Encouraging Children to Pray
Practical Tips on Getting Your Little Loved Ones to Make and Enjoy Salah
By Maysoon Zaza
In a hadeeth narrated by Abdullah ibn Qart the Messenger of Allah (saws) said,
"The first act that the servant of Allah will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment will be salah. If it is good, then the rest of his acts will be good. And if it is evil, then the rest of his acts will be evil." (Tabarani)
Furthermore, salah was the first act of worship that was made obligatory by Allah. Therefore, due to its extreme importance to the Believer, salah should be one of the first acts of worship that parents should teach their children.
When discussing teaching children how to make salah parents typically ask when is it necessary to begin teaching their children. Let us be realistic; learning how to make salah is not easy for children or in some cases adults. It can take a lot of work to master even the simplest elements of salah. The learner must memorize the various du'aa and Surah's of the Qur'an- not to mention the other required portions of the salah. Furthermore, there must be work on proper pronunciation and rules on how, when, and what makes salah valid. This is not an overnight process but rather one that takes times. Therefore, this leaves us with the question-when should children learn how to make salah?
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As, narrated that the Apostle of Allah, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said, "Command your children to make salah when they become seven years old, and spank them for it (salah) when they become ten years old, and arrange their beds (to sleep) separately." (Abu Dawud). This does not mean that parents can only start teaching their children how to perform it when they reach the age of seven. Rather, informal instruction should start when a child starts to show an interest in salah, which usually occurs around the age of two. It is only human nature that children love to imitate their parents. In fact, this is one method that Allah has provided us for teaching our youth.
Therefore, it is important for parents of small children to let them "pretend" to make the salah along side of the parents. The benefits for this are twofold. First, it teaches children that it is necessary to make salah everyday five times a day. And second, it helps children learn the physical movements of the salah. It really is amazing how fast a two-year-old will learn the phrase Allahu-Akbar when he performs salah along side of his parents!
The next step is to teach your child al-Fatihah. This should begin around the age of three or four. When teaching children Surah's or any other portions of the salah that must be memorized; it is important to remember to break down the instructions by using a reasonable number of verses or small segments. In other words, teaching a child how to perform the salah should be done progressively in small steps. It is important to practice reciting the previously learned material consistently everyday along with any new material. These practice sessions should only last between 5 to 15 minutes. At this age, length of practice is not as important as consistency. Also, it is important to note that not everyday will your child be ready to learn new material. Work on mastery of material not quantity. The other question many parents ask is whether or not to teach Surah's using Tajweed. Actually, many parents find it helpful to combine the two. Children have an amazing ability to remember songs in commercials or various children's song. For many children, the act of singing actually makes it easier to memorize. However, at this age it is important not to focus on the rules of recitation but rather on the content.
While the presence of a teacher or parent teaching children the proper method of making salah can not be underestimated, many parents find supplemental materials helpful in teaching their children how to make salah. Every year new educational products are being introduced into the Muslim market. Today, Muslim parents have available coloring books, storybooks, developmentally appropriate teaching videotapes, audio tapes, and computer programs to enhance the learning process. Generally children learn new tasks best if teaching material is presented in a variety of formats. The use of such material will only help increase the speed and amount of learning for your child not to mention that it will make the experience more enjoyable.
Lastly, one of the most important aspects of successful teaching is praise and encouragement. Remember that children like to please their parents. Also, it is really important that parents praise and celebrate their children's accomplishments. This is especially true for learning how to make salah. After the mastery of a section, children typically feel a strong sense of achievement. Praise motivates the child to continue to learn and accomplish new goals.
First published in Al-Jumuah magazine.