Balancing Our Children’s Diversities

For the past couple of months the we have used the As For Me and My House Moments to work our way through the Old Testament with our children.  This has been a wonderful opportunity to take a few minutes out of the week and share the truths of scripture with our children.  Over these past couple months a have received a few questions about styles of learning and how to make the material fit the age ranges that are found in a particular family.  Sometimes families that have 5th graders also have 1st graders in them.  Also, sometimes, 3rd graders may have siblings that are 4 years old.  When parents have such a gap in ages sometimes it is difficult to make their family discipleship time applicable to all the ages without alienating one particular age.  If you teach down to the younger child the older child can become bored and uninterested in learning such elementary truths.  While if you teach up to the older child the younger can become distracted by something that is more on their level of understanding.  As a result of this, the question that I am commonly asked is, “How do I make our family Bible study time applicable to everyone?”

One important aspect that you must keep in mind when preparing for your family Bible study time is that the Bible is an adult book.  It has adult problems, adult themes, and is written by adults.[i] Explaining these adult problems is sometimes difficult when we have to share with our children what is going on in a passage of scripture.  What we need to avoid doing, is to take a passage of scripture and moralize it into a nice principle that we attach to a holy life style.  While it is good to teach our children to get along with others, not hitting their siblings, and sharing, it is not the main theme behind every passage of scripture.  In the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, there is a tendency to share with children the role of the little boy who shared his lunch.  The story isn’t about the little boy, it’s about Jesus.  This miraculous act was just another one in many that revealed that He was the Messiah.  In John 6:30 and 31 the question was asked of Jesus, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  If they had only paid attention they would have noticed when He miraculously provided food to the masses.  He was providing them with manna to eat and they didn’t even realize it.  The story is about Jesus and the mighty acts that He preformed.  It was about showing the people that He is the Lord.  It has some sharing in it but the big picture is that we can trust in Jesus because He is the Messiah.  This leads us, as parents, to an opportunity to share the gospel with our children.  The story is about Jesus and the fulfillment of scriptures so that he could come and live a life on earth, perfect and blameless and then die for our sins on the cross.  We cannot water down the gospel by moralizing the stories within the Gospel.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that there is not a special gospel for different age groups, it is the same Gospel, but we must adjust only our method and procedure, never the scriptures.[ii]

The next step is to work on the method and procedure part of family Bible study time.  This is where you can begin to build a study time that works best for the different dynamics or age ranges that are found in your home.  Younger children (13 – 24 months) are growing in their vocabulary and are imitating sounds and words.  They especially love to sing, although no words come out they still try to hum or mumble along with songs.  Children at this age love repetition.  This is also the stage that children begin to become more aware of an adult’s presence in a room.  Parents can use this important stage in a child’s life to share the image of God with their children through their actions and attitudes.[iii]

Two and three-year olds run on a bit busier schedule than their younger counter-parts.  This age group loves movement, of any kind.  They love running, jumping, climbing, and walking.  They are a constant source of movement and curiosity.  They are especially excited about visual learning, such as seeing a picture of what they are learning or even better they enjoy being able to hold what they are learning about.  This age range is also highly enthusiastic about repetitive phrases; i.e.  “Jesus loves me.” “Jesus made me.”  “Jesus made mommy and daddy.” [iv] [v] This is also a perfect age to really dive into praying with your children.  Be repetitive in your prayers.  This is a simple prayer that we pray with our 3-year-old, almost 2-year-old, and 3 month old.

Thank you, God for this day and everything that you have done for us.  Thank you for mommy, and for daddy, and for Micah, and for Kinsey, and for Baby Noah.  Thank you SO much for making our hands and our feet and thank you for loving us.  A-MEN.

Every night for the past year or so we have prayed this prayer.  Now it is to the point that our 3-year-old is able to say most of it with us and our 2-year-old is picking is up quickly.  Albeit this is not the Apostolic Creed, but it is a start to teaching our children that we need to spend time in prayer.

The Kindergarten age (4 – 5 years old) is a very excited time that children begin thinking more cognitively.  They are able to learn and ask questions about thoughts or ideas that they may have had.  Their thinking tends is more concrete and does not follow any line of logic at this age.[vi] When you tell a 4 year old that Jesus gives us a new heart when we accept Him as Savior and Lord of our life, they could be terrified.  Imagine what that sounds like to a child that doesn’t think in the abstract, but the literal.  Their thinking is concrete, what you say is what you get.  The great thing about this concrete thinking is that, the majority of the time, they accept truth without question.

  • God Created the World
  • Jesus is God’s Son
  • God is good, powerful, and He loves me.

