It all started so well…
We felt pretty confident when it came to teaching our first child about Jesus. Armed with the soundest children’s Bibles, we were prepared. From the start we read him Bible books and prayed with him before bed. It was as much part of our routine as bath-time and breakfast.
When our next child came along we were experts. We knew what we were doing and we felt pretty good about ourselves - pleased that our kids would grow up always having heard about Jesus.
But somewhere along the way, our confidence waned.
The Bible books we read to the children could not be faulted for their faithfulness and brilliant presentations of the Bible’s message. Yet each time we read them we were met by the blank gazes of two boys (under 3) who obviously hadn’t understood a bit of what we’d said.
We were (and still are!) desperate for them to see how wonderful and exciting their God is and to become amazed and thrilled as they get to know him. But the more we tried to get them to pay attention, and appreciate the Bible stories, the more cross and frustrated they became. The stories were too wordy, too hard and too earnest, and Bible time just wasn’t any fun. We were missing the mark completely - it was all over their heads.
We all grew to dread Bible time and began to suspect we were wasting our time.
Where to next?
My husband (Dave) and I chatted and it seemed that we had three options:
1. We could just carry on as we were. Eventually as they got older, hopefully they would understand and appreciate the great content. At least we were instilling in them good routines and modeling that God’s word was important.
2. We could give up. We could wait until they were a bit older and skip the tantrums from our bored 2 year old and avoid the annoyance we experienced when our children didn’t appreciate the activity we felt was so precious.
3. We could try something new.
We went for option three!
Having fun teaching the Bible
While we had been desperately trying to teach our children about Jesus, they had been learning all sorts of other stuff with no trouble at all! We marveled at first words and were thrilled when we heard Dan beginning to try to count. We saw Mikey (who has Down’s Syndrome) begin to sign with us and Dave particularly enjoyed the days each boy learned to kick a football.
These amazing achievements were the products of many little moments of play and chat and exploration.
We hadn’t sat Dan down with a text book for 20 minutes a day and taught him numbers. We had counted steps as we went up to his bedroom, we sang songs like “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 once I caught a fish alive”. We counted blocks as we built, houses as we walked, lorries as we drove. We made him eat “four more spoonfuls” and warned him that we would “count to three…”.
And bit by bit he learned to count and to recognise numbers - and best of all he loved it!
We felt a bit silly as we realised that our children don’t just learn from the formal stuff - they also learn from those little moments of play and chat and exploration.
We wanted to recreate that for our children as they learned about Jesus. Learning numbers is pretty cool and exciting, but learning about Jesus should be even more wonderful and even higher on our priority list.
So we didn’t chuck out the formal Bible teaching, but we changed it! We made our stories simpler so that our pre-schoolers could begin to grasp the enormous truths about God and we made our stories interactive so they could join in and have fun.
We also incorporated what we were learning into our play. Planning a couple of play ideas which were linked to what we were looking at in the Bible really helped create opportunities to talk about Jesus in day-to-day life!
We spent a summer doing the creation story and we played, explored, got messy and had fun! Gradually the children began to see that our amazing God made an amazing world! We play superheroes or firemen and we talk about Jesus coming to the rescue. We get grubby and think about God making us clean.
I write this aware that recently I’ve let our Bible play slip. Three kids, nursery, school, laundry, seeing friends, serving others - there’s not always a lot of time to think and plan. But with less play I’ve noticed fewer chats about Jesus and I’m less intentional as I spend time with the children. This isn’t a magic solution but it helps us keep Jesus central and make the most of these precious early years with our children.