"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against [God]." Psalm 119:11
One day I was wondering if all of my teaching efforts were paying off. Did they really understand? Was I doing it right? When my son came up to me after one of our Bible studies and proclaimed, "God is so fun!" I knew this was a good indication that I was on the right track.
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It was Bible Time, which meant my children were curled up on the couch with their blankies, ready for naptime. I read to them the story about Noah, and when I came to the part about loading up the animals, I paused. "Don't you wonder what it would be like to float in a boat with all those animals?" I asked. My sleepyheads shrugged. Grinning, I pulled the cushions off the couch and shouted "Let's go get all of our stuffed animals and find out!" Cheers followed my suggestion and before we knew it, we were floating in our living room with creatures great and small.
Toddlers love to play, so incorporating imagination and excitement into your Bible time helps little ones develop a desire to learn. You'll first want to purchase an age-appropriate Bible, beginning with a toddler version and progressing toward a children's study Bible. Be sure to add a full dose of fun into your Bible reading. This might mean using action figures to reenact the story of David and Goliath, or clanging homemade musical instruments to one of the Psalms. I always enjoyed reading the "take-home" stories from their Sunday school classes, changing the names of the main characters to my own children's names to keep interest.
Although parents might wonder how much understanding occurs at this age, a new study at Indiana University has discovered that children may comprehend words sooner than previously suspected. Cognitive science experts Linda Smith and Chen Yu have reported that kids ages 12-14 months may be using a technique labeled "data mining" to acquire language. This is where "the human brain accumulates large amounts of data minute-by-minute, day-by-day, and handles this data processing automatically." It then sorts "through massive amounts of raw data to find relationships, correlations, and ultimately useful information." This "system" approach to language learning would explain the ease with which 2- and 3-year-olds can learn one word at a time.1
I started teaching my children memory verses at a young age by using body movements. For instance, when reciting "In the beginning God created the heavens" I would stand on my toes and reach my arms up high, and for "and the earth" I would squat down and touch the floor. Later, when my children could speak, I would repeat the verse, but leave out key words for them to fill in.
Teaching your child the Bible also involves what you do outside the home with your little ones. My children and I took a trip every Thursday to the nearby retirement home, where we handed out flowers to each of the residents. One day when my mom was taking a blooming plant to grandma at the hospital, to her surprise, my son began plucking off the flowers and handing them to the patients in the hallway. To him, it was just an opportunity to show kindness, just like the Good Samaritan did in the Bible.
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"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6
As a first grade teacher, my job was to make sure the children learned how to read. Our class wrote on the board, read through books, and colored worksheets, but one of my students wasn't understanding it. I decided to send him home with a cassette tape featuring songs about all of the vowel sounds, and he quickly became one of my top readers.
All children have their own learning language. Some kids learn things by seeing them in books, others by drawing pictures; still others remember a good story read aloud. "A person's learning style affects the way they understand and organize information," says Cynthia Tobias, author of The Way They Learn. "It helps us decide what makes sense and what's important. As parents and educators begin to do their homework, they realize just how unique and wonderful each child really is."
So why not tap into these strengths when teaching the Bible? Tobias agrees it's essential if we want our children to understand who God is. "There's no better use of learning styles than when we are teaching our children about their Designer and Creator. We know Him personally, and the more we learn about Him through His Word, the more we realize the truth of Psalm 139, 'we are fearfully, wonderfully and complexly made.'" Below are four of the most common learning styles, along with fun Bible learning activities. There are some great ways to connect your child to God, using his or her own unique style.
These students do best when presented with information in a written language format, such as books or words written on the board. Information makes more sense to them when it is presented in an outline or in sequential format.
This type of learner likes information portrayed in a creatively visual representation. She or he benefits from watching movies or visual aids and tends to be artistic, responding well to maps and charts.
These learners like engaging in "hands-on" activities and benefit when they can be tangibly involved. It's important for them to manipulate materials and to get outside of a classroom environment.
This group of pupils needs to hear information. It benefits from listening to information through CDs and oral presentations. Children with this learning style will also enjoy interacting with other people to talk about lessons learned.
You may want to try each of these activities until you discover your child's unique learning style. In time your child will appreciate the many ways he can hide the Word of God in his heart and retain further knowledge of the Creator.
One day my son told me that he didn't want to read his Bible anymore. Then he asked why he had to go to church and what the use of praying was. Welcome to the age of questioning, when children begin to ask the "why" questions. To some parents this might feel like a coup, but there comes a time when our kids need to discover how to make faith their own. According to Psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman, best-selling author of Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child's Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days, the important thing is not to become polarized against your child.
"When your son makes an observation like, there's a lot of geeks at church, don't discount his opinion. The worst thing is to comment, 'Why would you say a thing like that.'" Leman believes parents need to "keep it real," by acknowledging their child's perceptions about life, but at the same time insisting he stay true to the family values. "Remind your child that you as a parent really don't ask a lot, only do chores, finish homework, and go to church." Seems reasonable right?
Leman also reminds parents to take advantage of the natural inclination of most middle-school children to eavesdrop, by letting them overhear parent discussions. "I call them commercial announcements. When an event happens in life, let your children hear you discussing it. When an auto accident occurs that involves drinking, let them hear your take on it, and how you process it from God's perspective. You're children need to see and hear God in your life." For parents wanting to get more God into their child's life, here are some fun resources.
This is a great time to get your child into a regular devotion time. Fortunately, there are many devotional books available that present the Bible in fun and relevant ways.
Another characteristic about this age group is their love of games, so making Bible reading into a competition can be advantageous. One of the games my family and I liked to play was "Beat the Lie." I would come up with a false statement such as, "God won't forgive my sins," or "You have to be good enough to get into heaven," then they would use a Bible verse to prove me wrong.
A favorite game played at our church is Bible quizzing. Children sit in their seats and are asked trivia questions from Scripture. The first one who stands up with the correct answer wins points. This activity can be enjoyed at home by sending invitations to your child's friends with a list of study questions. Be ready for a fun night with pizza and prizes.
Because we live in a multimedia generation, I've listed a few items you might want to include in your child's biblical regimen.
Auto B Good children's DVDs, offered by Focus on the Family, feature the "animated adventures of the friendly cars from the City of Auto, blazing a path to lessons" on holding onto dreams, playing fair and the power of imagination.
The Bible Game (Playstation 2), by Crave Entertainment, tests your child's knowledge with quiz challenges and tests his skill with lots of action. It includes mini-game and micro-game challenges (20 total) based on inspirational biblical teachings including David and Goliath, Noah's Ark and others. There are 1,500 questions on the Old Testament and an energetic game show host. The multiplayer connection allows up to 4 players.
It's not too early to introduce your child to Christian music. Artists like Jump5, pureNRG, and Mission Six cater to the "tweenage" group (children ages 8-12), and offer positive messages about how to live a life committed to God.
Regardless of how your child chooses to study God's Word, an important goal is making sure she is equipped, knowing who to go to for the answers to life's most challenging questions.
Fuel: 10-Minute Devotions to Ignite the Faith of Parents and Teens by Joe White