I have written a 13-lesson curriculum called “Big God, Little Kids.” It is a series of lessons built around stories of God doing big things through ordinary kids in the Bible. You are free to use it for any non-profit ministry setting such as Sunday School, Children’s Church, Vacation Bible School, or the like.
I have provided the introduction and a preview lesson right here. If you want the rest of the lessons, those are free too. To get the rest, simply sign up for my once-a-month newsletter and email me that you did so (these instructions are also at the end of the free preview).
Click the link below to access. Enjoy!
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:
*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.
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).
*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.
What?! You’re comparing Cain, the first murderer, to Jesus? How dare you!
Follow me here. I was writing a paper about ministry with children and I suddenly discovered in the Cain and Abel story something I had never seen before…
You probably already knew that Cain was the first child to be born (remember, Adam and Eve were created). But what Eve said upon his birth is pretty remarkable. She said something that leads us to conclude that Cain and Jesus were both gifts of God’s grace, each in a unique way.
Here’s the excerpt from my paper….
When we look at Scripture, the first children in the Bible were Cain and Abel. Their parents, Adam and Eve, had already been banished from the Garden of Eden due to their disobedience and sin towards God (Gen 3:16-24). In this new reality of paradise lost, Adam and Eve conceived their first child, Cain. Despite having a broken relationship with God, Eve proclaims, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Gen 4:1; italics mine). These are the first post-Edenic words spoken in Scripture, which I believe speaks to the significance of ministry with children. In this newly fallen world, our predecessor Eve viewed children as a gift from God. Even Cain’s name in Hebrew is a wordplay intended to sound like the word for “to bring forth” (Coppes 1980, 797-798). This means that God’s first gift of grace following our sin was a child. We turned from God, and the way he extended an offer of grace was through a baby.
Does that sound familiar? Thousands of years later, despite our sin, God gifted us all with the baby Jesus Christ as the ultimate gift of His grace.
This establishes the point that children are both a gift from God as well a means of God’s grace to adults (and other children, for that matter). Most adults in this world and in the church community understand that children are a gift, but how often do we view them as channels through which God extends His grace? When we view children in this way, we realize that as adults, we need children as much as they need us.
Coppes, Leonard J. “Cain.” Theological wordbook of the old testament. Vol 2. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke eds. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.
Here is a brief presentation I gave for the kids at my church on Valentine’s Day 2016. I do some juggling in it, but if you give a similar lesson (which you are free to do, of course), just insert your own version of something impressive to demonstrate to the children instead of juggling. The message is the same either way. Or you can just show this video to your kids if you like. Hope you enjoy!
I’ve played a fun game with large groups of kids over the years that I call “Super Bible Trivia!” This contestant-driven stage quiz game is more of a staged drama than an actual serious quiz game. But it is set up so that the kids think it is a normal quiz game at first. Don’t worry, they’ll all pick up on the fun and join along pretty quickly. The goal is to get kids excited about the Bible.
Remember that this game is just a tool. Ultimately, I believe the Holy Spirit instills in us a joy for God’s Word – by God’s grace. God’s Word is exciting in and of itself. We don’t need to make it exciting. I do believe, however, in creatively facilitating activities that foster a love for God’s Word.
Basically, it is a quiz show with two contestants from the audience who have to answer a series of questions. Pick a boy and a girl and tell them they are playing for the boys and the girls, respectively. The groups can shout out answers to their contestant.
The first question is a countdown of the most read books over the last fifty years (from 10 to 1). Most kids will not know the top ten list, so they will just stand there confused as you ask for each ranking and then read the answers off (keep reading below for the list of questions I use).
Finally, you ask them “What is the best selling book of all time in the history of the world?” They may give you a blank look again. Or some kids may answer, “the Bible!” Either way, when you finally confirm the right answer (the Bible), you jump all over the place and have adult leaders as cheerleaders running all over the place with lights and noisemakers going off.
After a great deal of celebrating, you return to the game for the next question. At this point, the answer to every question is “the Bible.” After the first few questions, the contestants see the pattern and start laughing along as you ask more questions. Whenever they answer, “the Bible,” you and the other leaders start going crazy and cheering for the answer. Eventually, all the kids will get into the celebrating of each answer as well. You can have as much fun as you can handle!
If you want to have a surprise ending, make the final question (after 8 more questions where the answer is “the Bible”) something like, “What is the longest story book ever written?” (saying “story” eliminates encyclopedias and the like). The kids will probably say, “the Bible.” But that is incorrect. It is actually In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Then you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”
It makes for a lot of fun and noise. The idea is not to make fun of the Bible, but rather the opposite: to have fun getting super excited about the Bible. It is a great lead-in for a lesson about God’s Word and its importance in our daily lives and in the scope of eternity.
So here are the quiz questions:
- What are the top ten most read books over the last fifty years? Note: go through the list individually, which each ranking being one question. Here is the source of the list I’m using for this.
- What book is actually a collection of 66 books and is considered God’s Word to us?
- What book has been translated (at least in part) into nearly three thousand languages, which is far more than any other book on the planet?
- On what book do presidents place their right hand when they take the oath of office in the United States?
- What is the primary object that is meant to be placed in a pulpit when a pastor is preaching?
- What can be found in the nightstand drawer of thousands of hotels across the country?
