I love to scare my friends by telling them that every parent is called to be a homeschool parent. Let me explain what I mean. Regardless of how you may choose to formally educate your child, the Lord calls us parents to be our child’s first and most formative teachers. On the day we bring our newborns home from the hospital, our home becomes a school. The universe is our classroom.
More than imparting knowledge, education is the training of affections. One question sums up hundreds of my decisions every day: What am I teaching my children to love?
J. C. Ryle writes this in his book, The Duties of Parents: “You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Spirit can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your children acquainted with the Bible; and be sure that they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well.”
I agree, mostly. We cannot love what we do not know. We cannot love honey, if we have never tasted honey. So, we talk to our children about God’s Word when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up, as Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs us to.
Though we cannot make our children love the Bible, we can teach the Bible in a manner that shows them the goodness of God’s Word. There are ways, for example, of teaching our children about honey that are unhelpful. Diluting a teaspoon of honey with a gallon of water, or licking honey from an active beehive, would not help them to delight in honey.
Though we cannot make our children love the Bible, we can teach the Bible in a manner that shows them the goodness of God’s Word.
We magnify what we enjoy the most. Our enjoyment honours the maker of the good thing. When we enjoy Grandma’s cooking, we honour Grandma. To teach our children the Bible and theology is to say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). When we savour God’s Word that is sweeter than honey, we honour Christ. He is the Word who is God, and who was with God in the beginning (John 1:1–3).
Here are some habits we try to cultivate in our home, as we train our children to love God’s Word:
Learning from Psalm 139
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1. Love books.
In God’s wisdom, He chose to reveal Himself in words. In our home, we seek to cultivate a love for reading precisely because this is how God has chosen to communicate Himself to us as His people, while we wait for His return. Before our children can read the Bible, an ancient and complex document, we begin by teaching them to love the written word.
Every book is a new place, bringing us on new journeys into new worlds. Parents are the captains of the ship, and young sailors are often hungry for stories. They are full of questions and interruptions, and they love making connections between these books and their faith.
You can consider making weekly trips to the local library, and reading aloud to your children at least once a day, or five times a week, if you can. In our family, we read all kinds of books. I have been greatly helped by other parents’ recommendations.
When the boys were younger, I chose all their books. As they grow older, I still choose their books as a way to recommend and introduce great authors to them. They are starting to pick some books on their own, but I retain the authority to take away any book I find which are not edifying for them.
Cultivating a love for books takes time, and time is the best gift I can give my children. Our time with our children at home is short, thus very precious. This is why we choose not to have a big screen or a television. I am not saying this is how every family should be—this is simply a way our family chooses to “number our days” (Psalm 90:12).
Not having big screens disciplines us to spend time together face to face, whether it’s reading to one another, making art, or playing board games. I read to the children in the morning, my husband reads to them at night, and the older boys read to the younger boys throughout the day.
2. Behold, not behave.
God is the hero of every story in the Bible. We want to teach our children to behold the Lord in His Word. When we read the Bible or Bible stories with our children, focus on the goodness, strength, power, mercy, and kindness of God. When we read these stories, we want to focus on what God is doing, not on the Bible characters as “role models” for how we should or should not behave.
When we read these stories, we want to focus on what God is doing, not on the Bible characters as “role models” for how we should or should not behave.
God wants to have a relationship with us and our children. He is a Person who speaks truth in love. Each genre in the Bible displays an aspect of His wholeness, beauty, and harmony. He sings to His children. He tells stories and recounts history. He gives commands that keep us safe. He recites poetry. He paints pictures. He writes letters to instruct us.
3. Nurture a sense of wonder.
What captures your child’s imagination? Some children love poetry; some like stories; some enjoy numbers, trees, fish, or lions. When you stumble upon something they find fascinating, they want it on repeat. Don’t be afraid of repetition. Nurture this love.
The Lord gave me four sons who are wonderfully different. One of my sons has loved numbers since he was a baby. This son was not interested in books or Bible stories, unless it was about numbers. At first, I was so discouraged—until I realised that God’s Word was full of numbers: 5 loaves, 2 fish, 5,000 men, 12 baskets, 100 sheep, 1 lost, 3 Persons, 1 God…
Numbers are everywhere in the Bible, and they are full of meaning. I collected all the stories about numbers in the Bible, and I wrote him a book. God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World came out of a place of desperation—and love.
