What do you do when you get to the end of the Children’s Bible or run out of discussion questions?
Whether you’re a parent, a Sunday school leader, kids’ club leader or godparent, here are 7 ways to read the Bible with children.
The Four questions
These aren’t new but they direct our exploration of a Bible passage in helpful ways.
What do we learn about God in this passage?
What do we learn about people?
How does this point to Jesus?
What do we do about it?
The beauty of these questions is that they can be answered at various depths according to the maturity of the group.
When looking at a passage in the gospels, four questions can become three with the first and third question becoming What do we learn about Jesus? The third question keeps the bigger biblical narrative in view and can also be answered in various ways.
For example, 2 Samuel 7 where God responds to King David’s desire to build a temple point to Jesus through the framework of promise and fulfilment. Other passages, like the first Passover in Exodus 12, establish patterns of sacrifice and grace that foreshadow the death of Jesus.
As we share our reflections on the passage, we provide children with a model of what it looks like to dig into God’s Word expecting to find relevant and meaningful truths. Using symbols or simple pictures can help younger children remember the questions.
The Swedish Method
This approach aims to guide people to read the Bible well for themselves no matter what their level of language or experience with Bible study.
It involves having a printed copy of the passage for children to underline, circle and draw on. It’s hands-on and invites children to be actively involved in not only looking for answers, but generating the questions.
If you’ve never tried it before, it can feel a little wild at first but once everyone is familiar with the format, it can be an effective way to help children engage directly with God’s Word.
While it’s great to read through whole gospels or letters, sometimes it can be helpful to slow down and look at just one section of God’s Word in depth. More than a one sentence memory verse, a ‘sticky segment’ is a longer section: maybe two or three sentences; maybe more. Look at this same segment each time you spend time together in God’s Word:
Looking for the big idea
Exploring the meaning of key words or concepts
Finding supporting ideas
Remembering things you’ve seen before (reinforcement)
And, yes, try to remember as much as possible without looking. Focus on the chosen passage but remember to look at the context of the chapter and book as well. A segment like Titus 2:11-14 is great for this kind of study. The sentences have lots of big important concepts and ideas that are worth taking time to explore and talk about together. The passage could be printed and stuck on the wall to be seen often. Focusing on one passage over time not only allows depth of understanding but also helps the lessons to sink deeper into long-term memory and more thoughtful prayer.
Drawing and art
For children who find it hard to sit still and listen, asking them to draw the story as they listen can be an effective way to focus their attention. This can be helpful in longer narrative sections of the Bible or even the Psalms.
Using a series of boxes like a cartoon or simply one blank page, including speech bubbles or not, this method can work for any age. Read the Bible passage slowly and perhaps even several times while children listen and draw. Talk about why they chose to draw certain parts of the story and why they used particular colours. Do your own drawing to share and talk about. Not only does this model to the children that you need to listen and engage with the Bible yourself but also that it doesn’t matter if the drawing is perfect or not. Special drawing books can be used to record your progress through a book.
Another way to use art is to show children one piece of artwork as they listen to the Bible passage. This might be Michelangelo or Dürer’s depictions of biblical scenes (careful of the nudes, they might be a distraction!) or a photograph of a particular location such as the Mount of Olives or a garden like Gethsemane. Encourage the children to talk about what they see and what they might hear in a place like that, is it hot or cold there? Allow them to imagine. Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words, and for some children, a picture can be a powerful way for them to engage with biblical truth.
Music can be helpful in a variety of ways. There are Bible verses set to music, from some Colin Buchanan songs to Seeds Family Worship. And there are songs that retell stories or parables: Colin, Ben Pakula, Sovereign Grace albums like Listen Up (Jesus’ parables) or Walking with the Wise (Proverbs). There is also music not specifically written for children that can be helpful: Don Francisco, Keith Green (yes, oldies but goodies), Michael Card, and perhaps you can think of more.
If you want to be convinced, try listening to Don Francisco’s song Beautiful to Me about the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet from Luke 7. It brings the passage to life in a powerful way. For upper primary children who have ‘heard this before’, using a song can encourage fresh insight and reflection. Ask what do they like about the song? Does it match the Bible passage? How does the song challenge you to hear the story in a way you hadn’t before? Share your own response to the passage and song and encourage discussion.
This age-old method has many different variations including writing out the passage, responding to the passage in prayer, or some combination of reflections and prayer. For children, the value is in owning the creative space and practicing articulating ideas.
Journals can be used to contain a variety of the methods mentioned above such as the four questions. Younger children might draw in their journals, or leaders can provide a picture or key words to stick in and colour. Passages can be stuck in and drawn around or coloured in. You are encouraging children to put what they are learning in their own words and giving them the opportunity to respond in prayer. Thinking of the right words and getting them on paper takes longer for children. Leaders can help with sentence stems like, ‘This story shows me that Jesus can …..’ or write a variety of words that children can choose to use.
Learning to write prayers might begin with just writing the main words, ‘shepherd… protect…thank you’ or make use of the ‘thank you, sorry, please’ model. Journals can be decorated and crafted into something special.
Using other books
There are many study guides and devotionals that are designed to help leaders and parents read the Bible with children. If you find good ones, remember to share it around so others can try it. But there are also books that approach the Bible systematically that can be helpful. Marty Machowski’s The Ology is a beautifully illustrated systematic theology for children that can be read small sections at a time. Perhaps most helpfully, the Bible passages that link to the topic are included in the illustrations so they can also be read alongside the author’s summary of key Christian doctrine. This can be another way to encourage children who have ‘heard it all before’ to stretch their understanding.
Another book for older children is Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce A Ware. This gives three to four pages on a topic such as the incarnation or role of the Holy Spirit, followed by several discussion questions and a suggested memory verse.
A few final suggestions to help you get started:
Choose a suitable translation. NIrV, CEV or ICB are great options. You can see what they’re like on Bible Gateway.
If you are buying Bibles or printing passages, remember to keep the font size large and clear. Nice covers are ok, but it’s more important to be able to read the words easily. Large blocks of text, especially in small font can be overwhelming for children.
Keep the passages short. Reading long chunks makes it hard for children to follow. If the story is longer, share the reading around or stop frequently to ask an easy question to see if they are still with you (and read with passion!)
Try not to rush.
Lastly, keep praying God would be at work through his powerful Word.
What will you be reading this week?