By Heidi Franz
We were meeting because she wanted to know more about quality children’s church curriculum. She sat across from me, eating her toasted bagel, hoping that as a writer of both academic and Bible curriculum for preschool-aged children and as a leader of preschool worship at my church, I would be able to offer guidance.
Expecting to hear about important features of the curriculum, she was surprised by my first question, “What is your goal for children’s church?”
She declared, “I want kids to know the Bible.” I replied, “Then that becomes the filter for every decision you make regarding children’s church.”
But, oh, how this goal has gotten lost in curricula that include fancy apps, colorful themes, and high-energy songs and videos.
Why Do We Teach the Bible to Children?
For just a moment, create a list of why it is important to teach children the Bible. Until we understand our “why,” we can’t discover the “how.”
Scripture itself tells us why we should be teaching children the Bible. Here are just a couple of passages:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
The Bible is God’s words for us (God-breathed), which allows us to know His character and nature. For all generations, it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training so that we know who we are (servants of God). The Scriptures equip us to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives (good work).
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:9-11 (NIV)
This passage speaks to how a young person can live a pure and blameless life. Instead of having to guess how to make this happen, the verses spell it out: teach them God’s Word.
Much of children’s church curriculum is geared towards teaching morality but is disconnected from both God and His Holy Word. These passages make it clear that the Bible is how we know God and how He changes our hearts so that we can begin to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.
So, how does a church leader move away from curriculum that teaches morals with a few Bible verses scattered in? I believe we get back to the basics.
Teaching the Bible
Let’s place our preschoolers on a path to fall in love with God’s Word.
My goal for preschool worship is that the children will have a solid foundation of 100 Bible stories that will carry them into the elementary program. I want them to be able to recite the main characters’ names and the key points: a three-year-old can recall Noah and animals; a four-year-old adds ark and rainbow; a five-year-old builds on the story with ideas and additional facts like “promise” and “flood.”
Year by year, the foundation is built and strengthened so that as they grow and mature, God’s Word takes root, resulting in a believer who can not only recall scripture but apply it, as well.
These stories are repeated over and over and over because children learn through repetition. This is why children ask for the same picture book to be read 40 times in one week. Adults must remember that while it bores us, repetition is how young children learn.
Teaching the Bible Through Interactive Stories
Every other week, I have the opportunity to teach 100 preschoolers about a God who is crazy in love with them. Sitting crisscross in front of me, they pretend to be Paul on a rocking ship. Marching in place, the children imitate Joshua circling the walls. They quietly sit imagining they are the two spies hiding on Rahab’s roof. Using paper bag puppets as a visual aid, the children discover the story of Jacob and Esau.
Involving children in the Bible story and providing calming visual props allows all young children to learn about God’s love for His people, God’s sovereign plan, and how God can be trusted.
From an educator’s standpoint, allowing the children to interact during the story time increases retention. For example, children hear the story (auditory learning) and repeat key words (aural learning) while actively being part of the story (kinesthetic learning).
Teaching the Bible Through Music
Almost every child loves to sing, dance, and play percussion instruments. But excessive volume and fast-paced choreography overstimulates children, causing them to move into fight-or-flight mode. Because we desire all children to learn, it is important to provide an atmosphere that makes all children feel safe.
Sadly, song tracks and videos are produced at “performance” speed and are not conducive for teaching young children the words. By singing songs a cappella and slowing down the tempo, young children can learn the words to the entire song instead of mumbling through only a small percentage of the lyrics.
Songs can become deeply rooted in our memory, so all songs chosen for preschool worship should contain age-appropriate lyrics and be sung at a child-focused tempo to allow for quick and simple memorization. As a rule, if I am unable to learn a song in one or two run-throughs, it will be too difficult for preschool-aged children to sing.
Singing a cappella also allows me to dictate the tempo and key. It also provides an opportunity for me to stop the song at any time to ask the children a question, pull the kids back in, or explain the lyrics.
What Is Your Goal for Children’s Church?
Now it is time for me to ask you the same questions. First, what is your goal for children’s church?
Second, are the curriculum and activities that you are using fully supporting this goal?
My prayer is that you deeply desire for the children who attend your church to know the Bible. If fluff, electronics, and overstimulation has taken over, return to the Bible. Let all that you do be based on the truth that children need to be taught who God is and what God does so they understand who they are and what they should do.
Heidi Franz is the writer of the popular ABCJesusLovesMe Curricula. The Bible and academic curricula are for children ages 1-6 and are used in homes, preschools, and churches in almost every country around the world.