- What ancient book has the most number of ancient copies still in existence today?
- How do you pronounce these five letters when put together into an English word: B-I-B-L-E?
- Video Question! (show a slide of a picture of a Bible and ask the kids to name what they see).
- What is the longest story book ever written? (answer is NOT the Bible – but rather In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust). But again, you can finish off by saying, “But that book is not nearly as great as…… the Bible!!!!!”
Have fun and let me know how it goes. In my next post, I’ll list out some practical ideas on how to get kids excited about God’s Word (that are not game related).
By the way, I later discovered that there is a website by the same name (Super Bible Trivia) that is a great resource for Bible Trivia questions. My game idea is not related to that website, but I would still highly recommend that site. You can try out their quizzes here.
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One of the worship response stations that I’ve used at multiple retreats and summer camps is a table where kids can go and write down questions they have about God or the Bible. We call it “Question Cards.”
There are Bibles on hand at the table and adults on hand as well to help answer any questions the kids have. The adults facilitating the table won’t have all the answers, so sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Let’s do some more research on that one.”
The kids LOVE this station. They are free to ask any question they have about God or the Bible, no matter how weird or difficult the question may seem. I find that the kids really open up when given the chance to physically write a question down on a notecard. They will express more that way versus asking them point blank to verbally ask a question they may have about God.
The goal is to give kids a space to voice their thoughts and questions about God. We want them to know that its OK to have hard questions about God and the Bible. It also provides opportunities for deeper conversations and ministry to happen when kids (and adults) bring up these hard or “weird” questions. As adults we want to let them know that many answers can be found in the Bible, but some things may never get answered on this side of eternity.
Here is just a sampling of some of the questions that kids ask. I especially like the one about whether Jesus had “crushes” or not. It might sound silly at first, but when you think about it, that is a very theologically profound question. Did Jesus have any romantic attractions in his life? If He did, what are the theological implications, if any? The Bible is silent on that issue.
I love letting kids ask these questions because they often think of things that we wouldn’t think of as adults. And they challenge us to search out Scripture and the insight of the Holy Spirit as we deal with difficult questions about God.
Have you done something similar in your ministry? How have you done it?
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I’m reading a great book on ministry with children right now called Children Matter by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005).
Here is a quote that made me stop in my tracks:
“Our responsibility is to create an environment in which the child can learn about and enter into God’s story, respond to the Holy Spirit, and experience the presence and leading of God” (Children Matter, p. 34).
Read that again. This is super important for Children’s Pastors/Ministers/Leaders. Notice that is does not say that we are the ones with all the knowledge to pass down to the children. We are not the ones with all the answers and the ability to make a child’s faith grow.
Our job is to make space for God to do what He does.
Our job is to point towards God.
Our job is to walk together in faith with these kids, set the stage for God’s works of grace, and get out of the way.
Jesus himself commands us not to “hinder” the children, but instead to simply let them come to Him (Matt 19:14).
I know this sounds abstract, so I will give one practical example to explain what I mean by this. One thing that I have found to be a perfect way to “make space” for kids to encounter God organically is something called Worship Response Stations. These are tactile, exploratory stations that give kids opportunities to connect with God in creative ways after a music and teaching time in worship.
What are some ways that you as a leader make space for kids to encounter God?
Here’s another great group game that requires ZERO set-up or materials. It’s called The Line Up Game.
There are many variations to the game. This can work with any group with three or more people. You can split the group into smaller groups to compete against one another.
The goal/point of the game is for the kids to form a straight line in the order of whatever command you give them. You can time them or have smaller groups race against one another.
Here are some categories of order you can challenge them to (all of them can be reversed, of course):
- Shortest to tallest.
- Darkest hair to lightest hair.
- Oldest to youngest.
- Earliest birthday to latest birthday in the year (January through December).
- Alphabetical order of first name.
- Alphabetical order of last name.
- Day of the month of their birthday (1st through 31st).
- Darkest eyes to lightest eyes.
- Smallest shoe to largest shoe.
- Total number of siblings (most to least).
BONUS: Try any of those “line up” challenges in “silent mode” (where the kids cannot make any noise – they must use hand motions, sign language, and whatever other methods they can to get in order).
Do you have any good “line up” game ideas?
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Godly Play is a teaching system used by many churches around the world to educate children about God, the Bible, and also invite them into the Christian narrative. Jerome Berryman developed the curriculum and he was influenced by the educational theories of Maria Montessori.
I observed Godly Play in action once when I was in seminary. My professor, Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, ministered with children at her church in Wilmore, KY using Godly Play. As a class, we watched as she sat down at the level of the children and told them the story of Abraham and Sarah using small generic wooden figures and a pile of sand for the Middle Eastern desert. It was very quiet and the children were mesmerized. The whole feel of Godly Play is quite the opposite of many Children’s Ministries, which are full of electronic screens, loud rock band music, video games, and resemble the “Let’s Make a Deal” show.
Godly Play uses symbols, rituals, manipulatives, and storytelling to join children in the spiritual pilgrimage of knowing God. Children are not just receptors of information, but rather natural learners as well as teachers themselves. It is all done with an attitude of holy-awe and unplugged simplicity.
Here are some resources that explain more about Godly Play. Check them out and let me know what you think!