I’d like to share some resources that have helped me over the years while working with children and families in church ministry contexts.
You’ll notice one book in this list that seems out of place (the Jonestown one). I included that as a narrative about how NOT to lead families and children in ministry. It is a warning to all of us who work with children to steer clear of the vices that plummet leaders into grave destructiveness.
Jerome Berryman. Godly Play. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. New York: Harper, 1954.
Diana Garland. Family Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide, Second Ed. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Jeff Guinn. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017.
Catherine Stonehouse. Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.
I attended a community event a few weeks ago at a local theater. Before the event started, a quiz game was running on the big screen. And anyone could join in and play if they had a personal electronic device and the game code entered into their web browser on the device. The game code was posted on the big screen before the game started. Lots of people in the theater played. The game kept score of the players based on correct answers and the speed in which they answered. At the end of the game, the winner was posted on the screen and the young man came forward to receive a prize.
The online platform used was called Kahoot. It is an app, but it also has an old-fashioned website so that players can play without having to download the app or even register with an email and password (which I love).
I had an event at which I was speaking a few days later, and I dove into Kahoot to find out how to use it myself at this event. I was so glad I did, because I found out how much fun it is for both the teacher and the learners.
So here is how it works. First of all, it is free (for now…currently they make money by offering it to large corporate clients who use it for various purposes). While you do not need to register an email and password in order to play, do you have to register if you want to administer Kahoot games. Once you sign up for an account, you can write your own trivia games or select one from the thousands that have been uploaded by different users. You can browse by keyword, and you can pre-scan the questions and answers of each uploaded game so you can see if it is one you want to use or not.
This event I spoke at was a family retreat for a church in Texas, so we did trivia games in three different categories: Bible, Texas facts, and Disney. The crowd loved it. Since the event was for families, we played the option of one device per team (per family) and everyone gathered around the device and tapped the multiple choice selection on their device. You can also set up the game to be every-person-for-themselves, but that only works if everyone has their own device.
Apparently, there are many more uses for Kahoot than just trivia games. That is nice because trivia can sometimes be merely that: trivial. You can use it for crowd-sourcing, opinion gathering, voting/polling, testing, and real-time feedback and input on public speaking presentations. Basically, if you need to gather information from a crowd, whether in a fun game or in something more serious, this app lets you do that in a simple and user-friendly way.
Check it out and discover all the great uses here: kahoot.it
I’d like to share a worship response object lesson we organized at summer camp last month. It was a little risky because we had about 300 campers and it could have gotten chaotic, but the kids did great and the end result was very moving.
First of all, when I say, “worship response,” I’m referring to something we do after the sermon/teaching time in a worship service. The band played soft worship music while the kids rotated around the room at various stations that helped them respond to God’s Word in a variety of ways. I go into more depth about this general idea in another post.
One of the stations this particular evening of camp invited the kids to write things down at two different tables. The theme of the camp was “I Am” and we looked at some of the “I Am” statements made by God in Scripture.
Table number one had poster boards, permanent markers, and a basket of cards wherein each card listed a name of God found in Scripture (“Counselor”, “Redeemer”, “Alpha and Omega”, “Good Shepherd”, etc.). The kids would come to this table, grab a card, and write what they saw on the card onto the poster (using a permanent marker).
On table number two, we had a large white dry erase board and some dry erase markers. The children were invited (if they chose to do so) to come forward and anonymously write a sin or struggle on the white board using the dry eraser (see where we’re going with this?).
When all the campers had written what they wanted at the two tables, we brought the posters and white board on stage. I instructed the band to play What Can Wash Away My Sins? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus while a child wiped away the sins and struggles from the dry erase board. It was a beautiful moment.
Then, as you can probably guess, we brought up the posters with the names of God all over them. I told the same child to try erasing it with the dry eraser. You should have seen the look on his face! He thought I was crazy for telling him to do so. But I wanted to make the point clear: as he attempted to erase the poster with God’s names, nothing was coming off. It was all permanent! And that is exactly the point of this illustration: Jesus wipes away our sins, but His name endures forever!
Your name, LORD, endures forever, your renown, LORD, through all generations. -Psalm 135:13
Want more creative ideas for Children’s Ministry? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter here.
Photo Credits to Christopher Seay of Next Level Kids Camp in Texas (all except the last photo).
- Center for Children and Theology (resource for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) – https://cctheo.org/
- Hillsong Kids (music and curriculum) – https://hillsong.com/kids/
- Go Fish (music and curriculum) – http://gofishresources.com/
- For HIS Kidz (speakers and entertainers for evangelistic events) – http://forhiskidz.com/
- MinistryToChildren.com (free resources) – http://ministry-to-children.com/
- Kidology (ministry resources) – http://kidology.org/welcome.asp
- Group Publishing (“big box” curriculum) – https://www.group.com/
- Kidz Matter (ministry resources and KidzMatter magazine) – http://kidzmatter.com/
- Orange (curriculum and philosophy of family ministry) – http://thinkorange.com/
- International Network of Children’s Ministry (global network and host of annual Children’s Pastors’ Conference) – http://incm.org/
ELEVEN TO TWELVE YEARS
Biblezines series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, various dates.
