An earlier blog and podcast, “Seven Easy Ways to Grow Your Children Spiritually” unpacked the basics of spiritual training in the home. One of the most helpful ways to explore what is best for our children is to grasp the secrets of what is age appropriate. If we understand the learning capabilities of our children at each age, we can customize how we can best teach them about God, the Bible and an intimate relationship with Him. Biblical literacy in the home has been a constant goal in our home. If you are a Christ follower with a desire for your child to love God too, consider applying age appropriate Biblical learning. Approaching each child based on their age has proven to be most effective. Why should you and I work every day to build literacy related to the Bible and a personal relationship with God? Why should you care about communicating at your child’s learning level? Why might this daily habit change your life and the life of your child?
First, one of our hopes in sharing on this blog and creating its companion podcast is that you will desire to love the Lord intensely yourself and gravitate toward Him everyday in music, reading your own Bible and talking to Him.
Secondly, we hope that if you have a family or start one in the future, you will diligently do what is needed to grow your child in his or her own spiritual relationship with God. Children are a gift on loan to us. Their childhood is a time for nurturing and growing them spiritually
Thirdly, the darkness we see in the world around us can be most impacted by what we do in our own homes.
Today we want to unpack some age appropriate ideas for Biblical literacy in your home. Recently, my husband and I took a two week trip out West to Wyoming and Utah. This trip was full of new adventures. New trails and hikes presented challenges. A slot canyon we discovered unexpectedly really presented a new experience for us. One response we developed pretty quickly was to lean into others who were seasoned in hiking these trails. We were new. We needed to follow those who had done this before. We were grateful that they let us ask questions and tag along.
As parents who invested in teaching our children about spiritual truth in our home, we are seasoned trail guides. Fortunately, we followed Godly parents. As we became parents we asked, “What did my parents do right? What should I repeat? What do I need to add or subtract?” Tim and I came together as a couple, then we worked as a team to start and raise a family. Looking to others ahead of us with the same values and resolve proved invaluable. By interacting with those who had successful outcomes, we gained insight along with specific ideas. Keeping in the front of our mind that the outcome of our investment in our children’s spiritual journey was not up to us, but guided by their own free will. Seeking to do our very best with the stewardship of these young hearts was our responsibility.
While there are many aspects of Biblical literacy in the home that we would like to share with you, today the focus is on how to train with age appropriate sensitivity. A guide or a mentor is someone who comes beside you and says, “Follow me.” The following thoughts are meant to encourage you on your parenting journey. You may not know how to do this thing or where to find the tools, but I can show you. Or you may have many tools in your toolbox, but you are always on the alert for ideas to add.
Today, Tim and I would like to come beside the young parents listening to our podcast and reading this blog. Many of you have expressed that you want to be pro-active in growing your kids to love God. Men who become dads want to be spiritual leaders in their homes. Women who become moms desire to love and nurture their children in spiritual ways daily.
Since I have been in education for 30 years, the concept of teaching a child anything in an age appropriate approach seems to most logical way to be successful. Age appropriate instruction is very important. This concept is especially important to apply when encouraging your child to know and love God. Our goal is not just to motivate you to intentionally live each day, but to give you the specific ideas which will propel you to success.
We are NOT all talk and no action.
Initially, we have to know what does “age appropriate” mean.
After being in education for nearly 30 years, I can tell you that children learn differently in the various stages of life. What are the stages of learning? In an effort to know your child’s learning stage, I suggest that you embrace a classical approach. This style identifies three stages of development known as the trivium which are based on each child’s growth and maturity. The “age” varies somewhat just as we know maturity physically varies from person to person. The secret in knowing these stages is that as a parent, you perceive these areas of growth and prepare to maximize your child’s growth potential.
Isn’t that much of what being an awesome parent involves? Maximizing your child’s potential?
Grammar Stage – Birth – 10 years old)
The grammar stage is a time period when kids naturally acquire and remember knowledge, facts, information. Memorization is the dominant feature of this stage. Children should build a library of knowledge so that when the understanding phase comes, they will grow from the memorized material they have stored in their minds which is their own library.
Consider this. When you are learning a new skill or language, you have to learn the grammar. Children also need to gather the grammar of so many things so they will be prepared for success ahead. In the same way they should be prepared by building the foundation of spiritual knowledge.
