It’s hard enough just keeping up with all the meals, housework, school work, sports and being the kid’s taxi service that regular Bible reading with our kids can easily fall by the wayside.
Most of us know it’s a good idea and feel it might be our responsibility but don’t know where to start, have tried and given up or need some fresh inspiration.
With the new year well and truly upon us, I thought it timely to lay down some of the best tips we’ve found as a family, for creating and maintaining regular Bible reading and prayer (family devotion time).
Note, some of these could easily deserve much greater detail, but here’s my...
7 point ‘cheat sheet’ making regular Bible reading and prayer with your kids a success:
1. Start early and make a habit of it because young kids LOVE routine
It’s never too soon to start. We prayed with our kids while they were in the womb. We wanted to start the habit early with the intention of continuing it. Playing Christian hymns and other contemporary music and singing along to it also got some neat reaction from some of our little womb dwellers too.
While reading to very young children (under 18 months) is limited, that is, they started crying, crawl off (tough audience!) or just such and slobber on the edge of the book, I still think the habit of reading to them and praying with them, albeit very, very short, is worthwhile. Remember one day they will stay for the whole story. One day they’ll say ‘amen’ just to copy you. Habits are cool and young kids LOVE habits and ritual. So, use that to God’s glory. Pray out loud while they are in the womb.
Bonus tip: Aim for 1-2 minutes tops. Try a bath tub Bible story (that can get wet) with just pictures and no words. You supply the drama. Pray aloud while you’re bathing them if you like! They’re sometimes chilled at that time. But not all!
2. Nothing works forever, so be ready to change gears FAST!
Just when you think you’ve nailed it or you’re onto something that’s working, BAM! It no longer works and your confidence in judging what works and what doesn’t is shattered.
It’s not YOU its THEM. They are changing rapidly…attention span, interests, emotions, sleep patterns, so go with the flow. Try something else. A different time of day. Attached to another routine. A new book, one with puzzles or stickers or colour in pages. Read the verse aloud. Colour in the picture.
Bonus tip: We found reading Bible stories that were rhymed the best for ages 2-5. Aim for 3-5 minutes max for this age bracket. For ages 5-7 we found some of the more thematic Bibles useful but limited. Some Christian biographies written for kids in narrative form were interesting for ages 7 and up. But I haven’t found much to really engage kids with the Scriptures once they’ve grown out of picture Bibles. A full Bible is too challenging for most kids before their teenage years so where do you go? Activity booklets can feel like homework, but some kids probably will like them for a while. In the end I decided to start making videos for my kids Ipads that taught the scriptures in entertaining ways and allowed the whole family to watch, discuss and pray together. They're quite unique and powerful. Check out a FREE sample video:
3. Tie the reading of the Bible into reading with other literature
Kids love stories and most enjoy being read to. I would definitely make Bible stories part of that reading routine especially when they are between the ages 0-8 years. Just include the Bible along with any other literature you’re reading to them.
Bonus tip: Once the kids get passed the children’s Bibles, you’re going to need something more substantial. We bought books about famous Christians and how their lives touched the world. But you’ll need something pretty funky for ages 9-13, see the link above for my first video series that I made for my kids to address this need.
4. Prayer is easier for kids than you think
While we may balk at yet another routine or get discouraged by our child’s lack of attention when we try reading stories to them, prayer is often the easiest one to model and teach them. Pray at meal times saying grace; but try and pick all kinds of moments and especially ones when they are relaxed. You can teach them to say ‘amen’ at the end and as they grow older ask them for prayer points that you can pray for and model prayer to them. It may not be long until you may find them willing to pray out loud too. Again it’s about creating that routine, modelling it to them. Prayer is the first hurdle, so don’t be discouraged if they make the jump before being able to listen to one of your stories.
Bonus tip: Start a simple prayer structure. Maybe keep a little diary of things you’ve prayed together for and how they’ve been answered so you can look back. The main thing is trying to give the kids a model of prayer that’s not just a ‘Santa sack’ wish list. Start simple and gradually ‘grade it up’ as the kids get older. Some people like the TPS structure (Thanks, Sorry, Please). What shall we give thanks for? Where do we need to say sorry? Who in the family shall we pray for tonight?
5. Make sure you walk the talk
All our efforts to encourage our kids to read the Bible and follow Christ will be nullified or at least seriously hampered if it turns out we are not practicing the Christian life.
So keep yourself honest, are you regularly making time to be refreshed by God through his word? Are you trying to be obedient? Are we able to practice also humility and admission of fault in front of our kids? Do we demonstrate grace and a fresh start within the family?
Bonus tip: Find a booklet, an audio, a video, an email, a FB live (who knows!), whatever, that you can do daily and stop, refresh yourself in prayer however brief. Feed the lambs but remember you’re one too!
7. No family is the same so don’t compare: Who and When?
You may find in the early years of your first child you can dote on them and cultivate a decent routine. Then along comes child no.2 and it’s all out the window. You may be a single parent or have twins, it’s all going to be different for each family. Try grouping kids together, try them in isolation. Mix it up. Use different times for different kids. We found that one kid at a time was manageable and worked best when they were little. As they grow older, we’ve mixed it up. Some days we’re all together, others we’d be separate.
Bonus Tip: Once the kids start getting into the teens I’d recommend buying them a full Bible if they haven’t got it already and some simple, age appropriate devotion material aimed at girls or boys of their age.
8. Follow an age appropriate teaching path: What for who?
To be effective we need to follow the way God has made us and not try and feed our kids’ stuff they can’t digest yet. This means choosing material and resources that will be understood and appropriate by our kids at different growth stages. For preschoolers (ages 3-5) we need to focus on teaching them how God made them and loves them. Immerse them in the wonder of the world and point them to the God who made it. Celebrate and build your child’s self-esteem with the knowledge that no matter what, there is someone who loves them even more than mum or dad. Let them know that God has a purpose for them. In summary, let them know that they matter. For children ages 6-8 we need to be focusing on the main narratives of the Old Testament and Gospels. Here we are showing them God’s activity in the world after creation, his purpose is unfolding. In summary, we are laying the foundations for faith’s development and activity. As they get older, 9-11 years we can expand their appreciation of the narratives by showing them in greater detail, how all the stories are really part of one big story, the story of Jesus. In this age group we should also spend more time looking at why faith matters and how it looks in action. In summary, show traction…why do I need to believe this…what difference should it make?
Bonus Tip: Get your kids involved by asking one of them to choose where the devotional is coming from in the Bible and lead it themselves. Ownership and responsibility can lead to an increase in attention and retention!
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