Part of the Teaching Your Child Salat series
As I mentioned in a previous post, the summer he was five I taught my son how to pray salat. As I’d never done this before, and I myself had learned to pray as an adult, I thought it might be helpful to explain how I went about it. I didn’t really have any example to follow since I do not live around many other muslims and even fewer with children, most of whom hadn’t learned salat yet, so I didn’t really have many people to talk to about it with. Nor could I find much about it online, so I came up with my own plan.
We had already done some advance preparation to prepare for learning salat since I didn’t really know how I was going to do it until I did it, but I knew it would happen at some point. If you’re thinking about it because you don’t know if your children are quite ready yet, check out the suggestions there.
Decisions I made about how to teach salat
Also, if you haven’t done so already, please read about overcoming obstacles in teaching salat!
Timing for teaching salat
My son reached a point where he really wanted to learn salat and this is why I began then. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend beginning at 5 for anyone else just because he did, just seize the day when the enthusiasm is there and the time is right. Kind of like timing potty training.
In addition to my son’s enthusiasm being the driving force, as it happened I started teaching him salat shortly after I finished what I refer to (when talking to him) as my ‘special break’ each month when I don’t pray salat. This is convenient timing if you can pull it off, because then you have a few weeks to work together before the break comes again. By the next month, he knew enough of the salat to pray independently with me sitting nearby (and helping as needed). If the timing hadn’t worked out that way, I might have started teaching and then we’d have a gap where he was on his own before he was ready, which probably would have been a rough start (my break is longer than a week :/). So, bear that in mind if you’re a mom in that situation.
To use or not use alternative wording for Salat?
As you may know, there are some shorter phrases to recite during salat time for those people who have not learned the salat yet. I learned these as an adult as well as the regular salat and sometimes used them before it was all memorized. I tend to think that is more geared towards adults who want to fulfill the 5 daily prayers but haven’t learned them yet. Since my son isn’t really old enough for salat to be obligatory, I didn’t teach him these but just went straight to the regular salat. At this age, I am here to prompt him and guide him no matter where we are when we pray. However, an older child might find this helpful if he wants to begin salat and is already at the age required to do so, but does not have the salat memorized yet. Especially if he or she is away at school during the day and has to manage some prayers alone, it may take some of the pressure off.
Learning in another language
Like the majority of muslims, Arabic isn’t our first language. So, as I taught him the salat and afterwards learned additional surahs, I went over each surah with him and we also listened to different people recite it to get a better sense of pronunciation. It’s relatively easy to find various free recitations online for particular surahs by different reciters. I have read that when learning a foreign language, children (and adults probably) learn a new word more easily when they hear more than one speaker say it. Some reciters are much easier to “follow along” while you silently read the transliteration. Others sound nice but add more embellishment/echo so it’s harder to hear the sound of the letter. Listening to the recitation also helps learn the rhythm of the surah and which parts of the words to lengthen more effectively than just seeing the notes about that in the transliteration. One thing I had a harder time finding was female or child reciters, unfortunately, which can be more appealing to a young child in part I think because the higher voice sounds more like the sound they can make and is therefore easier to imitate. But they’re out there, on youtube if not in complete collections.
We also studied the translation/meaning of the salat and surahs. I think it’s important to know what we are saying, and my son had a lot of questions about “what does this part mean” regarding both basic parts of the salat and the individual surahs that we added on afterwards. The printouts I used have (I think) a nice translation of the whole salat, al fatihah, and al iklas, but I also read him some other translations, and I showed him the transliterated text to help with pronunciation. Some translations are written in language that is much harder for a child to grasp the meaning of. We looked at more than one translation for the surahs to help with this. I now have a Qur’an that has clear, modern language that is easier for young readers to grasp without taking away from the message. (I have no problem with Thees, Thous, Bequeath or Begot, or complicated sentences, but at the same time more poetic translations sometimes lose in practical understanding especially for the young, though they sound nice. Both have their place. )
The fact that my son was also able to read the transliteration himself (after assistance with pronunciation from me and listening to reciters) was I think very helpful. He was able to follow along and match it with what we were saying. However, do not worry if your child wants to learn salat and does not know how to read yet; knowing how to read is not a requirement to learn salat. While reading the transliteration is a great aid to me, many people including our prophet pbuh learned by ear and memorized it. My son was very fast at memorization and learning the sounds (and I understand this tends to be true of children in general), in fact he learned it so fast and caught up to what I had memorized of the surahs that I was a little ashamed that I had not been able to memorize more, though it’s quite slow and difficult for me as an adult! So we started on the next surah together. For a new surah I did not know by heart, we went over the transliteration and translation, and I copied out the easiest transliteration (there are different ways to transliterate, so use one that makes sense to you) on a small card to refer to if necessary during salat. We only work on one new surah at a time until it is memorized. There are also cards you can purchase with the surah written with both translation and transliteration in my resources post.
