Tell someone that you read Bible stories to the babies and toddlers in your early childhood ministry, and you may hear questions like this:
Aren’t they too young for that?
What could they possibly remember about Bible stories?
Shouldn’t we wait until they are old enough to understand Scripture before we start reading it to them?
These questions overlook the exciting opportunities we have to introduce young children to God’s Word right from the start. Decades of research on early brain development, neuroplasticity, and literacy development point to the importance of repeated exposure to print starting in infancy. Doing so helps young children develop familiarity and then fluency with reading. If early childhood experts are advocating the importance of reading to young children right from the start, why should our ministry practices be any different? After all, we can support reading literacy and biblical literacy with the same books!
Your early childhood ministry can present Bible stories to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in many ways. Here are nine tips to try:
- Read Bible stories to babies and toddlers in a warm, engaging way. Provide cozy seating so caregivers can read Bible stories to little ones as they hold them in their arms or lap. These times of closeness will help children build positive associations between hearing stories of God’s people and feeling close to trusted caregivers.
- Play the Bible! Look for playsets (Noah’s ark and the nativity are more common) along with Bible time costumes and puppets of animals in Bible stories. Model how children can build with blocks to make a temple like Solomon built, or use blue fabric to reenact the story of the Red Sea parting.
- Sing the Bible. Teach simple songs written about Bible stories, like “Rise and Shine,” and “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.” You can also sing songs based on Bible verses, like “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made.”
- Emphasize Bible stories about babies and animals. Young children feel connected to other children and to animals. Bible stories that feature these characters will be especially appealing. Think Noah’s animal pairs, baby Moses in the basket, the lions in the den, and baby Jesus.
- Say prayers from the Bible. Several scripture verses can be spoken as simple prayers. (Start with Numbers 6:24.) Pair the words with a gentle touch of blessing to providing a multisensory way for little ones to see, hear, and feel God’s Word.
- Provide a range of Bible storybooks. When little ones can see pictures paired with the words of a Bible story, they remember the details more vividly. Even better, provide several kinds of durable Bible storybooks made of cloth, vinyl, or sturdy board so they can hold and explore them with little fingers and mouths.
- Point out that grown-ups read from Bibles too. Over the years, we want children to graduate from baby Bibles to lengthier story Bibles to full-text Bibles. When they see that Christians never stop reading and learning from their Bibles, they will develop a deeper understanding of how the Bible plays a central role in our Christian faith, no matter our age.
- Related to Tip 7, show kids how you use your own Bible. Young children are interested in the lives of the grown-ups who care for them. Show them the marked-up pages of your own Bible and tell stories about it. Who gave you this Bible? Where has it traveled? What are ways you mark verses that have important meaning for you?
- Equip parents! No matter how great our early childhood ministry may be, its impact is amplified when parents feel equipped and confident to keep faith practices going at home. Plan to show and tell parents how you use the Bible during your time with their children. Even better? Plan parent-child classes when they can explore God’s word together.
The next time someone asks about what is happening in your early childhood ministry, emphasize that you are going far beyond babysitting—you are introducing the next generation of Christians to God’s Word!