After a long delay between lessons the “My Friend Jesus” series for Babies and Toddlers is now complete. Hopefully, it will help parents and teachers share the story of Jesus with little ones.
In this series infants and toddlers are introduced to Jesus and relate to him through various common experiences of childhood (celebration, helping, community, worship and growth). Role-play and sensory activities are used to express a growing relationship and friendship with him.
The first breath Jesus took on this earth was as a fragile newborn infant. The One who would save the world had to have his nappies/diapers changed. He learned to feed himself, crawl and walk. He experienced the human senses of taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell.
Infants and Toddlers can know that Jesus is special, experience affinity with Jesus through role-play and sensory activities. They can learn practices that express friendship, affection, obedience, respect and worship.
Lessons in this Series:
1. Cherished Baby
Expressing love through protection and tender care.
2. Time to Celebrate
The joy of giving, receiving and celebrating.
3. Helper at Home
Being part of a family by sharing responsibilities at home.
4. Worship and Praise
Being part of a community of worshipers.
5. Growing and Learning
The satisfaction of maturing and moving forward.
6. My Friend, Jesus
Comfort, love and affection in a relationship with Jesus.
What does “holiness” mean to a child who is five years old? God’s holiness is an extremely important theme running throughout the entire Bible and I believe even very young children can experience how special God is.
I’ve recently had an opportunity to teach in a large room so I decided to dedicate one area of the room as a special place where, each week, we sit for a few minutes and talk about how special God really is. I’ve loved how this has brought a new depth to what we are learning and I would encourage you to give this a try sometimes.
A Holy Space
I didn’t buy anything to set this space up and, with a little imagination, you will be able to find “special” items of your own. I drug in a coffee table from another room. I covered it with some shiny wrapping paper and placed chairs around it. Draping some old sheets and fabric over a room divider formed a small “wall” to make the space cozy. Someone had left some “gold” Christmas tree garland in our supply room so I thought that would add to the feeling of grandeur. A paper crown on a purple pillow emphasized the Kingship of God since we were studying the Divided Kingdom and the End of the Kingdom.
Even though these were not expensive items I can tell you that the children were in awe of the space. On a side note it occurred to me that the Temple that Solomon built was dripping with gold and precious cloths in a way that left everyone awestruck. But, in reality, gold and expensive items are actually worthless in comparison to God’s true worth. Perhaps we adults aren’t all that sophisticated after all.
A Holy Attitude
When we sit at the table in this space it is a “set apart” time from the rest of the class period. At other times we might play games and sing action songs and act out the story. There are many ways to glorify God. But, when we go and sit in our holy space we speak more quietly and we all reflect in awe and reverence about God.
A Holy Conversation
This is a 5 minute devotional time that is not limited to the lesson we are studying for the day. Everything we talk about in this space relates to how special God is. He is approachable but He is different than us. In a child’s eyes this space is very special and it is a great launching place to talk about how God is even more special than our idea of precious things.
Each week I try to cover a different aspect of God’s holiness and how this has been shown in Scripture. This is not the time to tell another Bible story or try to explain complex topics. I want the children’s minds to be fully on God so I talk about concepts they can easily grasp. I try my best to use illustrations to depict these things. For instance, the illustrations below are from www.freebibleimages.org
The Word of God- We open our Bibles and read a verse about God (or they follow along as I read).
This experience has brought a new depth to the lessons I’ve been teaching. The children have really picked up on the fact that sin is not just “bad behaviour” it is a real offence against who God is. I’ve been amazed at how often the children have referenced God’s holiness as we study other lessons.
When we learned about the prophet Jeremiah visiting the potter’s house and hearing God warn about turning away from him the children understood why God was angry. The kings were not treating him in the way he deserved.
We learned about how Jeremiah dictated God’s Message onto a scroll. As King Jehoiakim listened to the words he cut off pieces of the scroll and threw them into a fire piece by piece. When I mentioned that King Jehoiakim was making a huge mistake one of the children corrected me, “No! the king knew God’s words were special. He did not make a mistake, he did it on purpose!”
Before being led off into Exile the Temple of God was destroyed. The students in my class were so sad to hear this. They understood how serious this was to God.
How About Making Your Own Temporary Tabernacle?
I was blessed with a room large enough to create a separate space but you could create a special space almost anywhere. Put your “special” items in a basket and lay out the items when it comes time to have your devotional. After all, this is exactly what was done with The Tabernacle. It was set up and taken down wherever the Israelites camped.
