I’m delighted to run this guest post by friend-of-the-blog Danielle Hitchen.
As we sat down to dinner a few weeks ago, my two-year-old daughter folded her hands and bowed her head to pray. Although my husband usually prays for our meal, that night she opened her mouth and said,
“Our Father. How ya doin’? Amen.”
As a mother, I live for moments like these. In addition to making me laugh out loud, they reassure me that something we’re trying to teach our daughter about God is sticking. Even if it’s just the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer.
To some, the subject of theology might seem too complex for young children. Indeed, it’s too complex for some adults! But I would argue there is no better time to begin teaching the core tenets of the Christian faith than when children are still in diapers.
Pretty much everything scientists know about the developing human brain and children’s capacity to acquire vocabulary indicates that from the time humans are born, they are little information sponges. Children watch their parents carefully, learning language, copying facial expressions, mimicking habits, observing behavior, and absorbing social-emotional skills. So, the ability to mimic prayer and the ability to understand what prayer is, are two different skills.
Through the first several years of life, a child’s formation is constant, and this includes their spiritual formation. Whether intentional or not, parents begin their child’s spiritual formation at birth. This development happens when children see parents prioritize Sunday worship. It happens when parents model thankfulness by blessing a meal. It happens when kids observe their parents reading their Bibles and praying. It happens when parents put aside their own desires to attend to the needs of their children.
Our family worships in a faith tradition which practices infant baptism. Other denominations have formal baby dedication ceremonies. Whether you baptize or dedicate, the primary objective is the same: to publicly commit to raising that child to know and love God. When we baptized our children, my husband and I promised two specific things:
- That we would be responsible for seeing that our children are brought up in the Christian faith and life.
- That by our prayers and witness, we would help our children grow into the full stature of Christ.
It probably goes without saying, but we take these promises seriously. We desire for our children to never know a day apart from the Lord. We desire for them to be deeply rooted in the scriptures, doctrines, and traditions of Christianity. We desire for them to have a rich understanding of their faith and a deep love for God and for those things to animate their lives.
But desire does not produce actualization. Day-to-day life with small children is rigorous and difficult, even when all I’m doing is trying to meet my children’s (and my own) basic needs. My heart is good. My body, mind, and spirit are tired – overloaded by the persistent demands of a teething baby and an active toddler. Often, the task of teaching my children to know and love God, to actually understand their faith, is overwhelming, and I have no idea where to begin.
I realized that just like anything else, you have to start with the basics. But when my husband and I starting looking for age-appropriate resources to teach our little ones about our faith, we came up empty. What we quickly discovered is that while there is no shortage of abridged storybook Bibles, there is almost nothing to teach small children the core tenets of the Christian faith. Storybook Bibles are an important addition to any child’s library, but we wanted something to go beyond stories to actual theology.
So I wrote the book I wanted for my children – Bible Basics: A Baby Believer Counting Primer – a board book which reformats theological and abstract Biblical content in a way small children can categorize and retain (counting). Bible Basics is intended to be the first of the Baby Believer Primers, a series of concept board books to help parents familiarize their children with the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Each page also contains text from the scriptures, hymns, or church fathers to help reinforce the content for older children who have a greater capacity for memorization.
Although small children are not going to walk away from their reading of Bible Basics with a thorough and robust theology of the Trinity (or anything else), they will become acquainted with the vocabulary of foundational theological concepts. This vocabulary can function as a jumping off point for parents to have deeper, more meaningful faith conversations with their children. It can be a touchstone that parents return to in order to help their children develop a firmer grasp of the Christian faith.
Bible Basics begins building the framework to help children contextualize Bible stories and comprehend why we make worship and prayer a regular part of our family life. It helps children to not only observe and mimic faithful living, but also anchors and facilitates the growth of genuine, vibrant faithfulness. My great desire is to see Bible Basics make it just a little easier for Christian parents like me to lay the foundation for their children to have an intelligent and deeply rooted knowledge of who God is and His great love for us.
Danielle Hitchen is a work-at-home mom. She founded Catechesis Books in 2016 in order to build out a collection of biblical and theological resources for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Her children are her primary inspiration for writing the Baby Believer Primer series. Her professional background includes communications consulting, radio production, event planning, and non-profit and church administration.