Should Your Kids Be Educated Like Jesus?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around Christian circles about how children were perceived, educated and involved in spiritual life during the time of Jesus and in the early Church. Often this misinformation is based on writers who didn’t thoroughly research the topic or didn’t have access to primary source documents and then that incomplete or inaccurate information used as an excuse for the often subpar spiritual education provided by Churches (i.e. “It’s the parents’ responsibility, not the Church’s, to provide quality spiritual education for children. It wasn’t provided during Bible times, so why do we need to provide it now? It’s not an issue if young people aren’t really learning anything in our Bible classes.”)

The reality of spiritual education for Jesus and other Jewish children during his childhood and for the children of early Christians was more nuanced. The reality of spiritual education in those times does not in any way remove the responsibility of the Christian community found in the Church to assist parents by providing quality spiritual training for children. This post may be a bit more academic than most of our posts, but if you want to engage in meaningful conversations on the topic, you need to be armed with some helpful background information.

First, those who dismiss or minimize the need for quality religious instruction in ministry settings are at least partially correct. In the early Old Testament times, parents were the primary source of spiritual education. In fact, parents did not view childhood as a time to focus on play, but rather on preparing for adulthood both spiritually and in the roles their children would play as adults.

Parents actively taught their children the scriptures, gave them correction when they disobeyed or showed character that was not what God would want and modeled the life God wanted them to live. They also used the various Feasts in the Bible as interactive ways to review important Bible stories, commands and principles. Children were also expected to sit and listen whenever the priests read the Law to the people.

Things changed when the Jews were taken into captivity and again when they returned. The synagogues began during captivity to replace at least some of the functions of the destroyed Temple. They were kept upon the people’s return to Israel and it seems every village had its own synagogue that was used for worship and as a school for children.

Synagogues were tasked with keeping the people on track spiritually through teaching and other activities. This included helping the parents educate their children. In 75 B.C.E. elementary education was declared compulsory, so Jesus, like all of the other Jewish children of his time would have attended school at the local synagogue. There is some debate about how much education girls were given, with the general consensus that primarily boys attended the synagogue schools, but girls were often homeschooled with a similar curriculum.

The teachers used what we call the Old Testament as the only textbook. Children began attending school at about the same age as children today. They were taught to read using the Bible and were tasked with memorizing large portions of scripture including Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41, Psalms 113-118 (chapters), the first several chapters of Genesis and the essence of Leviticus/the Law. They also each had to memorize a portion of scripture that was determined by the child’s name and contained about twenty verses. They of course were also taught what the scriptures meant and how to live them in their lives.

There were two basic types of synagogue schools in the time of Jesus. The one Jesus attended focused more on the spiritual teachings of the Law and the Prophets rather than the many oral traditions that had developed over the years. Children were also taught mathematics, astronomy and the natural sciences, which they somehow related back to the scriptures. There is thought that the science lessons were actually based on writings of Solomon that are no longer available, although I couldn’t find any actual evidence those existed and were used in synagogue schools.

In the afternoon, children went home to learn a trade they would ply as adults. This means about four hours a day were spent in active religious instruction in addition to what the parents taught and reinforced at home. This amount of time is interesting, because recent research is finding kids who are engaged in about 15-20 hours a week spiritually (including independent engagement in spiritual disciplines, worship and conversations about God) were more likely to be active, productive Christians as adults than children who spent much less time engaged in spiritual pursuits as children.

The early Christians must have realized the necessity of controlling their children’s education fairly early. After the split with Judaism and the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity, the synagogue schools would have no longer been an option. Not enough research has been done on the topic, but the little that has been done suggests an early mix of education for children raised in Christian homes.

Many children who were not Jewish had been attending secular Roman schools. Some parents initially left their children in those schools and supplemented with religious instruction at home. Unfortunately, Roman schools also taught Roman morals and the Roman religion which did not align with Christianity. As a result, it appears many Christians began homeschooling their children. As the persecution of Christians began to die down, the first Christian schools emerged to help parents.

Spiritual education for children was a top priority for the Jews and the early Christians. In fact, the Talmud says, “The world is preserved by the breath of children in the schools.” The Talmud also says, “Jerusalem was destroyed because the education of children was neglected.” It’s important to remember the goal of education was spiritual – not secular – even though some secular topics were taught. The writers of the Talmud realized, the moment they stopped doing their very best to teach their children what God wanted them to know, was also the moment everything fell apart. If we look at the world around us and the Church at large, we may be seeing the same dynamic at play. It’s past time to make the spiritual education of our children our number one priority.

