Adapted Lectio Divina With Kids

I was stuck for ideas with my group on Sunday. It was half-term, so I knew we’d only have a few kids. They could be anywhere from age two to age sixteen. And we’re doing psalms and prophesies, so I couldn’t fall back on the power of a well-told story – I had to find a different way of engaging children with the text.

Here’s what I improvised. We ended up with only two kids – one age six and one age eleven – one of our regulars, and one who comes occasionally when he visits his grandmother, who’s a parishioner.

Lectio Divina is an ancient way of reading and entering into Scripture, in four parts: Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate. It is “intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. It does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.” It was practised originally as part of monastic life.

I used the “Psalms for Young Children” book by Helene Marie Delval, and we sat in a circle around a selection of resources – wooden toys, the Jesus doll, some icons, Play-doh, our shepherd and sheep set, etc. (For an explanation and tutorial for that prayer board, click here.)

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We passed the book around, each of us opening it randomly to a page and reading that page. I said you could pass your turn if you wanted, and if we’d had non-readers, I would have had them choose a page and then pass the book to someone to read it for them.

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Then we took some quiet time to think, or to make something with the stuff in the middle of the circle.

Then we read the passage again.

Then we talked about anything we thought or felt about what we read, or about the pictures in the  book, or about what we’d made.

Here, the Jesus doll was originally holding the heart, touching the arms of the heart with his arms. Then, after the next reading, the people were added.

One of the kids made a series of elaborate Play-Doh structures but he had squashed them up and put them away before I could get a photo of them after the service.

It led to a very thoughtful and relaxed atmosphere. I participated in making stuff during the appropriate time, which I think gave the kids permission to start messing with the materials too. It also meant I was participating alongside them, not giving instructions which they followed – we were doing this together.

Also, having the routine of “read, respond, read, discuss” meant we never had a long chunk of time where we were expected to sit still and listen. This means, paradoxically, it’s easier to create a contemplative atmosphere, since the need to fidget has an outlet permitted by the structure of the session and doesn’t need to find ways to rebel. And by setting the expectation of “open the book at random” rather than “choose a page,” I eliminated the possibility of a child taking ages leafing through the book to pick a page while the rest of us waited and kids got the fidgets.

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Play and Pray inspiration – Psalm 23 again!

This is titled Pray and Play inspiration, as it shows a space for imaginative spiritual play – but since it was part of a Junior Church session, I’ve included response time/wondering ideas as well.

We’re finishing up the Hebrew Scriptures in my own Junior Church group – we started with Creation in September, and I timed the Babylonian exile to go with Lent, and the return home to happen around Easter (though of course they celebrated Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter as part of the main congregation).

The rest of the year will be spent on psalms and prophesies. Last Sunday, we had a mixed session with our under-5s group, since our attendance plummets on Bank Holidays and we merge the groups. I picked Psalm 23 – for many of the reasons listed in my previous post about it. It’s accessible, it’s familiar to some children already, the imagery works with people of all ages, and it has simple language with deep truths. We ended up with a small group ranging in age from 7 to 15.

I set up this play space as one of the options for response time. I did tell the teenagers that if they wanted to regress to childhood and play with it, I wouldn’t tell their friends. It got a bit of use, but not much – I imagine with toddlers, it would have been much more popular.

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I based the three zones off the imagery in the psalm – “green pastures, still waters, the valley of the shadow of death.” These are picked up on in the Godly Play telling of the Good Shepherd parable.

This wonderful shepherd and sheep set can be purchased for around £12, from many places, including Amazon. I added fencing from a model railway set. Plain coloured cotton can be found at Hobbycraft and other places for around £2 to £5 per metre.

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The sand tray is the packaging from a wooden Nativity set I bought a few years ago (note: the link takes you to Mustard Seed Kids, which I own – the set is available elsewhere as well). I just kept the tray it all came in, and filled it up with sand, and a few rocks from the church garden. There were no wolves in the plastic animals set the church owns, so I used cheetahs.

Later, I wanted to make it clearer that the blue fabric was water, so I added some boats. You could also add shells (I have some – you can see a few in the sand tray – I just didn’t think of it) and/or plastic sea creatures, if you have them.

The older kids sometimes have trouble figuring out what to do with response time, and phones come out. So I gave them a few prompts:

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Some of the wondering questions I used:

I wonder what your favourite part of the psalm was.

I wonder what the most important part of the psalm was.

I wonder if you have ever been someplace that felt like the green pastures and the still waters.

I wonder if you have ever been someplace that felt like the valley of the shadow of death. (“EXAMS” was the immediate response. The follow-up here WOULD have been the Godly Play follow-up – “I wonder what got you through” – but we got sidetracked into a discussion about how some things can be symbols of both life AND death, and I forgot it!)

I wonder what it feels like to have a meal prepared for you in the presence of your enemies.