Prayer is one of the foundational spiritual practices of Christians. It’s our way of talking to God directly. Scripture is filled with descriptions of the purposes and benefits of a strong prayer life. In fact, we are commanded to “pray without ceasing”. That can sound a bit overwhelming to young people. You’ve probably helped your children establish good habits of praying at meals and bedtime, but teaching them how to pray throughout the day – as well as encouraging them to do it – can be a challenge.
Or perhaps, you know you should be praying for your children, but aren’t really sure what to pray about for them other than a few basics. How do these Christian parents who say they pray constantly for their children think of enough things to say to God every day?
Whether you want to strengthen your own prayer life or those of your children, there are some creative things you can do to spur your family to pray more often and in more depth. Here are a few of our favorite creative prayer ideas.
- Prayer rocks. Find large flat rocks your children can decorate. If there aren’t any in your yard, most craft stores sell them. Then have your children use markers to decorate them with the word “pray” and anything else they would like. Tell them to place the finished rock on their bed pillow. When they go to bed, the rock will remind them to pray. After praying, they should place the rock somewhere they will see it immediately upon waking the next morning. When they see the rock in the morning, it is a reminder to pray to start their day.
- Walking and driving prayers. These are prayers where you use the things you or your children see as they are walking around or driving with you in the car. For example, if your walk or drive takes you past their school, pray for the students and teachers and any specific needs of which you are aware involving people at the school.
- Chore gratitude prayers. We aren’t usually very grateful for our chores and your kids are no different. What if you used those chores as a way to carve out time to pray? Most chores don’t require a lot of thinking, so our brains are free to pray as we work. Encourage your children to thank God for each of the items they are cleaning. Or take it a step further and use items as symbols of things to pray about. For example, if they are folding laundry, their socks might remind them of missionaries who walk long distances to serve and teach others and they could pray for them. Or putting their sports uniform in the washer could remind them to pray for their coaches and teammates.
- Person of the week prayers. A friend of mine shared this idea. Each time period, she and her son picked a name out of a jar of names of people they know. They contact the person and let them know, they want to pray for them especially that week (or whatever). Ask if they have anything special they would like for you to pray about for them. If they can’t think of anything or don’t want to share private details, ask your children to pray for what they believe will help that person the most.
- Scripture prayers. When our daughter was in elementary school, I joined a group of other moms who focused on praying for their school. Many in the group would take specific Bible verses and pray them for their children. For example, if they chose the verses listing the fruit of the Spirit, they may ask God to help their children have those characteristics in abundance in their lives. Since many in the time of Jesus used various Psalms as prayers, there are many verses in the book of Psalms you can use to pray over your children.
- Color prayers. This is a favorite for Bible class teachers of young children. Cut out various squares of paper in different colors. As you pray as a family, each person draws out a slip of paper and prays for something of which the color reminds them. Young children will usually thank God for something they can think of that is the same color, like bananas if they choose yellow, and that’s fine. The object is to teach them to pray prayers that aren’t rote.
- Theme prayers. Why not choose a theme of the day or week to add to your family’s prayers? Maybe it’s making good choices, handling conflict in more godly ways, being a light in the world, etc. Encourage everyone in the family to pray about the topic to God in their private and family prayers.
- Breath prayers. I am not sure who originally coined the term, but it’s a great way to teach your kids to pray without ceasing. These prayers are usually only a sentence or a phrase prayed to God in the moment as something is happening. They are almost always silent prayers. Often these are prayed while waiting our turn to talk or do something. Less formal than many prayers, they are easy to do once you and your children get in the habit and they can encourage praying without ceasing.
Can you or your kids think of other creative ways to enhance your prayer life? Before long, you may find you all have started praying without ceasing and it has become as natural as breathing is to you!
Living the Christian life well requires consistency. Although only Jesus is perfect, the faith and impact of Christians will be much stronger if we are able to do things like praying, serving others, sharing our faith, studying scripture, obeying God’s commands on a consistent basis – rather than every once in awhile. Consistency requires perseverance, patience, commitment, faithfulness, stability, dependability, reliability and other important character traits.
