Sacred spaces for children

Published on: 1 July 2018

We can all picture the scene in church: a parent struggles to pacify a crying baby while making fraught attempts to keep a toddler sitting and quietly engaged before finally the stares of other congregation members send them scuttling for the exit.

Not very welcoming, and not a picture most of us would like to imagine for our churches.

It’s well documented that children find it hard to sit for long periods of time, so a space where children can be free to move and explore can be an important part of a church’s design, provision and welcome for children and families. In addition, the consideration of where to locate and how to resource these areas – tailoring the space to work for the families that use it and containing items that relate to what is going on in the worshipping life of the church – can transform the opportunities for learning and encourage the development of children’s spirituality within the church context.

These three stories share examples of where churches have considered and accommodated the needs of families and actively sought to promote spiritual play and learning in their churches.

Since January 2018, St Peter Mancroft – a medieval church in the heart of Norwich – has been undergoing a building project. The work has partly been undertaken to fulfil one of four vision aims to make the church ‘A welcoming and inspiring place for all’.

The Revd Canon Ian Bentley, Interim Minister says, “All of the work has been done with the view to making the church accessible for everybody including children and families. As several of the front pews were being removed during the works it seemed obvious to reorganise the space and move the children’s area from the back of the church to the front of the church”.

In consultation with regular families who attend services and use the space with their children, and with the support of the Archdeacon of Norwich and the Care & Development of Church Buildings team, a carpet area with resources will now be created at the East end of the North Aisle.

Nick Jackson, project architect for the work who attends the church with his family, comments, “A quarter of the congregation are families with children. Bringing the children’s space to the front of the church is a great advantage so that children and parents can continue to feel part of what’s going without being confined to the outer reaches of the church”. The newly positioned area also affords a front seat view of the newly extended chancel giving children the opportunity to watch and feel involved in the pattern and movement of services.

The Revd Canon Ian Bentley also pointed out: “The church is in constant use, not just on a Sunday. During the week the church is open, and we find families come in and use the space. We hope the new area will encourage those who visit to venture further into the church and explore it more.”


A visit to St Peter’s Church, Sheringham, a Victorian church with wooden flooring and moveable seating, gives a very different feel. The children’s space is a carpeted area at the back of the church alongside further open space where families and toddlers can move around and roam. The area is resourced by lovely baskets of natural materials, books and wooden blocks and shapes. These ‘open ended’ resources have been intentionally chosen because of their tactile nature and so that children can use their ingenuity and imagination to create, make and play how they like; using and constructing the materials in lots of different ways.

The resources have been collated and are overseen by Constance Tyce who explains, “The materials can be used in so many ways. Children exploring natural materials is spiritual in itself. When children come here I want it to be an engaging and spiritual experience – different to what most children will be presented with at home. A few weeks ago, in church we were doing about the Synagogue. We used the wooden blocks, natural resources and stones to build the building and then the children drew what they had made. It was lovely.”

Like St Peter Mancroft, the church gets many visitors during the week. Constance continues: “It’s obvious from what gets left that people come with their children and use the space during the week. I love to see what they have constructed and then others add to it. We always have a treasure basket because we get lots of babies too, but the space is for all ages.”

The Worship Centre at Bowthorpe has a special interest in Godly Play with their association with St Michael’s Workshop which makes and sells Godly Play materials. After being donated a full set of Godly Play materials a few years ago the church changed the former crèche room into a dedicated space for Godly Play.

Mandy Elvin describes how the room developed: “The room was small but useable, and a suitable place for the Godly Play materials to be stored and displayed. Our Godly Play room has become a very special space; a place where stories can be told and then linked to other stories in the room. A quiet room where the children can wonder about the stories. A place where children can play with the stories and listen to what God has to say to them.

“It is wonderful to sit and listen to the children as they play, they share so much wondering between them. Unfortunately, we sometimes need to tell the stories in another larger room due to lack of space. Although these sessions are still special it is not quite the same as being in the Godly Play room. It is their room, a room where it is safe to play and explore. A place where they can wonder and grow closer to God.”

It is wonderful to see examples of churches placing importance on the space they create for children and families. With a little thought we have an incredible opportunity to share something different with children and families as we actively provide them with age-appropriate materials and experiences and include them in the worshipping life of our churches.

Is providing a space for young families or reviewing your provision to make it more spiritually distinctive something you could consider?

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