Is there anything cuter than a toddler reciting scripture? When little voices proclaim the word of God, grownup hearts get melty. It’s a big deal because the child has memorized something that will last forever . . . right?
The short answer is yes . . . if we take the time to do it in an age-appropriate way.
Let’s start with the basics: Learning scripture is never wasted time. In the book of Isaiah, God promises God’s word will do the work it’s supposed to do. Timothy writes that all scripture is God-breathed and that it’s good for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It’s a great practice for caregivers to make sure God’s word is hidden in the hearts of our littles—as long as we have a realistic understanding of what that looks like at this stage of life.
Children aged 12-36 months are complex humans. Typically, they begin toddlerhood knowing only a handful of words and end up being able to expertly string together advanced sentences. Their memories are intricate, too! They are able to learn entire movie scripts and storybooks, yet forget that they loved bananas yesterday.
As kids grow, they become more and more developmentally able to repeat scriptures . . . but in order to have a lasting impact there are two things we need to keep in mind for toddlers:
- KEEP IT SHORT—Choose portions of scriptures which can be easily learned. Choose quality over quantity! Understanding the concepts of the verse is a great goal. You’re building a foundation for deeper understanding as you introduce:
- God is love (1 John 4:16)
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Be kind (Ephesians 4:32)
- Do not be afraid, God is with you (Isaiah 43:5)
- MAKE IT REAL—Kids are essentially egocentric at this stage. It’s hard for them to grasp the principle of the verse unless you make it applicable to them. The best way to do this is to embrace a ‘learn as you go’ method (Deuteronomy 11:9)—this helps toddlers who don’t sit well anyway really soak in what you’re teaching. For example:
- Teach “love” verses with hugs and snuggles
- Repeat “kindness” verses when playing with others
- Introduce “brave” verses during pretend play or at story time
- Sing verses during routines (getting ready to go outside, eating snacks, washing hands, etc.)
The most important thing is to have fun! Children are more likely to remember the emotions they feel when talking about God than the words they memorized. When they associate Bible verses with being loved, cared for, and comforted, they have a wonderful start for a lifetime of seeking God through the Bible!
For more information about how to use information about child development to foster faith in young children, check out Dr. Dawn Rundman’s book Little Steps, Big Faith.