Let’s face it: reading the Bible with young kids is hard work.
Sometimes you can’t read more than three words before that sweet angelic voice
pipes up for the umpteenth time, “Dad. Dad. Dad… do you know what?” If you’re lucky,
the question is about what you’re reading. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be answering questions
about why eagles have sharp talons and why some soap is hard but other soap is
runny. And this is before you even try to explain sometimes difficult and abstract ideas
like sin, grace and righteousness, which come up in the passages we read.
In the Bible, God calls on Christian parents to raise our children in ‘the training and instruction
of the Lord’ [Eph 5:4]. He wants us to take delight in his word – a word for all
generations [Psalm 119] – and to live lives in humble obedience to that word [James
2:19-25]. The Apostle Paul talks about Timothy having been taught the ‘sacred Scriptures,
which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ from
childhood [1 Tim 3:15]. If we believe that all of this is true, then we will push through
all the fidgeting, the seemingly inane questions and just downright bedlam that seems
to come with discipling our children, and read the Bible with them.
In the hope that it will be helpful, I thought I’d share some of the things I consider as I
read the Bible at home with my kids.
First, expect chaos. That way it doesn’t take you by surprise when it happens. What
I’m really saying is this: it’s normal for young kids to fidget and fuss. It’s ok to have to
keep refocussing your kids every time you turn the page. Some days they will sit quietly
and listen, others will seem like a complete write off. Having said that – consider
if there is anything that is contributing to the chaos: location, temperature, timing, the
version you are reading is too hard etc.
Second, try to gauge the mood before you dive in – if the kids are tired and grumpy it
may be the day to pull out the short Bible stories (see below).
Third, learn which Bible versions really engage your kids and which ones they struggle
with, then plan accordingly. It might mean reading one chapter of a longer version on
Mondays and then shorter versions on every other day.
Fourth, think about which Bible version you will use. I have a range of Bibles that I
cycle through. Because each of them has different strengths and weaknesses, cycling
through them helps me to trade the strengths and weaknesses against each other.
Generally, these Bibles fit into one of two categories: Bibles Stories or The Bible Story.
Bible Stories are exactly what they sound like: retellings of individual stories from the
Bible. The Bible Story on the other hand, tends to focus more on the big picture – the
overarching story of the Bible as a whole – and helps us to see how the individual stories
in the Bible relate to each other in this story.
Here are some examples of both types of Bible:
Illustrated Bible Stories – Shorter
Eg, My First Read-Aloud Bible. Two illustrated pages with about one paragraph of text
per story. This type of Kids’ Bible focuses on a selection of Bible stories from the Old
and New Testaments. Because it’s so short it’s great for very young kids and we can
cover a lot of ground quickly. I have this one on hand for those nights when we get home
late and still want to read the Bible and pray before bed. The downside to these Bibles
is that they often fail to deal with key passages, ideas and Biblical themes.
Illustrated Bible Stories – Longer
Eg, The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories. As above, but with 5 – 7 illustrated
pages per story. Each page has a short paragraph of text. These Bibles tend to develop
the ideas and themes of the passage more, and give more room to ask questions
about what is happening and why before you turn the page. On the downside they may
still focus on the ‘exciting action’ of narrative passages and miss key themes and ideas.
Illustrated Bible Story – Short
Eg, The Gospel Story Bible. One illustrated page and one page with 5 – 6 paragraphs
of text. This particular Bible helpfully places the short stories that form the Bible in the
overall story of God’s saving work in Jesus. At the end of each story is a short paragraph
explaining how Jesus fulfils the passage. Although it’s ‘short’, there is a lot of text
and younger kids will struggle to listen for long. One strength of this particular Bible is
the set of three questions accompanying each story to get you talking.
Illustrated Bible Story – Long
Eg, The Jesus Storybook Bible or The Big Picture Bible. As above, but the text is
spread out across several illustrated pages. The Jesus Storybook Bible has more text,
so will suit more advanced listeners!
Illustrated Bible Story – Super Short!
Eg, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings us Back to the Garden. This
book aims to do what other ‘Big Picture’ kids’ Bibles do, but does so in 10 short chapters.
Each chapter has 6 – 8 illustrated pages with about one paragraph of text. The
beauty of this book is this: over just 10 nights we can remind ourselves of what the
message of the Bible is all about, before diving back into a version that takes months to
get through. I think this is the prefect ‘in-between’ Bible – one that you read each time
you switch between a Bible story and Bible stories version.
Fifth, I always finish our time reading the Bible together by praying a short prayer that
incorporates what we’ve just read – it’s a great opportunity to teach our kids how to pray
in line with God’s will.
Finally, have fun! Take your time and savour the moment. Kids love to read with their
parents and it’s important to show how much we love to hear our God speak in his word.
Happy Bible reading!