Thomas Nelson publishers has created a series of whole-text Old and New Testaments printed in the style of a modern magazine. They call them “Biblezines.” There are different versions for different genders and age groups. There is Revolve for girls and Refuel for boys. There are also other age levels represented. This can be helpful for young preteens who enjoy this medium of literature (http://www.amazon.com/Revolve-2007-New-Testament-Biblezine/dp/0718016483/ref=pd_sim_14_5?ie=UTF8&dpID=61ZTKT9DGTL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR118%2C160_&refRID=01JN82W1F1RWMSR58N18).
Clementoni Biblical Scene Jigsaw Puzzles – Tower of Babel and The Last Supper.
These two puzzles are more difficult than the one mentioned previously because of the number of pieces. That is why they are listed in this older age group. Like already stated, puzzles are a great way for families to come together and share a positive experience away from electronic devices. Both of these puzzles feature images of Biblical scenes that are also masterpieces in art history.
- Clementoni 1500 Piece Bruegel The Tower of Babel Puzzle (http://www.clementoni.com/en/31985-bruegel-the-tower-of-babel-1500-pieces-museum-collection/).
- Clementoni 1000 Piece The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci Jigsaw Puzzle (http://www.clementoni.com/en/31447-leonardo-the-last-supper-1000-pieces-museum-collection/).
Commission on Children at Risk. “Hardwired to connect: The new scientific case for authoritative communities.” A report by the Institute for American Values, 2003.
This report is the result of a large study done by leaders from various fields who work with children and who are stakeholders in the conversation of how to improve the lives of youth. The study found that children need “authoritative communities” in order to thrive. Children are made for relationships and find meaning when there is a strong moral and spiritual foundation around them in the form of community. Leaders can use this to better understand children from all types of communities and explore how to better nurture their spiritual development (http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=17) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2a-W183l04).
Dreds and Company.
Dawna Duke is a musician who has written worship songs geared towards the preteen age group. Most songs are upbeat Scripture lyrics so the kids can learn Scripture while they sing. She goes by the name of “Dreds” and usually brings other team members to help with the singing and leading the motions (“Company”). They travel to churches and camps leading worship for kids and family ministry events (http://www.dredsandcompany.com/).
The Family Prayer Corner.
Inspired by an idea from my daughter’s school (which uses the Atrium and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), I created a family prayer corner which has since turned into a creative space in which our entire family connects with God and with one another. Here is my blog post about it from February 26th, 2016: (http://jessejoyner.com/the-family-prayer-corner/)
Yesterday, I worked together with my five-year old daughter to set up a little prayer station in our house. My wife and I got the idea from her school, which uses a lot of hands-on activities that teach kids about spirituality.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of creating ritualistic prayer spaces because I want kids to know that they can pray anywhere, anytime, all the time.
But, I went ahead and tried this prayer corner idea and I was amazed at how excited my daughter got about it. There was something tangible she could do and touch while she did something that is very deep, abstract, and invisible. Truth be told, my wife and I got excited about praying at the prayer station too. As adults, we often treat prayer as a perfunctory chore. But this prayer station helps touch the human senses in ways that provides concrete metaphors for unseen realities.
So far, it has done wonders for us in terms of reminding us to pray and as a gathering point for our family to joyfully pray together.
Here’s what we did:
- We got a glass plate and a miniature clear glass jar (like a small Mason jar).
- We found some smooth decorative rocks that we had in a drawer. For you, these could be any kind of rocks. We call them the “prayer rocks.”
- We placed the prayer rocks around the jar on the plate.
- We found a battery-powered votive candle (that you can get at any hobby/craft store) and placed it on one end of the plate.
- We explained the idea to our daughter and allowed her to to choose a spot in the house to put the prayer station.
Here’s the way to use it:
- Whenever anyone wants to, they can go to the prayer station for as long or as short of a time they like. You can go alone or with someone else. It is always voluntary. And it should never be something we “show off” to look spiritual (Matthew 6:5-6).
- Light the votive candle.
- Grab a rock and say a prayer. There is nothing magical or spiritual in the rock. But it can help us focus and act as reminder that God hears our every little prayer. The rock can also be a symbol that God is our rock and our foundation. The prayer can be either silent or out loud. You can take whatever posture you like.
- Drop the prayer rock in the jar and stay as long as you like. There’s something about the sound of the glass bead rocks in the glass jar that adds a sort of song to the prayer.
- Turn off the votive candle.
- When the jar is full or the all the rocks are used up, reset the rocks to the original position of being spread around the empty jar. Before you reset it, take in the sight of the full jar as a reminder of all the prayers that God has heard and His faithfulness to answer.
If you try this, I would encourage you to put your own spin or family personality on this station. Also, though we haven’t added the following yet, I think it would be helpful to have some prayers on hand nearby in a drawer if someone wants to pray a pre-written prayer (either from Scripture or a good prayer book). You could also frame the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and place it at the prayer station.
This could also easily be turned into a Worship Response Station for large groups at church or at camp. You could set up tables with small rocks all over them. Have the kids say a prayer and then place (not throw) the rocks in a wooden bowl or a similar type of container.
