Encouraging parents in their efforts to raise their children to be enthusiastic servants of the Lord.
Author: Thereasa Winnett
Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.
Want to serve others and share your faith as a family, but have young children? Many organizations don’t allow preschoolers and toddlers to participate in the service projects they may sponsor. It’s unfortunate, because starting kids serving others when they are young means it is more likely to be natural for them as they grow older.
Thankfully, there are some fun service projects that are just right for preschooler and in some cases, toddlers. Here are a few of our favorites.
Canned food drives. Little hands can safely handle a can of food and place it in a grocery bag to be donated. Of course, the more food your family is donating, the more fun this will be.
Growing food for others. Many who provide food to those who are food insecure don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Little hands are more than able with adult supervision to plant and water seeds and plants and pick produce to share with others.
Making cookies. With adult supervision, preschoolers can begin measuring and adding ingredients and shaping the raw dough into cookies. Decorating them might be a bit much if you want perfection, but those who could benefit from some cookies might also appreciate that children decorated them.
Artwork. Nothing cheers someone like the art of a child. For really young ones, you can take their scribbles or finger painting smears and cut them into the shape of a heart for the recipient.
Goodie bags. Preschoolers can help stuff goodie bags if the items are organized to make it easier for them. Think about goodies to thank servant leaders or community helpers, diaper changing sets for people who ask ministries for help or fun activity bags for pediatric patients or foster children.
Decorate collection bags. Sponsoring a church wide, ministry wide or neighborhood collection of food or clothing? Have little ones decorate paper grocery bags to give possible participants to serve as colorful reminders of the need for donations.
ASL. Many babies learn a few signs before they can speak. Although their motor skills are still developing, preschoolers learn languages quickly. Start teaching them some ASL signs and even a church song or two in ASL.
Cheering at Special Olympics. You don’t even have to sign up in advance. Check your local Special Olympics website for the time and location of their local games. Little ones love to cheer and Special Olympians love to be cheered as they compete.
Don’t wait until your kids are older to have them start serving others. Make it so much a part of their lives that they serve others naturally for their entire lives.
With only about a month or two left of school, many of you are starting to make plans for the Summer. Are you planning some margin to spend time together as a family – engaged with one another? While you are deciding how to spend your summer, here are this week’s social media challenges.
Monday: Young parents always roll their eyes when older parents tell them to enjoy their kids when they’re little. Or that the time flies and they’ve grown and gone. Or that you will wish one day that you’d spent more time teaching them the things God wants them to know. Haven’t heard the last one? If more older Christian parents were honest about it, you’d hear that one a lot, too. And you would possibly roll your eyes at that one, like the others. The hard truth is that whether or not you are tired of hearing those statements, they are all very true. Don’t have parenting regrets.
Tuesday: Teaching your kids how God wants them to handle money is critical. The world’s view of earning and spending money often leads to high debt, stress, selfishness and a love of money – to the point of idolatry. If you don’t teach them how God wants them to handle money, it is highly unlikely they will learn it from someone else.
Wednesday: God never promised us the Christian life would be filled with happiness and problem free. He did, however, promise us there is joy to be found in it. Joy is possible regardless of the circumstances. It’s why Paul could sing in jail with Silas and wrote some of his most joy filled books when in jail waiting to see if he would get the death penalty. Part of joy is found in being grateful for the blessings God gives us. Teach your kids to look for those blessings and thank God for them daily.
Thursday: Have you ever thought about how much slinging practice David had before he fought Goliath? As a shepherd, a slingshot was a primary weapon used to protect sheep from predators like lions and bears. In fact, God sent those very animals for David to fight before Goliath. God gave David a talent and may have put a little extra something in it when he fought Goliath (or not as slingers could sling a rock with the force of a bullet from a gun), but David had to take advantage of the opportunities God gave him to develop the gift so he would be ready when God needed him to use it. Your kids each have one or more gifts from God. One of the most fun parts of Christian parenting is helping them discover and develop those gifts and find those first opportunities to use them to serve God. Who knows what plans God has for your children? Help them be prepared!