Thankfully, you don’t have to constantly lecture or preach to your kids to help them learn the importance of consistency or to practice it. There are fun things you can do that will help them learn those lessons. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Growing things. Whether it’s a garden or a Venus fly trap, plants require consistency from caretakers to survive. Often it is also a very particular consistency the plants need, which will make the lesson even more meaningful. Not being consistent in the right ways will damage or even kill the plant. The most effective way to teach this lesson is to invest in a plant that you are willing to allow to perish at the hands of your inconsistent children. Seeds are often the best option because they are inexpensive, give you multiple opportunities to try again by planting a few more and your child’s consistency in caring for the seeds has no obvious pay off for the first few days.
- Being a penpal. Yes, it’s old school, but that is what makes it so effective. This can work even better if the penpal lives somewhere you are willing to eventually take your child to visit. Encourage them to be consistent in writing so that the friendship is strong enough to justify a visit. Of course this works best when the penpal has a parent also encouraging consistency.
- Learning a new skill. Whether it’s swimming, playing the piano or cooking, consistency in attending lessons and practicing is needed to be successful or at least show substantial progress. This works better if the new skill is something the child really wants to learn how to do.
- Jigsaw puzzles and models. Find a difficult one that your kids are excited about. Limit the amount of time they can spend working on it each day, but offer a small reward if they complete it by a certain date. The date should be close enough that they can only miss a day or two and still meet the deadline.
- Sourdough bread making. Word of warning. Identify lots of people to whom you can gift loaves of freshly baked bread before you start. Sour dough bread requires a starter. Most starters need regular bread making to stay ”alive”. The bread making needs to be on a consistent basis for it to work well. This type of project is best done over long school holidays.
- Fitness or other goals. In order to see tangible results from exercise, it has to be done regularly. Your child may choose to gradually work up to hiking or running a certain distance comfortably, lifting a certain amount of weight safely, doing a certain number of crunches daily without being sore the next day, or performing some sort of gymnastic or other move that requires consistent practice to perfect.
- Writing a book. Successful writers will often tell you that the key to success in writing is to write for a certain number of minutes each day. It requires not only consistency, but also the perseverance to write even when nothing comes to mind. Film making and other complex creative projects can provide similar benefits.
- Practicing spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are things like praying, studying and reflecting upon scripture, etc. When done consistently, they help the person’s faith remain strong and even grow. You can search for past posts on our website for ideas to help your child be successful in creating these crucial habits.
Have fun with it, but help your children be better at consistently doing important things. It will make it a lot easier for them to live the Christian life.
If you have school aged children, you are familiar with sleep overs. Many parents don’t like hosting them because behavior can get out of control with the combination of lack of sleep, junk food and too much unstructured free time. With a little extra effort, you can host a sleepover that’s still lots of fun, but helps others and teaches the kids or teens attending about serving.
First, you need a theme for your party of service. Does your church support service efforts in your community or mission efforts in other countries? Contact someone you believe the young people attending the party would be interested in serving and find out if there is something your group can do to serve them. Local service has the advantage of a possible field excursion to serve or deliver needed items. Service projects for the mission field make it fun to carry the theme throughout the evening with food, music and games from the country you are serving.
Once you have identified the group you are serving, you will need to gather the items you need for the project. If the group does not have a suggestion, our ministry website has dozens and dozens of service project ideas. Our family has hosted parties where the girls made fancy hair ornaments for girls in a homeless shelter and decorated onesies for children served by a Christian foster care agency. Your party can plan a collection, making posters and fliers to distribute or physically go somewhere and execute a project. (Some organizations have minimum age limits, so call before going.)
Have fun with it. Older children and teens may want to plan the entire party. The more ownership they have of the service project you complete, the more they will enjoy participating. If possible, have party goers interact with the people they are serving – either during the party or at a later date. It will make the entire experience more meaningful for them. Done well, you may be hosting many more service sleepovers in the future!
Your children are going to have a tough time living the life God wants for them if they don’t know what’s in the Bible. Even if they attend church and Bible class every Sunday until adulthood, they will only be exposed to a small fraction of scripture. The Apostle John wrote that if they had written down everything Jesus said and did while on Earth, it would fill volumes. It would seem then that the scripture we have is what God felt was important for us to know. Think of it as a complete spiritual education in one book.