Hidden Benefits of Praying Blessings Over Your Kids

In the Old Testament, there are several times when fathers prayed blessings over the heads of their sons. The stories are often difficult ones for us to understand as at times they sound more as if the father in question is prophesying the future of each child. The Bible doesn’t thoroughly explain how these blessings worked. Did the father in question get some sort of direct message from God as to what to say – meaning it was an actual prophecy from God? Did God somehow make these blessings happen in the lives of the children? (It’s important to note, some of them didn’t exactly sound like blessings!) Did the father base the blessing on the character the now adult child had displayed in his life?

We may never completely understand these parental blessings, but there is something we can learn from them. Blessings said out loud over our children can impact their lives. There is no actual command to pray blessings over your children, but what children would not be blessed to hear their parents praying out loud for God to bless them?

When we talk about God blessing your child with these prayers said out loud over your kids, we aren’t just talking about money, success or good grades. It’s okay to ask God for those things to an extent, but what is more important is to use them as an opportunity to encourage your kids to see themselves as God sees them. To pray the ways you want to see them live their faith. To pray for God’s protection and guidance for their lives.

Fair warning, your kids will find this cringe worthy embarrassing! (This is best done without a public audience most of the time!) The good news though is that their respect for God and prayer will let them allow you to pray blessings over them they would never let you say to them in conversation without interruptions or leaving the room.

These blessings are times to share the potential you see in them. To point out their gifts from God. To remind them how incredibly precious and loved they are. To remind them God wants to guide them through life if they will let Him. To remind them God wants what is truly best for them – even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Blessings also remind your kids how much you love them and how important their spiritual life is to you.

Here’s the other secret about most kids. While they may cringe at these blessings, secretly most of them are soaking them into their hearts and minds. Done periodically with some consistency, they will even eventually become a treasured part of your relationship. If you connect these times of blessing with regular events like birthdays, the first day of school or other events, you may even find if you forget it one year, they will remind you.

So pray blessings out loud over the heads of your children. Praying for your children is always important. Praying blessings out loud over their head can benefit them in ways silent prayers don’t necessarily provide. So give your kids both and watch what happens!

Fun Way to Teach Kids Manners

It’s tempting to skip teaching your kids manners because it takes a lot of time and effort. It’s easy to dismiss manners as antiquated in today’s world. Yet, at the core of Christianity is putting others before yourself. That was also at the core of manners in the past. When your kids have good manners, they stand out from the crowd. They point others to God as they show kindness and consideration for others.

So how can you teach your kids good manners, as well as why God wants us to have them and not feel as if you have spent all day nagging your kids? There’s actually a fun way that can be easily adapted for different ages of kids.

Start by calling your kids together and telling them the story of Esther, David or one of the other kings or queens in the Bible. In some of those stories, customs that could be considered “court manners” are implied or explained. Ask your kids if they noticed any actions that could be considered good or bad manners in the story.

Then read Philippians 2:3-4 to your kids. Ask them what it looks like to put another’s interests before your own and to count others more significant than ourselves. Explain that manners were created as a way to show kindness, respect and consideration to others. Mention a few manners on which you would like to focus. Ask them how each shows consideration for others.

If your kids are little, play royal dress up games. Have tea or a “royal” meal. Teach and practice manners that would enable them to have “tea with the queen” without embarrassment. Make it fun, dressing up, making paper crowns and tea sandwiches or whatever would engage your kids.

For older kids, spend some time examining manners in different countries or time periods. There’s a fun book called George Washington’s Rules to Live By you can use for that time period. Or grab an older edition of Miss Manners or Emily Post. Or have them research manners in other cultures to find ones that are similar and different.

Even older children will enjoy going to high tea or a “fancy” or fun restaurant to practice manners. Or invite over someone who grew up in another culture and have them answer your kids’ questions about manners there. Don’t forget, manners can change even from region to region in the U.S. and from generation to generation.

Focus on manners that make life better for others – including table manners! To sneak in extra lessons, focus on different aspects of manners like table manners, hospitality manners, manners when speaking to others, manners when meeting new people, etc. Then find fun ways to practice them. Don’t forget to find a corresponding Bible lesson or scripture for each one, while making those verses in Philippians your theme verse for every lesson. (The spaced repetition of the verse over time will move it to their long term memories, where it can be remembered for years to come.) Before you know it, your kids may just have wonderful manners worthy of tea with the queen!

Making Chores Work for Parents and Kids

It’s hard to find a parenting expert that doesn’t embrace the idea of chores for children. They can help kids develop a sense of responsibility, perseverance, patience and a strong work ethic. For Christian parents, it’s a great way to also train your kids to put Colossians 3:23-24 into practice in everything they do. (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”)

Unfortunately, life can be crazy in a home with young children. Creating, assigning and monitoring chores can seem overwhelming to an already exhausted parent. As a result, many parents give up on assigning chores and their kids miss out on important character training. Fortunately, there are some chore “hacks” you can use to make things easier for both kids and parents.