I still firmly believe in prayer as something we can do anywhere and anytime (John 4:21-24). But even Jesus spoke of the prayer closet (Matthew 6:6) and he himself had the Garden of Gethsemane (“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” – Luke 22:39). So why not create a Gethsemane in our homes for our families, the very foundational place of spiritual growth for our children?
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: Harper Collins. 2002.
This classic seven-volume set of 20th Century fantasy literature by British author C.S. Lewis is accepted in both religious and secular arenas as excellent children’s literature. The series follows the story of four siblings caught up in a parallel universe called Narnia – home to fawns, witches, centaurs, nymphs, talking beavers, and the good lion Aslan. Lewis was an outspoken Christian with a gift for apologetics. He was also gifted in telling the story of redemption without coming across “preachy,” which is exactly what he accomplished with the Chronicles of Narnia. The story is clearly an allegory of God’s works of sacrificial love and consummate redemption through Christ, even though Lewis neither forces nor explicitly states this connection. It is a perfect series for parents to read to young children or children of ten or older to read on their own. Ideally, natural conversations about the similarities between Aslan and Christ and other connections can be had between parents and children (https://www.narnia.com/us).
Local “Western Wall.”
A praying wall with bricks and slats for placing prayers on folded pieces of paper can be constructed as a prayer station in church. This can be easily transferred to use with children in church or in the home. Waverly United Methodist Church in Waverly, PA is credited for this idea and here is there picture and description: “Today we began our Lenten series, “Watch and Pray.” The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the last remaining structure of the temple. A sacred place of the Jewish faith, local Jews and pilgrims of both the Jewish and Christian traditions tuck written prayers into the crevices between the rocks. This Lent, we will leave our prayers for God in our own wall.” Thanks to the Gilpins who happened to have a stash of bricks for us to borrow and John K who delivered them to church so we could build our prayer wall this morning! Stop in anytime to leave a prayer and join us Sunday at 9am as we continue to “watch and pray” (from the ‘Waverly Umc’ facebook page, posted 2/14/2016, accessed 2/17/2016).
Mosaic Tile Art Installation at The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel.
This is a series of mosaic tile portraits of the madonna and child (Mary and Jesus) from dozens of countries around the world. People can walk the courtyard of the church and appreciate the way different cultures around the world depict Mary and Jesus. In each one, the figures reflect the dominant skin tones, clothing, and symbols of the respective culture. It is a helpful way for kids and parents to learn about the various ways cultures around the world view Jesus and that Jesus should not be restricted to a bearded Western affluent white figure as he typically is in America (cf. May, Stonehouse, Posterski, Cannell, Children Matter, p. 124). If you cannot visit in person, you can view the mosaics here: (http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/AnnunciationMosaics.html).
This is an app for devices that is specifically designed to aid in Scripture memorization. It has ten of the most popular English Bible translations and has a three step process that teaches the user to memorize a verse of their choice or one selected from a number of categories. It also tracks your progress and saves your memorized verses (https://scripturetyper.com/).
Strobel, Lee and Christopher D. Hudson. The Case for Christ for kids curriculum. DVD set. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.
From well-known Christian apologist Lee Strobel comes his version of The Case for Christ geared towards kids. Preteens are struggling with the tough issues surrounding the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, and the reason for the life and work of Jesus Christ. Ministry leaders can use this video-based curriculum to facilitate the six-lessons that are a part of the curriculum (http://www.zondervan.com/the-case-for-christ-for-kids-curriculum#).
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
EIGHT TO TEN YEARS
Adventures in Odyssey.
Produced by Focus on the Family, Adventures in Odyssey is a long-running radio program that is set in the fictional mid-American town of Odyssey. Whit is the wise elder statesman of the community who helps kids figure out solutions to life’s problems through a Christian and Biblical perspective. This often happens at his soda fountain shop called “Whit’s End.” He also has a time machine called the “Imagination Station,” which allows characters to travel back in time – whether to the battle of Fort McHenry at Baltimore or to the stables in Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph. Originally in cassette tape format and then compact disc (CD), Adventures in Odyssey episodes can be downloaded online nowadays (http://www.whitsend.org/).
The Bible App for Kids (https://www.bible.com/kids).
An app for devices that allows children to interact with Bible stories through animated visuals. Thiscan be helpful in allowing kids to engage with Scripture through the technology of their generation. Like all electronic devices, parents and leaders should monitor the amount of time spent on the device.
Hastings, Selina. Illustrated by Eric Thomas. The Children’s Illustrated Bible. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.
A very comprehensive collection of Bible stories with colorful and detailed visuals aids such as pictures, maps, diagrams, and artwork. It includes introductions to the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. It also has a glossary of names and a useful index oftopics. Each Bible story is retold in a way that a parent could read to their child while the child looks at the pictures. Many of the visual aids provide the cultural and historical background information relevant to each particular story (http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Illustrated-Bible-Selina-Hastings/dp/1564584720).
Jacob’s Ladder (Toy).