They accept the truths of God’s Word with no hesitation at all.  This is the time when children are able to share Bible stories with others.  They are able to repeat what they have learned from God’s Word.  It is important that we, as parents, use this opportunity to test the accuracy and truthfulness of the stories that they are learning.  Provide guidance and direction for truths that are not fully understood.

Primary aged (6 – 7) children are eager to learn and do so, normally, by asking a lot of questions.  While they are better at it than the younger children, they still have a problem spending vast amounts of time in one area.  They like to be able to cut and print and use the creative parts of their mind in learning.[vii] They want to be listened to and then responded to once they have shared what they are thinking.  They like to be involved in the learning process not just hear the story; they have a desire to live or act out the story.  In this age range we are able to expand past the simple phrases of the 4 and 5 year olds and we are able to move into the realm of application of Biblical truths; i.e.  “Jesus is God’s Son and my friend, and he teaches me how I should live.”

The middle years (8 and 9 years old) of childhood are a tremendous mile-stone.  On average, children in this age range are in a weird stage of attachment to family but playing with the idea of separating from their family; participating in activities that are away from their immediate family[viii].  They are still interested in learning, but their sources of learning are expanding outside of the home.  They begin to learn new information from their peers and begin making critical decisions about who they are friends with.  The concepts that were established with your child when they were younger must be built upon for further insight into the nature of God. Now your children, not only have an understanding that God is wise, powerful, knowing and loving but that he is all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always loving.

As children move into the ages of ten and eleven you will begin to see that they are able to share with others what they know about God.  They will begin to feel more secure in what they believe to be true and they will also have an awareness of cultivating their relationship with God.  Unfortunately, this stage also brings awareness to their desires and impulses.  They have a tendency to begin challenging authority and criticizing the adults that are over them.[ix] They tend to choose adults to idolize and to model their life after. They will eat, sleep, and drink these people that they have made as an idol.[x] Children at this stage want to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions about everything that they face.  Parents, we have to be even more aware of the way that we are living our life during this stage of childhood.  Children tend to become very critical of family members whose lives don’t match up to their belief system.

After explaining these different age categories and examining the natural tendencies and abilities of your own children, begin to think of creative ways to make your family Bible study time applicable for the different dynamics you have in your home.  Maybe for your older children that can read, you can give them scripture to read throughout the week that builds upon what you are studying as a family.  Then they can express to you their thoughts and ideas about the passages that they are reading.  You are able to give them some insight into what they are reading or answer some of the questions that they may have.

For your younger children it is usually best for you to sit down one on one with them and explain the simple truths that are found in the scriptures you are studying.  Give them an opportunity to express, in front of everyone else, how they are responding to the scriptures.  Ask probing questions; “Who made the world?” “What things did God make that are in the world?”  Questions like these get children excited about the scriptures.  They are able to think form their opinion and then share what they know with others.

Most of all, you need to pick a time that you have a captive audience.  So often we, as families, are running so hard that we don’t slow down long enough to cultivate this family relationship with God.  Create a time.  Maybe you need to pick a night out of the week for everyone to have dinner at the table. At this point you have a captive audience.  Make your dinner conversation about the scriptures.  Put your Bible on the table next to your plate and share with your family the Word.

This has been a very broad question to cover in just a few short paragraphs.  Because of that I want to spend the next couple of weeks/months breaking each of these age categories down into greater detail.  Take an opportunity to begin this process of family discipleship.  Yes, it will be difficult at first.  That is only because the enemy doesn’t want it to work.  As parents, this is the most important thing that you can do for your family.  I challenge you to start today.

[i] Richards, Larry, and Gary J. Bredfeldt. Creative Bible Teaching. Chicago: Moody, 1998. 270-71. Print.

[ii] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Edinburgh:  Banner of Truth, 1989), 2.

[iii] Anthony, Michael J. Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001. 208-09. Print.

[iv] Ibid., 209 – 210.

[v] Richards, Creative Bible Teaching, p. 274.

[vi] Anthony, Introducing Christian Education, p. 210 – 211.

[vii] Ibid,. p. 211 – 212.

[viii] Weddle, Linda Massey. “Older Elementary.” How to Raise a Modern-day Joseph: a Practical Guide for Growing Great Kids. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009. 94-95. Print.

[ix] Barna, George. Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2003. 57-59. Print.

[x] Anthony, Introducing Christian Education, p. 212 – 213.

One thought on “Balancing Our Children’s Diversities

  • January 4, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Thanks, having a 12,10 and 5 year old I understand the struggle. I know we are planting seeds.

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