Scripture and prayer should always take precedence in the family devotional time, but extra “nonreligious” activities can be included regularly or occasionally with exciting results. These extras are especially appealing and effective with children of elementary school age or older.
When our children were in elementary school, I detected that they lacked confidence during certain social situations. So for several weeks we followed our Bible reading and prayer time with a course in etiquette.
We began with introductions—how to introduce a child to an adult a woman to a man, an adult to a child. We used a role-playing method. Our youngest child would play “Grandma” (she was four years old at the time). The other children would assume the role of introducer or introducee.
We moved on to table manners, including table conversation. We talked about making others feel at ease. I shared with the children that etiquette is simply a collection of ideas and guidelines for us to help other people feel comfortable in our presence.
After a few weeks of our quick course in good manners, we all went to dinner together to practice our newfound skills.
During the learning sessions, our children laughed and joked as they practiced introductions, or flipped the dinner napkins to their laps with a flourish, or rushed to open the car door for one another. But we noticed that when the real situations arose, they responded with ease.
Since that time, they have exhibited some sad lapses in etiquette. In fact a few years after the home training, some close friends of ours told us that one of our children seemed discourteous and sullen when they had visited our home. We had noticed it too, but, like all parents, hoped that others had not.
We appreciated our friends’ honesty in bringing the child’s need to our attention. We felt the child by nature was not uncivil, but merely shy and uncomfortable with anyone other than peers. However, since in life we must all relate to a wide variety of people and not just a narrow group of our own choosing we planned a way to help the child.
Rather than using direct confrontation, we decided to involve the entire family in another series of role-playing situations following our devotional times. These situations were designed to give them confidence with a wide range of people. We discussed and practiced how to:
stand when an adult enters a room;
always look another person in the eyes when speaking,
offer a hand as a gesture of friendship and welcome;
be prepared with “small talk” to cover any early awkwardness when meeting someone;
invite visitors to be seated;
be prepared to donate a few minutes of personal time to making visitors comfortable;
offer something to drink (even seven- and eight-year-olds can make and serve refreshments).
Although these suggestions were hard for the child to practice, we saw improvement. The child who before had appeared discourteous to our friends today seems quite secure in meeting new people and adapting to social situations.
Over the years we have determined several reasons for adding the extras to our family devotional times.
Relating Bible truth to everyday life
By adding extra activities we can help our children relate their spiritual views to the world at large. We want our children to identify their biblical training with all areas of life, since the truths of Scripture are not to be isolated from everyday affairs.
When we begin a family activity or project like this, we try to help our children understand how it relates to the truth of God’s word even when the connection might seem to be remote. If we decide to play a rousing game of kickball, for example, we can comment on the healthy bodies God has given us.
If we frequently apply scriptural principles to these activities, our children will see God’s pattern of involvement and influence in all their daily experiences.
Teaching the children is our responsibility
Many of the values and concepts our children hear about at school, from playmates, or on television run counter to the life values we are trying to instill in them. We cannot control every input into their lives. But we can influence them at home.
Children hear a great deal of wrong information, for example, regarding moral issues. They hear of abortion, homosexuality, adultery, and situational ethics. They need our guidance to learn how to view these issues from a biblical perspective. When children reach adolescence—and perhaps earlier—these topics should be discussed openly and often. They should always be discussed in light of the Scriptures.
In our family we plan to read and talk about portions of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop. We feel it will give our children a healthy perspective for considering God’s value for human life. It will open areas for discussion that might not otherwise come up.
Some of the negative influences draw our children away from God very subtly. We scarcely recognize what is happening until a large problem looms. If we consistently watch for such problems and, more importantly, offer continuous freedom to discuss them, we have a chance to redirect our children’s thinking.
Many topics you discuss will fascinate your children to the point that they will want to continue talking about them at times other than devotions. This interest indicates the positive influence we can have with them.
We have three daughters in our family, and like most women they are interested in clothes and fashion. When my husband Jerry was traveling for a few weeks and our son was attending camp, we took a short course in fashion. We talked about matching colors, fabrics, and patterns. We cut “wish” wardrobes from magazines and modeled the ideal costume for one another.
Throughout the project I brought up the need for modesty in our dress. We don’t want our girls to be puritanical, but we do emphasize that they represent Jesus Christ and that their attractiveness should be for his sake. We talked about the beauty that comes from within—being a lovely person in character as well as appearance.