This traditional wooden toy is a set of small wooden squares linked by a ribbon. The ribbon weaves in and out of the blocks so that when you hold the toy a certain way, the blocks fold down on one another and givethe illusion of a falling ladder. The toy can also be configured into various positions to imitate everything from a table to a dog. The name of the toy (Jacob’s Ladder) opens up a conversation the parent or ministry leader can have with the child(ren) about Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-19). In the same way that the toy has a mesmerizing appeal to it, so also God mesmerized Jacob in a dream about a ladder. That ladder represented a portal to heaven (as angels went up and down on it). It was through this gate/portal that God spoke to Jacob and declared the covenant promise that had been given to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham (Gen 28:13-15). Later, in the New Testament, Jesus alluded to this ladder when he told Nathaniel that he would see “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). This was Jesus’ declaration that he himself was the ladder (the portal between heaven and earth) to God the Father. Here are someinstructions on how to make an oversized version (http://www.sermons4kids.com/instructions-ladder-toy.pdf). It can also be purchased here: (http://www.amazon.com/Toysmith-6195-Jacobs-Ladder/dp/ B000RAEBL2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454428925&sr=8-2&keywords=jacob%27s+ladder).
Johnson, Andy. Lantern Music. Multiple music albums (http://www.lanternmusic.org/).
Andy Johnson serves as a worship leader for the Children’s Ministry program at Valley Church in West Des Moines, IA. He has compiled three albums of original worship songs where the lyrics are Scripture verses. Johnson uses simple sounds from the guitar, keyboard, and drums. The musical style could be considered modern folk pop (like Jason Mraz). The tunes are catchy and memorable so that the kids can memorize Scripture in a way that is engaging on their level.
The Lads (http://www.theladsband.com/).
This is a music band of young men who hail from New Zealand. They have since based themselves in the Nashville, TN area and they tour the country performing shows that communicate Biblical truths through upbeat kid-friendly music styles. They have CD’s of their music as well as a few television show episodes that feature their music and storytelling with a Christian message.
Mauss, Doug ed. Illustrated by Sergio Cariello. The Action Bible. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. 2010.
This is another comic-book style Bible (similar to the The Picture Bible mentioned above). This one has a lot of bright colors and high-energy action depictions. It is drawn to resemble an action-packed graphic novel or superhero comic series. It is very visually stimulating. Parents and teachers could read through stories with the children and appreciate the artistic medium. I would suggest balancing something like this with time and space for quiet reflection and prayer away from the images. See more at the home website for the product: (http://www.theactionbible.com/).
Meiklejohn, Julie ed. Amazing Science Devotions for Children’s Ministry. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing. 1999.
This book is a collection of 41 science-based object lessons that teach Biblical truths. For example, there is a lesson that teaches kids how to make a rainbow using everyday household supplies (a cup of water, tape, scissors, a piece of paper, and sunlight). The teacher or parent can lead the child in the science project and then discuss the Biblical connection (in this case, the beauty of God’s creation and the promise he gave Noah never to judge the earth again with a global flood). Children learn the God-authored beauty of science as well as a particular Biblical truth alongside the science. There is an introduction and an index of Scriptures and topics (https://www.group.com/product/9780764421051-amazing-science-devotions-for-children-s-ministry.do).
Noah’s Ark 504-piece puzzle: Christian Brands RC717 Noah’s Ark Jigsaw Puzzle by Gifts of Faith, 2013.
Puzzles are a great way for a family to come together around an “unplugged” activity that helps people slow down in this media-driven society. When the subject matter of the jigsaw puzzle is a Biblical scene, it allows the family to discuss the Bible story in organic and meaningful ways. Certain details that may be missed in a quick glance at a picture suddenly become relevant as everyone looks for a certain piece of the puzzle. Aside from the subject matter of the puzzle, there is a valuable payout in terms of family togetherness, cooperation, patience, and working together towards a goal. This 504-piece puzzle is appropriate for older elementary children through adults.
Worship Response Stations.
For centuries, Christians have developed creative ways to respond to God. From the sacrament of communion to the lighting of prayer candles, Christians throughout history have practiced a wide variety of worship response methods. While many liturgical churches have response experiences and stations often built into their liturgy or curriculum, non-liturgical contemporary churches often lack the same variety and scope of response opportunities. For example, many churches today view the “altar call” as their definition of a response to a worship service. I like to challenge that thinking and attempt to create what I call “worship response stations” in order to expand our perspectives on how we can creatively respond to God in worship. I have found this idea to be especially helpful in children’s ministry because children enjoy variety and interactive experiences. Here is my pinterest board with worship response station ideas from many different people: (https://www.pinterest.com/jessejoyner/worship-response-stations/).
Here is an exceprt from my blog post about worship response stations from August 7th, 2014 (http://jessejoyner.com/worship-response-stations/):
I speak at many camps each summer, but this one stuck out because of the format they asked me to follow. First of all, there were two chapel services each day for the kids – one in the morning and one in the evening. The morning service was designed to be the “main” service of the day (in terms of worship music and teaching time) with the evening service being more of a “review and respond” service.
So in the evenings, I taught for about 10 minutes, just reviewing the points we learned about in the morning. Then, for the remainder of the service (another 45 minutes to an hour), we spent responding to God’s Word through the format of worship stations.The camp told me this ahead of time. So I wrote up some station ideas that went along with my lessons each day. The leadership at the camp then took all my ideas and turned them into reality by getting the supplies, setting up the stations, and manning them each night.
