Training up a child in the way he should go means proactively educating your child in the faith from the earliest moments of life. This is the model exemplified in Timothy who was taught the faith from his infanthood (literally, from the womb! [2Tim.3:15]).
Because God's desire is that we immerse our children in the Scriptures, it is necessary to have some tools to help us do that. I thought it would be a good idea to pass on some books that have my wife and I have found extremely beneficial for our kids (and for us!). The following have really impressed us:
The Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade is the book that we are currently reading with our 8 year old daughter at bedtime. I put it first because it is foremost among the books we have worked through. Mighty Acts follows the Bible's narrative much like any other children's Bible storybook. However, it excels them for three reasons:
The first distinguishing mark is the way it is written. Each of the stories are told in such a way that not only captures the Biblical text in a faithful rendering, but also captures your child's attention. You and your child will be drawn into the story and made to feel the tension tighten and release in each chapter.
Secondly, it comes highly recommended because it does not focus on the individual Bible characters (i.e. Joseph was a good man). Instead it focuses on the character of God and the redemptive themes that come to light through each story. Your child will walk away not just knowing more about the love, grace, and omnipotence of God, they will actually feel like they know him personally.
Lastly, Mighty Acts trumps other storybooks because of its useful tools. Provided at the outset of each chapter is a Bible verse which captures the theme of the story and could be used for memorization. At the end of each chapter the book provides excellent discussion points so that parents can bring the application home even more. This last feature I have found to be worth the price of the book in itself.
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is another solid acquisition for your 4-7 year old. The subtitle to the book reveals the essence of its focus, "Every Story Whispers His Name." This book is phenomenal because it seeks to make clear how Christ is revealed in and through the whole of Scripture.
Through Jesus Storybook your child will come to see that God has one overarching plan. Moreover, they will see how each of the individual stories fits within that plan and comes to fruition in Christ.
What I personally liked about this book is that you come to build expectation for Christ as you work your way through the Old Testament, just like the saints of old would have experienced. Being as this is so, it would make for a good book to use in the Advent season leading up to Christmas.
For those of you who want something a little more substantial, check out Cathrine Vos' The Child's Story Bible. Unlike most story Bibles, Child's Story doesn't skip much. Vos takes you through virtually every narrative in the Bible. Along the way she sprinkles in some helpful commentary so you (and your kid!) come to understand some of the more challenging parts of the Scripture.
What I liked about this book is that my daughter got a much more comprehensive understanding of the Scripture. As a kid who get's Scripture read to her at the beginning of school in the morning, dinnertime, and bedtime (not to mention a couple of times a day each Sunday), she needed something more than the typical Creation, flood, and David and Goliath stories you normally get in a story Bible.
Some might be intimidated by the volume of Child's Story. It is a big book with lengthy chapters (It took us about a year to work through it). But this should not be a deterrent. The chapters can be broken up easily for nightly readings, and the pay-off in terms of content is superb.
After Vos, we wanted something a little lighter. So we jumped into Day by Day, which is, as you may surmise, a daily devotional for kids. We read this last year with my daughter (when she was 7) and I found it good, but probably directed more toward younger kids (say 5-6). We actually read a couple entries a day because it was so short.
If you are looking for a lot of a thorough analysis, you will be greatly disappointed with this choice. However, if you are looking for something bite sized, bed-time natured and emphasizing practical daily life kind of stuff, this is a good buy.
I will say that one downfall to this book is that, because it focuses so much on how kids should live before God, it sometimes has a "man-centered" feel to it. Parents can easily overcome this by pointing out the grace in each passage. Moreover, this book is, as I said, very kid oriented. It is helpful in getting your children to think about how God's law applies to their lives in particular (i.e. relationships with friends, obedience to parents, prayer, understanding how Christ is Lord, etc.).
Ok, let's jump into something a little more didactic. After years of going through the Bible and various storybooks, we thought it would be good to start giving my daughter some real training in Bible doctrine. So this year for her second grade Bible class we've been using Starr Meade's Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism was originally designed for the purpose of instilling the basic tenets of the faith in children. Meade's book is great because it integrates a weeks worth of lessons for each of the catechism's question and answers. This makes it perfectly conducive for memorizing each of the Q & A's. What's more is that you get to spend a week looking at what the Bible says about each particular topic.
This sort of training is absolutely necessary at some point in your kid's education. Years ago a survey was done and it found that most all of college freshmen who grew up in the church and in Christian homes knew virtually nothing about the most basic Christian doctrines. Meade's work provides a great place to start your child on a much more sound track.
A dip in some church history may also be a good change up from your typical Bible storybook reading, especially if you are a homeschooling family. While I have not delved much into these yet, the History Lives series looks like an excellent resource for introducing your children (ranging 8-12 years old) to our great heritage.
You might ask why I promote a series of books that I have not yet read. I do so because I want to help broaden the scope of our young people's Bible knowledge. While there is never a substitute for the Scriptures, we should not limit our reading to the Scriptures. If we are going to know His Story, we must look at what God was doing after the close of the book of Acts.
As well, learning about the history of the church is important for gaining a well rounded Christian worldview. As Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun." All the errors we face today were most likely already tackled by our forefathers in the faith in earlier centuries. Letting your child become familiar with some of these events will allow them to see how the Bible has been applied, challenged, and defended through the ages.
Finally, back in the world of family devotions, let me suggest our latest read as a family: Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God. I do have a little beef with the length of these studies. It is very short and maturity in the faith will take much more quality time in the study of Scripture. However, the book is very well written and the short is right to the point. Best of all, the point is always theologically sound. Long Story Short is more than a children's story Bible. It unfolds the redemptive and theological implications of each of the stories of the Bible. What happens is that you and your children come to understand the flow of Scripture. The Bible becomes God's Story of our redemption and less a book of moralisms.
The book includes a Bible passage for reading, a short explanation, and a few questions for children for review and discussion.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.