“What devotional do you use with your children?”
I cannot count the number of times I have seen this question posed within various social media groups. Typically, the questioner wants an app, curriculum, or book.
If I ever find one I like, I’ll be sure to share it with all of you…
When my children were younger, our bible time usually consisted of short, illustrated bible stories as well as scripture memorization in the form of songs. When they got old enough, I used the Ergermeier’s Bible Storybook because they could sit through longer read-alouds. Once my youngest was 7, I started reading directly out of the Bible.
For the last year or so, our “devotionals” have consisted of reading a chapter (or less) each morning from the Bible. I believe some of the best home devotionals come simply by reading the scriptures in their context and discussing them. For one thing, the children are exposed to the scripture in its appropriate context. We learn a lot about character issues, God, and sin just by reading chapter by chapter.
You do not have to be an “expert” to read the Bible with your children.
If you’re intimidated, or just wondering how to approach your study time, here are some suggestions:
I recommend reading any chapter by yourself before reading it to your children so you are aware of topics you may or may not be ready to discuss, such as sexual intercourse, fornication, incest, rape, etcetera. These topics come up in certain events and you must be prepared to discuss them if you read about them. There are times when I will skip a certain chapter or section simply because I know they are not mature enough for it.
Reading ahead also allows you to take note of key verses or concepts you’d like to point out to your children, as well as look up any questions you yourself might have about the text. If your personal study time has been a struggle, make pre-reading your study time! The beauty of this practice is it will enable you to go through the same text more than once.
Predetermine a “theme” or “main idea” for the book.
The Bible is NOT in chronological order.
This can be confusing, particularly for kids who are used to reading storybooks with a beginning, middle, and end.
By establishing themes for books, we are helping them to construct a general road map of where certain topics and incidents appear in scripture. Genesis, for example is “beginnings”: beginning of the world/universe, beginning of sin, beginning of people of faith, beginning of the nation of Israel, etc.
Matthew is one of 4 gospels about Jesus, so we are going to differentiate between each gospel by determining the overall focus of that gospel. Matthew is “Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.”
Put Memory Pegs in Each Book
When studying certain books, it can be helpful to memorize the key ideas in certain chapters (or a range of chapters). I usually ask them what they think was the biggest event, favorite verse, or key concept once we’ve finished reading. We do not always assign every chapter! This, like the themes, is simply putting mental pegs in our mental map of scripture so we can navigate it more easily.
You may want to write them down as you go so you can review what you’ve decided on each week. Repetition is key!
In Matthew, for example, here is our list so far:
- Chapter 1: Genealogy of Jesus
- Chapter 2: The Wise Men
- Chapter 3: John the Baptist
- Chapter 4: Temptation of Jesus
- Chapter 5-7: Sermon on the Mount (Chapter 5, beatitudes, chapter 6, seek ye first the kingdom, chapter 7, build your house on the rock)
- Chapter 9: Matthew is called
- Chapter 10: The Twelve Sent Out
- Chapter 11: “Go Tell John”
When I read the Genealogy in Matthew 1, I stopped on certain names to see if they remembered Rahab, Ruth & Boaz, King David, etc.
I asked questions:
- What is significant about Rahab & Ruth? (Both were women included in what is usually an all-male list. Both were gentiles who had faith in the God of the Jews.)
- What is significant about Jesus descended from “David the King” (and many other kings)?
- What other people are significant to you in this list? How does this point to Jesus being “the Messiah”?
In chapters 1 and 2: Why does Matthew quote from the Old Testament? What is he building a case for? (Matthew is demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies regarding the Messiah)
If you don’t know the answer, show them how you would go about finding it. One of the concepts we embrace in our local homeschool community is the idea of the parents being “lead learners.” Yes, we have a wealth of information and experience, but, we are also learning and discovering right alongside our children.
I cannot begin to describe how much I have learned while preparing to teach! Our enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will directly influence the attitude of our children toward learning. While I want them to have the confidence to come to me with questions about the Bible, I also want to demonstrate that studying God’s Word is a lifelong process, and one that brings me joy and excitement!
Scaling at-home bible teaching with your children.
Based on the age ranges of your children, you may have to vary your approach, but do not be afraid to read Bible stories for your littles even if your oldest is a preteen, or to read aloud scriptures, even if your youngest is a toddler. Do what seems best for the specific needs and age ranges of your children. If you have both a preteen and a toddler at the same table, sing some songs for the toddler, practice singing books of the Bible (the older kids will benefit, even if they’re rolling their eyes) and then read directly from the Bible for your older ones.
8 mos – 2 yrs:
- Read short picture bible storybooks (you can do this while your child is snuggled in your lap or during snack times when they are strapped into their high chair.)
- Sing bible class songs (I used to do this during snack time because they were content to sit still!)
2 – 4 year-olds:
- Read very short picture bible storybooks
- Sing scripture memorization songs
- Start learning the order of the bible books (preferably with a song!)
5 – 7 year-olds:
- Read from a longer Bible storybook (such as Ergermeier’s) which sticks as closely to the Bible narrative as possible.
- Sing short hymns or songs
8 – 12 year-olds:
- Read aloud from the Bible text. I recommend using a word-for-word translation, such as ESV or NASB, and not an interpretive bible such as The Message. If you are dead set on reading the King James Version (KJV), kids have a capacity to understand it, but they will struggle with it’s prose. You’ll need to spend time explaining that “Wherefore” actually means “Why,” and “Thee” and “Thou” means “you,” etc. It’s a beautiful prose, but because it is not written in our vernacular, it can complicate comprehension of certain passages.
12 – 18 year-olds:
- Have them read along with you.
- Teach them how to use inline cross references
- Teach them how to use a concordance.
- Introduce commentaries while showing the pros and cons of using them
- Make connections between the Old and New Testament.
We are called to teach our children.
A bible class teacher cannot—in a mere 45 minutes per week—instill a full-blown knowledge of the scriptures in your child. They will be more likely to love the scriptures if we show them how much we love to learn it ourselves.
If you’re asking “when do I teach this?” Only you know when your family is consistently together. Breakfast is ideal for us, but after dinner or before bedtime might be more ideal for you! We typically do our devotional time five days per week. You might be able to do more or less, but make time to teach the Bible!
Here are a couple related posts for additional reading: