’s Church, Campden Hill, London. Each basket is themed.  We have Baptism, Christmas, and Easter, as well as a Noah’s Ark with animals, a book corner, and a small toy altar with liturgical items and a toy church.

The focus is both on the Christian STORY and on Christian WORSHIP.

You can see how the colour of the cloth on the altar shows the liturgical year (except for when we lost our cloths and had all blue for a while while we replaced them!), and how extra items are sometimes added at festivals.

There’s a poster of the Good Shepherd on the wall, and the altar is visible from the Pray and Play area, so children and their adults can still feel connected to the worship.

The treasure boxes contain items similar to the Spiritual Child Network’s liturgy boxes.



This one was used as a “Meditation Tent” in a Holiday Club in Nottinghamshire, and therefore can be more of a roped-off space than one used during corporate worship. This allows for fantastic creativity in terms of lighting and the overall atmosphere of the space.  Note the sign, which reads, “slip off your shoes and lay down your phone, for you are entering sacred ground.”  This one would work really well for older children and teens.

You can see more of the Meditation Tent here.


The rug here really reflects a lot of Biblical landscapes (they’re from IKEA).  Note the pillow on top of the purple cushions – it has a heart and hands, which is great for cuddling, and which echoes the imagery of God used in the Beulah Land storytelling sets.  The table and chairs provide space for creative work – make sure you provide materials allowing for open-ended creation and not just colouring sheets.  The coat hanger features Bible-based story sacks, with storybooks and toys connected to that story.  Also note the vicar doll!  The child is playing with a wooden ark, just visible to the right of her.


pray-and-play10This was a special installation for Pentecost.  Its creator says, “in MY head the doll’s house was meant to be the upper room in this case, but with children it could become anyyhing in their heads! It’s also been house-with-stable for Christmas, wedding feast house for water into wine, anyone’s house when we talked about hospitality and sharing things in common…quite versatile!”


The image below shows how baskets can be used to encourage play based around worship as well as stories.  The coloured ribbons can be changed according to the season of the year.  For more ideas on children’s area, see the Spiritual Child Network’s page on them.  (Wooden egg cups make very good play chalices, by the way!)


I’m getting lots of pictures sent through with many more ideas, so keep checking back for more!

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of setting up a Pray and Play area in your church, and you’d like some help – either in what to include or how to do it without scaring your congregation and starting World War III, do get in touch via or on our Facebook page!

Julie Goes To Church

Today, Julie Bear went to the Teddy Bear Service at St. Albans Cathedral.


Like many who are coming to baby and toddler groups, she didn’t quite know what to expect, since she hasn’t been to church for a while.


There was a sign on the door that helped her know where to go.  Some churches are small, so they may not need signs, but for a small bear trying to find her way around a big cathedral, it was very helpful!

She followed the teddy bear signs to the right place, and got a sheet with the words to the songs on it.

She said hello to some of the people who were running the service. It was clear that there were three or four people all helping out, so no one person was trying to do everything at once. This meant that there was somebody to welcome Julie and show her around, and someone to set up the tea at the same time.  Different people were going to lead different parts of the service – some were doing music, and some were doing talks, and some were doing prayers.  Since this service is only once a month, it’s easier for lots of people to be involved.  Doing this every week might be very hard, especially if you have jobs or children to take care of.

Julie noticed how beautiful the building was.  The service was being held in a place that felt different from where she usually spends her time.  There were lots of things to look at, a comfy rug to sit on, and lots of teddy bears to be friends with any child who hadn’t brought their own.  Julie knew that what was going on in this space was going to be something different and special.  Also, it was right in the middle of the big church! She felt really important and like the people at church were happy to see her.

She looked around at the statues, and lit a candle, and looked at the pictures in the coloured glass.  Her adults explained to her what some of the statues and pictures meant.

There was a board showing what the theme of today’s service was, and some pictures to go with it.

The service started with Abbey Bear coming out and saying hello to everyone. Abbey Bear’s waistcoat was purple, which Mother Sally explained means it’s LENT.  Abbey Bear has different waistcoats, and sometimes has props, for the different times of year.

We talked about how Lent is 40 days long and sometimes people give things up so that we can be really ready to celebrate Easter with a big party.  We remembered the story of how Jesus died and rose again, and how that means Easter is really special – and giving something up helps us be ready to celebrate at the end.

We also heard that Lent is about saying sorry and being forgiven.  We found out that Mother Sally’s Stripey Cat was missing and Abbey Bear had hid it and said he hadn’t.  When we found Stripey Cat, Abbey Bear said sorry and promised to try not to do it again. We heard how Mother Sally FORGAVE Abbey Bear, and how God’s love for us is so big that he forgives us whenever we say sorry.

We held our arms out to try and stretch as big as we could, and even that wasn’t as big as God’s love!


We sang some songs that are the same every time, so the children who come a lot know them very well, and we sang some songs that were new.  There was no story this time, because we had the talk about Lent instead, but sometimes there’s a story too.

We finished by putting the bears’ (or unicorns’ or Gruffalos’) hands together to pray.

Then we went downstairs for a biscuit and a play.

Margaret adds: I really enjoyed going along with Julie Bear to the Cathedral today.  Weekday worship with Under-5s can be really difficult, and it was great to see many families who came even though it was half-term.  I was impressed by how consistently certain elements were clearly used from one service to another – the character of Abbey Bear as a way in to talking about the colours and seasons of the church year, for example, and the way teddy bears were used throughout the service as a way of physically engaging children. It was pastorally thoughtful to have extra “Prayer Bears” for children who didn’t bring their own.

The fact that the service was held in the cathedral itself was really important – it created sacred space, made a church setting feel familiar to them, and put the children in the very heart of the building.

It was also good to see a team being used effectively.  I was told that several of the leaders had done different roles – first attending as a parent, then playing music, then leading the service.  Doing all the setup, leadership, and cleanup for a group like this would be exhausting, so try and share the responsibility.

Of course, the service is constantly having to adapt to the changing population – you may have a group full of 4-year-olds who all go off to nursery and then you suddenly find yourself with a group of nothing but babies!

If you’re planning your own, here’s a list of things you might want to include – some are used in Teddy Bear Worship, and some aren’t. No one service can do everything, tempting as it may be, so take some time to think about what you’d like to emphasize:

  • Using sign language
  • Songs to nursery rhyme tunes – easy for parents to pick up
  • Other music ideas: Taize chants, Bible songs, call-and-response
  • What storytelling methods will you use? How will you choose which stories to tell?
  • How will you respond to the story – a talk? Wondering questions? An activity?
  • Can you have instrumental music?
  • Starting by marching into the worship space together and singing
  • Starting by hiding an object used in worship (like a Jesus doll) and having the children find it and bring it into the space
  • Marking the seasons and colours of the church year
  • Passing the peace
  • Action songs
  • How to pray – using words, objects, silence, music, darkness and light, movement …
  • How to adapt for babies vs toddlers vs pre-schoolers
  • Using a character, like Abbey Bear


Images of children used with permission.