The results were amazing. We realized that kids learn and respond in a variety of ways, depending on their learning languages. Some kids respond well with hands-on and interactive activities while others are fine being still or reading. Most kids have a variety of learning styles inside of them anyway, so it’s good to have the different stations so they can move around freely as they like. I’d like to take a few posts to share the ideas and pictures from the worship response stations.
Here is a quick rundown of the stations. I will go into more details with each one in subsequent posts.
- Prayer Counseling – This is the traditional idea of having prayer counselors on hand if a kid or adult needs prayer for anything. This is usually the only “station” people offer as a way of response at camp or in church. We still used it, but it was only one of many ways to respond.
- Question Cards – If the kids had a question about God or the Bible, they wrote them down on a 3×5 card and handed it to an adult. The adult would then attempt to find the answer in the Bible and answer the question. If they couldn’t find it, then they would say “I don’t know” or “I’ll look it up later and get back with you.” This was a surprisingly popular station for the kids.
- World Prayer Map – There was a map on the wall and the kids would go up and place a sticker star on a country, city, or location of a people group and pray for them.
- Slime Buckets – One night, we taught about Jonah. In order to explore the idea of what it may have felt like to be inside the belly of a great fish, the kids put their hands in slime. This was obviously very popular.
- Blindfolded Prayer – Also along the story of Jonah (who prayed in pitch darkness inside the belly of the fish), we had the kids put on a blindfold and then sit or kneel and pray. One leader said this station was the first time he had seen one of his boys pray. Sometimes it takes some creative way that really connects with a particular kid to open them up to things like prayer and worship.
- Kids Pray for Adults – I will devote an entire post to this station, as it was my favorite of all the stations. Kids were on hand to pray for adults who wanted prayer. It was humbling for adults and exciting for kids. More on this one later.
- The Wooden Cross – This is another traditional station that many groups have used for years. I believe it is still very powerful in form and function. The large wooden cross reminds us of what Jesus did for us and we have the chance to lay prayers and confessions at the cross by writing them on a piece of paper and nailing them to the cross.
- Prayer Journaling/Drawing – This was also a very popular one. We had stacks of paper and boxes of crayons, markers, and pencils on hand. The kids would simply grab some paper and something to write/draw with and freely journal or draw pictures as prayers, thanksgivings to God, and other worship thoughts on their minds.
- Finger Painting – On the day when we learned about Creation, the kids got to draw pictures of things that God made on a large white poster using finger paints. This was extremely popular and looked very pretty when it was all done.
- Other Stations – There were also stations with bead bracelets, mouse traps, clay and play-do, bowls of fruit, a white board with a dry erase marker, and Scripture reading. I will discuss each one in subsequent posts.
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
FIVE TO SEVEN YEARS
Lucado, Max, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill. Illustrated by Josee Masse. God’s messages for little ones: the story of God’s enormous love. Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz, 2012.
Well-known pastor and author Max Lucado leads a qualified team to present this devotional for children. With 31 devotions, the book can be consumed in a month with reading one a day. Parents can read it to their children but most six and seven year olds should have little trouble reading it on their own. Each devotional comes with an illustration of a Bible story and three textual components. The first component is a brief paraphrase of a scripture verse with a reference to the Bible story. The second component is a short three-line poem that summarizes some practical theological points from the story. The third component is a section called “God says to me.” This final part is a blessing/prayer/promise over the child spoken from the perspective of God towards the reader (http://www.familychristian.com/gods-messages-for-little-ones-31-devotions.html).
Lloyd-Jones, Sally and Jago. Thoughts to make your heart sing. Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz, 2014.
From the author and illustrator of The Jesus Storybook Bible comes a book of 101 devotions with Scripture references that can be used by children and adults (http://www.zondervan.com/thoughts-to-make-your-heart-sing-deluxe-edition).
Wilhelm, Hans. Waldo, tell me about God. Norwalk, CT: C.R. Gibson Company, no date.
This short book is about a conversation between a boy and his talking dog named Waldo. The book begins with Waldo mentioning the handiwork of God and then the boy saying, “Who is God?” What follows is a series of answers from Waldo about the character and nature of God. The illustrations are appealing and the theology is Biblically sound. The main thrust of the story is about God’s enduring and ever-present love. A PDF version of the book is available online here: (http://www.childrensbooksforever.com/Childrenpics/WALDO%20TELL%20ME%20ABOUT%20GOD.pdf).
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
This is an excellent program developed originally by Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi with influence from Maria Montessori. It essentially takes the Montessori method of teaching children and transfers it to religious education. The “atrium” is the setting, which is kind of “halfway house” between the classroom and the sanctuary. Children both learn and worship in a way that is attentive both to God’s spirit as well as the needs, interests, and learning styles of the children. Lessons allow children to explore the stories of the Bible and the traditions of the church through interactive group experiences facilitated by a teacher (http://www.cgsusa.org/).
Berenstain, Jan and Mike. The Berenstain Bears: Show God’s Love. Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz. 2010.