Reading scripture daily does more than just give your children instructions for living the Christian life. It can provide comfort and wisdom. It gives them the history they need to make sense of the world. It tells them how to communicate with God and how to get help from Him. The Bible has everything they need to know to lead a rich, full, godly life. In fact, if all the books in the world, except the Bible, suddenly disappeared, your kids would be okay.
Even if your family has been great about having family devotionals and spiritual conversations, you aren’t going to be with your children every moment of every day for the rest of their lives. They have to know what is in scripture and how to find in it what they need. The best way to insure your children turn to scripture as the source of wisdom in their lives is to help them develop the habit of daily Bible reading.
Often, adults make some key mistakes when attempting to help children develop the habit of independent Bible reading and study. These mistakes can cause children to believe the Bible is an extremely difficult and boring book to read. Thankfully, a few simple changes can teach them to enjoy and value daily time in scripture.
So what do you need to know to raise independent Bible readers? Here are some of our favorite tips.
- Get your children an NIrV Bible. There are a lot of different reasons to choose various versions of the Bible and everyone has a favorite. For children and teens, the NIrV (Note the “r” is critical in buying the correct version.) is the easiest to read. Written on a third grade level, the actual process of reading the Bible will be easy – even for struggling readers. To the best of my knowledge, the other versions are anywhere from two to ten reading grade levels higher. Those versions make reading the Bible a frustration text for many young people. Which means the process of reading is so frustrating, the don’t want to even attempt to read it anymore – even when their reading level progresses to that point.
- Buy them paper Bibles. Absolutely, encourage those with phones to put the Bible app on them. Those who want can choose various reading plans in their preferred versions. Educators have found though that what people read from a paper book is remembered better than would the same material if read in ebook form. The NIrV was initially only sold in covers for children, but now you can find it in a variety of adult covers as well.
- Teach them to think of the Bible, not as one huge, overwhelming book, but as a library of books. This will not only make reading the Bible seem less intimidating, but it gives them the opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment every time they finish reading a book of the Bible.
- Don’t force them to read the Bible sequentially. If they start in Genesis and attempt to read the Bible straight through, most will get bogged down and quit somewhere in Leviticus or Numbers. Instead, encourage them to skip around – focusing on story heavy books at first, like the Gospels, Acts, Ruth, Esther, Kings, Judges, Genesis, etc. Older children and teens often prefer the practicality of books like Proverbs or James. If they are having a tough time emotionally, Psalms can be a great book to read. As they become more comfortable reading and studying scripture independently, you can encourage them to read all of the books they missed.
- Talk about what they read (and what you are reading) in the Bible. This gives you an opportunity to check for comprehension and correct any misunderstandings they may have. This is especially important for young readers who are still concrete thinkers. It also gives you an opportunity to discuss with them how to apply what they have read to their daily lives.
- Consider a chronological Bible (for those with enough experience) who want to read through the entire Bible. You may have noticed some stories in the Bible are repeated with different details or from a different person’s point of view. The books of prophecy aren’t next to the stories of the kings to whom the prophecy was given. A chronological Bible can help young readers because it takes everything from the Bible from one time period and places it all together. There is a little guess work involved for books like Job, but in general, it makes the overarching story of the Bible clearer.
- Encourage them to switch up the amount they read each day occasionally. For children trying to start a new habit of daily Bible reading, a verse or a chapter a day is often the easiest to maintain. In fact remind them regularly, that reading even a verse of scripture a day is better than none at all. Over time though, encourage them to read a book of the Bible the way they might a regular book. Some of the shorter books can be read in one sitting. You can purchase various books of the Bible in book format now, with the chapter and verse numbers missing, so they read more like a regular book. Or help them find a Bible reading plan that is built around a theme of interest to them. Just make sure the daily readings required aren’t too ambitious to be maintained by them.
- Provide study helps and teach them how to use them. Whether you purchase a study Bible, study aids like concordances or show them online resources, it is good for them to know ways they can get help understanding some of the more confusing passages in the Bible. By teaching them about resources you trust, you also minimize the chance they stumble across false teachings in a Google search and believe they are valid.