Aloud versus silent recitation
As I read through the prayer this first time, and for a long time thereafter, I recited all the parts of all the prayers aloud, including the parts that are normally said silently. I recited these in a lower voice to differentiate them. I’m not sure how someone could learn or correct pronunciation without reciting aloud. I also had him recite them fully out loud. This is also how I learned, even though I was practicing by myself, I had to recite out loud in order to learn the correct pronunciation and hear myself. Nowadays if I’m praying by myself I don’t normally pray aloud, but this is important for learning.
Part of learning the salat is also later learning which parts are recited aloud and which parts are recited only to one’s self, in addition to which prayers of the 5 are generally recited aloud vs. completely quietly. I introduced this a couple of months in after he had a good grasp of the prayer. A visit to the mosque prompted bringing this up, because we were praying Dhuhr at the mosque, and being more aware of the parts of the prayer than he was in the past he could hear that the imam did not recite it all aloud. (Unfortunately, our mosque has no access to actually talk to the imam about any of this, and on this occasion we were the only ones in the “women and kid” section). However, it prompted a good followup conversation where I reiterated which parts were normally aloud and which were not, and the differences in the 5 prayers being said aloud or not. Even after learning this however, I continued having him practice aloud, saying the ‘silent’ parts in a lower voice, for quite some time.
On the first lesson, though my son had heard me recite many times before, we sat down together with a print out of the prayer and I read through it all and discussed the meanings (restating in my own words or with additional explanation when necessary). I also demonstrated briefly the different positions and basic things to remember in each position (what parts should touch the floor in salat, back straight in ruku, etc). This was a relatively fast review as my son has heard and seen (and followed along occasionally) in salat before, but I wanted to start out with an official review, as did he.
Then, I put the printouts on the floor in front of us (like when I learned to pray long ago) so he could “follow along” with what step we were on as we went through the prayer. At first, I said, just “read along” in your head as I recite out loud and follow my movements. This doesn’t on the surface seem much different than when he would follow along matching my movements at Eid or something (as he has ‘prayed’ with me before many times but without reciting), but it was, because this time, he knew what was going on and was actively learning about it. It still amazes me that this makes such a difference, to say “Now I’m going to teach you” versus just watching or even just participating without following along actively. Of course he picked up a lot on his own, but it made a big difference to him to be “officially” learning it.
For each prayer that he joined me (Dhuhr and Asr) in the days that came, I left the printouts there until he had the salat memorized, turning over the pages with the parts that he had memorized as time went by.
Memorizing Salat one section at a time
The things that he could “participate” in while following along and practicing were the MOST important at the beginning, because at the beginning he didn’t have the prayer memorized to recite and pray independently. I wanted him to associate the different parts with the correct positions so I didn’t have him learn the words of salat in advance all in one chunk, but gradually as we went along. I saw a child on youtube recite the entire salat that he had memorized in one fell swoop (while not actually praying), but personally I just think it’s easier to remember by associating each ‘section’ of the spoken part with a particular position.
I encouraged him to “follow along” silently/under his breath as I recited aloud. I allowed him to “whisper” along (he did this on his own and I allowed it since it seemed to help him memorize), and I could tell when he had learned a part. He would also spontaneously recite the section he had just memorized as we went about our day, so I knew as he got them down.