This single volume is a compilation of five Berenstain Bears stories. Each story teaches a Biblical concept. For example, the first of the five stories, Love Thy Neighbors, is a modern re-telling of The Good Samaritan story set in bear country. In this story, the bear family is surrounded by many neighbors in their town, most of whom appear to be all-around good people. Then there are the Bogg brothers. They live in a run-down shack, drive a beat-up car, raise dirty pigs, and spit in people’s properties when they drive by. But then the bear family’s car runs down on the way to the town festival. Both the mayor and the wealthy squire (who appear to be good people) whisk by the bear family on the road. Then come the Bogg brothers, who end up helping the bear family on their way and covering the costs for their car to get fixed at Uncle Zeke’s rusty repair shop. Each story opens with the corresponding Scripture reference so parents can discuss the Biblical basis for each story with their children (http://www.amazon.com/Berenstain-Bears-Show-Living-Lights/dp/0310720109).
Berryman, Jerome. The complete guide to Godly play. Vols 1-8. Denver, CO: Living the Good News/Morehouse Education Resources, 2002-2012.
Similar to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd mentioned above, Godly Play is a model/method of helping children experience God and the stories of God in a Montessori-like setting. Berryman has developed a series of lessons using simple wooden figures and other tactile materials that allow children to interact with and explore the stories of the Bible. The overall mood is reverent and reflective as the teacher leads the children in an attitude of wonder towards the stories of God. Below are some online links that explain more and show examples of Godly Play in action:
- The main website – http://www.godlyplayfoundation.org/
- A good summary of Godly Play – http://www.buildfaith.org/2013/07/01/godly-play-for-all-ages-all-abilities/
- Godly Play in Germany – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=360&v=py6vzIs_NcM
- My personal reflections on Godly Play from my blog – http://jessejoyner.com/godlyplay-a-model-for-ministry-with-children/
Hoth, Iva. The Picture Bible. Andre Le Blanc illustrator. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. 1998.
This is a comic-book styled Bible. The stories are illustrated with bubble texts coming from the mouths of the characters. With over two hundred stories from the Bible along with maps and “Did You Know?” excerpts, this book helps children (especially those familiar with comic book literature) engage with the stories of the Bible.
Vischer, Phil. Buck Denver asks…What’s in the Bible? Church edition. Jellyfish Labs, 2014.
This is a 52-week curriculum for use in children’s ministry settings. Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, has headed up this project that teaches kids deep spiritual truths through puppetry, songs, and storytelling. I personally like the emphasis on Biblical theology taught by Vischer. The Veggie Tales franchise was very successful, but it seemed a little shallow on Biblical “meat” (which may have been the intent in order to reach a wider audience). This curriculum is unashamedly Bible-focused and Vischer speaks directly to the audience through the camera in a pastoral teaching role. Here is the link to the curriculum resource: (http://whatsinthebible.com/). I also wrote my own blog post reviewing it: (http://jessejoyner.com/whats-bible-curriculum-review/).
Memory Verse of the Week.
MVOTW – This acronym stands for “Memory Verse of the Week.” I speak at summer camps every year and several years ago I gave the memory verse of the week at one of the camps this nickname and the kids loved saying it (pronounced “muh-vah-twah”). We also added a dramatic motion to go with it (slowly raising one’s arms above the head to form the letter “M” over the head while emphatically saying “MVOTW!”). The boys then do a muscle-man pose while the girls jump like cheerleaders and kick one leg back. I, of course, give them the option to do either motion at the end so as not to reinforce any potentially negative gender stereotypes (such as ‘girls can’t be strong’ or ‘boys can’t be cheerleaders’). But nobody has ever had a problem with it because it is all done in jest. The MVOTW consists of the memory verse itself put to motions (some sign language mixed with made-up silly motions) and then the dramatic MVOTW pose at the end. For several years now, the MVOTW has been a huge hit with kids, especially preteens. My own five-year old daughter found this method to be helpful in memorizing Scripture. Here is a YouTube video of eight hundred kids and leaders reciting 1 John 4:4 using the MVOTW model: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PIV-v86qe0).
Tabernacle Diagram Canvas – Alpha Artistic Evangelism.
This unique wall canvas at my daughter’s Christian Montessori school depicts the Israelite Tabernacle when they were wandering through the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land. It shows the tent city, the tabernacle, and close-ups of the Ark of the Covenant and what it all may have looked like during this period before the construction of the permanent temple in Jerusalem. It’s large size allows teachers and parents to show children a visual of the worship practices of God’s people in the Old Testament. I cannot find a solid reference for the work, so let it be an inspiration to create large images as aids for children to better understand the cultural and historical settings of the Bible. Below is a picture with a child to give proportion:
Family Fun Puzzle: Hosanna in the Highest! Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
This 100-piece jigsaw puzzle depicts Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey at what is called his “triumphal entry.” This is a great family activity for Palm Sunday weekend. The parents and children can assemble the puzzle as they talk about the meaning of Palm Sunday and how Jesus is the humble King who has come to save.
*This list comes directly from a paper I wrote for a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL in March 2016. The class was ES 7524 (Education and Ministry Experiences for Children) taught by Dr. Magdalene Larson.
