I am someone who has always liked school. I was THAT kid. You know, the one who went home upset because I didn’t have any homework. I used to beg my mom (who was a teacher) to bring home old or unused workbooks so I could create my own homework. Yes, I realize that’s not normal, but I’ve always LOVED learning. That being said, all throughout grade school there was one subject I dreaded. It was…Bible class. Don’t get me wrong, I longed to know more about God’s word and his precious stories. I longed to understand Him more. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t an auditory learner, and most of the time Bible stories were simply read out loud in class. Maybe it was because coloring angels was fun but didn’t really teach me anything about the Bible. It could have been because the stories were so old I had a hard time following them or noticing their correlation to my own life. No matter the reason, I certainly felt like Bible was one of those subjects where you grit your teeth, get through, and are glad when you finally get it done.
As I examine Bible teaching for my own children, it probably goes without saying that I want more for them. Through my years working with children, I find that often Bible is regarded as important to parents, but it is presented in a way that is so far removed from reality that it’s difficult for young children to make the connection, for them to realize that these stories are true, that they are real, that they mean something for them personally, and that they teach us about the greatest friend we could ever ask for: Jesus.
Then one day it dawned on me: Bible isn’t just another subject. It must be the cornerstone of early childhood education!
The good news from an education perspective is that it’s one less subject to check off the list. The bad news is that we can’t just check it off the list. However, this too can be a blessing, as making Bible the cornerstone can transform your life in ways you never could have imagined.
So, if Bible isn’t a subject, what do we do? How does it work? I’m glad you asked. (OK, so I realize I actually asked, but we’ll just go with it.) The first and most important key is to study the Bible with your child. I don’t mean cracking open your Bible with your three-year-old and highlighting verses together. I mean studying deeply for yourself the things that you are reading and sharing with your little one. If you are studying the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert, read it for yourself during your own quiet time with the Lord. Pray through the passages. Ask God what He wants you to learn. The truth is that we cannot share with our children what we don’t have ourselves. If we aren’t growing in our own relationship with God and seeking to learn more of His word every day, how can we ask that of our children?
After you have made a priority of studying with your child, you have to figure out what to do with the time you are actually sharing and teaching your little one. For older children who can read and write, this will look very different than for a young learner with a short attention span. Yet, the same four principles I like to use with older kids and in my own Bible study work super well with our preschoolers through 2nd-grade students: Review, Study, Apply, and Memorize.
When I’m working with older kids, I use review as a way to make sure the story didn’t go in one ear and out the other. However, for younger kids it’s more about interacting with the story. So much of the Bible is brand new to them. Stories that you have heard a million times are fresh to their little minds. Helping them experience them in many ways is fascinating and exciting. Think about the way your children learn, and present the stories in their language. My boys are very visual and tactile. For us, felts are the way to go. They love seeing the story in vivid colors, and then they practice acting it out on their own with the felts. You can use story books, toy figures, charades, audio Bibles, videos, etc. There are so many resources available, chances are there is something out there that will help your child get excited about the story.
Again, for an older child Bible study might consist of digging deeper into the passages, using cross references, pulling out a concordance, or using a highlighter. Obviously that’s not what we are talking about here. For little kids, studying has to do with understanding this world of the Bible that they’ve never encountered. One good thing about little kids is that they are full of questions. Feel free to entertain their questions, and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer — you can even hunt it down together. (Hint: Keeping a Bible atlas with lots of pictures or a book with lots of pictures of Old and New Testament customs can be a huge help here as well.)
I have two boys, ages two and five. Recently we were studying the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. As we acted out the story with felts, they boys were loaded with questions. Why was Jesus hungry? Why was Satan mean? Wasn’t Satan being nice offering Jesus these things? As I left the felt board out and the boys visited it throughout the week, they left with a new question each time. Watching their wheels turn and giving them the space to work out hard questions is an important part of Bible study, and with little children it happens in a much more sporadic and natural way.
Application is where things get really fun for the little ones. Sometimes it can be hard, but this is also where spending your own time studying what you are teaching your kids produces much fruit. After telling the story of Jesus’ temptation for the first time, we talked about temptations we might have. Then, we practiced telling Satan to “GO AWAY” just like Jesus told Him to. This was also a great time for us to talk about how Jesus used scripture when he needed help, and we talked about times that knowing memory verses has helped us. My oldest has used passages to soothe him back to sleep many a time when he has had nightmares.
Keep in mind, these conversations didn’t happen all in one setting, but over the course of the week as the boys were interacting with the story more, and as I was learning things in my own time with God. In fact, there was one time during this particular week when I was really struggling with a grumpy attitude. Satan was tempting me to give in and let grumpiness take over, but I remembered Jesus’ temptations and I wanted to say “NO” with him. I shared with my kids, at their level, what I was feeling, and I asked them to pray with me that Jesus would give me his strength to say “NO” to Satan just like He did. My kids were happy to pray with me, and they kept practicing saying no to temptation with me all day.
Application is going to look very different week to week, and there is no formula, but if You are seeking God, He will show you the most awesome ways that the scriptures are real for you AND your kids.
The last piece of the puzzle is to memorize scripture. Young children are sponges and they memorize things easily. Playing scripture songs as I go about my day is all that’s needed for my two-year-old to be belting out, “Do to others, do to others, what you would have them do to yoouuuuuu!!” And, this is important and so precious to treasure, yet it is easy for us to get excited about the memorization alone without any meaning. As you learn a verse together with your child (for our family, we find reciting it together at mealtimes is a big help), help them understand what it means and why it’s important to learn.
Our verse for studying about the temptation was Matthew 4:10, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” You can see from my example above that this is something we put into practice many a time. We also talked about how God’s Word is powerful, and just like Jesus, we can use it in times of trouble. The week following that one, we were learning about Jesus calling his disciples and performing his first miracle at the wedding feast. Our verse was, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” We talked about Jesus calling us to be His disciples, and that part of being a disciple is doing the very thing Jesus’ mother told the servants to do — whatever Jesus tells us. Every time we review the verse we talk a little bit more about what it means, and this gives us an opportunity to expand our application.
With this method of Bible study, you don’t have to have a fancy Bible curriculum or lots of tools, but studying the Bible can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know where to start sometimes. If you are looking for a guide or Bible storybook or anything to help bring the Bible alive for your little learner, the Bible curriculum resources on SDA Homeschool Families might be a good place to start.
A caution about crafts and “busy work”
Before I wrap up I want to share one caution or something to consider when it comes to teaching Bible to early learners. Children need hooks. It’s easy to read Bible stories and color a picture or make a fun craft, and those things aren’t bad, but don’t let them be busy work. If you are coloring Bible pictures, put them together in a book with a three-ring binder. Let them be your child’s own Bible Storybook. Talk about the picture, maybe even write your memory verse on the page to help you remember. If you make a fun craft project, hang it where you can see and talk about how it relates to the story and what truth it can remind you of. Let these mementos be hooks and ways to help our children relate to the wonderful messages of the Bible in more real and broad ways.
So what do you think? Do you want to make the change? What do you think about seeing Bible as more than another subject for your littlest learners?