One of the best things we get to do as parents and adult mentors is bless our children. Sometimes this happens informally, through simple words of affirmation, but sometimes we can do it more formally, through a written blessing.
Blessings are a Biblical concept – Aaron and his sons receive instruction to bless the people of Israel in Numbers 6, and we see several parents blessing their children, like Jacob’s blessing his sons in Genesis 49.
In our family, we’ve chosen to bless our children as babies through a written blessing. You can read the blessings here:
We have written a blessing for each of our children: a page of prayers and intentions for our little one.
Certainly, it doesn’t need to be written down – a spoken blessing is wonderful too. The benefit of writing is that you can prepare your words ahead of time, and it’s recorded for the future.
In our blessings, we’ve recorded some hopes for our children, including specific ways we’ll pray for each of them and some encouragement for them as they grow up.
It can be any length. Ours have both been about a page, typed, but your blessing can be just a few sentences, or much longer.
When to Give a Blessing to Your Child
You can share a blessing for your child anytime.
We are members of an LCMS Lutheran church, which practices infant baptism. So, we’ve shared the blessing on the morning when each of our daughters have been baptized (both were about seven weeks old on their individual baptism days.)
For babies, you could also share this in conjunction with a baby dedication, when they are born, on a milestone “birthday” like 3 or 6 months old, or just on any old day – it doesn’t have to be a super-spectacular event!
For older children and teenagers, some appropriate times might be:
entering a new phase of school (like beginning of junior high or high school)
receiving driver’s license
moving out of the house
Questions to Inspire Your Blessing
If you’re interested in writing a blessing, I would encourage you to pray first for the Holy Spirit to give you the right words to say.
Then, here are some questions to help you think:
As you envision your child in the future (in 5, 10, 20, 50 years), what do you hope will be true of your child? What are three or four qualities you hope he or she will possess?
What does your child’s name mean? Why did you choose it?
Is there a particular Scripture that is meaningful to you or your child? Why? Could you turn this Scripture into a prayer of blessing for your child?
What are some qualities your child already exhibits, both positive and negative? What are some significant events from her life so far? How can you pray these will be a blessing in her life?
What are some prayers you’ve already had for your child? Is there a general theme you’ve prayed over and over again for him?
What to Do with Your Blessing
Choose a time to share with your child. This can be private, just with your family, or public. For our daughters, we shared one blessing within the actual baptism church service, and another at her baptism party afterward.
We printed our blessings out and put them on the wall of our daughter’s room. For a long time, we were reading a small section of our preschooler’s blessing to her every night before bed, and she loved it. We have fallen out of that habit though… maybe we should begin again!
Certainly, it would be nice to share regularly, perhaps on an annual basis, like a Baptism birthday or normal birthday. A short blessing (more like the Numbers 6 Benediction, which is just a few lines) could be shared very regularly, even daily!
**Have you ever written or spoken a blessing for your child? Leave a comment below.
Because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek (with a little Aramaic, too), our English Bibles are translations of these original languages. Over the years, many different people and groups have translated the Bible into English from incredibly accurate Hebrew and Greek texts.
Some translation efforts have focused on writing a very literal and accurate word-for-word translation. Some of them have focused on making the Bible very readable in our modern language by paraphrasing the words. Many translations fall somewhere in the middle, aiming for a balance of accuracy and readability – we usually call these “dynamic” translations (or “thought-for-thought.”)
Note: This is not a sponsored post – I’m just a fan of these particular Bible translations!
There are many English versions of the Bible today – Bible Gateway lists over 50! I believe that each of these versions can be read as the Word of God and each is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
You probably have already chosen a couple versions of the Bible for your own personal use. The New International Version is very common, or you may like the extra-readability of the New Living Translation (my current favorite) or the Message.
Many people enjoy the English Standard Version, a relatively new edition that is highly focused on accuracy, while still being readable. On the other hand, you may enjoy the New American Bible or New Revised Standard Version.
My goal when choosing a Bible translation for any age is to select one that accurately conveys God’s Word while enabling a person to understand and enthusiastically read His Word.
Because of their different reading levels and different levels of understanding, children, especially young readers, would probably prefer to read a different version than adults.
For example, many people enjoy reading The Message paraphrase of the Bible, written by Eugene Peterson. It puts the Bible into very modern language, easy for adults to understand in a new way.
However, I actually don’t think The Message is very appropriate for children, because it’s filled with vague, abstract language. Until age 12, children have a hard time thinking abstractly, and The Message could be very confusing to a young child.