Friday: This case has a lot of fish in it, but it holds an extremely small fraction of the fish in the world. Jesus left a charge to his people – the church. Go into the world and preach the Gospel message to everyone. That means your kids need to help teach the Gospel to 7.674 billion people! It’s called the “Great Commission”, yet the majority of Christians today don’t even know it! Make sure your kids understand their purpose in life is to get to Heaven and take as many people as possible with them. Otherwise, they won’t be living the full Christian life.
There is a misconception in today’s world that truth and love cannot exist in the same space. Your kids will probably be told that it is preferable to lie rather than to risk hurting someone’s feelings. Or that it is important to tell everyone they are going to Heaven, rather than risk upsetting someone by telling them they are disobeying God. Or that it isn’t loving to believe God will indeed send people to Hell for disobeying clearly stated truths in the Bible. And sadly they will watch as supposedly strong Christians take a clearly written declaritive sentence in the Bible and twist the words into a pretzel so that in the end, the sentence means the exact opposite of what it says.
The problem has been that many have done a very poor job of how they choose to share God’s truths. Or their “truth”. Love has come disconnected from truth and it seems to be getting worse every day. Fortunately, you can actively teach your kids how to keep truth and love connected – the way God intended it to be.
There are a few basic principles about truth and love that your kids need to know and practice.
Not every “truth” is actually “truth”. Just because your child believes something to be true, does not mean it is. Your child could be mistaken or wrong. Your child may only know part of the truth, but not all of it. Or it may just be your child’s opinion on a topic where everyone has a right to a different opinion (like a favorite color). Part of keeping truth and love connected is to constantly search for truth and make sure something is definitely truth before we present it as such.
Not every “truth” is equally important. God’s truths are absolute, unchanging and of eternal importance. Much of what people believe is “truth” is actually an opinion. There is no real evidence to prove whether or not it is absolute, unchanging and valid for everyone. An opinion positioned as “truth”is not nearly as important as God’s absolute truths.
Not every “truth” must be spoken immediately. Timing is crucial. Sharing a truth that could embarrass someone is perhaps best not done loudly in front of a large group of people. Your kids also need to understand that the “truths” of their opinion may not need to be shared at all. Just because your child doesn’t like someone’s outfit, doesn’t mean five hundred other people won’t love it. It’s not necessary to hurt someone’s feelings with your personal opinion.
God’s truths are absolute and do not change. We do not get to vote to change God’s commands. Current popular culture may not approve of God’s commands, but that does not mean they should be changed. God knows what is best for us. We have to trust and obey Him.
There is a way to share God’s truths with love. Most people believe they are doing the best they can. They will usually become defensive and stop listening if someone uses harsh, ugly, angry language to communicate God’s truths to them. Yes, Jesus may have sounded a bit harsh at times, but those occasions were rare. Most of the time he was very loving, but firm in the ways he corrected others.
Keeping God’s truths from someone is not love. There is a thought process that people cannot “help” who they are. It is not their fault if they want to live their lives in ways that disobey God. The fear by many Christians is that sharing God’s truths with them will make them reject God. The reality is living a life enmeshed in sin is a rejection of God. Making someone believe they are “right” with God while they are living in enmeshed sin is not loving. You are giving them a false sense of security. Sharing God’s truths in such a way that they will hopefully want to make changes and obey God is ultimately the most loving thing anyone can do.
Take the time to teach your kids how to keep truth and love connected. It is a skill set our world desperately needs.
Family fun trips are great times to reinforce what your kids have been learning about God. Zoos, aquariums, nature preserves and even farms are usually full of animals and other creatures God created. (Our suburban yard has even been host to deer, foxes, possums, rabbits and more!) You can use the animals you see as ways to teach or remind your kids of some important biblical principles.
