Family devotions

In my last post I mentioned that it is the Father’s role to lead his family spiritually. In many families this role has been handed over to the church, Sunday school, Christian school or sometimes Mum. While spiritual input from all of these areas can be very beneficial, it is primarily the Father’s responsibility. One tangible way that Dad can take hold of this role is by leading his family in daily devotions (sometimes known as family alter or bible study time.)

WHAT ARE FAMILY DEVOTIONS?

  • Regular bible study with the whole family. This time can also include worship (in the form of singing), prayer, and possibly catechism and scripture memorization. Catechism and scripture memorization are both important, however some families do them separately at other times throughout the day.

WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?

  • In short – God tells us to! It is not enough to take our children to church and youth group and hope for the best. We must disciple our children, teaching them in our homes, with the Father as the primary lead in this area.
  • We become the prime spiritual influence in the lives of our children – it allows us to shepherd our children’s hearts; preparing their hearts for the gospel and salvation, building their faith and strengthening a biblical worldview.
  • Worshiping and communicating with God is vital for the whole family, not just Mum and Dad.
  • It promotes personal spiritual growth, helping us (and our family) to learn the bible, it’s doctrines and teachings in order that we know what we believe and why. If our children do not know God’s word they will be unable to honour, respect and live by it. Children need to learn that the bible tells us what to do and gives us insight for daily life; that it is relevant to them and their everyday situations. As families study together, parents can weed out errors in belief and misunderstandings
  • Worshiping and studying God’s word together builds family unity, strengthening and building healthy family relationships.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

  • The “how” of family devotions changes with each family’s unique situation, time constraints, ages of children and a myriad of other factors. Find a way that works for you and do it – regularly!
  • Decide where; Lounge chairs, around the dining table, on the end of beds, sprawled on the lounge room floor…
  • Decide when; As soon as the family is awake, immediately before or after a meal, after dinner clean-up, just before bed? Ideally choose a time when children are fed and well rested.
  • Decide how long; this depends on the age of the children. Keep it to a reasonable time limit, but not so short that you cannot give adequate attention to God’s word.

TODDLERS AND YOUNGER

  • Give thanks before meals. Hold the child’s hands and encourage them to join in with “Amen” at the end. Encourage them to echo or say simple prayers as they are able.
  • Pray with and for the child at bedtime
  • Have your own devotions in front of the child
  • Read short, colourful bible stories. Perhaps ask a simple comprehension question or two afterwards.
  • Sing simple bible based children’s songs together
YOUNG CHILDREN TO MIDDLE YEARS
  • Bible stories are still important, branching out into the lesser known ones.
  • Spice up your devotion time by acting out stories, using puppets or pictures, involving the children in role play and re-tell.
  • Introduce real-life stories, applications and real Christian “heroes”
  • Ask questions for comprehension and real-life application of what they have read; “What would you do if..?”
  • As children can read, have them take their turn to read out the verses being studies.
PRE-TEEN TO TEEN
  • Discussion, sharing and engagement become much more important.
  • It’s ok to not always have the answer – model how to find out.
  • Personal devotions for the children should be well and truly up and running – perhaps set “homework” and discuss together, work through devotional books together or research tricky questions.
  • Discuss current affairs and politics and the biblical basis for decisions making in these areas. What are the biblical rights and wrongs of what is going on?
  • Teens take time – make sure you plan for it!
MULTIPLE AGES
  • Beware of dumbing everything down for the younger children, they will pick up more than you think.
  • use a mix of resources; some days may cater more for the younger, others the middle or older.
  • Young children may stay for the first part of devotions then head off to bed while the older children delve in more deeply.
  • Involve the older children in planning and running the devotion time.
  • Everyone may do the same bible study together, with younger children having a children’s bible story at night before bed and older children working through separate studies in the evening

FORMAT

  • Sing together. Perhaps a kids bible song, contemporary worship song  and a traditional hymn. Do not neglect the great hymns of the faith; the words in these will teach spiritual truths to children and will lodge in their memories for a lifetime. Voddie Baucham’s article on family worship touches on why we should sing hymns: http://web.me.com/voddieb/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/11/5_Answering_Your_Questions.html
  • Study the bible. There are many ways to do this. A couple are: Chapter by chapter (simply work your way through books of the bible from start to finish in small chunks), following a theme or topic or read 1 proverb, a section of a psalm and a couple of verses from the New Testament each day.
  • Several great ideas are included in an article by Al Troester here: http://www.wholesomewords.org/family/famaltar.html)
  •  Perhaps Dad could read through the selected text to begin with, then ask those children who can read to take it in turns to read 2 lines each and those who cannot yet read to echo the words of each verse after you. Dad then teaches back through the selected text – children are asked to contribute to discussions or ask questions after he has explained each line or two. Each person finishes the bible study section by telling something they have learnt or can apply to their own lives. Always look for the applications and personal lessons after each reading and teaching time.
  • Pray. All family members take a turn to pray for whatever is appropriate that day. It is helpful to have some kind of prayer journal or recording system to help with purposeful prayer and to notice the answers to prayer that God gives us. Record the date it was prayed for, what was prayed and leave a column to record God’s answer.
  • Catechism. The catechism is a series of questions and answer that children memorise to learn the main doctrines of the Christian faith, building a strong foundation for world view and ensuring they know what they believe. (More info on this another time:)
  • Scripture memorization. (More ideas on how to do this another day too 🙂


Advertisements

Copywork and narration ideas for the new school year.

The school year start is fast approaching and I am aiming to be extremely organised as we will be interrupted soon into it by the arrival of baby number 6. Everything needs to be sitting there, prepped and ready to go, so today’s thought processes revolve around Charlotte Mason style copywork and dictation for the oldest.

Depending on the age of the child, this year’s copywork and dictation will be a selection from the following:

At least one of my children is excited by brand new fresh workbooks and the opportunity to fill them with beautiful work. I remember the feeling of being given a brand new pad in Primary School and ruling up those fresh unblemished pages. Surely everyone gets at least a glimmer of excitement out of new school books? Stationary shops? Organisational systems?? Hmmm, perhaps that’s just me!

Recommended Resources

Here are a couple of my favourite Christian resources for family devotions, circle time or for simply reading through with children.

The Lamb by John Cross is an amazing resource. It begins with creation and covers the gospel message in a clear and concise form that is easy for children to understand. Each chapter has beautiful, full colour illustrations and summary questions at the end to check for understanding and stimulate discussion. The book comes with an audio CD so children can listen to the story as many times as they like and follow along with the illustrations in the book.

It helps children to comprehend Jesus’ death and resurrection and shows the connection between the old testament sacrificial lamb and Jesus as the Lamb of God. It is aimed at 5 and up, however my children have read through it with me from the age of 3 and it has really helped their understanding of salvation and what it means to them.

The book is a large hardback and is beautifully presented; it makes a lovely gift. It is not available online in Australia but can be ordered from the Goodseed office on 1800 897 333 for a very reasonable price. Cartons of 16 can be purchased for a good discount.

Big Truths for Little Kids

Big Truths For Little Children by Susan and Richie Hunt works through the questions from the children’s catechism. It breaks the questions into small groups and follows each group with a related story about Caleb and Cassie that incorporates the truths from the catechism. We have been working on memorizing the Westminster Children’s Catechism for a while now and my children loved these stories. Our only problem was that they wanted to keep reading the next story before they could remember the answers to the questions! I think it is vital for all children to know exactly what it is they believe and the catechism is an excellent way to ensure that their understanding is thorough.  Even if the answers are a little above them, they can still remember them and grow into full understanding as they mature. My 3 1/2 year old knows the first 30 or 40 questions now and the others are further along, so start early while they are sponges just waiting to soak up knowledge.

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism

Training Hearts Teaching Minds by Starr Meade follows the Westminster Shorter Catechism (adult not children’s version). It is an excellent follow-on from the children’s catechism as it contains a similar flow of questions with much more detailed answers. The book follows each catechism question with 6 days of family devotions – short readings with bible references related to the catechism question. With each question studied for one week and reviewed on Sunday, it will take about 2 years to complete the entire catechism. Quite doable! We started with this but decided to do the children’s catechism first as our youngest was struggling to remember the longer answers. Our 6 year old plus could cope with it with a stretch but I want circle time to include everyone so we have put it on hold for now and will go back to it later.

Our 24 Family Ways (2010)

Our 24 Family Ways  by Clay Clarkson is another wonderful resources for family devotions. It includes 24 biblical values based “Family ways” with scripture memory passage, character quality definition and 5 devotions for each. The latest version includes colouring in pages for each family way and other than copying the colouring in if you are using it and finding a bible, no other preparation or materials are necessary.

A Child's Book of Character Building

A Child’s Book of Character Building  by R & R Coriell includes 12 different character qualities with a story to illustrate each; from the bible, at school, at home and at play. Each character has a definition and bible verse and the stories are such that the children can identify with the characters and situations. Easy reading and short enough for even the youngest listeners if one story is covered each day.


Circle Time

I came across the concept of circle time through a homeschooling friend who directed me to Kendra Fletcher’s blog Preschoolers and Peace. I purchased her e-book about circle time and found it full of great ideas and well worth the $6.99 I paid for it. The basic idea of circle time in our family is starting the day with God as our priority and focus, before the business of everything else that we do crowds in and takes our attention away from where it should be. It ensures that we all (apart from Dad who has left for work at this time) spend some time together before we split up to begin our “school” subjects for the day. Circle time is not the same as family devotions (Dad does that in the evenings) and although everything we do at this time links to the bible in some way, it is not necessarily a bible study time. Circle time can be used for a huge variety of things with memorization and character based activities a focus for us. I love the idea of praying together, memorizing scripture together, teaching the children good character etc. but find that these areas tend to get neglected if I am not intentional about it. At the moment we start our time with some scripture memorization through song, followed by a character story, catechism story or one of our other great resources (I will post a list of more of my favourite resources soon) and finish off with a prayer time together. The children really enjoy the time and it makes for a positive start to the day.

Children Arise CD Volume 2

The Children Arise CD’s are scriptures set to music. They are very professionally done with catchy tunes that you find yourself humming through the day and don’t actually mind! I play the same verse each day for a week and at the end of the week the children receive a certificate if they have memorized the scripture. Even my 3 1/2 year old remembers the verses this way and they all love having a record of what they have achieved through the certificates, with each one having the verse printed on it. 9781605771342

We are reading through the “Help Me Be Good Series” by Joy Berry (they are not Christian and occasionally need verbal editing as I read!) and the children love them. We talk a lot about each page and how we can apply the positive character traits in our lives with each other. We are half way through “The Way of the Master For Kids: Teaching Kids How To Share Their Faith” by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Their adult materials and free sermons are great and we are enjoying this book with their signature message written for kids. The book has three age sections, starting with the very young and moving up, but the younger kids are having no trouble at all understanding the sections that are written for the older children. The Way of the Master for Kids: Teaching Kids How to Share Their Faith

Keeping The Sabbath – Master Ideas List

   

We are helping our children memorize the Westminster Children’s Catechism. It is a series of questions that go through the main doctrines of the Christian faith, explaining them in a question and answer format. It helps the children to know exactly what it is they do believe and why. (It’s clarified a few things for us too!)

What has this got to do with the Sabbath? The following are questions 87 and 90 from the Westminster Catechism for Children:

Q. 87. What does the fourth commandment teach us?
A. To keep the Sabbath holy.

Q. 90. How should the Sabbath be spent?
A. In prayer and praise, in hearing and reading God’s Word, and in doing good to our fellow men.

Wow – these certainly challenged us. It’s difficult to recite catechism questions like these each morning knowing that you aren’t really acting them out. With 5 children 8 and under, Sunday is not always the rest day we would like. We had lots of good intentions but that was all they were. Therefore research and this article! I am hoping that these ideas assist you (and us) to turn Sunday into a day that truly honours and glorifies God, putting Him first in our lives.

Sabbath starts at sundown on Saturday and ends at sundown on Sunday. We have tried a few different approaches to Sabbath keeping and have found that when we designated the whole Sunday as our Sabbath or rest day, we always seemed to end up spending Sunday evening cleaning up and preparing for the following Monday. If we rested throughout the evening also, then I was left with an unorganised house and mountains of work to catch up on Monday morning. Starting Saturday evening means that;

  • we have the day on Saturday to prepare
  • a lovely evening meal and time together on Saturday night to look forward to
  • Sunday to attend church and put some of these ideas into place
  • Sunday evening to clean up and get organised for the rest of the week.

Plan! Celebrating the Sabbath well with a large family of young children requires planning and preparation. By the weekend we are tired and just want to crash, but when nothing is organised Sunday is frustrating, the kids get bored and ratty and we don’t get the rest we crave, never mind focus on God. When we plan fun and purposeful time that revolves around God and spend time interacting with the children, their love tanks are filled and they are then happy to spend time alone while we have a break. We end up thoroughly enjoying the family activities we plan and realise that the planning is well worth it.

Make lists! What do you have to prepare ahead to make this happen? When can it be done – don’t leave everything for Saturday afternoon. Lay out the clothes, right down to shoes, socks, tights, jackets and hair accessories. Pack the baby bag, collect the bibles and notebooks.

Clean the house. Spread the jobs throughout the week or have a whole family cleaning spree on Saturday morning. However you do it, make sure the house is clean and tidy before the Sabbath starts. It’s very difficult to show hospitality when the house is a mess.

Make Saturday evening a special meal with a beautifully set table. Make dessert and a meal that everyone will enjoy. Let the kids get out the candles.  It doesn’t have to be super fancy food, but with a little effort the table can look special and create an atmosphere that sets the Sabbath off on the right foot.

Show hospitality. Look out for those who would not usually be invited out or who are unable to return the favour. Connect with non-Christian friends – perhaps invite them to church and for a meal afterwards. Invite neighbours around. If you do not know them well, perhaps an afternoon tea will be a good place to start. We like to invite families over in the afternoon on Saturday for an early dinner so that the children can all get to bed at their normal bedtime and guests with their own children can be home at a reasonable time also. Lunch after church is fine at our house but going out doesn’t work so well for us because the littlies need to have naps.  Afternoon tea on a Sunday is also an easy option for us.

Prepare all meals ahead as much as possible, even breakfast. Choose meals that can be frozen during the week and reheated, or perhaps fill a slow cooker ready to turn on in the morning on Saturday or Sunday to be ready for the evening meal. Prepare salads and side dishes completely ahead if possible or at least do all the chopping, peeling, grating etc and toss them together when needed. Perhaps prepare a roast and leave it in the fridge so that it is ready to simply pop into the oven in the afternoon.

Go to church on Sunday. There will always be some reason why church is difficult. It interrupts little one’s sleep patterns, friends invite us to do other things, we are tired etc. etc. If church is optional our children get the message that other things are more important than God. Get there on time. (All right, we are not great at this because we still try to let both our babies have a nap before church but we will get better!)

Discuss notes taken, pictures drawn and important points from the morning sermon. Our children use pencils and clipboards to either draw or take notes during the sermon. It helps them to stay focussed during the service. Each family member takes a turn to share their notes or picture and explain something that they learnt or thought was important from the service during Sunday lunch.

Borrow bible or character based books, DVDs or videos from the church library each Sunday to use for quiet time later in the day.

Prepare a couple of Sunday school style activities or bible colouring pictures for the children to work on. Perhaps Dad could lead a family devotion while the children are colouring.

Choose scriptures to memorize for the following week and make posters to illustrate chosen verses. Put them on display throughout the week and read through them throughout the day or before meals until the children remember them. Older children can write out their scripture, parents can write verses out for younger children or choose them ahead of time and type up on the computer. Use old cards, wrapping paper, textas, glitter and the like for decorating. If posters are made on A4 paper or card, they can be slid into a presentation folder or laminated and made into a book and kept for review once memorised.

Work on Bible Lapbooks. Simple paper craft and activities relating to scriptures are mounted in manila folders. Key verses are written out and included (or printed for younger children) with the paper activities as memory joggers to illustrate the verses being studied. Ours match the family devotion readings from the previous week.

Play bible based board games. Choose a mixture of very simple games for littlies and some with more of a challenge for the older children. The best games are those that can be adapted to include all family members.

Bible charades. Participants choose a bible story or character to act out without speaking for others family members to identify.

Duplo bible charades. Family members use Duplo blocks to create representations of bible stories for others to identify. These can be still or animated.

Home- made bible trivial pursuit. The family is divided into teams of readers with non-readers. Readers choose a bible passage to read to their team, who then make up questions based on the passage. The passage is then read to the other teams once before the questions are asked. Points are awarded for correct answers.

Deliver a meal to a new mum, an elderly person,  someone who is sick or take biscuits (cookies) to a neighbour.

Learn a new hymn to sing through the week at family devotions or sing some you are already working on memorising.

Play the  bible on CD or praise and worship music throughout the day. It’s lovely to hear the children humming or singing words to Godly songs. What we listen to will stick in our head and how wonderful if the snippets that go around and around in our thoughts and the thoughts of our children throughout the day are Godly ones.

Read Godly material. Choose something that will bring you closer to God and centre your thoughts on Him; character based stories, great missionaries, and Godly bibliographies are but a few examples. Read aloud to the children while they colour bible pictures, do a craft, illustrate a verse or something related to the story.

Prepare family devotions, bible lapbooks lessons, character lessons or circle time for the week.

Visit a nursing home or retirement village and offer to read to the elderly or write letters for them.

Start a Sunday box filled with toys, books, activities and an ideas list only for use on Sundays.

Look through family photo albums or watch family home movies. Share anecdotes from your childhood and growing up times (e.g. How Mummy and Daddy met) or ask Grandparents to tell stories from the good old days. Scrapbook together. Record special family events and happenings, thoughts and achievements. Include favourite scriptures.

Act out bible stories, plays or mini musicals. Maybe take it on the road and perform at the local retirement home – they are very forgiving!

Make a care box for a missionary family. Spend some time writing letters, drawing pictures and taking photos to be included.

Make phone calls, write letters or emails to friends and loved ones, particularly those whom you haven’t been in contact with recently. Write thank you notes, birthday cards or simply “thinking of you” notes to people.

Make “blessing” baskets for people in the local community. You could choose emergency workers, hospital staff, school secretaries, or anyone else you would like to bless. Don’t forget to include a note of thank you, bible verse or perhaps a tract and an invitation to attend church.

Invite guests over for the following Sunday.

Make family goals, family mottos, family banners or family aims that will focus your family and assist you to pursue Godly excellence.

Put on a puppet show depicting a bible event or focussing on a spiritual truth or character quality.

Do some teddy teaching time. Use a special doll or teddy to act out proper manners at home, church, social etiquette situations or any other scenario where particular behaviours are polite and right. I have a collection of etiquette posters for a variety of situations that I have scanned into the computer, printed and cut into strips. Family teams lucky dip a strip and act out the right and wrong ways to handle given situations. Other teams try to guess which behaviour they are demonstrating and have to say what was right or wrong about the scenarios acted out.

Set personal and family goals for the upcoming year. Review previous goals. Look at all areas of life and evaluate where changes need to be made, what is going well, what needs work etc.

Start a character based praise system. Prepare a bunch of strips of paper and some kind of holder for the strips for each person in the family (such as a large envelope or paper plate halves stapled together.) Take a few minutes regularly throughout the week to note down positive character traits displayed by the children (e.g. Abigail showed compassion when she cared for Peta while she was sick) and post the strip into that child’s holder. Strips are drawn out and read in front of the family at lunch on Sunday. A character chart is useful to help identify character traits that are less obvious and more easily missed.

Use playdough or salt dough to construct something from the bible

Work on a Family service project or Volunteer at a relief organization.

Focus on one family member for the week and write down all the things we love about them in a giant card to be kept afterwards.

Object lessons. There are many books full of ideas for children’s sermons and object lessons.

Download sermons on the iPod to listen to during the week, burn onto CD for children to listen to in their rooms during room time

Hold a family meeting. What’s going well, not working, things we want to plan, needs being me or not being met. Be careful with the format and what can and should be shared. This is not a gripe session – children should be taught to go to a person who has offended them, not bring it up in family meetings.

Visit neighbours or invite them over

Make a book of rememberance recording how God has blessed you and worked in your life. Start a family memorial – a display of small objects that remind the family of answered prayers.

Decorate special boxes or containers for missionary funds or tithes