18 Sep 2020
‘Dad, don’t do a funny voice.’ That’s what one of my children sometimes says when I change my voice for the characters when reading a bedtime story. Perhaps I’m a bit silly and over the top when I do it. I’m trying to be fun but it doesn’t always work!
When it comes to reading Bible stories to children, the way we read them matters. Whether it’s a Bible text or a re-telling of a Bible story, the way we read it can have a big impact on our children listening to and engaging with it. In fact, the same applies to how we read the Bible at church or in our small group. If we sound bored and like we can’t wait to get to the end, then it will affect our listeners and how much they get out of it.
We may not be trained actors but here are just a few simple ideas to help engage children with Bible stories:
Read with enthusiasm. Children love it if you read with enthusiasm. They’ll pick up on your excitement and be much more likely to engage with the story. I guess we can all remember teachers we had when we were a child, who read us stories with real enthusiasm and captured our imaginations as they read. When God kindly gives us opportunities to read to children - ‘go for it’! This is not always easy, especially if you’re tired at the end of the day and just wanting to get the children off to bed. But despite that, it really is worth it.
Let your tone match the text. If something is exciting in the story, read it with excitement and perhaps quickly. If there is sadness or disappointment, you might want to slow down. Your children will really pick up on the emotion.
Ask questions and spot things in the pictures. Slow down and look at details in the pictures. This can be a really good way of engaging children with the story. Often your children will spot details before you as they’re looking at the picture as you read! Let them talk to you about what they can see, and draw out things they might have missed. When it comes to questions, I don’t think I’m very good at this as usually I don’t want to interrupt the flow of the book. But asking questions can draw children deeper into the story and affect the impact the story has.
Reading bible stories to children is such a simple thing, yet very important. What a privilege and responsibility God has given us - enjoy making the most of it, and remember that this book could change their lives! Maria Millis knew this. Heard of her? Thought not! Neither had I until I read the story of Lord Shaftesbury, a Christian politician from the 19th Century whose passion for Christ influenced a whole generation, devoting himself to ‘the cause of the weak and those who had none to help them’. He outlawed children working in factories, down mines and up chimneys. He also set up the first free schools for the poor. What was Maria Millis' role? She was Lord Shaftesbury’s nanny. Unlike his family, she was a Christian. So, of course, she read him Bible stories. His Christian faith, his commitment to the poor and his passion to serve Christ were all shaped by being read stories by Maria as a child.
If you’re looking for excellent Bible stories that teach the good news of Jesus, then have a look at the 'Tales that tell the truth' series (Good Book Company). Personal favourites in our house are ‘The Friend who Forgives’, ‘God’s very Good idea’, and ‘Jesus and the Lions Den’. These are good for those aged 4-9. Happy reading!
Nick is the children’s and families worker at Moulton Parish Church.