After crossing the Red Sea and being delivered from your enemies, what would YOU want to do? A seven year old in my Bible class answered, “I would do this!” and then proceeded to dance around our classroom clearly demonstrating pure joy.
Sometimes the illustrations I’ve selected and the scripts from which I read simply pale in comparison to the spontaneous responses of children who hear about what God has done.
Over a span of about a month we had journeyed along with Moses and the Hebrews and felt the pain of their suffering in Egyptian bondage. We had seen God at work through the ten plagues. We worked our way through the emotional experience of the night when the angel of death passed over. We trembled as we crossed through the Red sea on dry land with great walls of water on either side of us and the enemy right on our heels.
Now, after reviewing these events one more time, I asked the children in our Bible class to imagine being a Hebrew that day and looking back over the water of the Red Sea. I asked them to imagine the feeling of knowing that God was so strong and loved us so much that he had conquered our enemies and gotten us out of Egypt. My question “What would you feel like doing?” was a rhetorical question so I was simply floored when this seven year old spontaneously responded in exactly the way the Hebrews did!
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.’” Exodus 15:20-21, NIV
At that point I put other activities aside and we all did just what the Hebrews had done. We danced in praise to God for what he had done. Never mind that we were in an upstairs room and the adults in the Bible class below us thought I had possibly lost control of my class. (Never mind that I probably DID lose control over them for just a few moments). Never mind that the kids danced much better than the teacher.
The fact is that we participated together in some of the most “Biblical moments” I had experienced in quite some time.
The children went on the demonstrate dance moves depicting the plagues and the Passover and the crossing through the sea. Then, after what turned out to be a rather morbid rendition of the annihilation of Pharaoh and his army, I drew the children back in together and we participated in some quieter activities.
Once again, I thank God that I have the honour of sharing His Word with children and that so often the children become my teachers.
I had a lot of fun this week working with students at the South Pacific Bible College here, in New Zealand. It was their “Outreach Week” so I got to share with them the importance of reaching out to the children around us.
After talking about that we launched right into some hands-on participation in the behind-the-scenes work of Mission Bible Class. Among other things, the students prepared a demonstration video for the website. In the future teachers around the world will be able to access this free resource when they share God’s Word with children.
Click here or on the picture below to link to the “Pick a Card” Memory Verse Game demonstration video. I can tell you first-hand that children really enjoy playing this game.
As a Scripture was being publicly read in the church of my childhood I would sometimes watch my grandmother’s finger slide across the page of her Bible. As a small child I would light up when I could occasionally read a word or two.
There is no other book like the Bible in its importance for people of all ages. It has always amazed me how God’s Word can seem so simple and yet so complex. Even when I am reading Scripture as I prepare lessons for infants and toddlers I am often astounded at a new concept that I had never noticed before.
I think Gregory the Great said it best many many years ago when he wrote the following (emphasis is mine),
“Divine speech sometimes stirs up the clever with mysteries, but more often provides consolation for the simple with the obvious. It has out in the open food for children but keeps hidden away the things that fill the minds of the eminent with awe. Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim”.
What a blessing to help lambs wade in God’s Word! As I teach children I want to be attentive to their stage of development and help them experience God fully. I usually have my own Bible open on the table when I am teaching so that children can see that I refer to it and respect what God says.
In addition to my own Bible I want children to be very familiar with handling a Bible on their own. If at all possible I try to have bibles available for the children. Over the years I’ve developed a few measures for what children of various ages are able to do so I’m sharing them with you here in case you might find them useful in your teaching and at home.
Allow the infants and toddlers to hold small Bibles. These should be inexpensive because they will inevitably, at one time or another, be chewed and pulled apart and the pages torn.
Show them how to hold the Bible carefully and how to turn pages.
Place a sticker of Jesus inside the front cover so the children can “find Jesus” when they hold their bibles.
Hold the Bible in front of each child, in turn, and slide your finger along as you “read” from it. I usually read, “God Loves Suzy.” (inserting the child’s name) Or “God loves Mummy.” “God loves Daddy.”