This is the order in which he naturally learned things as the days went by. He would get one part down and then add on to it:
- Following the movements was easy. We talked about the correct positions for each ahead of time, and he basically followed along. I was more specific about how each position should look (which parts of your body should touch the floor, back straight, etc). We both went over this at the beginning and also reviewed after each salat as necessary. I would ask him after the prayer, for instance, “Could you show me the correct position for sujood?” and we would talk about what makes it correct. I avoided correcting his position while he was praying, but if I was leading and I went into the position and he did not go into it, I would hold it a bit longer until he matched me before moving on.
- Saying “Ameen” after Al fatihah. This was a way to participate from the very beginning as the follower can say this aloud. He of course enjoyed this and it was the first part spoken part he memorized.
- He learned the Adhan rapidly and liked to say it. He memorized it quickly and this gave him another way to participate early on. I hadn’t really been in practice of giving adhan so before my own private salat, but I taught him this from the beginning and then he memorized it very quickly within the first week, then I let him call it before the prayer. This allowed him to feel participatory before having actually learned the entire salat. When he was reciting it, if he forgot what came next I prompted him. I also found this was a nicer way to prepare for prayer than rounding him up and saying come and pray.
- Realizing that “Allahu Akbar” separated most of the movements. This was the next part I observed that he learned.
- Subhana rabeel alazeem and Subhana rabeel aala were probably next, being repeated. I had him do these aloud for a while (lower voice).
- Alfatihah was probably next. He learned this relatively fast as it is repeated in each rakat so he heard it over and over. I also observed him practicing it on his own by reciting it to himself at random times during the day, and once he had it, he recited it to me on his own at other times, which helped reinforce it. Practicing surahs between each other while going about the day, driving, going to check the mail, etc is a nice way to reinforce memorization and gives a sense of accomplishment. He did this on his own and I played along.
- Al iklas is the next surah I taught him to use after Alfatihah at the beginning and we stuck with that until he had it down, which was pretty fast. I did not teach him any additional surahs after that until he had memorized the rest of the prayer. I stuck to only reciting surahs he knew, when we were praying together, to reinforce them. Once the entire prayer was memorized and very firm then we moved on to adding other surahs.
- The attahiyatu part and the parts following it were the last thing that he was able to memorize, which was also the case when I learned salat myself. He was still tripping up on these by the time I went on my next “special break” after about 3 weeks of practice, but with the pages in front of him he could still follow along. After he had one part well memorized I removed that page but left the other pages of the printout so he could refer to them if necessary. When I was not praying and he was, if he wasn’t sure about that part, I would prompt him by reciting one line, then he would repeat it, then the next line, if he got stuck (which was not often by that time). At first during this time, I would sit or lie on the bed next to him to listen to his prayer as he prayed, and also help out if he got stuck by prompting what to do next. This time was very important for learning; although I tried not to interrupt too much, it’s easier to give corrections when you are not actually praying too so it was a valuable teaching time.
It wasn’t very long after he’d started learning the salat that he began to want to lead the salat, and I told him when he had it all memorized he could try leading. This was a motivator and he really enjoyed leading once he got it all down, and it gave some variety. This also allows the opportunity to learn things to keep in mind when leading to allow someone to follow easily.
From the point that he had all the parts memorized, unless he was very tired and didn’t want to lead that day, I would lead the first salat he did of the day, usually Dhuhr (to reinforce teaching) and he would lead the next one (Asr). Prior to that, he would recite sections of it to me in between prayers and ask me if it was correct (and read over it himself). Of course, when he first started leading, he would get stuck a few times, and require the start of the next line. When I was on my break, he would be praying solo, and I would sit nearby to listen to him and prompt him if he got stuck until he didn’t need this.
As I’m editing this, it’s 2 years down the road, and we’ve added Maghrib to his repertoire as well, plus sometimes Isha if he is already up at that time (not often, but when traveling and combining prayers especially). I do not ask him to lead every day now, especially if he is tired, but usually at least one prayer every other day so I can listen to him recite aloud and make sure any mistakes do not become habits. He has learned all the surahs I knew and we have learned several more together afterwards!
Once the sections are memorized, teaching time isn’t over! It takes a while to get everything down and it’s easy to forget and make mistakes. In addition to keeping an eye on my son during the salat to make sure he was following correctly, we also had lengthy question and answer sessions afterwards, explanations of various salat-related questions, looking up supplementary material online to explain things, learning about what parts are optional and what parts are required, how to correct mistakes, variations in different people’s salat (especially the section at the end), determining timing of the prayers, etc. There are a billion questions your child will probably come up with which will provide prompts for additional learning investigations for quite some time! He also had the coloring books on the resources page to work with at other times.
After the first run through, the salat session usually went like this:
- He begins with Adhan (or, if he is leading, after he has the initial salat memorized, I begin with Adhan, to remind him of the proper wording). I found that having me lead the first prayer of the day that he participated in (Dhuhr) cut down on corrections later because if he’d forgotten how part of it went this was reminder for when he lead Asr a few hours later.
- I lead the prayers (originally aloud, and then when he had them memorized I would do the silent parts silently and remind him that he should recite quietly as he follows along). Once he had everything memorized I would have him lead one prayer per day at first to stay in practice, at first again all aloud, later with the correct aloud vs. silent parts. On my monthly break I would have him recite aloud and I would sit nearby to assist with any correction and steps 4-6 (once the prayer is well memorized you may naturally drop this in time).
- Practice making dua. I made some duas aloud for him so he would know what I was saying a few times (normally doing it quietly) and suggested some simple duas that he could say himself during this time. I normally make dua silently after the prayer. It’s good to get in the habit have having him make dua right after the prayer, and also prevents interrupting your own dua with salat-related questions immediately. I found my son wanted me to teach him some duas and an idea of what to say, which I did as needed. I did not have him memorize any duas in arabic yet but I encouraged him use this time to express thankfulness to Allah, ask for guidance, etc and told him examples of what I say. Later, he still wanted help about what kinds of duas to make so I got him some extra “dua for kids” cards.
- Big hug.
- Correcting mistakes/praising improvements (see next section) and question and answer session about anything Salat related. We kept doing this as long as it came up, which was for a good long time as there is a lot of stuff to learn about salat! The “salat fun game” (on the resources post) also brought up even more questions which was nice. Sometimes he had his stuffed animals ask questions about salat which he or I would answer, which can take the pressure off him being the only learner (sometimes I made them ask him questions that he could answer as well). He also decided to do a “prayer school” to teach his animals salat at one point :). Teaching someone else can be an excellent way to learn and some people, like him, gravitate towards this naturally.
This is a tricky area because as beginner there are lots of mistakes to correct. I think one thing to keep in mind is: since salat is not obligatory yet, and since these ARE mistakes, they are not the end of the world. It’s not necessary in my opinion to correct every mistake in every salat for a child that is learning, it just becomes overwhelming. Here are some guidelines I used for correcting.
Don’t expect too much to fast. I did not have him “lead” or pray solo until he had been following along with my recitation and reading for several weeks, and had a good grasp of most parts of the prayer and felt confident. I also let him keep the sheets in front of him to follow along through the first session of praying solo and most of the second. Then I took away the parts he had already memorized and just left out the ones he tripped up on, then I took away all of them when he was confident, and prompted him if he either mixed up a line, or forgot what came next.
When he was following along with me, I let him know in advance that I couldn’t stop to chat or answer questions in the middle of the prayer : I still had to complete my prayer. I also taught him to wait until after the salat was completed AND the dua was completed (there’s nothing like finishing your salat and starting your dua to be interrupted by a ton of questions). Then, we would have a big hug, and discuss. He could ask questions, and I could provide overarching corrections to things that occurred during the prayer.