The great news is that you don’t have to preach a sermon to your kids. You don’t have to memorize a lesson plan or a bunch of scriptures. You can just make casual comments as you go. Often these comments are best made in response to something your child has said. Hopefully, some of them will come out of your mouth spontaneously. And of course, you can say other things while you are enjoying God’s creation, just sprinkle in the comments from time to time.
Use your own words, but try saying some of these things to your kids the next time you visit the zoo or aquarium.
“God must really love us to have created such an amazing variety for us to enjoy!”
”God is so creative! Did you know God made you in His image, which means He made you to be creative, too?!”
”God is amazing!”
”How awesome is that! God created the (insert creature name) so that (insert interesting fact about animal you just learned). Did you know that the extreme intricacy in God’s creation is what is leading many scientists – even some atheists – to admit that the idea that all of this was created by chance is impossible?”
”Oh! That’s a donkey like the one in the Bible that Jesus rode.”
”I wonder if this animal would have been clean or unclean when Noah was loading the ark?”
”How interesting that all of these different types of (insert name of animal grouping) are related. Noah didn’t have to take one of each variety of these on the ark, just one of each kind, or group of animals. He probably took baby animals so they would have longer to breed after the flood and would have taken up less space and eaten less food on the ark.”
”I wonder what day of creation these were created on?”
”God told Adam humans were supposed to take care of everything He created (have dominion over). How do you think He would want us to take care of all of these animals/fish? What is one thing we can do to help?”
”God sure did bless us by giving us so many beautiful things to see while we are on Earth!”
”Why do you think God created (insert name of creature) so that (insert characteristic)?”
”How many animals did we see today that you think are mentioned by name in the Bible?” (Provides a great excuse for teaching your kids how to use Bible resources to find information.)
”What are some things we saw today that we should thank God for the next time we pray?”
”God is amazing!”
You won’t use all of these every time you go to a zoo or a nature preserve. Some you will word differently because of the personalities and interests of your kids. There are probably dozens of more things you could say, but these should get you started. Have fun with it. Use every chance you have for a teaching moment that points your kids to God.
As the world begins to return to “normal”, what has your family learned in the last year? What new things did you do that you want to continue? What things did you stop doing that you realized weren’t helping your family? It’s a great and important family conversation to have. In the meantime, here are this week’s social media challenges.
Monday: Who knew feeding squirrels could lead to catching the plague, but it happens every year in this area. Sometimes your kids will encounter temptations that seem innocent enough. Those temptations may not lead them to sin at the moment, but may be starting them on a path that will lead them away from God. Teaching your kids how to consider possible future consequences of a choice may help them avoid the more sophisticated traps of Satan.
Tuesday: Whoever came up with the idea of putting holes in the bottom of this bucket created an early shower head. Sometimes Christian parenting requires creativity. What worked with your other kids, may not work for one of your kids. If you can’t think of a creative solution, ask an older Christian parent or educator. With years more experience, they may have just the idea you need.
Wednesday: These strawberries are fine, but they were bought with a purpose. They were bought to make strawberry perserves. Your kids will seem like they are fine if they never discover their gifts from God, develop them and use them to do the good works God has planned for them to do. To have the sense of meaning and purpose, to serve others, expand God’s Kingdom and do those good works though, you and they will have to be intentional. Don’t raise kids who just seem fine. Raise kids who are fully engaged and full participants in God’s Plans.
Thursday: Kids walking past this were fascinated and enjoyed trying to figure it out. Kids have a natural curiosity. It’s why they ask a lot of questions. It’s also one of the ways they learn. Your kids are curious about God and the Bible, too. Help them explore and answer their questions. Encourage their questions. Because that’s one of the ways they will learn about God.
Friday: Most of us wouldn’t know how to use this without a lot of trial and error unless someone taught us. The Christian life is the same for your kids. Unless they know what’s in the Bible, they will use a lot of trial and error in their attempts to live the life God wants them to live. Studies are finding they will get it wrong…really wrong. Even on seemingly basic issues like honesty. Take the time to teach your kids everything God wants them to know – even if you have to learn it with them.