Developing their minds
The extra activities in family devotional times can also contribute to our children’s intellectual development. Simply asking questions is the first step in keeping their brains active, and many other activities will also stimulate their thinking.
To develop them culturally, listen to a recording together, or read them a biography of Thomas Edison, or give them clay and ask them to shape an animal after you’ve looked together at photographs of famous sculpture—all this will enrich them and also expand their appreciation of human progress and achievement. At the same time you can discuss trends our culture is following, such as materialism and immorality, that counter the values we see in Scripture.
More communication and unity
Creative activities in your devotions can help you enhance family communication. Our fast-paced society may bring frustration to parents trying to maintain family unity. Jerry and I were surprised and dismayed to realize how quickly our growing children were becoming involved in outside activities such as sports, music, and church groups—all commendable, but all drawing them away from the family circle. We found, however, that by varying our special activities we could focus together on things of interest.
Sometimes that meant doing together what one child was committed to. We might all attend Kathy’s gymnastics meet. Then, instead of formal devotions, we would have a time of prayer and praise on the drive home. Or we would attend Karen’s choir concert, and then make popcorn at home and read a Scripture portion together. Though we sometimes are unable to conduct devotions in a structured way, we use the moments we can to share our lives together in a meaningful way.
The following suggestions can stimulate your thinking about activities that bring enjoyment to children of various ages. Use your imagination to think of more ideas that are just right for your family.
Would you like your children to develop an awareness of their fortunate circumstances as compared with people in other parts of the world?
- After devotions, have each child go to his room and pick out several items of clothing he no longer needs or wears, plus one item he especially likes. Gather these together for a church or organizational clothing drive. Help your children learn to give to others something that is meaningful to them, and not just discards.
- Eat rice and bread for one meal a week, and give the additional money normally spent on that meal to an organization that cares for the needy. Our family followed this practice for more than two years, and the devotions we held around those dinners were especially meaningful. We kept a small bank at the table, then deposited the money in the bank after each rice dinner to visually aid our children in understanding their contribution. When we received a letter from the organization we donated to, we would read the letter together.
- If you know of a food drive or collection, tell your children about it. Then go to the pantry or cupboard and allow each child to pick items to give. Encourage them to give the best—help them learn to be concerned for the preferences and needs of others.
- Take five minutes after a devotional time to go outdoors and collect as many varieties of leaves as you can find. Notice their colors and varied shapes. Talk about God’s creativity. Press the leaves between two pieces of waxed paper with a warm iron and use for the next day’s place mats.
- On a summer night, go out to watch the stars. Identify some of the constellations and major stars, and talk about their distances from earth, their brilliance, their size.
- Bring a bowl of water to the table. Ask your children to name the places where we find water (ocean, lake, rivers, bathtub, fish tank). Then talk about our need for water in daily living.
Your local library will be a great help. Spend half an hour looking through books for children. Talk to the librarian, and gather suggestions for books. Then spend time each night (either before or after your devotions) reading from a good book to your children. Always stop reading in an exciting place so your children will be eager to resume.
Here are ideas for what to read:
—a children’s version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
—C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Our family has read through this beautiful series twice and we are beginning once again. Lewis’s fine literary style and fascinating stories never become tiresome.
—children’s classics such as Robinson Crusoe, The Black Stallion series, The Five Little Peppers, and Heidi.
—Include poetry from time to time, perhaps something by Robert Frost or Rudyard Kipling.
—Do you enjoy humor? Our family had many a good chuckle as we read through Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank Galbraith, or occasional humorous articles from Reader’s Digest. (Another idea: Ask each child to bring one good joke to share at the beginning or end of family devotions.)
- Read letters that arrive from grandparents and other family members.
- Bring out pictures of various family members and tell a story or two about them, or some interesting feature about their lives.
- Show your child pictures of yourself as a child, and tell them about one especially happy incident you can recall from your childhood.
- If relatives who are Christians are visiting with you, have them share how they came to believe in Christ or how their faith has changed their lives.
- Pass around paper and pencils and encourage your children to write a short note to their grandparents.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
As Christian parents we can give our children the right attitude toward our government and teach them responsible conduct as Christian citizens.
- On the day you vote, clip a sample ballot from the newspaper. Show it to your children and explain a few of the issues. Describe a few of the candidates.
- Borrow a book from the library or use your encyclopedia to show your children the Declaration of Independence. Do the same with the Constitution of the United States.
- Ask your children to list laws they know that pertain to everyday life. Explain how obeying such laws—driving under speed limits, paying sales taxes, keeping the dog leashed, attending school—provides benefits for everyone.
- Show your children pictures of the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court building, and other buildings in Washington, D.C. Explain their importance and use.
- As they get older, involve your children in discussions on current political issues. Help them learn respect and tolerance for opposing views.
- Relate political issues to Scripture when possible.
- If one of your children is learning to play a musical instrument, ask him to prepare a special piece to play for the family. Strive for an atmosphere of approval and appreciation for his efforts. Don’t allow your other children to ridicule any squawks or sour notes!
- Play a symphonic recording (you can borrow them from your library) and ask your children to identify various instruments. If your family doesn’t care for symphonies, do the same thing with another style of music.
- Teach your children a song that was special to you when you were young.
- Sing in rounds. Start with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and move on to more complicated songs.
- If your children are beginning to show an interest in popular or rock music, have them play a recording of it for you and then discuss the lyrics together. Allow them to explain what they feel the song says, then encourage them to compare that philosophy with God’s standards. Keep the conversation friendly. Listen, don’t criticize.
We can help our children learn early in life the value of money, its source, its importance, and its use. They must understand that Dad’s wallet and Mother’s purse don’t contain an endless supply.
- Give each child apiece of paper and help them devise a budget based on income from their allowance or job. Stress giving and savings first, then spending. Encourage consistent record-keeping, and check the budgets again in two or three weeks.
- If you have teenagers, ask them to read portions or all of You Can Be Financially Free by George Fooshee, and discuss this with them. Be sure to talk about Fooshee’s material on the cost of automobiles.
- Establish a giving project, such as supporting a special fund drive at your church, a family with particular needs, or a missionary. Suggest that each child decide privately how much he can give. Once a week for a month have him bring that money to the devotional time. No one needs to know what others give, but all will be eager to see the total at the end of the month.
SPORTS AND GAMES
- Most children enjoy a competitive encounter, so try to include a game of some kind frequently. Remember to try a variety of games to give each child a chance to excel in something.
Insist on good sportsmanship and mutual encouragement. Always stop the game if you hear criticism, complaining, or bickering. Merely say, “We started this game to have fun. Quarreling isn’t fun. We’ll try again another time.”
Your games could include table games, frisbee throwing, softball, football, soccer, foot races, tug-of-war, juggling—and many others.
- Organize a “family book of records” and offer occasional contests to see who can get his name recorded. Use activities such as the largest bubble blown from one piece of gum, the greatest number of skips with a jump rope, the longest time balancing the top end of an umbrella on the palm of the hand, and so on.
- Give those in the family who enjoy watching professional sports a chance to share their knowledge and excitement about scores, individual players, or the upcoming big game.
Most children love animals and are fascinated to learn more about them. Various activities about animals will appeal especially to children of elementary school age.
- Gather pictures and information about contrasting animals such as a mouse and an elephant. Talk about similarities and differences: Both are gray, but what a difference in size! Discuss the relationship of these animals to human beings.
- Children feel a special attraction for the odd and unusual. Find information, for example, about marsupials—animals with a pouch. Talk about ways these animals care for their young.
- Bring your dog or cat to the family group and talk about reasons a family likes pets.
- Has your child done a special study on animals for a school project? Let him present this to the family.
- Always take advantage of a guest in your home who may know something special about animals, or have an animal story to tell. Our children always enjoy hearing my father describe his boyhood horseback-riding adventures, or the variety of personalities in the cows he milked.
- Have a contest to see who can name the most of a particular kind of animal, such as those with hoofs, those that live in the mountains, those that live in the ground, and so on. Award a small prize to the winner.
The preceding ideas may have stimulated your thinking about ways to teach and please our children. Here are examples of other topics you may want to develop activities around:
travel and transportation
Your ideas and activities don’t need to be elaborate, but they must be interesting and relevant. If your children lose interest, drop the topic. You achieve no benefit in plowing through an activity to the bitter end when no one enjoys it.
These activities should never be boring or heavy. They should instead provide a spark and a bonus for your children, always leaving them wanting more.
Condensed from “Combining the Secular and Sacred”
Discipleship Journal – Discipleship Journal.