Parenting pre-schoolers is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my life.
I admire mothers who enjoy every moment of parenting their preschool aged children. Who see the beauty of the way they think, the way they play, the way they seek independence.
For me, it’s an incomprehensible challenge.
Especially when it’s time to bring them to Mass.
I don’t know what motivates them. I don’t know what sets off their meltdowns.
Some people feel this way about teenagers, I hear!
But at least teenagers know how to sit still for an hour at a time. Preschoolers? Not. A. Chance.
I can feed the toddler cheerios. I can motivate the elementary aged kids with donuts. But the preschooler? I struggle to unlock that little brain and find the golden solution.
Children Need to Move
One thing I’ve been hearing more and more about is children’s need for movement.
It’s talked about, especially in the school setting. Young kids are not designed to sit still for hours on end.
Their bodies are made to move.
And their minds are made to keep up with that movement!
As a mom, it’s important to keep this in mind at Mass. When my toddlers and preschoolers are squirmy, it’s not necessarily a disciplinary problem.
It’s more of a developmental normal thing to expect.
So instead of trying to discipline that out of my kids, I’m learning instead to embrace and use that knowledge to work with my children where they are at, developmentally, right now.
Understanding that a preschooler is not designed by God to sit still for hours at a time, can help me in my journey to encouraging appropriate Mass behavior.
When Will A Preschooler Sit Still?
Now that we know that preschoolers are wired for movement, we also know there are times when preschoolers can and will sit still.
With my own kids, I’ve found there are two major sit-still activities I can count on practically every time.
When the crazies get ahold of us at home, I can almost always turn to coloring for a good solid chunk of calm down time.
If coloring doesn’t work, I can sit them down with a pile of good books, and let them flip through the pages on their own.
Maybe your kids have different sit-still activities, and that’s okay. Know them.
If we want to encourage sitting still (not a pre-schooler’s natural state) during Mass (a difficult time of the week for us as parents), then we need to be aware of what activities encourage our individual kiddos to be still and quiet.
Then we can foster those activities at home, and capitalize on that new sit-still skill during Mass.
Pack Your Mass Bag
We pack a Mass bag for our littles.
The older kids, once they can sit still, graduate from a Mass bag to simply a kids’ missal, so they can follow along with the Mass, and practice the proper positions (sit, stand, kneel) with the rest of the family and congregation.
But for our littles, Mass bags are key to a peaceful Mass.
For the toddler: food, a favorite quiet toy, space to put shoes and socks when they insist they be removed.
But for the preschooler, their Mass bag has their sit-still activities.
In our case: books and coloring.
We love these board books by First Faith Treasury (they’re beautiful, and deep, and great for kids to flip through on their own or with mom and dad).
But recently, Elayne from Annunciation Designs introduced us to a coloring activity that has been so helpful at Mass.
It’s her Future Saint Activity Cards.
Future Saint Dry Erase Activity Cards
When I first saw that Elayne had these cards available, I knew we needed to try them for our kiddos!
Then Elayne was so generous to offer to send us a set of Future Saint Activity Cards for our family. I knew we would love them, so I agreed to try them out and share them with you.
They’re a set of 6 double sided dry-erase cards on a little metal binder ring, so they stay all together (which is good – because I can’t deal with more things to drop during Mass!)
Elayne sent us the Deluxe set – which includes a full pack of dry-erase crayons, plus an adorable zipper pouch to carry them in.
The good thing about these cards is that they’re so engaging to my preschooler – both as a coloring activity, and as a way to interact with the Mass.
Some of the activities include:
- a dot-to-dot that draws out two loaves of bread (reminding us of the Eucharist),
- a maze to help the girl get to the Cathedral,
- and a coloring page that reveals a hidden picture of a dove (for the Holy Spirit).
My preschooler’s favorite card is the “design the chalice” card. She knows the chalice is something special, and she loves to make it beautiful for Jesus.
There’s also a card that includes the parts of the Mass.
Using this card, I can encourage my preschooler to follow along, and check off the boxes as we work our way through the Mass.
One of my personal favorite cards is the one that has different things to find and count in the Church.
This one helps the kiddos be aware of their surroundings, and draws their attention to important things like the tabernacle, the sanctuary lamp, and the altar.
And it reminds me to allow my preschooler to look around at the stained glass windows, to allow her to count the pews, and to be patient with a little developmentally appropriate squirming, while directing it toward engagement with the church building around us.
Engaging Preschool Needs, Instead of Thwarting Them
See, this is where these Mass Activity Cards hits the perfect balance.
It combines the preschooler’s developmental need for movement and engagement, with the sit-still effect of coloring, helping me to promote that perfect balance, all while engaging the preschooler in the Mass.
I couldn’t ask for a more intentional tool to put in our Mass bag.
And the best part: my preschooler (and my other kids, too) love it! Her eyes light up when I pull the Future Saint pouch out of the Mass bag and offer it to her.
She usually sits down on the kneeler, sets up her cards on the pew in front of her, and keeps herself busy coloring for at least some small portion of the Mass.
When I let go of my desire for my preschooler to sit perfectly still, looking like a reverent little statue, and embrace her need for some movement and engagement, I find that Mass is more peaceful.
I often feel pressure (arising mostly from within myself) to thwart the squirmy tendencies in my preschooler. To resort to discipline to keep her still.
I’m trying to remind myself that movement is part of who she is at this beautiful (and sometimes challenging) preschool age.
And then, to use that knowledge to encourage engagement with the Mass, in her own preschool way.
Strive for Peace, Not Perfection
The Mass is a place where we encounter Christ’s love in the most amazing way.
Sometimes, in my desire to get my kids to “sit still” and “behave” during Mass, I can forget that.
I try to remind myself that Christ wants to give his love to them, too. He wants the children to come to them as they are – even in whatever “inconvenient” developmental stage they are in.
And, as a parent, it’s one of my greatest duties to ensure that my children encounter the great love of Christ, and teach them how to return that love through worship and adoration.
Worship, not just sitting still.
Adoration, not just prayer hands.
As they grow, the sitting still and prayer hands will come along with the rest of the participation of the Mass – saying the prayers, singing the songs, the appropriate motions, and ultimately, the reception of the Eucharist.
But for now, I strive for peace.
I want to learn to engage all my children in the Mass, in receiving the great love Christ offers them, without getting hung up on my idea of perfection.
The Future Saint Activity Cards were not just a “good Mass tool” for my kiddos – they were also an important reminder for me, that my children – yes, even my preschoolers – belong in the Mass.
That they are welcome and loved as they are.
That they can love and worship and adore him, through their need for movement, through their need for engagement.
And that I can have peace during the Mass without perfection.
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