The hidden prayer life of primary school children reveals positive results

Published on: 26th April 2024

As figures on young people’s mental health issues continue to rise year on year, a new piece of research released by Hereford Diocese highlights the benefits of creating regular prayer habits amongst primary aged children. The project, which took place during the diocese’s year of prayer in 2023, explored how primary school children can learn to pray outside school and church.


The research results show that encouraging young people to pray anywhere can help them with their worries, giving them a channel to release anxieties and promote a sense of wellbeing. As most national reports on children’s mental health will conclude, creating wellbeing habits during the early years is an important tool in building resilience, which helps children cope with the stresses of growing up.


Whilst some may feel prayer is a surprising tool with possible questionable evidence, the children involved in this project commented on how prayer helped them with personal challenges, including the death of a pet or loved ones. This shows how prayer can support children to build coping mechanisms and develop spiritually.


The research project, which concluded in December 2023, explored the prayer habits of children in six Church of England primary schools in the diocese. Led by the diocesan Education Team, it sought to understand children’s prayer life and spirituality better, looking at how to encourage and support children’s prayer habits beyond church and school and how to develop children’s prayer patterns.


One of the key findings highlights the importance of modelling prayer in front of children, illustrating that prayer can be simple, communal or solitary.  Research lead and diocesan Education Development Officer Mark Harrington explains: “The project has revealed some interesting insights, some of which need further exploration.  We initially interviewed children at the start of the project to understand what helped their prayers at school and church. We then provided schools and children with prayer resources, demonstrated their use, and revisited after ten months to re-interview the children. The findings show that the children had deepened their spirituality and cherished moments of prayer or reflection in their day. Moreover, by engaging in creative prayer in a small group, the children discovered they could extend their prayer life to their families.

The team identified several other important learning points, including providing a quiet space or encouraging children to find a calm, comfortable place to pray. This helped children to concentrate on praying and remain in the moment. The other takeaway showed how to encourage children to embed prayer into daily rituals, such as saying prayers of thanks at bedtime or first thing in the morning or before undertaking something that might feel difficult or challenging. The children were encouraged to develop prayer habits that they could maintain. One of the participants explained: “I went to London for half term, and usually I’d sit on the long train ride and feel bored or stare out the window. I thought, I’ll pray this time, so I did.” The team noted that providing simple prayer resources or prompts for prayer topics encouraged the children to lead others, including adult family members, in prayer. Mark adds: “This is particularly interesting and an area I’d like to explore further. The Church of England is encouraging everyday faith at home, at school and wherever we are, it seems children are key. We found that parents who engaged in our project had been encouraged by their children to join in prayers at home.”


The Ven Fiona Gibson, Archdeacon of Ludlow and Chair of the Hereford Diocesan Board of Education, adds: “This project has shone a spotlight on the hidden prayer lives of children. There is a clear message for any parents, carers, teachers and church leaders who are wondering how to develop children’s spirituality, keep it simple, create space and encourage one another in faith. The children’s responses give me hope, they are a reminder that God seeks the best for us, and the invitation is to open our hearts and invite God in.”


As one of the pupils in the project concludes: “If you pray a lot, you get into the habit of it.”

The research findings of this project, alongside 14 other research pilots, will be presented as a paper during the National Growing Faith Research Conference at Ripon College, Cuddesdon later in May.


Full details of the research can be found on the Education pages and a video of the children interviewed for this project can be seen via YouTube

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