I’ve been interested recently to see how our children are motivated to learn God’s Word, and I thought it was worth thinking about enough to write down. Certainly, not everything motivates our children the same way. I do think that the Holy Spirit works in our children’s lives to draw them to himself and to the Bible. But even Solomon tantalizes us with God’s Word. I am coming to believe that parents can and should deliberately cultivate a desire for God’s Word in their children. Here are the things that I have seen make a difference.
- By far the most motivating thing for David has been downloading the Bible for MP3 and giving him the means of listening to it in his room. He is very much an auditory learner. I used to think that he was uninterested in the Bible, but when he could listen to the Bible, I got a better sense of his interest level.
- The most motivating thing for Bethel has been to learn how to read. She expressed several times her desire to learn to read the Bible, and from the time she could read simple sentences, she read her Bible at night. (but then, she’s a word person like her mama).
- We have deliberately connected learning to read with getting a nice Bible. Laurel has a new Bible with her name embossed on it, but she can’t have it until she can read it.
- Teaching them to use their Bible. I grew up loving the center margin cross references in my Bible. I’ve showed the children how to find an original prophecy, or similar verses, or the harmony of the gospels, by using those cross references. I spent one day helping them find places in the maps at the back of their Bibles.
- Teaching them to use Bible tools. I remember how excited I was to learn how to use Strong’s Concordance. I’ve helped David learn to use biblegateway.com in the same way. This is exciting.
- Highlighters. I gave all the kids highlighters, and told them they could highlight verses that they wanted to remember. We talked about not highlighting too much, and not drawing pictures, but as a whole, the idea of highlighting has been a positive one.
- Teaching them verses that correspond to their interests. David loves bird verses. Bethel likes horse verses. There are funny verses and helpful verses. David loves verses about King David. Every once in awhile, I tell my children. “I have a verse for you.” and then I read it to them, or give them a paper with the reference on it. When David expressed an interest in the tabernacle, I bought several references that would help him understand it.
- Teaching them verses that help them. I showed Bethel Psalms about going to sleep. I discovered later that she highlighted those verses and learned them well. This is true in my own life. I get excited when I see the relevance of God’s Word in my life, when I see that God HAS given me everything I need for life and godliness. I’m learning that for my children, they don’t always get the connection without me specifically teaching it. I helped David label Psalms awhile back– when I am discouraged, when others are being mean, when I can’t sleep, etc. I could do this more.
- I’ve deliberately looked for scripture songs set to music. When the Scripture songs are relevant to our lives, they have been of great value. Many times, our children have started singing, “Do everything without complaining” as they struggled to keep their rooms clean. Music has been a good way to remember verses that we use often.
- Allowing them to stay up later than normal if they are reading or listening to the Bible. This is highly motivating to my night owl, but not as motivating for my child who goes to sleep within two minutes of laying head on pillow. Since Laurel can’t read, she can look at Bible Story books.
- AWANA. Our children have been highly motivated by the AWANA curriculum, not just to learn the verses, but also to complete assignments given by the teachers. (David’s AWANA teacher has been giving him short assignments designed to get students in the Word. David takes these assignments very seriously.) I’ve been thankful for the AWANA program.
- For Christmas, our two older children received Christian non-fiction. David received a book on birds, and Bethel received God’s Names. I let them read these books for school and suggested that they highlight the verses they liked in their Bible. It didn’t surprise me that they both have been very happy doing this. They do have other reading books for school, and I presented it as letting them do something different, if they wanted. I suspected they would choose the new books. When they’re done, we’ll go back to the old reading books.
- When I was a teen, we earned spending money for camp by memorizing verses on the tongue (or some other topic). It was something special, but I remember these verses years later. This was a very unusual occasion where we were rewarded for Scripture memory. I haven’t done this with our children, but I like the idea of rewards for special occasions.
- Sword drills at Sunday school are motivating. We’ve done modified sword drills (with topics, and not references) at home, but both are fun for children, and helpful as they learn how to find verses by themselves. (Learning the books of the Bible is also a good skill to learn)
A few other comments
- I don’t think that picture books (and Bible story books) cultivate a desire for God’s Word. Just my opinion. They’re good, but for other reasons. My children have never felt like they were reading God’s Word, and neither have I.
- I don’t require Bible reading as a daily activity. Part of my reason is that I’d like to observe their own love for God’s Word grow, and I can’t see that when I make Bible reading a requirement.
- I don’t think the translation makes a huge difference. Some verses are easy to read and/or understand in any translation. Some verses are hard in any translation. Children who grow up in Christian homes learn at some point not to worry about what is too difficult. Instead, they find what they can understand. For any translation, the parent can help the child by finding places that he can read and understand. My recommendation (which is different than just about everybody I know) for the best child’s translation is to purchase the translation your church and/or family uses, because children are motivated when they can follow along with the public reading of God’s Word. (I have recommended parents use a simplified translation when their child has a significant learning disability or mental retardation. In the case of a God-given limitation, using a simplified translation for reading and listening may be the only way of helping a child to learn God’s Word.)
- Children, like adults, increase their desire of God’s Word as they read it more. It makes sense that a child’s interest in God’s Word will also depend on his developmental ability to understand it. A child’s interest in God’s Word will not look like an adult’s interest in God’s Word.
- Finally, one of the motivations I had growing up for reading God’s Word was watching my mom and dad love and study God’s Word. It is a challenge to me, that I am teaching my children to love, by what I love.
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