  • Make some chores standard procedure. Keep it simple. Have some chores everyone is supposed to complete every day to keep your home running smoothly. These should be simple things like making the bed (whatever that means to you), putting away clothes after they are worn (whether it’s hanging up to wear one more time or putting them in the clothes hamper or wash room), putting their dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher after they eat, and putting things back where they found them when they are finished using them. Children can be given a graphic or written check list to help them remember. Consequences for not completing these tasks should also be standard and given automatically at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day.
  • Consider handing out other chores on an “as assigned” basis. This worked best for our family, especially as our daughter’s schedule got busier. Every day I asked her to do several things to help me around the house. How many tasks she was given and what they were could be adjusted to the circumstances of the day. I tried to give her at least one or two things to do for me every day unless she was sick or something major was happening. This method freed me from having to remember and monitor every chore on some list. I just needed to make sure she had completed each chore as given.
  • Have family work days. My mother used to declare most Saturday mornings as “clean the house day”. No one could run off to other things until the house was spotless. She sent us scurrying to perform various cleaning tasks around the house. She was assured of immediate compliance, because we wanted to be finished as quickly as possible!
  • Make a chore chart. This one may be too much trouble if you aren’t a list maker by nature. For those who are, a quick glance at the chart can tell you who has completed which chores for the day. Don’t forget to spot check completed chores from time to time to make sure they were done well.
  • Allow your kids to claim chores. As strange as it may sound, some kids love to vacuum, while other kids hate it. My mother rarely cooked a meal in the summer, because I offered to cook to get out of weeding the garden. Occasionally, kids should be expected to do something they hate as a chore for growth purposes, but allowing them to pick a few favorites can make them more compliant and the results a little better.
  • Don’t be afraid to work on attitudes, too. Those verses in Colossians and the ever popular “Do everything without complaining” verses (Philippians 2:14-16) have been quoted to whining children for probably almost two thousand years now for a reason. Chores aren’t just about the task. They are also a way to work on attitudes. We have a saying in our house, “Sometimes you just have to clean the toilets.” There are chores and perhaps things God gives us to do that we just don’t want to do. The reality is that to live the life God wants us to live, we have to do them any way. Doing them with a good attitude and compliant heart works best for everyone involved. Helping your kids develop good attitudes and compliant hearts when they are young will help them when they are older and have more freedom.

Chores are a part of life. God also sometimes asks us to do things for Him that can feel like chores. Training your kids by giving them chores in childhood can help them grow to be who God wants them to be. It really is worth your time and effort.

Creating Family Traditions That Bond

One of your goals as a Christian parent should be to have a strong enough relationship with your kids that they aren’t afraid to ask you for advice. You should also work towards a relationship that contains enough mutual respect that they seriously consider any godly wisdom you share with them. There are no quick ways to create that bond with your kids. It takes investing time and energy in your relationship with each of your kids. There are, however, some fun things you can do to strengthen those family bonds.

Ever wonder why some groups have initiation ceremonies, secret handshakes and the like? It’s because those help bond people together who might otherwise struggle to even get along. Participating in those bonding rituals makes those who participate in them feel a closeness and a level of trust that might otherwise be difficult to establish.

Your family doesn’t have to have a secret handshake to feel like you are close and can trust one another. Families often develop traditions that serve a similar purpose. While there are no perfect traditions, try to find ones that encourage family members to share their thoughts and feelings in meaningful ways and show support for one another’s struggles and victories.

Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Think of natural points of stress or celebration in the lives of your kids or family. For example, the first day of school and the last day of school are great for starting this kind of tradition. Every year, after the first day of school, I picked up our daughter and took her for high tea. While we were enjoying our snack, I encouraged her to share her thoughts and feelings about the first day of school. The atmosphere was relaxed and fun and we bonded over the good and bad things that happened during the day.

Sometimes the traditions will change over the years. Our last day of school tradition of dinner at a Japanese restaurant, shifted to a walk to Bruster’s for ice cream when her friends’ families started that tradition. She got to see friends, but we still had time for bonding and conversation while walking to and from the ice cream shop.

Holidays are another natural time for creating traditions that bond your family. Many families use various holidays to reflect on the highs and lows of the previous year, share dreams for the coming year or talk about the things for which they are grateful.

While hopefully God may come up in your conversations, these traditions are not time for sermons. Let the conversation flow freely. Laugh or mourn. Comfort and celebrate. Mention God when it feels natural. Remember, the goal is to make your kids feel as if you are willing to make time for them and listen actively to whatever they want to tell you. You are setting the stage for future spiritual conversations over the decades to come.

Let your kids help plan new traditions. They are more likely to get excited about participating in something they helped create. Remember to keep it simple. Any parent who started the elf visiting at Christmas craziness can tell you that complicated traditions can become exhausting and some kids insist on keeping them well into adulthood! Have fun with it, but don’t miss out on having multiple chances a year to remind your kids you will always be there to listen whenever they want to talk.