On the flip side, some of the more literal, high-on-accuracy versions like the English Standard Version may contain complex words that are difficult for a young child to understand.
My Favorite Bible Translation for Children
The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) is my favorite translation for children. The writers of the NIrV took the popular New International Version and made it even easier to read by using shorter words and easy-to-understand language. The result is a Bible translation that reads at about a 3rd grade level.
Most children begin listening to Bible storybooks, where an author has taken the actual words of Scripture and written a shorter, easier-to-read version of the story.
The New International Reader’s Version is a great stepping stone from this point into a “real” Bible. It borders on the “paraphrase” category, where it’s not a perfect word-for-word translation of Scripture, but it is closer to an exact translation of the Hebrew and Greek text than just a Bible storybook.
We’ve chosen to use the NIrV for our kids’ first “real” Bibles.
On a side note, the NIrV is also a great version for teenagers and adults whose first language is not English!
My Favorite Bible Translations for Teenagers
As a child reaches the “tween” years, around 5th or 6th grade, I would imagine they’ll be ready for a new, more grown-up translation.
There are a few options:
I would consider the New International Version or the New Living Translation for these ages. Between the two, the NIV is more focused on word-for-word accuracy, while the NLT is more focused on readability and usually sounds more “beautiful.” (I am so touched by the lovely phrasing of some NLT passages).
The English Standard Version is also great for advanced readers as they hit their later teen years. Many of my pastor friends prefer the ESV as an accurate, precise version of the Bible, while still being pretty readable.
What about memorizing Scripture?
One question you may have is: Shouldn’t we keep reading the same translation throughout their lives so they can have verses accurately memorized?
Personally, I think the answer is: No, I don’t think you need to worry about this. Here’s my personal story to illustrate why:
I memorized a lot of Bible verses as a child. I had weekly memory verses throughout my years at a Lutheran elementary school, and attended Christian camps where we memorized Scripture too. Nearly every verse was memorized in the New International Version, and I still remember them today.
But guess what! The NIV was updated a few years ago. So now when I open up a current edition of the NIV Bible, the wording is a little different than the verses I learned as a child. Meanwhile, for the past several years, I’ve been using an NLT Bible out of personal preference, so the verses are a little different anyway.
Choose the translation that works for your children to memorize right now, without worrying about the future. We memorize mostly in NIrV at the moment with our kids. It’s not worth keeping a heavy attachment to one translation simply for the sake of memorizing Scripture.
One possible exception, though: You may choose to have them “grow into” the passages they are memorizing. It is so much easier to memorize as a child than as an adult. So, I could see you encouraging your kids to memorize a Bible verse in say, the ESV or the King James Version, which is not fully understandable to little kids.
But, as they get older, the verse will take on more meaning, years after it’s already memorized. It’s kind of the same idea as reading Shakespeare to your kids, even though it’s likely over their heads. I personally haven’t done that, but if that’s your motivation, go for it!
**What Bible translation(s) do you use personally? With your kids? At church?
In the past few months, I’ve been having so much fun with my three-year old daughter, Elle. We’ve set up a tent and eaten pretend s’mores, gone on nature walks, made crafts, baked an apple pie, acted out the 10 plagues of Egypt, made flowers and butterflies out of fruit, and read lots and lots of books.
Because I’m such an awesome mother? Not quite!! Left to my own devices, our playtime would probably be pretty boring.
This is all thanks to a little gem of a program that I found a few months ago for 3 and 4-year olds called “God’s Little Explorers.” Though it’s called a homeschool curriculum, I think it works for all parents to use, not just homeschool parents – I’ll explain this more below. We’ve been using it for a couple months and I am delighted by the quality time, learning, and focus on the Bible that has come out of it!
Today’s post is an extra-full one, chock-full of info about God’s Little Explorers. I’d like to…
introduce God’s Little Explorers, in case you’re not familiar with it
tell you why I love this curriculum so much
provide ideas for how to adapt if you’re not a homeschool parent
share some tips and tricks for doing God’s Little Explorers
offer some encouragement to not seek perfection in God’s Little Explorers
There are 28 weeks, covering the 26 letters of the alphabet (plus a couple review weeks, too). Each letter corresponds to a Bible story, and the Bible stories go in chronological order, which I love. Along with the Bible story, there is a theme for each week, offering fun activities.
The curriculum is designed to be done for about 45 minutes a day, four days a week. We aim for this, but sometimes don’t do it four days a week, in which case we might just skip activities, or might spend two weeks on one lesson.
Keep reading for adaptations for parents who do NOT stay home/homeschool during the day!
Please note – I’m not connected to God’s Little Explorers in any way – just a fan!
10 REASONS I LOVE GOD’S LITTLE EXPLORERS:
1. It supports intentional time with my 3-year old. Without an intentional plan, it would be easy for her to play for quite awhile by herself while I do chores or my own projects. While that’s okay occasionally, I also want to enjoy some quality time with her every day. (We try to do God’s Little Explorers while my younger daughter takes a morning nap.)
2. We are reading through Bible stories chronologically and “studying” them together. In the past, it has been tricky for us to read through her children’s Bible systematically. Even if we start with Creation, we get sidetracked after a few days, or lose the bookmark, or she requests one of Jesus’ miracles, or whatever, and there are stories we’ve never read. Plus, even if we do read systematically, we’re just spending a couple minutes a day reading the Bible storybook.
Going through God’s Little Explorers has helped us focus on these stories in an age-appropriate way. Elle is learning about faith heroes like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. She can identify a picture of Joseph in his colorful coat. I love this, and it’s totally thanks to God teaching us through God’s Little Explorers!
3. It’s flexible and easy to customize. I have seen other kids’ programs out there that are expensive or the structure is very rigid. I find God’s Little Explorers to be a great balance of providing ideas, but not being overwhelming. I don’t feel like a failure if we skip a few activities (in fact, the author encourages adapting as needed!)
And I don’t find that there is a lot of prep work or materials to prepare. We are already reading books together – they may as well fit with the theme! And we are already looking for something to play… it may as well be a fun activity that teaches the Bible or just life in general!
5. It encourages us to do creative, fun activities together. I totally believe in giving kids some free time to play however they want. However, it’s also fun to do some new activities, rather than defaulting to our typical blocks-Legos-princesses-coloring routine.
6. The themes and activities are not a stretch. The themes (i.e. colors) and Bible stories (i.e. Joseph and the coat of many colors) really connect well. Everything makes sense and is very thoughtful. There is a strong correlation between each Bible story and the theme for the week. Also, the themes are pretty typical of preschoolers: food, water, camping, colors, desert, birds, etc. These are nice concrete things for kids to explore.
7. It uses supplies I already have or can access easily.
8.The activities are simple and hardly require any preparation – often the only prep I’ve done ahead of time is printing off the lesson and perhaps reserving some books at the library (which is optional). For some activities, it might be helpful to pick up a few extra supplies at the store or prepare the components of a craft ahead of time.
9. There are sections for life skills and a service project. We don’t do these every week, but we have a few times. One of my favorite life skills activities was getting out different seasonal clothing and asking Elle to choose what she would wear when it’s cold, or raining, or hot.
10. The activities are really simple. This is normal, old-fashioned fun with my kid. There is nothing glamorous or picture-perfect about these activities. We’re not doing anything super high-tech or ultra-educational… just playing and helping her learn a little!
ADAPTATIONS IF YOU’RE NOT A HOMESCHOOLING PARENT
I stay home with my girls during the day, and my daughter doesn’t go to preschool, so we typically do God’s Little Explorers on weekday mornings while my husband is at work.
BUT, I think you can do it even if your child typically is in preschool or day care!
I would guess most Christian parents are looking for quality time and a simple way to teach the Bible to their children, and God’s Little Explorers offers that!
While it will certainly take some intentionality, I think you could easily find a couple hours a week to do this with your preschool-age child, even if you are not home during the day with your child.
Activities to Choose
First, when you look at the lesson (click here to see week one for an example), realize that if you are trying to do this as a working parent or if your child is at outside-the-home preschool all day, you probably are not going to get everything done (simply because of the amount of time in the day). That is okay! (We skip quite a bit, too, even though we are home).
If your goal is quality, spiritual time with your kids, I would focus on the sections of the curriculum labeled: Bible, Theme, and Life Skills. Then if you have extra time, you could choose a fun activity from ABC & 123 and from the Book Bag section.
For time sake, I would recommend skipping the “extra” activities in the right sidebar, like the musician and artist studies. If your child is already going to an academic preschool, you also could just skip the letter/number/shape activities, unless one of them looks really fun.
Also, the Learning Bags ideas are totally lovely, and might afford you some time to make dinner or something, because they are mostly for independent play. But, they do require some extra materials and preparation. So that is your choice. (So far, we have skipped making these).
When to Do God’s Little Explorers
Then, consider when you would have some time to devote to doing God’s Little Explorers with your child. Here are some possibilities:
Do you have any time in the evening after preschool? Perhaps there is a window of time in the late afternoon before dinner, or between dinner and bedtime? I could see a family coming home from preschool around 3-4 pm, having a snack (could even be a suggested snack from the curriculum), then doing 30-60 minutes of reading, play, and crafts from God’s Little Explorers, then preparing dinner.
Or, you could read the Bible story and sing the song at the dinner table, then do one or two of the activities before getting ready for bed. There are usually several suggested books to read together – these could become bathtime or bedtime stories.
Or, do you have any time over the weekend? Maybe Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon? Even just two solid blocks of time would be enough to get much of the God’s Little Explorer lesson completed, and then during the week, you could still read the Bible story, sing the songs, and read books as part of your normal routine.
Adult Mentors – are you a grandparent or another adult mentor to a preschool-age child? You could certainly use this curriculum with the child! Do you see them once a week?
Just pick and choose your favorite activities to do together for an hour or so!
There is a special edition of the curriculum that is a little more expensive ($35 right now) that allows you to use it for a group… I think this would be usable as a Sunday school curriculum with a little tweaking!
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR GOD’S LITTLE EXPLORERS
As I’ve gotten started with God’s Little Explorers, here are some tips that have made things easier for me.
How to Prepare at the Start of the Program:
Print out the lessons. You can access them for free through this link, but it is pretty time-consuming to open each individual file. If you purchase the curriculum, I believe it downloads as one file, which would be much faster!
Gather the lessons together in a 3 ring binder or accordian folder. I keep them in a 3 ring binder, with a post-it note stuck to the current lesson so I can find it easily. HELPFUL HINT –> if you hole-punch the first page of each lesson plan on the “wrong” side (the right side of the page), it will allow you to see a spread of the entire lesson plan for the week at one glance (see example in photo above).
Gather your supplies. During week 1, you will put together an Explorer’s Kit (a box to hold crayons, scissors, glue, etc.) and a Treasure Box (a box to collect completed artwork and pages). There’s also a time to create a treasure map for the wall to remember each letter each week.
You could go through each lesson and highlight any special supplies needed, or books to put on hold at the library. (I keep meaning to do this, but we haven’t done it yet.)
Make a schedule for the year. If you start the lessons in the next couple weeks (September), and do one lesson a week, you’ll get to the story of Jesus’ birth around Christmastime, which would be fun. We started in June but have not done a lesson every single week… up until now I just was moving on to the next lesson as we felt like it. I just recently made a schedule to take us through next spring.
Preparation for Each Lesson:
Like I mentioned, sometimes I do zero prep for the week ahead, but of course, it works out a little better if I do.
Usually the night before, I look at the printed lesson and circle a few of the activities I want to do the next day. That might just be all the Day One activities, but sometimes we are missing a supply for a Day One activity, or I’d just prefer to do a different one. Circling the activity makes it easy to reference in the moment. Then after we’re done, I cross it off so by the end of the week, I can see what we have and have not done yet.
I put together a hymn book of all the recommended hymns so those words are accessible to us. You can print the hymn book here: Hymn Book – God’s Explorers We usually sing during our Morning Time.
Stacie Nelson (the author of God’s Little Explorers) has a blog post for each lesson, with photos. I try to look at this blog post for inspiration, and there are easy links to the directions for the activities. Sometimes I look through it with my daughter, and she helps decide which crafts we should do, based on the pictures. For example, this week looking at the picture of eggs in a nest inspired us to make that for snack.
Ideally, I’d look ahead a week or two and put books on hold at the library for a week or two ahead. In the beginning, I was doing this a lot. Lately, I’ve been behind the curve, which is unfortunate, because it is really nice to have those books at the right time.
Imperfection is okay!
Finally, I just want to encourage you that sometimes it’s better to just start doing something, like God’s Little Explorers (or any activity with your child), rather than seeking perfection.
In my house, if I looked for the perfect moment, where I could 100% focus on my daughter, and the house was clean, and I had done all the prep work for the lesson ahead of time, and all the books were checked out from the library… we would never actually do God’s Little Explorers.
So I’ve been trying to just do it anyway. I try to put the baby down for her morning nap, then immediately start God’s Little Explorers… even if there are breakfast dishes on the counter, or I’m still in my PJs, or I’d really rather use the computer for a few minutes while Elle played by herself. (Of course, there’s still a day or two every week when I give in to my own desires to tidy up or get ready right away).
This is the only way that God’s Little Explorers is actually happening – my choosing to do it even though it’s not perfect.
Sometimes I’m throwing together the next activity while Elle finishes up the current one.
Sometimes we don’t have all the right supplies so we have to improvise.
Sometimes I’m looking at the lesson for the first time with Elle next to me (like I mentioned, looking at the pictures online with her is kind of helpful because then she can choose what we do!)
The other day I snapped this picture to show what the rest of the house looked like while we did the 10 Plagues activity. It was a mess! (Though I do promise that is clean laundry, at least!)
And frankly, after we finished doing God’s Explorers for the morning, I felt like I spent the entire afternoon cleaning up the house (and was pretty cranky by the end of it!)
But when Elle requested “the new Moses story” as her bedtime story a couple nights later, and was so excited to read about God’s power and the plagues, I felt like it was worth it.
When I imagine passing faith down to my children, it’s usually an idyllic scene. I’ll wake up before my alarm, make homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then my children will sit quietly while we read the Bible and discuss Christian theology. We’ll have hours at home to act out Bible stories and do crafts, memorize Scripture, and spend quality time together. And of course, I’ll have the energy and enthusiasm for all of it!
Reality, of course, is a different story.
This week we’ve had two unexpected doctor’s appointments nearly an hour away, messing up nap schedules and using up much of our day. Our apartment complex is re-doing our roof so our home sounds like a bowling alley much of the day from all the crashing and thumping as they throw shingles off our roof. When we tried to get out of the house to go to library story time, we had an unpleasant experience with rude comments from some kids there.
I had a migraine and vision disturbance on Wednesday, and we have been dealing with a medical problem for our daughter that has been very frustrating and time consuming to deal with. It’s been nearly 100* out so there have been no homemade cinnamon rolls since we don’t want to turn the oven on… more like Starbucks pastries for breakfast and Papa John’s pizza for dinner.
It feels less like the charmed life I was hoping for and more like chaos!
I’ve been emotionally and physically drained, and as a result, our intentional faith-building this week has been pretty minimal. I don’t feel like doing Morning Time and God’s Little Explorers with my preschooler… instead, I’ve been handing her the iPad equipped with the PBS Kids app while I go peruse facebook.
So in the midst of this, I’ve been looking for some extra-simple ways to intentionally pass faith down.. These practices don’t require pre-planning, special equipment, or a lot of time or energy, but they keep our hearts focused on Christ.
Whether you’re just having a crummy week like me, or are in perpetual chaos as you renovate a house, care for a family member with special needs, or deal with a crisis, here are 5 things you can do today to build faith simply with your children:
Thank God! Name items you thank God for. With younger kids, I just hold up 5 fingers and say, “Quick! Let’s think of 5 things we are thankful for! Thank You, God, for… _____________!!” With older children, you could talk about your situation even some of the “bad” things, and then talk about thankful things in the midst of it.
Talk about God’s creation. Go outside for a walk around your block. Or, as you drive in the car, or look at nature books… name things God has made. There is something about remembering His majesty as our Creator that helps put our situation in perspective!
Read a Bible story together. If you don’t know where to begin, I like to flip to a story from the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – those books are pretty full of stories, not just historical records. Or just choose one from a children’s storybook. If you don’t have a Bible with you, go to BibleGateway.com.
Say a simple prayer before bedtime. Ask your child, “Is there anything you want to pray for?”
Listen to worship music. Turn on Pandora.com or your local Christian radio station.
+ a bonus idea: Enjoy bonding timetogether. I’m putting this as a bonus because it’s not necessarily “easy.” Like I mentioned, when I am stressed, I don’t always want to spend quality time with my kids – I’m much more likely to just turn on TV or have them play alone. But, if you’re up for it, during this chaotic time, seek to simply enjoy the moments with your child. Snuggle up while watching TV. Or make a picnic on the floor of your living room while you eat your chicken nuggets and french fries from Wendy’s. Or bring some favorite books with you to your doctor’s appointment to read in the waiting room.
In the midst of this chaotic week, I’ve been trying to appreciate the life I currently have, rather than wishing for my idyllic life. This life is definitely more interesting! It also gives a chance to practice a joyful attitude even when life gets a little tough, and thankfulness when it’s a little harder to find a way to be thankful.
I’m hoping that life calms down a bit in the days to come, but I’m trying to remember these 5 ways to help our family focus on Jesus in the meantime!
**How do you help yourself or your young people stay focused on Christ even when life is chaotic and crazy? Leave a comment below.