We’ve probably all taken children to fast food restaurants. I, for one, don’t mind the occasional escapism provided by playgrounds and toys and packaged quick-fixes to hunger.
It is certainly an easy option and the kids leave the restaurant with full tummies. They think we’re great when we take them. But what would happen if this were the only kind of meal that a child ate? There are plenty of nutritional studies that have shown not-so-happy results everywhere from obesity to diabetes to even a low IQ.
Although restaurants are providing some healthier choices there are still no substitutes for regular, healthy and well-balanced family meals provided by parents who are intentional in planning for the growth and well-being of their children. Granted, this is not the easier option but it has been shown that there are some possibly unexpected benefits even beyond the obvious health issues. One resource I came across, the Family Dinner Project, lists some of those additional benefits as better academic performance, higher self-esteem, greater sense of resilience and even a lower risk of substance abuse
So what, you may be wondering, does that have to do with teaching the Bible to children?
Sometimes, we naively expect healthy, grounded and long-lasting spiritual results in the lives of children while taking a “fast-food playground” approach to teaching God’s Word to them.
I’m not sure if you find this to be true where you are but I am constantly having to check myself and re-focus in this area. In our busy and “instant gratification” societies I think we are sometimes tempted to forget that that is not the way of our God. How much time has he spent on his purposes in my life? What has he given up for me? Has his goal been to keep me busy or entertain me or has he always been concerned with leading me to be more like Him (and who I was meant to be)?
Is this ever your struggle?
I thought it might be interesting to put together a sort of check-list for myself. In writing this list a couple of the points required more than a little soul searching. Maybe my list will be helpful to you.
Warning Signs That I Am Becoming a McTeacher
I’m content to passively let others do the study and thinking concerning Scripture. That is not a priority for me in planning a lesson.
Instead of taking a careful inventory of the spiritual growth and discipleship of my students I call a class a “success” when I have kept the children busy and they like me.
I’m satisfied teaching a “little serving of this” and a “package of that” without considering long-term goals for a child’s overall faith journey.
My individual classes begin to “stand alone”. One lesson does not relate to the next or last and I don’t talk to the children about how each relates to God’s overall story.
I wait until the last possible moment to prepare my lesson and do not see a need to make it a priority.
The required amount of my own time and effort rise to the top as my most important criteria when choosing curriculum.
For the children I often substitute non (or loosely) related activities, social events or class excursions for actually teaching the Word of God.
I am not convinced that the Word of God is enough to maintain a child’s interest. I keep it to a minimum so children can concentrate on the “fun stuff”.
Those last few words can remain long in our memory. They draw everything together and mark the people and event as unique and special to this particular place and time. Imagine spending an evening with our friends in their home only to realise that they had gone to bed and left us on our own without saying goodbye. This would probably make us feel awkward and abandoned.
One of Paul’s Goodbyes
As Paul traveled and shared the Gospel he had to say goodbye many times. These were often emotional occasions with tears, encouragement and even words of warning or advice. Here is one example:
We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail.After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. Acts 21:2-6 NIV
How do children feel when they leave our Bible Classes?
When a child leaves Bible Class is he or she a ship full of fresh provisions being warmly fare-welled from a safe and friendly port? Or are the children drifting off toward open sea while the busy people back on shore seem to barely notice they have gone?
Take the time to draw everything together at the end of your teaching time. Solidify what you have taught, let the children know you are glad they came and give them courage to go out and put into practice the things God has moved them to do.
So, you’re going on a Mission Trip. Perhaps the trip is geared toward benevolent or medical work. Or maybe the plan is for adults to gather for bible studies or preaching. Whatever kind of mission trip it is it is highly likely that you will meet children along the way. God will bring these children your way…are you prepared to share Christ with them?
Here are some things you can do before you leave home:
Talk to children before you go: You will feel more comfortable talking to the children in a new place if you have had experience talking to children in your own church or family. Talk to the children about the mission trip you will be going on. Ask children in your home congregation to pray for you while you are on your mission trip. Need help learning to talk with children? See How to Talk to a Child.
Learn how to do string tricks that relate to bible stories. This is a good way to start up a conversation with children and begin talking about God. It is easy to pack a piece of string in your bag. You may think of others but here are two ideas I would suggest: