Part of the Teaching Your Child Salat series
Before I got to the point of actually teaching my son how to pray salat, I did a few things to encourage his participation, and looking back it was helpful to lay this groundwork so it was much easier when it came time to learn. Here are some things you can do before it comes time to teach salat that may make it easier!
Model salat for your children and encourage them to join if they like without instruction
My son has observed me praying salat at home (and elsewhere) all his life, and occasionally with other people, he knows what it looks like, and has followed along on numerous occasions (the last several Eids, occasional group prayers at halakas, etc). He’s gone through phases of imitating salat since he was quite small. This is probably the most important part of advance preparation. Let children participate in salat and be there when you pray and see you pray, and have patience. Everybody who has had small children around has had them climbing on their back in sujood :P. The prophet Mohammed (pbuh) used to even hold children and allow them to climb on him when he was *leading* the prayer, so although this can sometimes feel inconvenient or distracting, bear with it and do not be harsh during the salat time.
A child’s own prayer rug
When my son was about 2 I got him a miniature prayer rug which he sometimes used. I did this as I observed he liked to pretend to do salat with my rug, but at that size he wasn’t able to spread my rug or any of the extra full-sized rugs out easily. He liked to use his small rug, but still didn’t pray with me consistently, he went through some phases of wanting to do this at times when he was younger. However, I had observed that he seemed to know the basics like the positions to go into and such. (As an important point, even though he followed along with me and prayed and sometimes did so on his own, I found it necessary to discuss the positions in more detail formally when teaching salat later, so don’t worry about what it looks like in early stages. For example a lot of toddlers seem to think sujood involves lying flat on their faces :). The positive feelings of participation are more important at this age).
He initially used his small prayer rug, but I had another one of regular size that I’d gotten some time ago for him to use, and told him he could switch to it when he was ready. When we started learning salat, the tiny one really wasn’t big enough anymore and he was now big enough to spread the large rug by himself, he soon made the decision to switch over. So even if you don’t get a small rug, or if you do, there should also be a regular sized one available as it will likely become necessary. Is it necessary to have your own rug? Of course not really, but it is one more nice thing to make the learning process exciting and give the child ownership of the new skills.
It also wasn’t long after learning salat that my son told me he wanted to have a kufi, and even a shemagh. He has really been going through a process this year of affirming his identity as a muslim, and I think this is part of it. With him taking the lead I was happy to facilitate this, so I ordered him these things as requested, and he often likes to wear his kufi while praying sometimes, and says it makes him feel “all muslimy.” (I’ve never really been able to get a clear answer on exactly WHY men wear the kufi or associate it with Islam, outside of it being useful under a shemagh or a turban to prevent it shifting around much as I do with an underscarf or bandana. However at this point I decided his interest in it as a visual identifier was enough. He may want to delve into this more has he gets older, and indeed it is something I ask guys about when I get the chance but I’ve still never really gotten a full answer. Feel free to chime in).
I think the fact that I put on my hijab when I am ready to pray also was a factor in him wanting to have something similar. He doesn’t always wear these but I leave it up to him.
Additional note about head coverings for men: As it was explained to me, the term ghutra usually refers to an all-white scarf, shemagh to the one with the white/red pattern (generally heavier), and keffiyeh for the black/white pattern version. We have all of them plus a green one :P. The terms seem to be used interchangeably sometimes as well, so you might hear any of those. This seems to be a popular fashion item these days, however I’ve noticed that the most commonly available ones tend to be smaller (not really big enough for a head covering) and of poor quality for the most part. The black band that helps keep it in place is the igal, which it can also be worn without. Not having a man handy to demonstrate how to actually wear them, I availed myself of youtube ;).
Obviously none of these are required and cultural background is a factor in what types of accessories you may want to go for or that your child may be interested in. For a girl, of course, some easy-to-wear scarves for hijab (bokitta is my favorite of the “easy” wear styles, but some long wrap scarves that tend to cling to themselves due to the type of fabric might also be manageable. If you’re like me you probably have tons of extra scarves that could be set aside to be passed on at the appropriate moment 🙂 ).
Keep in mind that hijab is not obligatory at this age any more than salat is, this is the learning period, so although it useful to associate the correct gear with prayer time, I wouldn’t get too worried about exactly how it looks, or if you are out and about and don’t have the proper gear handy for your daughter/son (or even yourself, if you do not regularly wear hijab). If it comes down between salat and hijab, salat is more obligatory than hijab during salat. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. Just something to keep in mind. As I like to put it in perspective, if you were locked in a dungeon with no clothes on and salat time comes, are you going to pray salat or are you going to pass up on it because you don’t have anything to wear? Of course you are going to pray salat.
Reading about prayer
One of my favorite early reading books relating to prayer is “I can pray anywhere” which can be started at any time, as preparation (it’s a board book, so it’s a nice starting point for even very small children to see people praying salat anywhere. It contains no instructional material, that’s just the message :). Remember, the world is our masjid. We have some other books in the series as well). It’s nice to reinforce the fact that no matter where you are you can pray at salat time (even on the moon, a boat, a bus, etc). Hastening to salat time is a good thing to teach when teaching salat, rather than making excuses about waiting until we get home or something which teaches that it is not as important (I’m sure we’ve all made these to ourselves at one time or another… teaching your child something as always is an excellent reminder for ourselves as well). I also found this grown up comic along the same lines of praying salat anywhere (I believe written by a muslim woman) which was posted online, but I can’t seem to find my link to it. I’ll include it here if I come up with it. Other books or movies that show prayer may be helpful as well, especially if you don’t have a nearby masjid or it doesn’t provide a suitable example.
A good early coloring book I mention in more detail on the Salat Learning Resources post is “My Coloring Book of Salat.” This doesn’t go into extreme detail on salat or show every step, but it introduces many concepts and vocabulary related to salat and is more fun and less wordy, for someone who is learning more about salat, observing or even participating, but maybe not ready to start “official lessons.” (It’s good even if they are ready too). I would recommend the other coloring books on that post to be left for when it is time to actually teach as they are more in-depth.
I have more details about additional resources to use when ready to actually begin teaching salat on the Salat Learning Resources post.
Another important part was of course learning to make wudu before salat. It happened that a few months before I won a free static-cling printout of how to make wudu in an online contest, which I had up on our mirror (the same one is also available for sale here). So we had already discussed this to some extent before it came time to learn salat. We went over making wudu again and how it’s necessary to do that before each prayer (again, reinforcing what he’d already observed). We also watched some videos on youtube about making wudu. Some of the coloring books about salat on the Salat Learning Resources post also address wudu. If you don’t like those for sale online, it would be easy and fun to make your own chart to go in the bathroom with the steps of wudu.