This week we are going to turn our minds towards the practical aspects of reading the Bible with kids, in the last post I looked at cultivating helpful attitudes towards reading the Bible so we can model it for our children. This week will look at the very act of how we read the bible with our kids. This will be broken into two sections. Section 1 will provide some tips on how to read the Bible with kids. Section 2 will be some recommendations on Bible versions and story books.
5 Tips for reading with kids
Tip 1 – Pick your time: Trying to read the Bible with kids can be difficult, they jump around and sometimes get hyped up over the craziest things. My 2yr old is especially like this at times. As such it is important to pick times to read when you are wanting to calm your kids down, and you yourself have time to sit and read. Just before dinner is probably not the best time, as you are flustered and rushing to get everything ready and your children will be hungry and so a little bit ratty. Our eldest loves to read, and so we read him books almost whenever he wants, certainly as often as we can. But for the Bible we have recently started the ritual that this is the book we read just before bed. It is our settle down book after dinner as we get ready for sleep.
Tip 2 – Make it regular: by making it regular you build it into part of your daily ritual, and so it becomes something of habit that we do. Every day we brush our teeth, have a bath, do our homework, spend some quality time together, read the Bible, etc. Important things are entrenched into our lives (we don’t want them to become chores though), we make time and space for them. As mentioned above, with my eldest, I read to him one bible story before bed. It is part of our good night ritual, and it has become something that he and I do together. It is part of our quality time.
Tip 3 – Age appropriate: make sure you are reading books that are appropriate for your child’s development. Below I will try and put recommendations into age categories, but realise that these are guidelines and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Some kids are great readers, with awesome attention spans, others aren’t and so pick one that suits your child’s development. For really little kids (under 2) I recommend simply getting picture books with one Bible story in them, and get several different ones. These are designed along the principles of a standard picture book and so are tailored to their development. particularly as many kids like to finish a book that is started. In contrast, my eldest, who I mentioned loves reading is able to handle a chapter out of The Jesus Storybook Bible which is aimed at older kids who are at school.
Tip 4 – Get into it: put as much effort as you can into your reading. I know not everyone is a great reader, and some people don’t enjoy it. But your children will learn from what you model, and so if you put lots of effort into your reading the Bible to kids (or any other book for that matter) then you signal that this is a valuable, enjoyable thing to be doing.
Tip 5 – Questions: Don’t get into the habit of grilling your kids on what they have read, or listened to. This is not Bible study, this is Bible reading. As such just read the book to them and enjoy the time together. If your child has questions that is the time to engage with them, because questions they have are born out of their interests, desires and concerns and so will be opportunities for valuable teaching and engagement. If you pump your kids with questions about what they read then they will see it as homework, or a chore and it will become boring.
One note: that being said I do ask my kids questions, but the types of questions I ask are not about grilling their comprehension but the general questions I might ask my kids as I read to them. These are normal questions, not quiz questions. For example I might ask “what do you think will happen next?” or pointing at a picture “what is that he is carrying?” They are I wonder or interest questions. I might do a blog on questions and kids down the track to make the difference clear.
What kind of books should I use when I read the Bible with my kids?
There are two major categories of books to read with kids around the Bible. One is Bible storybooks and the other is the actual Bible.
If you are going to read the Bible… I mean the actual Bible, I would recommend starting with kid-friendly translations. These are ones that don’t take away from the original text, but use smaller easier to understand language when they translate the words. I would make sure you pick and choose your passages with kids, some are not age appropriate no matter the translations (Thinking some of the Elijah stories, Song of Solomon,etc) I would maybe think Kindergarten – Grade 2 would be where I start regularly reading direct from scripture with kids, before that Bible Storybooks are a better option.
Two really good translations for Kids are CEV and the Good News Bible translations, these are tried and tested and we use them here at St Johns. For Pre-Teens and Teens the NIV is a good translation, or if you want them to read what we are reading at church the NRSV.
Bible Storybooks are retellings of biblical narratives that are done in age appropriate ways. Some are done better than others, but ultimately their real purpose is to familiarise children with the general outlines of biblical narratives. More often than not they are picture books, which makes them awesome for young children or children who want to read to themselves as well as with an adult. Just be careful with these, read them first and make sure they don’t diverge two far from the biblical narratives or teaching points the original wants.
Recommendations for reading the Bible with children, by age
0-4 years old
Bible Stories. These books are individual stories from the Bible done in a picture book format. they are a great for kids with short attention spans. The Lost Sheep series are quite good, with well-told stories and bright colours. (Here)
Candle Bible for Toddlers By Juliet David and Helen Prole: a pretty good Bible story book that will cover kids from 0-5. (Here)
Stories Jesus told, By Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen: a good introduction to the parables, with warn illustrations. Many of the stories can also be bought as individual stories as well. (Here)
5-9 years old
Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones and Illustrated by Jago : This is the best picture Bible I have ever seen. This retelling is so well done, and highlights the coming of Jesus in every story. It is not the Bible, and doesn’t pretend to be, instead it is a retelling of the greater biblical narrative in warm, whimsical and beautifully descriptive language. the illustrations are perfectly compliment the text. I read the Bible through this retelling each night with my 2 year old, and whilst it is a little old for him he is getting into it. (And I also love reading this for myself1) If you are only going to buy one, get this. (here)
7-12 years old
The unofficial Bible for Minecrafters: boys and girls are loving Minecraft at the moment, and so someone has illustrated a picture Bible with scenes from Minecraft. A great way to engage upper primary kids. (here)
Hope this helps!