Learning grammar creates pegs to hang new information on. Think of something you did not know about.
You find out about it and suddenly you start hearing about it in all kinds of places. You add the incoming information to what you already know. In some ways you began making a file for that subject. Experiences can begin to build knowledge.
Tim and I have built two houses as the contractors. Both of these needed a reliable foundation. The result of building a home or any structure with an unstable foundation is disaster. Children are not different. It is alarming how many parents occupy their children in these grammar years just to pass the time. There is no time to waste as they have so much to learn to be successful in the years ahead.
TO DO in grammar stage:
Memorize scripture – AWANA (Best Bible memory program that I know of!! Highly recommend! If you can’t find an AWANA club to join, you might start one yourself at your church. I did. It will be some of the most valuable work you do in your life.)
ABC Bible Memory book – excellent to start at age 2 for memorizing scripture
Bible stories – read Bible out loud daily to them. Have them read out loud to you.
Bible history – This is so important as it gives context to anything you are reading.
Chronological order of stories in Bible
Biographies of great people in faith, missionaries, modern day Christians
Theology – questions/ answers
Catechism – Questions about God, the Bible and our faith followed by answers and scripture. This is so valuable when memorized during the grammar stage. What a gift for your child’s entire life.
Basics of our faith – Some may refer to this as doctrine or the truths we hold dear and need to unpack.
Gospel – Share the simple truths of our faith. Encourage your child to tell it back to you.
Pray – pray with them individually before bed, at meals, when someone has a need, when you see an accident, when you hear sad news, when you can give God thanks for anything.
Significance of celebrations or markers in life along with yearly traditions such as the Jesse tree at Christmas and the prophecy tree at Easter.
Expose them to ideas, stories and concepts.
Memorize Biblical timelines and church history. Veritas Press has my favorite Bible timeline cards. If you purchase these, buy all five sets for a complete timeline.
Memorize our faith is spiritual songs, hymns as we are encouraged in Ephesians 5:19 NLT concerning “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” My First Hymnal is a perfect start.
SING Conference – children’s music – one day training
Teach them songs of their church community. Consider the choruses of the songs your church sings regularly. Possibly save the verses for later. This is just one way we can prepare our children to be successful. If they come into the adult area ready to participate, they will feel more connected.
Teach them songs to sing when happy, sad, struggling, forgiving, to praise God, to need Him such as the new song “Good, Good Father.” Music is the language of the soul. What a gift it would be if a child knew what to sing when they were sad or disappointed and not just happy. Music they learn at home and in their church community should relate very realistically to their everyday life. Sadly, this connection is not always clear.
Logic or Dialectic – Age 9-14 roughly
As a parent you can begin to respond to your child more on maturity than age. Your child may come into this stage early or a little later. You will be the best person to determine their development stage.
This is a time when your child will be full of questions. He may be processing some of what he has absorbed in the grammar stage. Some things are beginning to connect or make sense. Others seem to be confusing or in direct conflict. During these stage you want to teach your child to argue or discuss. No kidding. All my children did speech and debate. I think that it is very important for all students to learn to think about what they are hearing or reading. Processing incoming information correctly takes careful thought. Here is where you as the parent play a vital role.
Give them tools or help them with skills. Play out conversations. Ask them hard questions. Help them find the answers. Aren’t you the safe one for them to bounce off of these issues? This play arguing or discussing teaches them proper processing skills.
Children should be taught what is TRUTH, fiction, foundational and fluid.
The Bible needs to be taught as real history with real people and real truths.
When thinking through a topic, a question, an issue, a conflict or anything, start by defining the terms. This is a common way to start a debate, but it is a very smart technique to apply to most discussions. Many conversations could be better understood if the terms were defined and agreed upon before a long conversation began. If students don’t define terms – especially in a debate – their arguments can be dismantled more easily. Hence, students have an incentive for defining terms and being precise with their thinking and words.
In this stage, they want to know WHY and HOW COME?
Dialectic does not refer simply to the making of distinctions, but to the evaluation of those distinctions. To see that a horse is not a duck belongs to the grammar stage. To see that a horse is a suitable animal to use in battle, and that a duck is not, belongs to the dialectic stage.
Your child may have the capacity for abstract thinking or endless arguing. When you are in the thick of discussion, be grateful that you are the one guiding your child in this growth time. While you may not want them to enter this stage of endless arguing, you can celebrate their growing capacity to process what you have been teaching them all along. Praise them for wanting to know why and how come?
This time is when children learn discernment, as they sort out the facts they learned in the grammar stage. Here middle school-aged children learn to debate, argue, and detect logical fallacies. Theology moves from memorized facts to the beginning of understanding and application. Conversing politely and effectively should be practiced often. Practicing listening and good manners is a must. Dialoging is a lost art. Don’t miss this time to dialog with your child. In order to sort out what a child is experiencing in their life and the world around them, they need a grammar or foundation to press into. Lean into all they learned in their younger years.
TO DO in Dialectic stage:
Continue much of what you started in the grammar stage.
Continue AWANA for the best and easiest way to succeed in having your child memorize scripture and work through answers and questions about their faith. Highly recommended!
Select devotional books on their level.
Give them a Bible appropriate for their age. This is a time that they have outgrown their Children’s Bible.
Commit to teach a pre-school or elementary group of children on Sunday mornings beside the church service. Your name can be on the door as the official teacher. Include your children weekly in this commitment. Instruct your children to do all that is needed. Practice having them read the Bible story from the scripture and then retell it to the understanding of the audience. Let them lead the songs and teach the verses. What a gift to know they are prepared to teach the Bible going forward in their lives. Three of my children currently teach and disciple weekly. Because they learned this early, it seems easy and natural.
Play out conversations. Ask them hard questions. Help them find the answers. Aren’t you the safe one for them to bounce off of these issues? This play arguing/discussing teaches them proper social skills which is just another bonus. Listening and telling the opponent’s words back while using logic and manners. This stage is a great time to teach them to respect other people’s opinions. Their opponent may be just as passionate and enthusiastic about their ideas. Consider others opinions. Think it through from both sides. This takes time and practice, but it will help your child develop an invaluable skill. Teach them not to shut other’s ideas out.
Teach them to say things in a discussion like: I have never thought about it that way. You bring up several interesting points. I sense you are very passionate about your ideas. I respect your enthusiasm for your point. You must be very committed to _____________(whatever they are saying.) These responses encourage your child to listen and practice showing respect to others with whom they do not agree. I would call this teaching social skills.
Bible verses applied practically to everyday situations.
Learn spiritual music, hymns and new songs. Listen with your child for the heart of the song by learning about its origins, context and inspiration.
Read and memorize literature – recitations that can begin leading to presentations.
Music for life as mentioned in the grammar section – Songs to sing when happy or sad.
Reading God’s Word OUT LOUD everyday.
God’s story is our ontology: it explains our nature, our essence, our beginning and our endings, our qualities and our attributes. When we read our Bibles, in large chunks of whole books at a time, we daily learn that our own story began globally and ontologically. God has known us longer than anyone else has.Rosaria Butterfield
Read the Bible each day. Unpack the scripture read and ask, “What is your favorite verse?” If you are working with a spiritual orphan, don’t waste the opportunity to show him how to do what he needs to do daily to grow. Invite them to read the Bible out loud daily, write down his favorite verse in their own journal book and pray out loud with you. You may wonder if you have made a difference, but these things are guaranteed to be very impactful in a child’s life.
Invite your child to ask “How does that apply to me today? How does God want me to live?”
Read purposeful literature, history, biographies, church history, history of people of faith that they know. Invite current day spiritual people over for meals. Ask others for story of their spiritual journey.
Take notes in church. Let them select a journal and keep notes in church. Start this habit early. Lead by example.
Make time for discussions. Being unable to critically analyze information has unfortunate effects and implications for our society morally, socially, theologically, and intellectually.
The reason they can do this so easily is that people have usually not been taught how to think or process in their grammar and dialectic years. Without proper logical thinking, they cannot discern truth from fiction.
Apologetics are critical to study in this phase to work through topics and issues they are facing in the culture. Anticipate what they are going to face in the culture. We want them to be able to discern truth from falsehoods.
If we don’t take the years we have them to prepare them for this stage, they are unstable. They may not have the knowledge and experience they need to make the decision for Godly choices. The logic stage of classical education helps children how to discern and evaluate the facts they learned in the grammar stage. In this phase, children are in an argumentative phase of life, so we must teach them how to do this effectively. Training our children thoughtfully with their age related maturity as a guide is pertinent.
3. Rhetoric – 14 – 18 years old
This next stage is technically young adult. Unfortunately, you will not have as much influence during this time in your child’s life. That is why there is no time to waste in the early years. It is sad, but true. Buckle up. These years are long, but also suddenly over.
Even though your child is older, it is still important that you read to them and with them.
Make yourself available for conversations. Great times for talking are car time, late nights and time over a meal or coffee. Be prepared for conversation. Use discernment. Be prepared with important things to share. Be interested in what they are interested in. Enter their world. Listen to their music. Offer to drive them and their friends. When they tell you something, tell it back to then to ensure you are getting the right information.
Love them well – Love overcomes so much. Love is a more persuasive path than rhetoric. Love them most when they are unloveable. It is more how they feel that you feel about them, than what you say you feel about them. When the tension is high, just tell yourself, “I am the grown-up.” Respond with calmness. Remember that the calmest person in the room has the most power. Try this. It is true. Calmness is a learned response for me. It comes under the self-control category. Being authentic is essential to sharing truthfully. Calmness is not in my nature.
From a spiritual perspective, introduce them to people from their family or people from history or church history who have lived well for God. As mentioned in the last section, it is motivating for them to interact with mature Christians. Let them “hear” their heart as they unpack their stories. Let then see their work, if possible. Let them reflect on these people who have lived a life of purpose. Meeting real people and reading biographies can inspire a person for life.
Be one of those people that lives an inspiring life. Live in a way of daily kindness to those you love as well as those you pass. Live in a transparent way.
In the rhetoric stage, a child is learning to speak and write what they are thinking. This time should offer regular time for your child to present what he or she knows. This will encourage organization, courage and practice.
TO DO in Rhetoric stage:
Again, continue much of what you started in grammar and dialectic stage.
Select material very carefully that encourages Biblical literacy.
Apologetics – Grow this area as your child matures.
Worldview – One to two years should be spent reading and discussing this area. Be proactive. Discuss these topics before they enter a conversation with a stranger. Our kids greatly benefited for the Summit material. Another invaluable source for your child and for you is Alisa Childer’s blog, podcast and books.
Spend time reading God’s word together
Pray together. Pray for others with your child present. Teach them to ask how can I pray for you and then do in right then. Keep in simple. Focus on authenticity. Lead by example.
Acts of kindness for the sake of Christ. Constantly look for ways to be kind
Take them on mission trips or disaster relief trips locally to US.
Serve with them weekly, seasonal (dental clinic), special events.
Look for people who need help or love. They are all around us. (Homeless bags, kindness to retail workers, neighbors, widows, caregivers, new moms and dads, and those with sad events.) Look for needs and meet them.
As a mother, I was aiming to create lifetime learners in my kids. My goal in raising each of my five children was to create learners who lived a life fully pursuing God. Truthfully, these ideas stick with some kids while others exercise their freedom of choice by living a life ignoring God. I was given five souls to steward. I did my very best. If you have been given children to love and raise, the most important thing you can do is to lead by example. Paying attention to age appropriate growth as you encourage them to be a Christ follower can help you to be more effective.
Let me say that nurturing a young heart is one of the most important, rewarding commitments that you or I will ever execute in our lives. If you do not have a young one in your home, look around. There are literally spiritual orphans everywhere. Ask God to show you who he has placed in your path. Is there a neighbor, child at church, niece, nephew or grandchild that could benefit from spending time with you? Maybe you are already spending time with a young one. Do you organize your time to spend time nurturing them, making memories and investing spiritually? The above ideas can be crafted to invite a churched or unchurched child to be curious about God. All of us pose the questions of “Why am I here?”, “Who made me?” and “What is my purpose in this life?” Don’t miss the great joy of being a spiritual guide to a young person whether he or she is your own child or one that God has placed in your path. Childhood is short. Don’t miss the window.
Today is a new day.
The future is unwritten.
Focus on action.