- Set a good example. I knew if I woke up early at my grandparents’ house, I would catch them reading the Bible. That made an impression on me as a child. Your children will be more likely to develop a habit you have yourself. If you struggle, be honest. Find ways to encourage each other in reading scripture every day.
Giving your children the gift of independent Bible reading will make it easier for them to grow and remain healthy spiritually. It is worth taking the time and effort to help them develop those great habits while they are still young.
Summer is just around the corner and you have probably noticed a few parenting experts who are promoting allowing your children to be bored this summer. You understand it’s in their best interest, but it sounds like a formula for disaster. Isn’t it ultimately in their best interest to keep them in structured activities to keep them out of trouble?
Boredom gives children and teens room to rest, to be creative, to process everything they have been learning, to think about big ideas like God and Christianity, to discover their gifts and passions, to read, to study scripture, to pray and more. Your kids need a break from being over scheduled. Their lives will not be ruined by taking off one summer from structured activities. Thankfully, you can add just a bit of structure to their summer of boredom to keep them engaged in positive activities and out of trouble.
Here are some guidelines for your summer of boredom. (Note: If you and your spouse work full time, you can give these instructions to an in-home care giver or do these things at night, on weekends or on your vacation.)
- Severely limit phone and screen time. This will be the hardest part if they are addicted. It will take two weeks of possibly miserable detox until they accept it. Phones should be used for no more than an hour a day. (If parents also detox it works better.) Admit it will be tough, but that it is in their best interest.
- Set parameters. Do you want them to stay on your property? Do they need to go to bed by a certain time? What types of things to they need to ask your permission to do?
- Make a family bucket list for the summer. What are some things you want to do as a family this summer? Aim for at least one ”adventure” a week. These can be free, but should be done as a family. (Don’t forget things like “pj day” “breakfast for supper” and other classics!)
- Record a list of all of the fun things your kids can do. Don’t get too specific. For example, write down “art” rather than a very specific art project. If they really struggle, you can print off lists of art project or other ideas that contain numerous ideas from which they can choose.
- Provide needed items. Your kids aren’t going to read if they don’t have access to interesting books or do art if they can’t find the supplies around your house. You don’t have to spend a ton of money (the public library has tons of books), but boredom summers often fail because the kids don’t have access to what they need to do something more productive.
- Be available and engaged. Creativity means they may need questions answered or advice. Encourage them to problem solve by asking questions to guide them rather than merely telling them what to do. If you don’t get aggravated every time they want to engage with you, you may also find your relationship is strengthened.
- Encourage daily or weekly service to others. This can be done individually and/or as a family. Our website has dozens of great service project ideas. http://teachonereachone.org/activity-ideas/
- Encourage Bible study and prayer. Once again, this can be done independently or as a family. If you expect them to study on their own, help them choose a prepared study for their age group to help.
- Encourage learning a new skill. Maybe they want you to teach them to cook their favorite dishes. Or you need to teach them how to do laundry or change a tire. Lots of craft and hobby stores have short term lessons for kids and teens.
- Allow naps and occasional movie watching. Your kids are probably sleep deprived. Even if they won’t nap, on an extremely hot or rainy afternoon a movie online can force them to rest a bit. (Try to limit movies to no more than once every week or so.)
- Encourage time outdoors exercising. Some kids are indoor kids and would never go outside and exercise if they could. Their moods and health will be better if they spend a lot of time outdoors and play or even walk or swim. They can even take their books and activities outside if it’s possible in your neighborhood.
- Allow day dreaming. Staring at the clouds or stars has a purpose. It provides peace and quiet for processing, thinking, dreaming. Give your kids that gift.
- Encourage them to entertain friends. Hospitality is a key element of families who raise active, productive Christians. Help them plan the activities they will do with their friends when they come over. Don’t forget old classics like board games when it gets super hot or rainy.
- Make a chore jar. Experienced moms know that nothing cures boredom like a chore. If they whine or break the parameters or rules, allow them the privilege of choosing a job from the jar. These tasks should be above and beyond their normal chores and just annoying enough to encourage them to do something other than whine so they won’t have to choose from the chore jar!
Give your kids the gift of boredom this summer. Just structure it a bit so it makes this your best summer ever!