By Mary Abrahamson
A Parents’ Guide to beginning Catechesis
or put more simply,
How do I teach my small child about God?
Part II First Memory Work
In the first article I wrote for this series, I laid the Law on pretty thick. But we all need it. Myself included. The devil, the world, and our own flesh are all conspiring to pluck our little ones from the faith they were given in their Baptisms.
We are commanded to baptize and also to teach.
The Baptism part, as I mentioned last time, is less often forgotten in our Lutheran circles than is the daily and weekly teaching that will feed and reinforce the faith which was created in Baptism.
And even daily is not enough. We can’t simply designate a time such as bedtime or breakfast to teach our children about God. As we live our daily lives, we must constantly teach and model God’s love, repentance, and forgiveness. There is ample opportunity in our sinful lives for such modeling. The phrase teachable moments is popular these days; it seems to capture well how we best teach our children about God. Our very lives contain many teachable moments. Stop to notice and talk about God throughout your day.
But now the nuts and bolts. The specifics. We ought to take time on a regular basis, some scheduled time, to teach our children about God. Bedtime is a good time, since it is prayer time already. Meal time is also good, since the whole family is together. Or include it with homework and work with your children right after they get home from school. If you’ve not grown up with this kind of structured bible teaching, you might think in a panic, “But how do I teach? And what?”
The next articles in this series will give some tools you can use in your homes. The basics. But just tools. For some of you these may be obvious. For others less so. And for some, they may be so new and unfamiliar that they are daunting. Please, please, please do not feel daunted.
We all come from different upbringings. Each of us was given while growing up, a different example in our homes, churches, and communities. Each of us has a different amount of support from our spouse. Each of us has children with unique and sometimes challenging personalities.
And as always in Lutheranism, try to avoid turning these tools into Law. Do not burden yourself by thinking, for instance, “I must do a, b, c, …” Do not pound others over the head with these suggestions as if to hammer God’s Law into them. Adherence to the following suggestions is not intended as a gauge to compare yourselves to others, in either successes or failures. And wives, if your husband is inexperienced or otherwise struggling to take up his role of spiritual leader in the homes, please do not use these to berate him. Help and encourage him as you can, use God’s Law if necessary. But do not use it to berate or disrespect him. Build him up in Christ. And love him even when he fails, just as Christ loves us even through we fail constantly to keep His commands.
Yes, we must teach our children. Yes, we will fail. Yes, God forgives us in this, too. And no, our ability to faithfully teach, is not what will save our children. God’s grace and mercy will save them. Jesus’ righteousness, presented in the Word of God, seeded and fertilized and watered by the Holy Spirit, will give them faith and grow their faith.
Our feeble work to give our children this Word of God presents more or less opportunity for our children to hear this Wonderful Message. Our neglect of such matters will not damn them. It will present more or less temptation for them to follow us in our failures.
So now the basics. Let’s start with some memory work. Young children are parrots. They memorize readily and mimic what they hear. How often have you heard even your youngest child singing along to some well known commercial jingle or a popular song. And most of us have heard them repeat things they ought not to have even heard. It’s never too early to read or recite to them short memory work lessons. The recitation will come easily at a young age; the comprehension can be taught later.
I consider the Ten Commandments without meanings the starting point for memory work. I also like to have the kids learn to recite the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Besides being a good starting point, if children know these two prayers, it enables them to better participate in Sunday Worship.
The Christian church has long held that these basics contain the entire message of salvation. The Ten Commandments show us our sin. We can never keep them perfectly in thought, word, and deed.
I also try to have my kids learn a handful of easy Bible verses as soon as they can talk. Again, this is not a Law, just a suggestion. I have succeeded better with some children than with others in this. I’ve included a few of my favorite beginning passages below.
There are many techniques which can help a child to memorize.
- Read or recite. Simply reading or reciting the commandment or prayers with your child will help them learn. They learn as they hear these truths repeated.
- Say and repeat. Say a short sentence or phrase and ask your child to say it with you three times. Then ask them to repeat it by themselves. You can then do another chunk the same way. Then ask them to combine the two sections you’ve worked on. Do this a few phrases at a time, until they have the whole thing learned. “You shall not take the name, say it with me three times.” “of the Lord your God in vain, now say that with me three times.” “Now lets say it all together, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Little ones may have to use smaller sections when first memorizing. Because the words are often new to them, even repeating just a word or two over and over.
- Fill in the blanks. Read the entire recitation lesson several times. Then stop after a few words to see if your child can fill in the next word. For instance, after reading through the first commandment several times, you might say, “You shall have no other – .” See if they can say “gods.” Next time you repeat it, stop before a different word. “You shall – ,” and once they or you add the, “have,” you can continue with the rest, “no other gods.”
- Sing or chant. Many children are very musically inclined and can learn anything better with music. Make up an easy melody or use something from a hymn or folk song. Or use the melodies that the pastor uses to chant the liturgy.
- Hand gestures. Yes, it takes some creativity. And sometimes gets silly. But it does really help. Hold up five fingers as you say, “The Fifth Commandment;” point a commanding finger as you say, “You shall not;” and then slide your finger across your neck while finishing with, “kill.” Think up things like that. Our family still can’t recite the meaning of the First Article without at least a couple of kids making claw shapes with their hands and a scary face while they say, “guards and protects me from all evil.”
- Puzzles and games. For a child who reads, you can make simple puzzles by printing up the recitation onto card stock and then cutting apart the words by section. Your child can then assemble these sections in the correct order. Or cut the pieces apart into random shapes and have your child assemble them like a jigsaw puzzle. Put magnets on the back if you want the kids do them at the fridge. Encourage a little friendly competition between siblings by inventing some sort of commandment race or Apostles’ Creed challenge. Tape the printed up texts by the toilet or above the kitchen sink or on the fridge.
- In the car. Use car time for recitation or repetition. For us this also works well to head off some of the periodic bickering among siblings. The kids may not like it, but they have a harder time arguing back when Mom says, “Hey, how about we say the Apostles’ Creed. Who thinks they can get through the whole thing?” Or, “Who can say starting with the youngest, say the Commandments?”
Some easy Bible passages
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
We love Him because He first loved us. I John 4:19
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
I am the resurrection and the life. John 11:25