At Trinity Lutheran Church & Schools, as Jesus did, we welcome children of all ages as integral members of the body of Christ, and we welcome the sounds and activity that accompany them!
There are a number of spaces and activities designed for children to experience and participate in worship according to their needs; we trust families to work out the best option(s) for them and their child(ren) on any given day. One of these options is the Pray-Ground, located in the front-right section of the sanctuary. This area is designed for young children to quietly engage in age-appropriate activities while experiencing worship in the sanctuary along with their families.
What is the Pray-Ground?
The Pray-Ground is an area in the front of our sanctuary, on the south side, specifically set aside for young children during worship. It consists of rubber flooring tiles, two small tables with child-sized chairs and stools, coloring sheets, crayons, blocks, books, and soft toys.
There are also bouncy seats (for smaller infants), Bumbo chairs (for babies who can hold their heads up but can’t yet sit up on their own), and baby gyms available, though we find that these are used much less frequently than the things designed for toddlers and preschoolers.
How does the Pray-Ground fit our Values, Direction and Action goals?
The Pray Ground is a space that is inclusive of all people, creating and fostering a faith-based communal experience of worshipping and learning together in a way that is relevant to all ages and promoting relationships across generations.
Isn’t it noisy?
Not really, and certainly not any noisier than it would be if those same kids were sitting in the pews! We took great care in selecting play items that would keep the noise to a minimum: the blocks are made of foam, the books are all made of fabric (and we made sure they didn’t have any of the squeakers or crinkle-paper that is so popular now in fabric books!).
The only items that could really be used to make noise would be if a child were to bang a crayon over and over on the wooden tables, but if/when this happens, a parent generally steps in quickly. Same for dumping the entire basket of crayons out, which happens occasionally. We get over it!
Surprisingly, other congregations with a Pray-Ground have found that the noise level has actually gone down since they’ve settled into the Pray-Ground. Here is what they say, “The first few weeks were a little louder, but now the “regulars” know what’s expected of them, and they are rarely disruptive. On occasions when there are a lot of visiting children (Christmas Eve, for example, or Easter morning, or when we have several baptisms with lots of visiting family), things do tend to be a little louder, but if it means that children who aren’t generally in church are in church, we give thanks and move on!”
Who is the Pray-Ground intended for?
Generally-speaking, the Pray-Ground is intended for toddlers and young children who are not able to sit still in pews yet. We are thinking toddlers through first or second grade.
For young kids, there are four options: the Pray-Ground, where they stay for the entire service with their parents or other family members sitting directly behind them; the Infant Care Room, which is located behind a glass wall off the narthex and where the service is piped in through speakers. This is primarily for nursing mothers, or chatty infants; the chapel, which has a monitor for watching the services that are live streamed; and, of course, parents always have the option to simply sit with their children in the pews. We have Busy Bags, as well, for kids who need a few extras to help hold their attention in the pews.
Why is the Pray-Ground in the front of the sanctuary?
Because kids pay more attention when they can see what’s going on, and they’re short! Lots of churches have similar areas for kids in the back, or in the middle, or off to the side. We recognize that kids will play and color for much of the time, but they also pay attention to what’s happening in worship. In congregations that have this, some parents have overheard their young children singing the liturgy at home or playing church. When children can see what’s going on, they absorb things in a different way.
In addition, we think the location actually helps us to keep the noise down, though it sounds counter-intuitive. The kids know how visible they are, so they behave better than they might if they thought no one could see them.
Aren’t the kids distracting to the preachers?
Not any more than they are when they’re in the pews! Most preachers can handle a baby crying or a toddler screeching here and there. Of course, parents are able to take their kids out when they are getting really disruptive, but we trust them to make those decisions, and would never ask them to do so.
It may help that, in our sanctuary, this space is right up front but it’s also somewhat off to the side.
How can we expect the congregation to pay attention…..
There are actually quite a number of places in the sanctuary where you can sit and not see the Pray-Ground at all. Some people may choose to change where they usually sit if they think they’ll be distracted by the kids. Others may change where they sit in order to see them better! In other congregations, in general, people seem to have no trouble with this, and many people have commented on how surprised they are about that, given how skeptical they were at first.
How do you keep it all clean?
It’s actually pretty easy – almost everything can either go in the washing machine or through our sanitizer in the kitchen or can be sprayed and wiped down.
How do you keep kids from wandering…..
Very carefully! This part will take a bit of work at the beginning. During those first few weeks, both during young worshippers' messages and at other points in the service, we will point out that there are candles at the top of the steps, and that each child needs to set a good example for the other kids (and that if they came up one step, their friend might think it was okay to go up the second step, etc.). We believe the kids will remind one another, and parents help each other out, too, especially when there’s a new family sitting there.
How much did it cost…..
It came in somewhere under $1500, which also includes the cost of the items in the Infant Care Room. Funds came from the unused Sunday school funds during the pandemic and from a contribution from Trinity’s Child Development Center.
Do you keep the Play-Ground up for all services?
It’s up for all of our worship services, because we really see it as part of our sanctuary. We may take it down for weddings, memorials or other special events. Like with many activities in the sanctuary, leaving it up or taking it down will be considered on a case by case basis.
How did you come up with the name?
We didn’t! Many congregations are adding this to their sanctuaries, so we kept what seemed to best describe what we want this space to be.