Teaching Your Child Through Play
TWENTY-ONE-MONTH-OLD Barbara was sitting on the floor with her building blocks. When she finished she told me how she had made Noah’s ark. That night, before going to bed, she again gleefully explained her building of Noah’s ark.
The next day we sat down together with her blocks and several of her toy animals and people. We built the ark again and put the animals inside, along with Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
We were learning together through play. Children learn through play. They learn through movement, conversation and personal experience.
When teaching our children about God’s love, we must keep in mind how children learn. They can be taught the holy writings from infancy, as shown in the case of Timothy, one of the early Christians. (2 Tim. 3:15) Our youngsters have a great capacity for learning, but, like adults, they learn and remember far more easily the things they find interesting.
The child’s best teachers are his parents. They know their own child’s disposition, his temperament, level of development and ability. Parents know best how to teach within the framework of his individual capacity for growth. Jehovah has given parents the responsibility of teaching their children his ways.—Prov. 22:6.
There are many ways to teach the Bible. By teaching the Bible at fun times through joyous games and warm togetherness, we are using positive discipline. Discipline involves not only punishment and reproof, but the entire process of making one a disciple. Learning the Bible through puzzles, pictures, games and playacting can be very beneficial.
Reading together when you are both in a rested, eager frame of mind is exciting for the youngster if the book has plenty of interesting pictures. My Book of Bible Storiesa is excellent for this. The pictures can be explained simply as the child flips randomly through the book. Later you’ll find him stopping at his favorite illustrations to explain the story to you. As he gets older and more capable of sitting attentively, you may want to read the story word for word. If you stop before he is uninterested you will find him ready and willing to sit again to read with you another time.
Puzzles are also a source of education. Quick, inexpensive puzzles can be made from pictures depicting Biblical events or characters cut out from older magazines that would otherwise be piled away in the closet. The pictures can be glued to cardboard, then cut into jigsaw-puzzle pieces.
Puppet shows using old socks or some of your children’s toys can be a lot of fun. Do not be discouraged if your small children seem uninterested at first. Try again some other time. They may sit only a moment at first before they are up trying to confiscate your puppet. Soon, though, they will learn that if they sit and watch long enough, a great tale will unfold before them.
Here are some suggestions for those who enjoy playing actively with their children. You may want to try bringing some toys into the bathtub or outdoor pool to play Moses crossing the Red Sea or Paul’s shipwreck.
The little good Samaritan may bandage poor Mommy up; or Mommy may bandage up the poor little traveler, then put him on Daddy’s back to travel to the inn.
One of the times the blankets are dragged into the living room for tent making, you might play Paul making tents or an Israelite during the festival of booths.
Outdoors the games can get rowdier. For instance, spying out the Promised Land, escaping out Rahab’s window in the land of Jericho, David pretending insanity in the land of the Philistines, or Paul’s being lowered in a basket over the wall at Damascus.
In the sandbox Jericho’s walls can be made, then after parading some toys around the walls, much tooting of toy horns and a loud shout, the walls can be knocked down.
A note of caution, though, is found at Ephesians 6:4. We do not want to be irritating our children. It would be especially sad if we made learning the Bible an irritating experience. We must, therefore, examine ourselves truthfully. Ask yourself: “Would playing these games make me feel out of place and lead to frustration and irritability toward my children? Would I feel more inclined to pressure them than to enjoy the game?” If so, you may want to find some alternatives. Rather than play the game yourself, you may cheerfully suggest that your children play it. For instance, when the blankets go up for tents, you might say: “Paul worked at tent making just like you.” Also, the games may be less frustrating if, before you begin with your youngsters, you have thoroughly thought out what you want to portray and how you will do it.
If you find enjoyment in crafts and your children are old enough to participate, then you have another avenue for teaching the Bible. Dolls can be made from papier-mâché, wood, or cloth; then dressed appropriately. Samson can be given seven braids, Saul made tall, Absalom with lots of hair, Aaron in priestly garb. A cloth fish with Jonah in its mouth can be made. A bird feeder the shape of Noah’s ark can be made. All these things can be the springboards for explanations of important Bible truths.
Everyday things can be applied to the Bible. Animals we see at local farms or zoos can be used. After seeing a donkey, we could make a few comments on Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, or Balaam’s donkey speaking. When your child sees snakes or sheep or frogs, remember that these, too, are mentioned in Bible accounts. After turning the lights out at bedtime you might say: “What if it was this dark all day long? Jehovah made Egypt dark this way during one of the 10 plagues.” If your children know the account already, it will give them food for thought before they sleep. If not, read it together sometime.
If a slingshot comes home in a back pocket, you might tell how 700 Benjamites could hit their mark within a hairbreadth with a slingshot. (Judg. 20:16) However, the fact that this was an instrument of war and that Christians have desisted from war could also be mentioned.
At the grocery store an olive or a pomegranate or a cucumber can be used, especially if you enjoy telling colorful Bible stories.
In all these ways and in many more you’ll be thinking of, you can follow the Scriptures’ admonition at Deuteronomy 6:6, 7: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”
a Published by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.