Emily and Mike, Can you tell us a bit about who is in your family? And what does family Bible reading and prayer currently look like in the Leite household?
We have four active kids, two boys (aged 11 and 5) and two girls (aged 9 and 7). Currently we aim to read the Bible with the kids before bedtime. Practically speaking it means a preschool-age-appropriate story for our 5-year-old, the 7- and 9-year-olds usually are reading through something together, and then our 11-year old will be near us reading his Bible on his own, sometimes with a devotional-type study.
Prayer time with them is usually in their beds before each child goes to sleep.
The range in ages and understanding of our kids means we usually swap between sitting and reading with them individually or in pairs or even all four together if it’s something like a Christmas or Easter Advent that we are doing as a family.
Sometimes when we get a video from missionaries that we are supporting we will watch the video as family, pray for the missionary and send a photo or video back to encourage the missionary – that has been very fun and great at getting the kids to engage.
How have family devotions changed over the years?
We have found as the kids’ ages have changed that it changes the way that you engage the kids with the Bible. For the younger ages, picture stories with clear messages and things you can point to and talk about have been very helpful. As they have grown, picture Bibles that have a few questions to engage them with the story have also been good.
In both cases it’s been important to think well about the story and even the questions to use the opportunity as a teaching moment (or to clarify if the story has taken the example too far or if the questions don’t quite work for your kids and what they are thinking about at that time).
As the kids have learnt to read they have all liked the opportunity to read the Bible out loud and copy what they have seen their older brother do (like reading an ‘adult’ version of the Bible). It’s also been wonderful to see our older boy start to read Christian material for himself and work through devotional books (he’s currently reading John Chapman’s A Foot in Two Worlds).
What have been some highlights and lowlights?
Highlights – seeing your kids grow in their love and knowledge of Christ! Seeing them joyfully read God’s word, engaging and asking questions that are relevant to their lives.
Hearing from kids’ church leaders that they are encouraging and knowledgeable during church activities (that is, that they are remembering the things God is teaching them!).
Christmas and Easter Advent materials are always encouraging and a wonderful way to change things up and use new materials.
Lowlights – a child telling you they don’t want to read the Bible. Kids fighting when they should be listening. When you can see they’re disengaged, and no matter how hard you try, they’re not interested that day! A resource you have prepared and got excited about, but it just didn’t work.
Do you remember what worked best with your children at certain ages?
For kids under five years, we have loved the Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm and The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy.
We also are fans of the ‘Tales that Tell the Truth’ series by the Good Book Company; they have wonderful illustrations that are great for young kids.
It’s been lovely seeing the bigger kids reading these stories to younger kids over the years.
When they can read and are ready for something more in-depth, The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski is helpful with 156 Bible stories and ‘let’s talk about it’ questions. The Ology also by Marty Machowski is a book we have recently been working through with our girls, with 71 brief stories on theology with suggested Bible passages to look up (though, as mentioned below, this one takes some discernment – we use it as a teaching moment when we think it’s a little off!).
From age 9 upwards, we’ve made sure that the Bible itself becomes the regular diet. Other resources like Chris Morphew’s series of books How do we know Christianity is Really True? and Best News Ever, Your 100-day Guide to the Gospel of Mark have been clear and helpful.
As already mentioned, some of the classic John Chapman books are good from this age (Chappo writes with such clarity!). We’ve also found Patricia Weerakoon’s Birds and the Bees by the Book helpful for those tricky one-to-one teaching moments.
But! With all of these, we always use discernment. We will read the short Christian book or devotional before giving it to our eldest (and we invite questions from him on what he reads). We at times adapt what the stories are saying and rephrase the questions. We also tell our older children why we think something is not quite right (or too simple, or too firm, or whatever it might be). This is actually a great teaching moment in helping our kids go back to what the Bible says.
What have been some obstacles to reading the Bible and/or praying with kids?
Sometimes the bedtime routine has been extra chaotic and sitting down and snuggling up with your kids to read is very hard!
Energetic boys who don’t sit still to listen, stressed mum and dad who are exhausted (and sometimes counting the minutes until you can put them all to bed!).
The hardest is when you don’t feel like doing it, and they don’t feel like doing it, but we all know it is good for us to do it! In those moments you really need to take a deep breath and muster some energy to engage them well. And when you do, you never regret it!
We find that when our routine gets messed up by something unforeseen, we might then end up missing a night.
What encouragement or advice would you give to parents with younger children?
Keep going! Every day is a brand new day, so stick at it – even when you miss it at times. Finding a time that works well for your family is also important. This can be age-specific too (we’re currently reassessing what might be the best times for us!).
Be creative when you can. At times we’ve asked the kids to act out their favourite Bible story while the rest of us try to guess it. We then talk about what God teaches us in that part of his word.
Listen to cues from your children. They are individuals and they engage in different ways.