This is the second list in a series of posts I am doing that list resources for ministry in both the church and home in regards to nurturing faith in children. Here we turn to the preschool age group.
TWO TO FOUR YEARS
Arch Books. Various authors. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
There are over a hundred of these small books that creatively tell and illustrate Bible stories through rhyme and art (http://www.cph.org/p-7003-arch-book-set-set-of-125.aspx).
Brown, Margaret Wise. Pictures by Clement Hurd. The Runaway Bunny. New York: Harper Collins, 1972.
While not explicitly Christian or faith-based, this classic children’s story by the same author of Goodnight Moon communicates a beautiful story of a mother’s pursuing love. The little bunny tries repeatedly to run away from his mother, but the mother always finds a way to track him down. Once the little bunny realizes that he cannot escape the love of his parent, he surmises, “Shucks….I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” The connection to God’s love being like a shepherd going after the lost sheep is evident. A parent can read this to their child and very little explanation is needed. At most, the book can be followed up with a simple phrase like, “Just like I will always find you” or “Just like God will always find you.” Or it can be left to speak for itself and the child will naturally see the mother bunny’s resemblance to God in due time (http://www.amazon.com/Runaway-Bunny-Margaret-Wise-Brown/dp/0064430189).
Stewart, Sonja M. and Jerome W. Berryman. Young children and worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988.
This guide for parents and teachers helps these leaders facilitate worship for young children. Stewart and Berryman present their tested models which combine worship experiences with faith education (http://www.amazon.com/Young-Children-Worship-Sonja-Stewart/dp/0664250408).
Gibbons, Erin ed. Whirl Story Bible. Minneapolis: Sparkhouse, 2014.
The Whirl Story Bible, like other story Bibles, provides shortened versions of major Bible stories meant for reading out loud to children. It follows the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by many Christian denominations. The characters in the illustrations are depicted in a wide variety of olive/dark skin tones, which is probably more accurate to the people of that time and place. Many children’s Bibles depict the historical figures as Europeans in Middle Eastern clothes, which can be confusing and alienating to many cultures/races around the world (May, Posterski, Stonehouse, Cannell, Children Matter, p. 185). Each story lists the corresponding lectionary lesson at the top of the page and includes simple follow-up questions the parents/leaders can ask the children (http://www.wearesparkhouse.org/kids/whirl/classroom/).
The Gospel Project for Preschool. Lifeway.
This is the new LifeWay 3-year curriculum focusing on the idea that the story of Scripture is one unified whole pointing towards (OT) and back upon (NT) the person and work of Jesus Christ. The tagline is “Every Story Casts His Shadow.” There are dozens of contributors including author Ed Stetzer and pastor Matt Chandler. Colorful and creative graphics such as a timeline wheel of salvation history accompany this curriculum, which also has modules for all other age groups in the church (http://www.gospelproject.com/kids/preschool/).
Jones, Stan and Brenna Jones. The Story of Me: God’s Design for Sex, Book 1. Colorado Springs: NavPress. 2007.
Part of a four book set, this book helps parents talk with their kids about the body and sex from a Biblical perspective. Each book in the set progresses a bit deeper into the discussion. Appropriate illustrations are used. (http://www.amazon.com/Full-Set-Design-Revised-Paperback/dp/B00O5DIVTU)
Lloyd-Jones, Sally. Illustrated by Jago. The Jesus Storybook Bible. Grand Rapids: ZonderKidz, 2007.
The tagline of this extremely successful children’s Bible is “every story whispers His name.” Excellent artwork accompanies creatively written Bible stories that the parent can read to the child. Lloyd-Jones is keen to point out the foreshadowing of Jesus Christ throughout the Old Testament. There is also a compact disc (CD) set available with David Suchet reading the stories aloud in his baritone British voice (http://www.sallylloyd-jones.com/books/jesus-storybook-bible/).
Prayers for little hands. Illustrated by Tammie Lyon, Judith Pfeiffer, and Tish Tenud. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International. 2001.
This board book is a collection of simple prayers in the language of modern 2-4 year-olds. Each prayer is accompanied by an illustration depicting something within the prayer. It opens with a prayer by Cecil Frances Alexander: “All things bright and beautiful/ All creatures great and small/ All things wise and wonderful/ The Lord God made them all.” Most of the other twenty-seven prayers are anonymously attributed and follow the same simple format of child-like poetry. This book is perfect to use for teaching little children how to pray. It shows children that prayer is not complicated and is often best communicated when it reflects the natural language of the things of normal everyday life (like family, nature, food, and school) (http://www.amazon.com/Prayers-Little-Hands-First-Treasury/dp/0785351078).
Psalty the Singing Songbook. Character and company created by Ernie and Debbie Retino.
Psalty is a clown-like character played by Ernie Retino. He is a large anthropomorphized blue hymnal who teaches kids about God, Biblical character, and worship. There are books, videos, live shows, and musical albums featuring Psalty along with his friends and family. Psalty’s worship songs are catchy and lend themselves to simple accompanying motions. The children in Psalty’s programs experience the ups and downs of life and learn how to navigate life by trusting God and experiencing a meaningful relationship with Him (http://www.psalty.com/).
