March 20, 2006 8:38 AM
Family Devotions / Teaching Children about Jesus
A few readers have asked me about good Bible books and devotion time for little children. I'm gathering my thoughts on this as I write, reflecting on what we have done and are doing in our family now.
I really have to give a plug here for family devotions first thing in the morning. By the time you finish reading this, you'll understand why.
While I was homeschooling, this was the most important part of our day. The kids would dress and make their beds, then we'd gather and sing some raise songs and hymns (there were lots of us, so we had a bunch of hymnals we'd gotten cheap from our church when they replaced theirs). I love hymns because they are intelligent and contain so much theology in the verses. We sang a capella because I don't play the piano :( - but I can carry a tune. When people ask why all my kids are good singers (they are all better than I am because I grew up embarrassed to sing aloud and only overcame that in order to teach in the classroom and then my own children), we always say it was because of growing up singing hymns.
We'd follow that with a reading from the Bible and then comments by their Dad or me (Florence Littauer once said her kids knew that "Where one or two are gathered, there Mother will give a sermon.")
This could lead into discussions - it was pretty spontaneous - then asking what to pray about - thanks for some things, requests for others. Gathering all these, then we would pray. I like to follow this structure in prayer:
A - adoration
C - contrition
T - thanksgiving
S - supplication.
Then more singing, always ending with our family hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Finally a blessing: "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (I like the King James when it comes to poetry).
When we moved to Virginia, things went kind of downhill. Because Tripp had to stay behind in California to supervise the sale of our business and transition with his family following the death of his mom, I was pretty much a single mom with 10 kids for three months. Because we felt led to put the kids in public school here (long story, but time has proven we were doing what we were supposed to do), we had four school buses to meet each morning beginning at 6:30 am. Exhausted from unpacking, meeting teachers, finding doctors, and well, everything, I let some things go that were sadly never picked up with the self-discipline I'd once had.
So though we still gathered together now and then as a family to sing and read the Bible, it wasn't done with consistency.
Then in the past two years, my older kids started flying the coop - to jobs and college - leaving us with Sophia 16 and Maddy 12 and four sons with Down syndrome - Jonny 14, Jesse 10, Daniel 9, and Justin (for those new to this site, I have four kids with DS because since Maddy was born, we've adopted the last three). Now, it may seem to some like six is a full house, but when you've gotten used to a crowd, it doesn't seem that way at all. And it gets a little harder to get motivated if you're used to having a lot of feedback and then suddenly have a lot less.
Nevertheless, last fall Tripp and I came to the conclusion that we had had a serious lapse in our responsibility by not being consistent in teaching our kids how to come together collectively to worship and learn about God. So we began pulling out the hymnals and reading from the Bible the way we used to.
The problem was, it wasn't working. None of the Downzers (our affectionate name for the boys, for which I've taken a little grief from politically correct warriors who don't understand where I'm coming from) can read, much less grasp the complicated text of the hymns. Listening to the Bible was pretty meaningless to them.
So Tripp and I realized that our devotion time would now be different - less of the things we might enjoy and more of the things that would carry the most meaning for them in all their simplicity. We chucked singing from hymnals (although Daniel still gets them out and distributes them every morning :) and chose first praise songs, then to take it back to the very most meaningful level for them, kids' praise songs like "This is the Day" with lots of clapping (Jesse brought in rhythm instruments this morning!) and "Jesus Loves Me." We still close with our family hymn, but since we sing it every day, the kids are starting to catch on - just as they have caught on to the grace we sing before meals: "Let All Things Their Creator Bless" - actually, the last verse of "All Creatures of Our God and King."
The next big change is in what we read at devotions. Because four of our children are delayed - some more significantly, we needed to bring our reading down to a preschool level. So we returned to the favorite and most effective Bible stories we'd read to the older kids when they were little: Read Aloud Bible Stories.
I can't recommend these books highly enough! There are four volumes of bible Stories, plus another by the same author and artist called Parables Jesus Told. They are simply wonderful! And simply is a key word here.
Remember how I've talked about the importance of seeing things from a child's perspective? Well this is an author/artist team that has done that. The familiar stories are told with complete and utter simplicity with the perfect amount of repetition and rhythm to catch the attention of even the most distractible little one. The pictures are so gracious in their simplicity and you get the feeling you are a child looking at the scenes yourself. And the most amazing thing - Jesus is never shown from the front, so the emphasis is completely focused on what Jesus said and did.
I love these stories! And my older kids loved them too. So much so that we recently had to buy a new Volume 1 to replace our falling-apart old copy. There are used copies of Volume 1 at Amazon for under $3, by the way.
Tripp begins by pulling out the book, asking them where the stories come from (the Bible), what is the Bible (God's word for us), why did God give us his word (Because he loves us0. Then he reminds each child that God loves him or her, making eye contact and a big smile. Then he reads one of the stories, packing it with drama.
So the kids are usually very involved. They've sung two songs at their level, heard about how God loves them, and been read a story at their level. So then we switch to Psalms or Proverbs for those who can grasp it. Then some talk about what is going on in each person's life and where they need prayer, then prayer in the form I mentioned before.
We have recently begun saying the Lord's Prayer because our children need something they can learn to say themselves and because when people asked Jesus how to pray, that was his reply.
We close with our family hymn, then send them off with the blessing above.
Start to finish 20 minutes. But as the kids get better able to hear, we will expand. And we would want to, really. That time spent together is very sweet and sets the tone for the day. I know Sophia and Madeleine - and the college boys when they're home - feel better with a day that starts focused on God and our relationship with him. Even though our current devotions are extremely simple, the older kids still enjoy it and we're fortunate that they are here to be good role models for the Downzers.
