I was the perfect parent before I had kids. My kids would NEVER get snacks at church, and they would sit quietly with just a crayon or pencil for the whole service.
Needless to say, that is not my reality.
My reality is three perfectly imperfect, spirited kids who need to move and talk and eat. Even at church.
With my firstborn, I was very strict about church behavior. We never brought snacks, and she wasn't allowed to play toys during church. We brought a few Jesus books to read quietly, and a few crayons to color the children's service folder. I would become incredibly frustrated when she wasn't sitting still as an 18-month-old. Why wasn't she getting it? Church is a place to be quiet!
Shortly after she turned 18 months, we got to go visit my brother-in-law and his family in Mexico where he was serving as a missionary. At church, all of the kids played on the floor, or in the back of church, and happily ate their snacks. Meanwhile, the parents actually listened to the Word of God. It was an incredible paradigm shift for me. Children, no matter what country they are from, like to move and play, even in a sacred setting. And there isn't one right way to do church.
Back at our home church, I persisted in teaching my daughter how to sit quietly during the service, but I absolutely became more relaxed about the need for her to be a kid. Yes, it is our job as parents to train them, but I think we sometimes forget how hard it is for a little one to sit still for that long. In fact, it's sometimes hard for us adults to sit still and listen for that long!
Now that I have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 6-month-old, we have to have a game plan to get through Bible study and church, which is often a 2-2.5 hour stretch. I still want to keep the "toys" to a minimum, because I truly do want them to learn that church is a place where we hear God's Word. Also, it drives me nuts when our pew is a mess with toys strewn everywhere! Because of this, I try to keep our quiet bag as simple as possible.
And as a side note, this quiet bag would work for anywhere you need to keep your children quiet, like doctor appointments, meetings, and restaurants. I've gotten complimented on my kids' behavior by several of the doctors and nurses at my OB and at the pediatrician. I credit that to taking them to church every Sunday. It helps them understand that some places are for running around and being loud, and other places are for sitting quietly and playing.
Here's what we keep in our quiet bag to make Sunday mornings a little easier. This post contains affiliate links.
Melissa and Doug Water Wow Books - I love that these are mess free. All you need to do is fill the brush with water, and "paint" the pages for colors to appear! The pages then dry, and you can repaint them over and over.
Sliding Pencil Case and Crayons - This pencil case is the perfect size for throwing in a purse or small bag, and it has a snap closure so crayons don't spill everywhere. We bring one of these to church, and the kids know they can color in the service folder which has pictures of the sections of scripture discussed during the sermon.
Simple Calculator - I know this sounds strange, but hear me out! We found very simplistic calculators at the Dollar Store, and the kids went nuts for them, and even fought over them! I guess it reminds them of our cell phones, and they love pressing the buttons and picking out the numbers they know. Small, cheap, and quiet - the perfect combination for church.
Mini Doodle Board - This was another Dollar Store find. It's so fun for them to practice writing the letters and words they know, then start over again. Just make sure you get one with the pen attached! (We learned that the hard way).
Boogie Board Writing Tablet - Along the same lines as the doodle board, but for slightly older kids. The included stylus is comparable to writing with a pencil or pen, so preschoolers can practice writing.
Munchkin Snack Catchers - since we're at church for over two hours when all is said and done, we don't mind putting some cereal or animal crackers in the snack catchers for the kids to munch on during the sermon. A parent's gotta do what a parent's gotta do!
We usually pick about 3 of these things to put in our church bag. We also designate most of these items ONLY for Sunday morning or doctor appointments, so we aren't scrambling to pack everything at the last minute. It makes Sunday mornings go just a little bit smoother as we try to teach our kids what it means to be a member of the body of Christ!
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What do you include in your church or quiet bag?
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