A lot of Catholic parents would love to say the rosary with their kids . . . if the experience wasn’t quite so, erm . . . fraught. Here are twelve strategies for making it work.
This article is adapted from the book 77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids
A lot of Catholic parents would love to say the rosary with their kids . . . if the experience wasn’t quite so, erm . . . fraught. At our house, we barely make it out of the preliminaries before the littles are swinging their beads around like lassos . . . which inevitably become airborne missiles . . . and if you have ever been whacked in the face by a rosary mid-Hail Mary, you know it kind of ruins the mood.
Our older kids are better, but I personally remember doing some groaning and eye-rolling as a teen when it came time for the rosary.
Fortunately, we’ve come up with a couple insights that help us to pray the rosary as a family in a more sane and meaningful way.
- The rosary is supposed to be a form of meditative prayer. Listen to the words of Pope Paul VI: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas. . . . By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord” (Marialis Cultus #47). Realizing that the rosary is primarily a form of meditative prayer opens up whole new horizons for teens . . . and adults.
- The rosary can be adapted to kids. Mary is many things, but she is first and foremost a mom . . . a mom who undoubtedly understands what it is like to deal with kids! (Yeah, Jesus might have been a good kid, but she undoubtedly mothered the children of relatives and neighbors, too.) So why do we feel enslaved to saying the entire rosary with small kids? Realizing that we could do a mini-rosary with the littles made saying the rosary as a family do-able.
So, without further ado, here are some different approaches to praying the rosary with kids.
1. Skip the beads, or get kid-friendly ones.
If you’re praying with children too young to follow direction, say the rosary without the aid of rosary beads. (Very young children may end up whipping them around.) When your kids are old enough, purchase a durable, kid-friendly rosary, such as a cord rosary. See brightly coloured ‘I am With You’ Rosary Beads for children
2. Start with one decade.
Praying one decade of the rosary should take a little longer than five minutes. Be sure to introduce the mystery in advance; meditate on a different mystery each time, so that you eventually work your way through all the mysteries. Get my printable modified Rosary booklet with modern pictures
3. Shorten the decades.
Say the entire rosary, but only say three Hail Mary prayers for each decade. This is a good way of introducing your children to the order of the mysteries and the rhythm of the entire rosary; plan on spending about fifteen minutes.
4. Use pictures to aid meditation.
Find pictures (see my free rosary books for children and adults) illustrating each mystery of the rosary. Display the pictures as you briefly explain and then pray each mystery.
5. Set a prayerful mood.
Before you begin the rosary, set the mood with scented oils, candles or a prayer bell, singing a Marian hymn, or practicing Thirty Seconds of Silence.
6. Ignore the kids and pray.
If your children act up while you’re praying, ignore them as best you can and pray the rosary yourself. Someday, your kids will “grow into” the practice, and in the meantime, Mary, mother of us all, surely sympathizes. A variation: just pray the rosary by yourself, or with your spouse. Tell your kids that mom and dad are going to have their “rosary time,” and shoo them away. That’s what Becky Arganbright did, and before long, all her kids were saying the rosary, too…because they wanted to. Check out her story in Our Accidental Ten-Minute Family Rosary.
Older Children and Teens
In addition to the ideas above, consider the following for older kids and teens:
7. Make your own cord rosaries.
Teens have been crafting their own knotted and dyed rosaries from nylon cord since the 1980s; you can find supplies and instructions at Rosary Army (rosaryarmy.newevangelizers.com).
8. Introduce the rosary as a form of meditation.
As Pope Paul VI says in the quote above, the rosary becomes an empty ritual if it is nothing more than the repetition of words. Instead, take time to introduce each of the mysteries very intentionally, and go over the principles of meditative prayer with your kids. You may also find that introducing other forms of meditative and imaginative prayer—and mixing up the way you pray together as a family—supports and enhances your practice of praying the rosary. And once you’ve introduced the principles of meditative and imaginative prayer so that kids have an idea of what they’re aiming for, then for heaven’s sake, slow it down. Racing through the rosary, as several popes have pointed out, is not ideal. If time is an issue, then try praying a single decade slowly and meditatively.
9. Pray the Scriptural rosary.
As the name implies, the Scriptural rosary incorporates very brief, relevant Scripture readings before each Hail Mary; for example, the first joyful mystery, the Annunciation, would be interspersed with lines from Luke 1, taking the reader through the Biblical account of the Annunciation. You can purchase a Scriptural rosary book or download these free Scriptural Rosary resources. Alternatively, focus on one mystery (and pray one decade) at a time over the course of a month, reading the corresponding Scripture before praying the decade slowly and meditatively. You could also incorporate a lectio divina component to your reflection.
10. Pray with music.
Try praying with soft instrumental music playing in the background; alternatively, preface each mystery with the relevant song from Catholic artist Danielle Rose’s excellent Mysteries, in which she has composed a gently meditative song with appealing contemporary styling for each mystery of the rosary; it’s well-reviewed on Amazon.
11. Get older kids and teens to lead.
Research shows that the more agency we give kids around religious practices, the more likely they are to retain and integrate those practices into adulthood. Letting kids lead prayer is always a good idea, with appropriate support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to let kids lead the rosary with the help of an appropriate resource. You might begin while they’re younger by inviting them to offer their own intentions.
12. Pray the rosary for your kids.
If all else fails, and you just can’t convince your older kids or teens to say the rosary with you, then pray it for them. As you pray, focus on entrusting your kids to the intercession of Mary and the care of her Son, and ask for the humility and grace you need to be a good parent.
Be creative in your family practice of praying the rosary…and be persistent. As Pope John Paul II says, “If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.”