How many hours do you think you have spent reading to your child? How many library books have you had in your house? How much time have you spent listening to your child practice reading with materials sent from school? How many conversations have you had with your child’s school teachers over the years about reading levels, comprehension and more?
“Good” parents spend lots of time and money helping their children learn to read and understand secular material. We know being able to read well can affect everything from grades to what they end up doing for a living as adults. Yet somehow, we just assume our kids will automatically know how to read and understand the Bible without much, if any, help from us.
Unfortunately, many kids struggle with their first attempts at Bible reading. Often, they become so discouraged they don’t attempt reading the Bible on their own again for many years – if ever. In fact, you may have had that experience yourself and still shudder a bit at the idea of reading the Bible without a preacher or Bible class teacher by your side helping you understand it.
It doesn’t need to be that way for your children though. There are some simple things you can do to help your kids actually feel comfortable reading the Bible and understanding what they read (as much as any human can!).
- Buy your child an NIrV version. Your child’s school teacher would never dream of giving your child a book to read that was several years ahead of his/her current reading level. Attempting to read a book too many levels above your actual reading level causes frustration and makes the reader want to give up and never read that book again. When our kids are old enough to being reading the Bible on their own, most are probably reading at a third to sixth grade reading level. So what have we done historically? Handed them a Bible written on a 7th – 12th grade reading level. The result? Frustrated readers who think the problem is the Bible, not the reading level of that particular version. My favorite is the NIrV version. I think it is the most accurate of the translations with a lower reading level and has the lowest level I can find (about 3rd grade). It used to only come in kiddie covers, but I have noticed they now have a lot of covers appropriate for older children, teens and adults.
- Encourage your child to think of the Bible as a series of books. For some reason, even though we know the Bible contains 66 books, we focus on the fact that it is bound into one volume. Even kids get discouraged because they didn’t “finish” the book. While you want your kids to eventually read the entire Bible many times, celebrate each individual book read as an entire book completed and a reading “victory”. You may even want to have a chart and check off the books as they are completed. If your kids think of the Bible as a series of books (like their favorite secular series), they may mentally be more excited about completing it. One book that large is just too intimidating for most young people.
- Discourage your child from attempting to read the Bible beginning at Genesis and reading straight through until the end. While Genesis itself is one of the first books I suggest kids start reading, I usually don’t want it to be their very first attempt. It is just too easy to get bogged down in the genealogies. Or if they make it through those, somewhere around Leviticus and all of those laws, they can lose interest. Instead, I suggest kids start by reading the book of Mark. It is very simply the story of the life of Jesus covered in only sixteen chapters. Other great books for them to read before attempting to read straight through the Bible are: Proverbs, James, Esther, Jonah, Acts, Ruth, Luke, Matthew, Genesis, I and 2 Samuel, Judges, Exodus and even Psalms. Those books have a lot of stories and practical wisdom. Once your child has mastered those, he/she is probably ready to try a chronological Bible and read it through from start to finish.
- Until your child is comfortable reading and understanding the Bible independently, help your child practice some guided reading. Guided reading is not just about whether or not your child can pronounce the words. For our purposes, it is helping your child become comfortable with understanding the unique writing style of the Bible. Have your child (or you can) read a few verses out loud. Ask your child to tell you what those verses said in his/her own words. Then (and this is a little different from secular reading), ask your child what godly principle, idea or rule God wants us to learn from the passage.
- After your child reads the Bible, ask your child to think of some ways he/she can practice the godly principles God wants us to learn from the passage. So for example, if your child just read about the Good Samaritan, you would want him/her to list ways he/she can be a good neighbor to others today.
- Encourage your child to put what he/she has read into practice. Just read a passage about how God hates lies or a story where God was angry because someone lied…and then catch your child telling a lie? Or she just read about Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, but she doesn’t want to help her brother because it’s “gross”? Remind your kids the Bible isn’t just a book to read, but it tells us how God wants us to live our lives every day….and God expects us to obey it!
The Bible may not be the easiest book to read and comprehend, but it is definitely the most important one. Spend some extra time and effort so your kids will grow to understand and love reading their Bibles. It is one of the most important things you can do for them.
P.S. Our parent ministry, Teach One Reach One has a free printable parenting resource – a Bible bookmark that contains most of the information in this article. Please feel free to print and use it for yourself and share it with other parents you know.