Some churches have materials available for children to read, color, or manipulate during an intergenerational worship service. It is helpful if these materials are placed in individual baskets or on clipboards so parents can grab one for their family. The baskets can include children’s Bible story books, crayons with Bible story pictures, or beads and bracelets that tell a story. Here are some pictures from the worship baskets at Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia:
Finding quality resources that help nurture the faith development of children and families can sometimes be difficult. This is the first post in a series, broken up by age-level focus, that can be of help to children, family members, and ministry leaders as they navigate the pilgrimage of the Christian faith. I will start with early childhood (birth to two years) and work up to the PreTeen age group. I have included a variety of mediums throughout the series such as text, music, toys/games, and online resources.
BIRTH TO TWO YEARS
Card, Michael. Sleep Sound in Jesus, Compact disc (CD). Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Records, 1989.
Prolific Christian songwriter Michael Card created this album of soft and melodic lullabies with rich lyrics proclaiming blessings and prayers over little children (http://www.christianbook.com/sleep-sound-in-jesus-compact-disc/0006176933/pd/CD086).
Currie, Robin, and Cindy Adams. Baby bible storybook. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003.
This book puts a series of major Bible stories into the simplest terms so the parent can read them to the child as the child looks at the illustrated picture. A scripture reference is given at the top and at the bottom is a very short prayer that the parent can say as they pray with their child (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Bible-Storybook-Robin-Currie/dp/0781400767).
First Steps in Worship. Founded by Tracy Rader.
This is a company that produces ready-to-go kits of worship resources for use in infant and toddler worship settings. Products include kits of books and manipulatives such as “Baby Bedtime Blessings,” “Cradle Choir,” “Pass-It-On Praise,” and “Wiggle Into Worship.” The tote bags and the manipulatives are soft and washable for easy cleaning in between uses (firststepsinworship.com).
Henley, Karen, Dennas Davis, and Randall Dennis. My first hymnal: 75 Bible songs and what they mean. Brentwood, TN: Sparrow Corporation, 1994.
This small hardback book includes very simple hymn and Christian song melodies along with a brief explanation/devotion about the lyrics. It is meant for the parent to sing to their child and then read the short devotional thought to the child (http://www.amazon.com/My-First-Hymnal-Bible-Songs/dp/0917143353).
Morganthaler, Shirley K. Right from the start: A parent’s guide to the young child’s faith development. Revised edition. St. Louis: Concordia, 2001.
This text for parents and leaders is a tool for understanding the faith development of children from both a spiritual perspective as well as from the field of neuroscience (http://www.amazon.com/Right-Start-Parents-Childs-Development/dp/0570052777).
Nederveld, Patricia L. God loves me storybooks: The Bible in 52 storybooks. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive, 2015.
This collection of short books uses both art of Bible stories as well as photographs of young children to help kids make the connection between Bible stories and themselves. Parents can read one storybook each week of the year to their children or go at whatever pace they prefer (http://www.faithaliveresources.org/Products/001400/god-loves-me-storybooks-revised-edition.aspx).
Saxon, Terrell. Baby blessings: A faith-based parenting guide, birth to two. Colorado Springs: Standard Publishing, 2003.
This resource covers multiple aspects of early child development from cognitive to spiritual. It has a section of practical activities that parents can do with their children to help nurture their faith development (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Blessings-Faith-Based-Guide-Parents/dp/0784713588).
Thomas, Mack. The first step Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994.
This 445-page condensed paraphrase of the Bible takes major stories from the Old Testament and New Testament and retells them in three sentences or less per page. Each sentence is usually less than ten words. Each story is accompanied by large illustrations depicting the Biblical scene. There is a helpful section in the back called “Teaching the Bible to the Very Young,” which gives parents tips on how to use the book and talk about the Bible with infants and toddlers (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_First_Step_Bible.html?id=KlRuXaTKraYC).
Top Ten Christian Songs for Little Kids, compiled by Jesse Joyner (April 24, 2012).
I once posted a blog of what I subjectively feel are the “top ten” Christian songs for little kids. As of this writing, that post alone has received over sixteen thousand hits, which tells me that people are interested in good classic songs that teach children about God and help them connect with God. If you follow this link, you can find more links that provide a version of each song on YouTube as well as an explanation as to why I think that song should be included in the list: (http://jessejoyner.com/top-10-christian-songs-for-little-kids/). Here is the list itself:
Count Your Blessings
Deep and Wide
The Butterfly Song
Hallelu, Praise Ye the Lord
I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
This Little Light of Mine
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Jesus Loves Me
Zobel-Nolan, Allia. Lift the flap nativity. Illustrated by Tace Moroney. Reader’s Digest: New York. 2001.
As the title suggests, this book tells the Christmas story using simple words and flap-opening so the child can physically interact with the story as they hear it from their parents. The illustrations are colorful but not too bright. The art form has a level of refreshing minimalism so the focus is on the relevant characters and storyline rather than distracting cartoonish embellishments (http://books.simonandschuster.com/Lift-the-Flap-Nativity/Allia-Zobel-Nolan/Lift-the-Flap/9780794435271).