One of our goals for our children is that they grow up with a love for God's Word, the Bible.
Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Since I want my children to grow up to be men and women of God who are complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work, they need to learn to receive their guidance for living and serving from the Bible. (Let me say here that I am not discounting the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and decisions, only that right now I am focusing on the Bible.)
David expresses in Psalm 19 his love for and need of God's Word, and he only had the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. How blessed we are to live in a time and place when we can easily obtain the entire 66 books of the Bible in our own language! We can do no less than share it with our children, teaching them by our examples and our words to learn it, to love it and to depend on it for direction as they grow and become responsible for their own decisions, no matter what their age. From the womb until the time they are young adults, there are things parents can do to help your child know, and ultimately love, Scripture.
In the Womb
Did you know that children can hear and begin to learn before they are born? Secret Life of the Unborn Child by Thomas Verny shows that unborn babies respond to and are soothed by the music of Vivaldi and Mozart, but when Beethoven, Brahms or rock music are played, they become very restless. By about the sixth month of pregnancy a baby also begins to recognize his parents' voices and speech patterns. What better thing could he begin to learn than the cadences of Scripture, read carefully and thoughtfully to him by his parents
As an Infant
Scripture-reading should continue after the child is born. While he will not understand the words, he can learn to associate the reading of God's Word with being held in a quiet and comforting way. What do we read to an infant? All of the Bible is "profitable," but you might focus on Psalms and Proverbs, which have a rhythm and a pattern to them. It is never too soon to begin to read to your children about heroes of the faith. You can also begin to read verses and passages that you will lead them to memorize first when they can begin to speak, such as John 3:16, Ephesians 6:1, Proverbs 21:11, Romans 3:23 and 6:23, verses from the Psalms, and the Lord's Prayer.
As a Toddler
As your child grows and becomes mobile, you will discover that it is hard to keep him in one place for a long reading. That is all right. Reading does not have to be long; it just has to be regular. Let your child know that you are reading from a very special book - the best Book in the world - the Bible. It is a letter from God to us. Then pick a two- or three-verse passage to read to him in a happy, dramatic way, and identify three or four words or direct quotes from that passage that you can repeat to/with him to emphasize what you have read. You should continue reading verses and passages that you will want him to memorize.
As a Pre-Schooler
Pre-schoolers love stories, and by the time they are around two years old you should be reading them the stories in the Bible. Will they understand every word? No. That is why God gave them parents. You are there to explain the hard words and ideas on their level. Read to them slowly, clearly, with a voice that rises and falls with the crises in the story. Be dramatic! It will hold their attention and help them to remember the details. Don't be afraid to read what you might consider to be more difficult passages to your children. We have found that God was able to use those in our children's lives for growth, discussion and learning.
At this point you may be thinking, "Read directly from the Bible to my pre-schooler? Really? How about a Bible story book instead?" That is a good question. Bible story books have their usefulness as a tool to help our child learn the stories. However, they are no substitute for the Scriptures. Isaiah 40:8 tells us, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." You need to be reading God's own words to your child.
After you have read him a story from the Bible, repeat it with him to help him learn it. You might read it again, several times, throughout the day. You might let him act it out. Stuffed animals and some chairs pulled together make a great Noah's ark. A boat in a bathtub or a backyard wading pool can re-create the story of Jesus calming the sea. You could draw a picture about the story. You could eat some foods mentioned in the story. Your child could call or Skype his grandparents and tell the story to them. (Grandparents love this!) Make that story real for your child, and talk to him about how God protects, or provides, or leads, and about how the people in the story pray, or trust, or obey.
As an Elementary Schooler
By the time your child is reading at about a second- or third-grade level he should begin to read the Bible for himself. If he wants to try to read his Bible sooner than that, by all means, let him; be available to help, and be thankful. Help your child develop a reading plan, and encourage him in it. Talk about what he is reading. Help him with the hard words and thoughts. When your child is comfortable reading his Bible himself, challenge him to read it completely. There are plans available that set out daily readings to complete the Bible in a year, or two years or three years. Some of these plans progress through the Bible as it is printed, and some have a chronological approach. Or your child could decide to read for a certain length of time each day. Share these options with your child and help him choose a plan that will work for him. You might both try following the same plan for a year.
Your child will value what you value when he is young. For that to stick as he grows up, he needs to see that your love for God's Word is real and that it helps you in your relationships and choices. Let him see how God's words guide you as you make decisions, receive comfort and face challenges. Show him that the Word can do the same for him.
Courtesy Baptist Press. Used with permission.
To read part 2 of this column, visit here.
Elizabeth Owens is in her 18th year of homeschooling and is the mother of four. Her husband is Waylan Owens, dean of the school of church and family ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter, Facebook, and in your email.
Publication date: May 30, 2014