Pre-Schoolers can look at pictures in a children’s Bible. If you do not have picture Bibles then tuck pictures between the pages of a Bible before class.
Guide the children in pretending to read along with you as you tell a story or read a verse.
Children of this age can learn to spell and write a few basic Bible words. I use magnetic letters or puzzles to do this. And of course they are learning to write letters at this age so they really enjoy just writing the letters. We practice one word over a few weeks until the children have it down. They are so proud of themselves!
Depending on reading level children of this age might be able to read a few verses in a row or even a very short Bible story. You will have to plan this carefully if children are reading out loud in class. This can be embarassing for some children and it does take time.
Children in this age group can copy verses onto paper. These can be used in the classroom or taken home as reminders.
Children aged 8-10 years are often able to confidently find a verse from a book, chapter, verse reference. A fun game is for the teacher to call out a reference (like Ephesians 6:1). The children then “race” to find the verse in their Bible and begin reading.
Disorder and exposed edges cause us to be tense and unsettled. We fervently scan for those straight edges to establish a boundary and begin to sort things out. We aren’t satisfied until everything is in its proper place and the picture is complete.
It is no wonder we say we “work” puzzles. The process doesn’t seem like “play” at all.
It is work. Yet, even when there is no outside competition involved, we find pleasure in that work. It is a quest for the solution. A desire to find the answer to the problem. Figuring out how the pieces fit together. Consciously or not, all of us are looking for answers. God, in his wisdom has created us curious and hungry to ‘know’. It sometimes feels like very hard work and yet we still seek.
As teachers we can walk alongside children and guide them in the important Christian-life-skill of looking for answers and seeking truth. Throughout their lives truth will always be found in God.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1, NIV
As I read about King Josiah and his zealous destruction of idols and places of false worship I wrestled with how I would relate the severe actions of destruction and even death to the lives of these 4 and 5 year olds without giving them nightmares or encouraging destructive behaviour in general.
How do we relate tough lessons in the Bible to children?
Here’s how I prepared for the lesson about Josiah. There were many actions and themes that children this age would find confusing and disturbing. So, as I read about Josiah, I tried to focus on God and then thought about how Josiah responded to him. Here’s what I came up with:
God is Holy and Josiah believed this passionately and wanted to honour him.
God desires and commands our sole worship. Josiah was indignant about the prevalent idol worship in the kingdom.
God expects to be taken seriously. Josiah took his kingship seriously and was determined to change his kingdom.
God displays emotions but he always does the right thing. Josiah’s anger, indignation and outrage did not lead him to sin. These emotions propelled him into actions that honoured God.
God’s Word is true. Josiah had respect for God’s Word and obeyed it.
God is concerned about everyone. As king, Josiah displayed leadership and shared God’s Word with his people.
Trying to teach all of these would have been too much for 4 and 5 year olds to comprehend so I focused on just two main points that I thought they could best relate to. I felt confident in the priority of these choices since they are also how God started when he issued the 10 Commandments.
God is Holy.
Do not worship idols or anything else besides God.
God is Holy
We spent time in a “special” area I had created in our classroom. I wasn’t trying to re-create the temple but I made the space special with some silver wrapping paper and some strings of gold beads that I found. As we sat in this space we read from God’s special book, talked about the special tabernacle and temple and then spent some time talking about how God is different and holy.
Do Not Worship Idols
After sharing the Bible story we spent some time destroying idols! The children took turns finding a scroll I hid underneath some carpet tiles. If they found the scroll they “read” it.
Yes! for God……….No! for idols
Once they found and read the scroll they then followed Josiah’s example in clearing out all of the idols. The biblical version is much more graphic. We expressed our outrage by kicking them and knocking them down.
To conclude the class we gathered in and focused on God’s holiness one more time.
For older children I would follow up by taping pictures of other “idols” on the boxes to show that anything we place as more important than God can be our idol. This might include possessions, beauty, sports…and the list goes on.