Written by monthly contributor, Natalie Didlake
Hearing my children reciting scripture sometimes takes my breath away. Their little sing-song voices echo verses back to me as they repeat words they sometimes don’t even understand…”O Lord, you have searched me and known me…” Breathtaking!
But actually buckling down to work daily on scripture memory with little ones…it’s daunting! I used to idealize we’d learn scripture together, but I had no idea how to actually make it happen!
Here are some tips that have really helped scripture memory become a day-to-day reality at our house.
To me, the important thing is to do something, no matter how small. It obviously isn’t a good idea to make them sit still for 30 minutes for memory drills right off the bat. We started with about 3-5 minutes of memory work each day. Read the passage in small portions and have your child repeat after you phrase by phrase.
Be expressive. (In other words, sound like you enjoy it!)
Vary inflection of your voice. This really seems to help my kids remember the words. I have noticed that when I accidentally change up our regular sing-song pattern while we’re practicing, they won’t remember it!
Think of it as giving auditory cues to boost their (and your) memory power. The Jews have a long history of chanting and singing the scriptures…and it sure works for them! Historically, it has not been uncommon for them to memorize whole Old Testament books. Phew!
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Now that my kids know the drill, they actually love repeating the phrases over and over again! Children love repetition, especially when they are engaging and sharing it with others!
I have learned over time how much their brains can retain at one time, usually about 4-6 words. So, for example, I say a few words/a phrase, they say it. I say another one, they say it. And so on. Before long, they know it by heart!
In college, I used to memorize on my 45-minute commute. It was a nice, long chunk of time, but unfortunately, I couldn’t remember much unless I was in the car! I had conditioned myself to only recall those scriptures during mindless driving. Odd, but true. Hopefully, I won’t set my kids up for this mistake.
Some places we do scripture memory are: lined up on the kitchen counter. Swinging. Snuggled up on the “big bed.” On a blanket in the yard. Riding in the car. On long walks.
This could be a great way of training children that they can interact with God and his Word anywhere, anytime. (See Deuteronomy 6, God’s instruction to parents to teach their children about him all throughout the day!)
Note: When I know my kids will struggle to focus, they sit on the couch, our “usual spot.” Having a neutral, routine environment to fall back on helps us work on memorizing even when they aren’t in an optimal mood.
Stop to explain the scriptures.
I have one child in particular who just loves to know why! How could I possibly turn down all those precious questions and comments when we’re memorizing?
I would never trade all the hours I’ve spent explaining, teaching, answering questions, giving examples, talking, and doing more explaining…for those little “lightbulb” moments when it clicks for them. It’s amazing to realize it actually might be sticking! God’s word really is like a seed! All we do is plant, and then wait and water and watch, and wait some more. (Luke 8:11)
Plus, it helps them remember! I would hardly enjoy memorizing German, why expect them to memorize verse after verse of what’s practically a foreign language to them?
Another note: Sometimes I have to cut off the questions and just plow through memorizing. I have had to accept they won’t “get” everything now. But they can still store it away for later!
Learn long passages.
I know this sounds hard. But it’s really not. It’s like eating a big steak…one bite at a time!
One “bite” at a time, we’ve managed to learn long Psalms, poems, blessings, and parts of the Epistles. It’s been the easiest approach we’ve tried by far!
I prefer to learn longer chunks over individual verses, so that I can keep the context and flow of argument in mind. I’m sure my kids aren’t benefiting from such things as context, at the ripe ages of 3 and 5…but they will later!
Also, it is easier for me to just use my Bible for review. No papers or cards, just a list taped inside the cover. With small children, simpler is always better. Soon, I’d like to have my Bible on our Kindle and work from that!
Explain why we are memorizing.
I periodically remind my kids all the reasons we do Bible memory. It really helps them to hear why, rather than me just “making” them. They are small, but they are human. Why not clue them in?
I reminded them:
Scripture can help prevent them from sin.
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11)
Scripture can teach them about Jesus, who holds out their hope for life.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.(John 5:39)
Scripture can help clarify their hearts.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
Addition from Lindsay:
Take advantage of fun Scripture memory CD’s set to music. Here are some of our favorites:
Songs for Saplings
God’s Word from A to Z
Steve Green’s Hide Em In Your Heart Vol 1 & Vol 2 (I love this version because it comes with the DVD adaption as well)
Seeds Family Worship (a whole series of songs with multiple CD’s for the whole family based on Scripture)
Where should you start?
We have always found it helpful to start with the ABC’s as our guide for memorizing Scripture to begin with toddlers and preschoolers. You can use one of the lists provided in the CD’s above. It helps reinforce the alphabet but also a good review reminder tool.
Otherwise, use simple passages that are meaningful to your family during this time of your life. Is your child struggling with lying? Fear? Obedience? Then, start with doing some word searches to find simple Scriptures that they could memorize to address these struggles.
Other easy lists to begin with:
10 Easy Bible Memory Verses (this list has a fun little coloring page that accompanies each memory verse)
30 Easy Bible Memory Verses (a follow up list to the one above)
My ABC Bible Verses: Hiding God’s Word in Little Heart – this book is an easy place to start as it includes a Bible verse and character story to accompany it.
I do recommend memorizing the entire portion of the verse and not just shortening it as some of these portions do above. I think you will find that a child can learn a lot more than you might give them credit for, as long as you work in smaller portions. I just prefer to give them all of Scripture for their instruction and memory work.
What tips or ideas do you have to incorporate and simplify scripture memory into your family? Can’t wait to hear your ideas!