I don’t think I need to say that praying with children can be challenging! I struggle with getting my two young daughters (ages 1 and 3) to sit still long enough to simply eat a few bites sometimes! The mere thought of praying with them often feels daunting. Yet, I definitely want to pray with them and teach them how to pray.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “the Christian family is the first place of education in prayer” (2685). In daily family prayer, we bear witness to the truths of our faith and show children how to meditate and apply these truths to their lives. What better way than through the Rosary, which is a meditation on the life of Christ. I personally love praying the Rosary and I want to be able to pass that love onto my girls.
Here are some simple ways to pray the Rosary with children and make this time engaging and interactive as well.
For small children (and even not so small) you can have them color a picture of the scene while you are praying it (for example, have a printout of the scene of the Nativity and have them color it while you pray). This isn’t very different from the motion of the fingers over the beads while you use a real rosary.
You could also use a coloring page of an actual rosary and have them color the beads while you say the Hail Mary’s. Older children can write their intentions over the beads (or on the picture of the scene of the decade). You can find some coloring pages for all the Rosary mysteries here and a blank Rosary here.
Use pictures or toys
You can have pictures of each decade (in a binder with page protectors) and have your children take turns picking out the appropriate one for each decade as you pray. Contemplating beautiful artwork can also aid mediation (for you) and be a way to expose your children to different artwork from church history.
My 3-year-old loves her Playmobil Nativity scene and she can play with this during any of the Joyful Mysteries. You can make small toy “boxes” for each set of mysteries with items pertaining to each set inside (for example, a cross, crown of thorns, and nails for the sorrowful mysteries). I’m currently making this lovely Rosary Quiet Felt book for my daughters to play with while praying.
Listen to an audio Rosary or podcast
I enjoy praying with a podcast rosary (while I drive or walk or clean). My favorite is the “Rosary Army Podcast” prayed by Greg and Jennifer Willits. Their audio scriptural rosary can be found here.
One night I told my 3-year-old we would listen and pray one decade with them and she enjoyed it (especially the part where she held my iPhone while we prayed along). We do this occasionally and both of my daughters enjoy it and it takes the pressure off me to lead.
Each child can take turns with the Hail Mary’s from a decade. Older children can take turns leading a decade (and enjoy being “in charge” of the decade and intentions).
In college, I studied abroad in Austria for a semester at a small, former monastery and there were so many students from different countries that the school would often organize an “international rosary” where each decade would be lead by one person in his or her native language. If someone in your family speaks another language, you can pray the decade in a different language. For example, my husband can lead the “Hail Mary” prayers in Tamil (“அருள் நிறைந்த மரியாயே வாழ்க…”) and my daughters and I can respond in English (“Holy Mary, Mother of God…”). This is especially helpful if you’re teaching your child another language (or you want to). It’s also a way to help connect them to the universal church.
Use food (or beads or other counting objects)
For small (and maybe not-so-small) children you can use food (think Cheerios or chocolate chips) as bead counters. Maybe arrange them 10-in-a-line for one decade and have your child eat one per Hail Mary. Alternatively, you could have beads and string and have her string one bead per Hail Mary.
Don’t have very high expectations
Seriously. If you are praying with very young children, don’t expect them to sit still for very long. Truthfully, I will only attempt 1 decade a day with my girls. Small children are not able to sit still for very long, which is why these suggestions can help you keep their attention a little bit.
If you imagine that they are going to sit (or kneel) and pray devoutly for even 5 minutes straight you’ll be disappointed. Instead, look at each prayer time as an opportunity to gently expose them to the faith, learn about prayer and soak them in the grace that comes from praying together as a family. Trust that God looks mercifully on our intentions and blesses our efforts.
Most of all, don’t feel intimidated by praying the Rosary with your children. Start small, incorporate one or two of these ideas, and relax. You can mix up all of these ideas and randomly choose one a day (or when you decide to pray part of the Rosary) or you can have a set one for a particular day of the week (“Rosary Podcast Friday”). The important thing is to be a good, consistent prayer model for your children and be patient.
If you want some tips for taking young children to Mass, check out this post.
Let us pray for each other. If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments.