School teachers spend a lot of time working with children on reading comprehension. They understand children need to have the ability to teach themselves information from the written word. Without strong reading comprehension skills, a child will struggle with much of his school work and even in his adult life.
Yet, when our children read the Bible, most of them have had no help with the special comprehension skills needed. They often struggle to understand what is written and give up in frustration. The sad thing is that those words are the most important words your child will ever read. The words in the Bible are God’s message to us and His commands for how He wants us to live our lives.
So how can you help your child understand the Bible? What can you do to help them understand those all important, but difficult passages? Is there a way to move your children from frustration to comprehension in their independent Bible reading?
My first suggestion is that you purchase a Bible written on your child’s reading level. I know there are all sorts of discussions about the various translations and their accuracy (or lack thereof). I believe at this stage of your child’s spiritual development, the most important thing is for her to learn that the Bible is an interesting book which gives us a lot of very important information. Your child needs to understand enough of what he reads, to begin learning the spiritual concepts taught by God. Most Bible translations (not paraphrases) are close enough to each other that the average child will get what the main principle is from their reading. (They can always switch to a more accurate version later if necessary.)
Once you have helped your child find the appropriate Bible version, discuss with your child the various reading plans available. Work with your child to choose a reading plan that fits her interests and maturity. Then set aside a time you can talk with him each day about what he has read. Or let her purchase a pretty journal where she can write about what she reads and then share her journal with you. The discussions or shared journaling can continue until you are more confident of your children’s Bible comprehension skills.
Gradually, you will want to train your children to answer these questions about each passage of scripture they read. In order to answer them though, you may need to help them learn how to use special Bible apps, Bible dictionaries or other study aids. Most of these questions are based on some of the questions journalists are trained to ask when writing about an event.
- Who wrote this passage down? Often this information can be found in the introduction to that particular book in their Bible.
- To whom did they write it? This information is also often in introductory material.
- What are the facts of the story? OR What is being taught? This is an area where your children may need help from you and/or a concordance if they are older.
- Where did the story in the passage happen? OR Where did the people to whom this book is written live? This information is often in the passage itself. Bible apps and some Bibles have excellent maps to actually pinpoint where those places are.
- When was this passage written? OR When did this story take place? This may be in the introduction to the book. The main purpose of this exercise, as well as the map exercise, is to reinforce the concept of the Bible being a historical book and not a fairy tale. Older children may also want to explore possible cultural influences on what was written. These are often found in footnotes for the passage.
- What words in the passage did you not understand? What do they mean? Many Bible’s have dictionaries in the back or you can find one online or in bookstores.
- Why did God put this passage in the Bible? OR What am I supposed to learn from it? In some cases this will be very obvious. In others, scholars have argued for centuries. This is a good time to have a discussion about what is important for us to know and what God keeps as a mystery.
- How am I supposed to change what I think, say, or do because of this passage? This won’t necessarily apply to every passage, but you want your child to begin to understand that much of the Bible is God calling us to think, say or do something to glorify or serve Him.
Bible reading comprehension is a skill your child will need to practice for many years. There are still some things in scripture I don’t understand even after a lifetime of study. You are in the best position though, to help start your children on the process they will hopefully continue with for the rest of their lives. Your focused efforts on helping them achieve Bible reading comprehension will get them started on solid footing.