Bible stories can foster young children’s spiritual awareness, biblical knowledge and faith formation. Many years of telling Bible stories to 3-5 year olds, of researching and reflecting, has lead me to these understandings:
1. Bathe your Bible story preparation in prayer.
2. Be alert to the Holy Spirit at work in your thinking and in the children’s thinking. Give Him space to work on the children’s hearts and minds, throughout the story telling process. Listen, throughout your story telling, for the child who quietly comments during the story telling. Their comments often display profound biblical truths that are really the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Use their comments to deepen the meaning making.
3. Prepare the story keeping in mind these five lenses – hook, history, head, heart, hand. Weave each of these throughout your story telling:
- Hook – what’s happening? Engage the children’s curiosity (using props and questioning) at key points throughout the story
- History – what was it like in that time and place?
- Head – what does the Bible say about this?
- Heart – what does this story mean for me?
- Hand – what would God want me to do? (Ludlow, 2018; ASA, 2016; Fisher 2010).
4. Use props and experiences based on all of the multiple intelligences as hooks, to capture the children’s interest and to scaffold their understanding. Often begin with a question that helps connect the characters’ circumstances with the children’s own experiences.
5. Avoid entertainment, touristy or cute delivery. They divert children’s attention from the main message of the story.
6. Talk with and not at children. Build understanding through scaffolding questions, many of which are open-ended questions. Dialogue, critique and wonder together, during and at the end of the story telling.
7. Use words that the children can understand; avoid religious jargon.
8. Throughout the storytelling, watch and listen for children’s body language; use it to progress the story.
9. PACE – make sure you remain alert to this – it needs to be reciprocal and responsive.
10. Build empathy for the characters’ feelings and situation throughout the story, connecting each with the children’s own life experience.
11. Focus on one important concept to enable the child to meet God/Jesus in the story. This will scaffold their faith formation and spiritual awareness.
12. Leave the children with a strong impression of This is how God & Jesus will work in my life. Tease this out further each time you re-visit this story with them, in whatever medium.
13. Follow story telling with opportunities for children to engage in small group or individual play with the story props or art materials. This fosters individual children’s meaning making, spiritual awareness and faith formation.
14. Find the story in a children’s Bible and read it with the children. Leave the Bible available for them to access and use to retell the story to themselves, in a quiet moment.
15. During small group or individual Godly play, be unobtrusively present to catch teachable moments, scaffold meaning making and record children’s thinking & actions. Use these documentations to inform follow up experiences or to suggest next steps in the on-going Bible curriculum. These documentations are also important to share with the child and their parents, as a celebration of their thinking and a provocation for deeper meaning making and on-going spiritual awareness and faith formation.
Approaching the Bible story telling process with these understandings in mind will scaffold each child’s emotional, sensory and cognitive response to the story. These responses support the child to meet God and Jesus in the story and invite the child to respond to the Godhead’s role in their life. What will you do differently the next time you tell a Bible story to 3-5yr olds?
Adventist Schools Australia. (2016). Adventist early childhood education and care: Communities of faith and learning. Early Encounters Bible Curriculum. Ringwood, VIC: Author.
Fisher, B. (2010) Developing a faith-based education: A teacher’s manual. Terrigal, NSW: David Barlow.
Ludlow, S. (2018). Deconstructing Bible story telling with 3-5 year olds. In Espinoza, B., Estep, J. & Morgenthaler, S. Story, formation & culture: From theory to practice in ministry with children. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.