I limit the number of overall reminders on his prayer to 1 or 2 per prayer, not counting corrections during the prayer if he mixes up/forgets. For example, reminders about how sujood should look, or not rushing, etc. This way I avoid having too many long list of things wrong, which is overwhelming. I also try to avoid correcting something that he already knows unless I see him mess it up twice in a row. For example, in Dhuhr when I am leading I might notice that he isn’t touching his nose to the ground during sujood, but I don’t say anything until after Asr prayer when I saw him do the same thing again. Sometimes, these are just passing things which he corrects himself and they don’t become habits. Also, I’ve found it more effective to ask him to show what is correct rather than tell him what is wrong (for example, “let’s review the sujood position, can you show me how it should look? Which parts of your body should always be touching the ground? Is it comfortable or is all your weight shifted into an uncomfortable position?”) instead of saying “You were doing sujood wrong, your nose is supposed to touch the ground.”
Sometimes he would get frustrated with me correcting him, and we would need to have a calming conversation about how I have to tell him these things because I’m teaching him, and he wants to learn the correct way, and how it’s okay if he struggles or makes mistakes in pronunciation. If he makes a lot of mistakes in reciting on a particular prayer, I’m less likely to offer other corrections afterwards because then he’s already feeling discouraged, so if I can already see that he is frustrated with himself I do not bring up other corrections, just allow him to talk about that. Another thing that leading frequently helped with was putting less pressure on him to perform correctly. When we went several days without him leading/reciting aloud he would get more frustrated when he made a mistake. Also, instead of just offering corrections, I also let him know if part of it sounded really nice, or I could tell he was taking it nice and slow, or I could tell he’d been working on a particular part, etc.
How to point out mistakes in recitation or position during salat was one of the early lessons. Initially, I was just saying what he should say next (mainly when he started praying alone during my first break, since he hadn’t been leading yet). However, then I corrected myself and taught him about how if the person leading makes a mistake or forgets, the follower should say “subhanallah.” He also loves to do this if he thinks I made a mistake, and I think this helps serve as a reminder that nobody is perfect, but we all have the obligation to make sure the Qur’an is being recited correctly, no matter who is leading. I also have found that saying subhanallah first and not prompting with what comes next unless he can’t remember makes it more likely for him to remember and not make that mistake again, rather than prompting with what is supposed to come next right away. I also employ this if he stands up when he should remain sitting, etc, except in that case I just stay in the correct position myself after saying so until he corrects, even if he is leading. It’s necessary to discuss in advance how this will be signaled since you can’t stop and have a side conversation during your own salat.
As a followup to correcting mistakes, we also had to learn about making two extra sajdah for larger errors, and when this is warranted. He often seems to think that I have miscounted rakahs when I am leading when I’m sure I haven’t, so it does require some discussion afterwards and what the etiquette is about following the leader if the leader does not understand the correction or does not agree with the correction, not to mention other tips on how to keep count of how many rakahs have been prayed.
All in all, I would say that teaching my son salat was not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be, it came together very easily and naturally. The stumbling blocks we ran into along the way were I suppose to be expected since I had no example, but it has worked out amazingly well, and I am quite proud of how he picked it up and astonished once again at how children are able to soak up knowledge with just a little help. Really I think you will discover that with a small amount of support, your children will learn salat quite easily and naturally, regardless of any language experience or other examples, simply by you being there and guiding them through it, just as you have done as they learned to speak, walk, skip, play games, read, write, and other life skills where you naturally find yourself in position as teacher as well as parent. You may feel unsure of yourself, as I did, especially if it wasn’t a skill you learned as a child… I can think back to learning reading, writing, playing catch and so forth when I was a kid, but since I came to Islam as an adult there is a big gap there for me on a lot of things, not just salat but also things like Eid traditions. But that gap is not there for your children in the same way, because you have been an example for them, the example you never had, and even before you begin the formal lessons about some topic they have unconsciously absorbed a large percentage of the information they need to know about it in order to do it.
Sometimes, we get concerned about teaching things the “right” way when the important way is to be there, be gentle and understanding, and share the knowledge that you have. When we think back to how the prophet pbuh shared his knowledge, it was in simple ways that everyone could understand, being an example for all the world.