By guest writer, Liz
Toddlers. You’ve got to love them. Wild balls of energy with short attention spans and an even shorter ability to sit still. Logic means nothing to them, and don’t even start with the analogies and metaphors. So how exactly are you supposed to even begin to explain to them the very long, very complex thing that is the Bible?
We can all agree that teaching Biblical truths to our children from a young age is important, but sometimes it is just so hard to know where to start.
Shortly after my son turned two I knew that I wanted to start being more intentional with teaching him about the Bible, so I set out to find ways to make connections with his toddler brain and heart.
I want to share with you five things I’ve learned in the last year to teach your toddler about God:
1 – Read a Toddler Level Bible
This one seems a little obvious, right? You probably aren’t planning on opening up 1 Chronicles and reading it to your 2 year old, so you go for the children’s Bible. However, it isn’t long before you realize there are dozens of children’s Bible options! Which one do you choose? For me, a toddler Bible needed to have three things:
- Short stories. Attention span issues, remember?
- Engaging stories. No dry and boring allowed here.
- Accuracy. A little creative license is fine, but let’s not miss the main point of the story.
When choosing a Bible for my son to use, we looked at a number of options, but ended up loving The Rhyme Bible Storybook and The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers. The stories were short, the rhymes made them engaging, and they were true to Scripture. Win-win-win!
When the time comes to actually wrangle that toddler and have Bible story time, I found these five things to be helpful to remember:
- Don’t worry about delving into every detail or implication of the story. At two or three years old, you are just trying to introduce them to the very basics: what happened, the character’s names, and the simple truths about God. It’s easy to feel like you’re skipping a lot, but I always have to remind myself that we can dive deeper later.
- Point out details in the pictures and explain new words/concepts. For example, after reading the story of Noah, we might go back through the pictures and point out all the different animals and talk about how an ark is a really big boat.
- Add in silly voices and use motions while reading the story. Use a big, deep voice for Goliath or a slow, sad voice when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. Feel free to break up sitting down with a short activity. Run away like Jonah or flip the light switch on and off for the creation of light.
- Read the same story multiple days in a row. It might drive you batty sometimes, but little ones love the repetition. Plus, every time we read read the story they understand it a little better and remember a little more.
- Use a real Bible sometimes too. If a verse or story is simple, look it up in your Bible and read that as well. My son can already tell that my Bible is special, so he loves when read something from it. We have also tried to memorize short verses from time to time. A favorite for a while was saying Psalm 3:5 as part of the bedtime routine. Leigh Ann has a great post on toddlers memorizing scripture here.
2- Play the Stories
Learning about the Bible doesn’t have to end at story time. Toddlers and preschoolers learn best through play, so once the story is over climb down onto the floor and join in for some Bible play fun.
Here’s four ways we play our Bible stories:
- Act out part or all of the story. After reading about Noah, we spent some time pretending to be him. A laundry basket became the ark, a blanket the water, and stuffed toys the animals. My son had a lot of fun and the story of Noah was reinforced in his mind.
- Use toys to play out the story. We have an ever growing collection of animal and people figurines that we often use to play out the story we’ve read. I’ll usually sit down with him at first to play, then, he’ll get the hang of it and play out the story later on his own.
- Make up a game from part of the story. Using part of the story to make a fun game doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun. We’ve adapted “Red Light Green Light” to be “Don’t Eat the [Forbidden] Fruit!”, played “Hide and Seek Jesus” (for when he was lost in Jerusalem as as boy), and thrown balls into a basket to “Gather the leftover bread and fish” (Feeding the 5,000). Playing games is a great way to involve those extra active little ones.
- Sing and dance to music. There are a lot of great kids Bible songs out there that tell the Bible stories. My son loves to sing and dance to them! Youtube is a great place to find music – we have a playlist saved here.
3 – Do Simple Crafts
Another fun way to learn about Bible stories is to do crafts. However, when I say simple, I mean simple. Toddlers don’t have the attention span or the skills to do elaborate crafts, but they do love to create their own works of art.
I think one of the simplest crafts we ever did was gluing yellow strips of paper onto black paper for the first day of creation. Pinterest worthy? Maybe not, but he loved it!
The important part isn’t that it looks pretty or even that it ends up resembling the story – but that you use the time to help your child connect with the story.
4 – Pray Together
Toddlers love to copy you. If you’ve ever said something inappropriate and then lived to regret it, you know what I’m talking about!
I’ve found the best way to teach my son to pray is to model simple prayers for him. We started with “thank you Jesus prayers.” From the time he could first talk, we would say a few things we wanted to thank Jesus for and then ask K if he wanted to pray. While he has gone through phases of not wanting to pray, he is usually ready with his own adorable list of things to thank Jesus for.
Now we are starting to add in asking Jesus for our requests. We have also used prayer prompts like the prayer sticks we make here.
We try to make prayer a part of every day life by both praying at regular times (meals and bedtime) and spur of the moment (such as during discipline).
5 – Talk about God as a Part of Day to Day Life
In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 it says that we should be talking about God and his Word with our children throughout everyday life. There are three main ways I’ve found to do this with my son:
- Pointing out God through nature. Little kids love marveling at God’s creation. Flowers, animals, the starry sky – they are programmed for wonder. This is a great time to draw their attention toward God by talking about how it was He who made these awesome things.
- When pointing out good qualities in your child. Giving your child encouragement is such an important thing to do. It can be even more powerful when you remind them that is was God who made them that way.
- When you’ve had a bad day. There is no shortage of teachable moments when it comes to toddlers. Administering discipline is a great time to remind them of how much Jesus loves them. When explaining the gospel to a 2 year old a lot might go over their heads, but you never know what they’ll pick up. Start telling them about the beauty of grace as soon as you can. I wrote a post about a recent experience here.
Hopefully the tips I have learned in my quest to teach my son about God help you in your own endeavors. If you are looking for more ideas, I highly encourage you to check out my Play Through The Bible series. In this series, I use many of the tips I’ve outlined here to create weekly Bible Time plans for each story in our children’s Bible. You can read the introduction to the series here.
Do you have any tips for teaching the Bible to wiggly toddlers? I’d love to hear them!
Liz is a twenty-something wife, mother, and jack-of-all-trades. When she’s not chasing around her three year you’ll find her reading, cooking, writing, or enjoying the outdoors. Liz blogs about faith, family, and life’s adventures at Simple Life. Messy Life.