Numbers are the means, but God is the end. Numbers can capture the greatness of God in a way that stories do not.
My sons are captivated by the idea of infinity. They are so pleased with the fact that numbers can grow bigger and bigger—forever. One of them asked me, “Is heaven like infinity?”
Numbers can also be very small. Mary held the God of infinity in her womb, a small and narrow place for the Maker of stars. Little was never so big; and big was never so little.
Numbers magnify the Lord, the way a telescope magnifies the great stars. And numbers bring God closer to my children’s eyes.
4. Listen to God’s Word.
Much of God’s Word was written for public readings among large gatherings. As such, we believe that the most effective way to learn Scripture is to read and memorise the Bible out loud together. My older boys, who are now 11 and 13, can read the Bible silently to themselves, but that took many years of training and becoming familiar with the language of Scripture.
Listening to God’s Word together keeps us consistent and accountable.
We begin every morning with a reading of God’s Word. When we read from Psalms, Proverbs, or one of Paul’s letters, I read the passage out loud, and slowly. When we read the Old Testament historical books or the gospels, I like playing the English actor David Suchet’s reading of Scripture, which can be found on BibleGateway. He reads in a meaningful and expressive manner, without being overly dramatic.
Listening to God’s Word together keeps us consistent and accountable. Even on days when I fall ill, I can still listen to Scripture with my children. Listening also trains me and my children to mentally focus and pay attention to the story’s details. If they missed something, they would often ask, “Mommy, can we listen to that portion again?”
5. Connect God’s Word with God’s world.
Explore the multiple dimensions of God’s Word. Pave the way for a deep and abiding understanding. Resist oversimplifying. Help our children connect what they are reading with their world, whether it’s what they see, taste or touch. For example, after listening to the story of Joseph in Genesis, my sons immediately reached for books about ancient Egypt.
Sometimes, I deliberately point out the symbolic meals I make for them: “Hey, we are eating fish and bread, just like the disciples!” I have also developed a recipe for “manna cookies” (sesame wafers), which I included in my new book Taste and See: All About God’s Goodness.
Other times, symbols from Scripture simply permeate our daily living. Nothing comforts my three-year-old like a warm cup of milk and honey. In Scripture, milk and honey are symbols for life. We know from the stories in Exodus that the Lord is leading them to “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). Milk is a symbol for God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2), and his Word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:10).
So, when I warm up a cup of milk and honey for my sick children, I am offering the symbols of Scripture, and stories about the promised land. In drinking milk and honey, they remember how good the Word of God tastes.
6. Create family habits and culture on the foundation of God’s Word.
Children feel safe when they know Mom and Dad are also striving to obey God’s Word. Repentance is the one thing Christian parents can do that Jesus cannot do. My husband and I make it a habit to apologise to our children when we sin against them. Every Saturday, our nightly prayer centers around confessing our sin to one another, and asking the Lord for forgiveness.
Read the Bible with your children—don’t simply tell them to read it by themselves.
We also practice something we affectionately call “Sunday Grace”—a day when the boys receive treats regardless of how they behave. It is a celebration of Sundays and grace. The Bible gives them a real assurance that even on days when they have been really bad, they will receive grace—for the Bible tells them so.
7. Most importantly, read the Bible with your children.
Read the Bible with your children—don’t simply tell them to read it by themselves. When the children are sitting down to eat breakfast, we begin our day with a reading from God’s Word, out loud. I thank the Lord for the food for our bodies, and the food for our souls.
The end of parenting, education, and reading is not merely an accumulation of knowledge. The chief end is worship.
We magnify what we enjoy most. When children see that this book is unlike any other book, when they see that their parents treasure every jot and every tiddle, when they see that the Word of God brings joy and hope to our lives, may the Lord grow a love for Scripture in their souls.
As parents, let us bring our children to the feet of our Saviour early and often. He wants the little children to come to Him. He will not turn them away. It is not possible to be acquainted with our Lord too soon, or too well. The end of parenting, education, and reading is not merely an accumulation of knowledge. The chief end is worship.