Introducing kids to God’s Word is a holy endeavor—and a big job! One of your goals in children’s ministry may be to help children develop a lifelong connection to and love for God’s Word. You can view biblical literacy as a series of stages that match the developmental stages of child development. This can be a great way to establish a sound foundation that you can build on throughout the span of your children’s ministry.
Young children love stories that are presented in lively, age-appropriate ways. Whether a teacher reads from a storybook, leads a spirited puppet show, or a reenacts a story using plastic Little People®, kids love to see stories come to life from a leader who is excited to share them. When presenting stories from scripture, keep these tips in mind for the 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds in your ministry.
- Choose a story Bible that is fun to read with colorful pictures that engage kids’ attention as the leader reads the story and shows the pictures.
- Introduce the names of people in the story and use them often.
- Tell stories about Bible time families when possible so children remember, for example, that Isaac is the son of Abraham and Sarah and the father of Jacob and Esau.
- Point out the feelings of the people in the story so kids begin to learn that Bible stories happened to real people with real emotions.
- Introduce the big picture concept of the Old and New Testaments so that children learn that some Bibles stories happened before Jesus was born, and other stories tell about his life and what happened after the resurrection.
- Identify faith takeaways from the stories you tell. (God loves us. God keeps promises. God calls people to do big things.) This will help children begin to learn God was active in the life of people from the Bible in powerful ways that connect to the ways God is active in our lives today.
First and Second Graders
Between ages 6 and 8, most children are learning to read. When they begin to master reading print on the page (and screen), they are ready for books at a “just right” reading level for them. As they develop reading fluency and confidence, they may enjoy reference books that provide images and text about topics ranging from large vehicles to outer space. For these new readers in your ministry, here are tips to build their biblical literacy as their reading skills keep sharpening.
- Provide story Bibles that are written at kids’ reading levels so they can begin to read God’s Word on their own. (Since kids still enjoy being read to, leaders can read to them from time to time!)
- Be prepared with follow-up questions as you read Bible stories with young readers. Comprehension questions tap into whether they understood and learned something directly from the story. (How many brothers did Joseph have?) Inference questions require them to take another step to figure out something from the text that isn’t directly stated. (Why do you think Joseph’s brothers were so jealous?) Kids deserve great questions that help them learn about the people of the Bible, about God, and about their own faith.
- In addition to learning about the people, places, and things of the Bible, point out ways that God was active in the lives of these faithful followers. We want kids to make the connection between how people in the Bible had faith in God and how we have faith in God.
- Keep in mind that some kids are not strong readers yet. They may have a diagnosed learning difference or may just need more time to develop fluency. Provide ways for these kids to engage with the Bible other than asking them to read aloud.
Third and Fourth Graders
These kids are making an important shift as they go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” They may be familiar with the characters and story arcs in Bible stories. (We know there are always some kids just joining our ministries who have not heard the Word before.) but they’re ready for more complex, challenging, and rewarding ways to explore their Bibles. Here are some ideas:
- Plan to give third or fourth graders their first gift Bible so they can begin to read scripture from a full-text Bible.
- Kids between ages 8 and 10 are learning more advanced reading strategies at school. Their teachers are guiding them to make predictions, understand character motivation and emotion, and visualize story actions. Find ways to tap into these strategies while they read from their Bibles.
- Show kids how to look up passages on their own. Also find high-energy, engaging ways to teach about the structure of the Bible, such as the sections of the Bible (Pentateuch, Prophets, etc.) and types of books (history, poetry, letters, etc.). Always identify the reason to teach biblical structure that kids can understand right now.
- Encourage kids to interact with their Bibles through highlighting verses, writing notes in the margin, adding sticky notes, or other marking techniques.
Exploring Bible stories with kids can be a joyful, faith-filled experience for ministry leaders when we prepare for this time together using age-appropriate approaches. When we teach them strategies they can take outside our ministry spaces, we are also equipping them to read scripture on their own. Blessings to you in this holy endeavor!