The most important thing they all need to know is that God loves them and is always available when they seek him.
I thought our family's experience might help others with very young families, and even other types of families might learn from our successes and failures:
1) In the beginning, we may look at family devotions as an obligation or chore. But though it takes a certain amount of discipline to begin, once the ball is rolling you will come joyfully, as in Psalm 122:1: "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." You will discover that there is so much satisfaction in spending time this way with your children, and you will see the effects in their behavior immediately. Because God created us to worship him, there is a hole in their souls that is not being filled when we do not open these doors for them. I deeply regret the period of time when Tripp and I neglected this area of our younger children's lives.
2) Which leads me to my second point: If you are late coming to the party, better late than never. And if at any time you stumble, as Tripp and I did, and neglect your responsibility to keep this aspect of your family's spiritual life a priority, be quick to admit your fault and start over. Our Heavenly Father is gracious and forgiving and I always feel his love so much more when I've stumbled and with his help been lifted up again!
3) When it comes to content of family devotions, be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Families - like individuals - are not made from cookie cutters. What works for one family might not work for yours at all. And something that gets you excited may bomb with your kids. The point of devotions is to communicate to your children the love of God and his presence in their lives. So if something doesn't work, drop it. Move on to something new.
4) Let your children know the expectations during devotions. What we're aiming for is bodies holding still, eyes focused on Dad or the book he's reading. This is part of their training in self-control. Older kids should be good role models - no yawning or fidgeting, a look of interest in what's going on. This is good manners and useful stuff for your kids to take into any learning situation.
In the five or six months since we got back on track with regular morning devotions, weâ€™ve seen a big change in our children. And in ourselves.
Reminding me that though we are fickle and inconsistent, Godâ€™s blessings never cease!
Thank you, Barbara, I needed this. You continue to be a Titus 2 lady to me. I thank you!
Posted by: Laura | March 20, 2006 10:44 AM
Reading this reminds me of the care my parents gave to our daily family prayers. They'd drag all 5 of us children out of bed early before dad left for work and we'd kneel in prayer for safety and success and love. And then every day before the first started off to bed we'd kneel again in prayer of gratitude and humility.
Off on my own now, I look back and miss those family prayers. Often when times were really hard and our family struggled I'm fully convinced that those twice daily prayers were the only thing that held us together and got us through on God's grace.
They were also habit forming and eternally instructive for each of us children personally--every single one of us, away from home on our own now, still kneels each day in honest prayer to God. And life's struggles seem bearable to know and hear that my parents are still praying for each of us at least twice daily.
Posted by: melnel | March 20, 2006 11:04 AM
Barbara, I love this subject! And I love your ideas.
Here are a few things we do:
Rick uses a daily devotional called "Training Hearts, Teaching Minds" which goes through the questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism , one question each week, with five days of teaching and application on each one.
I have a list of Scripture that the kids memorize individually from age 3 up as well. And we memorize things together as a family.
All of our kids are also memorizing catechism questions. The younger kids use "First Catechism" by Great Commission Publications, and then they graduate to the Westminster Shorter by the time they are about 10 or so. I start my little guys at age 3 with the First Catechism, and it is just so cool to hear them...and then to see them start making connections with every area of their lives...
Who made you? God...
What else did God make? God made all things...
Why did God make you and all things? For his own glory...
How can you glorify God? By loving Him and doing what He commands...
Why are you to glorify God? Because He made me and takes care of me...
Talk about TRUE self-worth! :)
There's also a CD of songs that reinforce these catechism questions by Judy Rogers called "Why Can't I See God?" It is excellent!
We also sing hymns, and do other things with Scripture during the day. In fact, this has inspired me to go and write a blog on this. So I will do that. Today.
Posted by: Kathy in VA | March 20, 2006 12:19 PM
Great for devotions with preschoolers and young elementary school kids. The rhyming one is a good easy-reader book for young readers too.
Mary, mom to many
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org | March 20, 2006 1:18 PM
Preach it, Barbara!!
Wow!! Yet another tremendously wonderful post to bless us all. THANK YOU!
BTW -- just to stay on topic ... our little "family devotion time" at the end of the day is one of our favorite times of the day.
We start with family worship at the piano (and sometimes with Daddy's trumpet or guitar -- fun!).
Then Sophie snuggles with me (good time to practice sitting quietly too).
Daddy reads from a devotional (currently John Piper's "Taste & See" -- I love hearing Sophie pray for "Pastor Piper" who is fighting cancer right now).
Then he reads from the Bible.
And then we always end with Sophie running over to Fred, giving him a hug & a kiss and saying, "Thank you for teaching me about Jesus, Daddy!" And he always says, "It is my privilege and my joy, Sophie."
What a routine.
I'm SO blessed to be married to such a man.
Other little things we do are the kids catechism (already mentioned in a previous comment) ... from around 18 mo's Sophie's been sharing a TON of theology with us. I love it.
And we are just now getting into the Bible stories on CD ("Word & Song Bible") which has been great.
Thanks again for sharing SO much wisdom on SUCH an important topic. Having grown up in my "bipolar manic depressive alcoholic great American pagan household" (my family's given me permission to tell our story) ... I really appreciate every little baby step to grow up our little Sophie-lovie-bear with a more secure / happy / God-centered childhood.
You are appreciated!
Posted by: Tara Barthel | March 20, 2006 3:07 PM
Thanks for sharing this. We didn't set a daily devotional time with our first four, but we want to do that with our new little man. We hope it will influence the older ones to do it with thier families too. ;D
Posted by: Faith | March 20, 2006 4:16 PM