My four-year-old grunted and strained, climbing up a flight of stairs while carrying a heavy (for her) stack of books. Between grunts, her tiny voice squeaked: “Be strong and courageous…ugh…for the Lord your God…is with you!”
She made it to the top step with a smile that said, “I did it!”
I’m glad she managed to carry that stack, but what made my mama-heart burst was how she encouraged herself with God’s Word during a difficult climb. God was gracious to give me a glimpse into something profound: even our very young children can remember and dwell on His truth. The scene reinvigorated my efforts to spiritually invest into my smallest kids. It was just the encouragement I needed.
Sometimes teaching Bible truth to our tiniest kids can feel defeating. Like that time I taught my three-year-old son about the goodness of Jesus, and he sat quietly until he passionately yelled, “I want more Jesus!” I was thrilled—until I realized he was actually asking for “more Cheez-its.”
The truth is, our preschool-aged kiddos are absorbing more than we can see. We shouldn’t be discouraged when they appear distracted or confused. It is all part of the journey. How many times had you heard the same gospel truth over and over; the same worship song, the same Bible verse before the truth finally sank deep into your marrow? Each tick along the way mattered. They helped lay a firm foundation for our faith.
And now it is our job to faithfully plant seeds and water. God will grow their hearts when He chooses. So we have the freedom and joy to pour into these little ones without obsessing over the outcome. God is pleased with our hearts to please Him, and raise our kids up in the way they should go. Even if sometimes they appear more enamored with preservative-filled crackers instead of the preserver and sustainer of souls.
As parents and foster parents of six, we have a lot of experience with different attention spans and ability levels. So if one method of teaching your child isn’t clicking, keep trying new ones! You are paired with your child intentionally, by a God who does not make mistakes. Keep going.
Here are some of our favorite ways to teach truth to our smallest kids.
The Jesus Storybook Bible // This beautifully-illustrated children’s Bible connects every story to the gospel. This helps even the smallest kids to see that the Bible is one epic love story about a good God and His faithfulness to unfaithful people. Open this book and a bag of snacks (Cheez-its, perhaps?). If your child cannot sit through an entire story, don’t stress. Try again the next day. Let him color while he listens. He will eventually get there.
New City Catechism for Kids // Kathy Keller has developed a simple question/answer catechism for children. The book is tailored for adults, but a simplified version is available through an app. The truths are set to music, sung by a children’s choir. My kids have memorized the ten commandments and other solid Bible truths through this simple question/answer memory work. (Kayse recommends Luther’s Small Catechism + the Sing the Faith CD – she uses both with her family!)
King Things Music // Ross King creates Bible memory songs that do not sound like annoying children’s music. I suppose it’s not fair to paint with too broad a brush here, but I will say that in my experience, some children’s worship compilations are fantastic, just not something I want to listen to for long periods of time in my car. Enter King Things. The music is pleasant to the ear and has helped my kids memorize entire chapters of scripture. You can find his songs on Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, Spotify.
Look for teachable moments, // As you teach your kids God’s word and gospel truth, you will have a lot of opportunities to point out the way biblical truth plays into everyday life. For example, if your four-year-old is lying (and four-year-olds are terrible liars, in my experience, so this should be easy to spot), this is a fantastic opportunity to calmly explain God’s commandment about not lying. Remind your child that there are bad consequences for disobeying God. If you are able, you can bring in some biblical examples of disobedience and consequences. Jonah, Adam and Eve, etc. But don’t stop at the bad news! Remind your child that we all make bad choices because we all have hearts that want to disobey God. That’s why God sent Jesus, to take our punishment for us, to make a way for us to be close to God, despite our sin. Isn’t that good news?! Small children provide plenty of opportunities all day long for us to point them back to God’s truth. Connecting those dots is invaluable to their spiritual formation. These years offer a treasure trove of teachable moments. If we aren’t intertwining them with biblical truth, we are missing those opportunities.
Let them see you reading your Bible—often. // If we teach our kids that the Bible is our daily bread, that we need God’s word, but we aren’t reading it? We will not have the credibility to speak spiritual truth to them. We cannot give our kids what we do not have. Deeply root yourself in the Lord, asking Him for clarity as you make little disciples. Pull your little ones on your lap as you read. Share what you are learning in God’s word over the dinner table. Share how it is changing your heart, how God is rooting out your anger or control issues, and how grateful you are that Jesus forgives you for your sins, too.
Take walks. // When we explore nature, we cannot help but think about where it came from. Preschoolers marvel at puffy clouds and giant raindrops. Creepy crawly bugs capture their attention. And what an opportunity to remind them of God’s creativity and to thank Him for the beautiful world we get to live in.
Memorize scripture together. // My kids and I made up hand motions to memorize a proverb. Well, half a proverb. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty.” (Prov. 16:32a) As moms, we must remember that Bible verses are not magic spells. So just because one of your kids gets angry at his sibling WHILE reciting this verse, and proceeds to hurl a Bible in anger, doesn’t mean that you aren’t planting seeds that will grow eventually. (This actually happened.) As your kids memorize scripture, they are banking truth in their minds. As the grow, they can recall these truths in everyday life. Sometimes they will still miss the mark. So will we. That’s called being human.
Pray for opportunities, attention spans, and soft hearts. God can move mountains and He can change hearts. Ask Him for help as you seek to raise little ones who love Him. He is so faithful.
Keep going, mama! This is a marathon and not a sprint. Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Molly DeFrank is a mom and foster mom to five kids under ten. She writes about faith and motherhood—the hilarious and the hard; the fun and the maddening; the beauty and the blunders. She loves to share encouragement and laughter with women just like her. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, or her website, www.mollydefrank.com.