Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. -Psalm 119:11
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. -Psalm 119:105
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. -II Timothy 3:16, 17
As a parent one of my desires for my children is that they grow up learning to love God’s word and live according to it. Because children learn by example, it is important that I live a life grounded in the Word before them, reading it, studying it, basing decisions on its teachings. But I also need to be active in introducing the Bible into their lives. I can do this by reading it to them, and also by guiding them to memorize it, to hide its words in their hearts.
At what age should we begin working on scripture memory with children? I would suggest that this should start even before the child is born. Thomas Verny, in his book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, recounts the story of a conductor who realized that he already knew the cello parts of some of the musical works he was studying as he prepared for concerts. When he talked about this with his mother, a cellist, they realized that these were the pieces that she had been practicing while she was pregnant with him.
Studies have shown that unborn babies can hear, react to their surroundings, and learn. By about the sixth month of pregnancy a baby begins to recognize his parents’ voices and speech patterns. It has even been demonstrated that his mother’s speech has an effect on his body movements and rhythms. What better thing could he begin to learn than the cadences of Scripture, read to him by his parents!
After the child is born, keep reading Scripture to him! While he will not understand the words at first, he will begin to learn them before you will expect it. Repeat verses and passages that you want him to memorize. You may be amazed at what he will be able to quote once he begins talking. One has only to hear little children singing along with and reciting television commercials to know that they have the ability to memorize scripture!
We worked with our children on scripture memory from their earliest days. In hindsight, I wish we had had a more structured plan. Although we were intentional, we could have been more organized. Here are three verses that we started with:
John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Ephesians 6:1, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Proverbs 20:11, Even a child is known by his deeds, Whether what he does is pure and right.
Guide them to learn other verses about how to live for Jesus, such as Psalm 119:11, 105, and Philippians 4:8, and about God’s care for them, such as I Peter 5:7. As you read through the Bible on your own, note verses that you think would be helpful for your children to know, perhaps one that deals with an issue specific to your child.
You may encounter some who think young children should not memorize verses because they say the children will not understand all they are quoting. We were once criticized for encouraging our young children to learn Ephesians 6:1; we were told that our child was too young to know what “in the Lord” meant. We had two answers for that. The first was that that is one reason that God gave children parents, so they could explain things to them on their level and help them understand. My husband gave the second answer, when he responded by saying, “I’m not sure that I understand fully what ‘in the Lord’ means, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t learn the verse.”
As a pre-schooler your child can begin learning facts about the Bible. How many parts does the Bible have? Two. What are the names of the two parts? The Old Testament and the New Testament. What does the Old Testament tell us? It tells us how God created the world and people, and about how they were waiting for Jesus. What does the New Testament tell us? It tells about Jesus, and the people who loved and obeyed him. These are very simple answers; they can be expanded on as the child grows and understands more. Older pre-schoolers can learn to pronounce and list the books of the Bible.
How do you teach verses and Bible facts to children? Here Deuteronomy 6:6-7 can be your guide: when you sit, when you walk (or drive,) when you lie down, when you rise up. Most pre-schoolers will not sit still for a long memorizing session. But if you say a verse to them, or five Bible books, or one Bible fact, each time you sit down to eat, and then when you finish a meal, and before each nap and bedtime, and when you are riding in the car, and when it applies to something they are doing, you will be amazed at how quickly they will be able to quote it with you.
As your children become school-aged, you need to add scripture passages to your plan, such as Psalm 23, Psalm 100, the Model Prayer, and the Luke story of Jesus’s birth. At this point your church may have a Scripture memory program such as Bible Drill, Awanas, or an in-house developed program, as our church currently does. It can be helpful to plug into these programs, to have home and church working together to see that our children are memorizing God’s word.
If your children have passed the early stages of childhood and you have not worked on Scripture memory with them, it is never too late to start! Begin with John 3:16, Ephesians 6:1, verses in Romans about salvation, and work on knowing the books of the Bible. If you have never learned some of these verses or Bible facts yourself, ask your child to help you learn as he learns, and work together to hide God’s Word in your hearts.
Elizabeth Owens is the wife of Waylan Owens, Dean of the School of Church and Family Ministries, the mother of Blayne, Joshua, Grace, and Mary, and the mother-in-law of Cari. She has served as a nurse, a pastor’s wife, and a professor’s wife, and is in her 18th year of homeschooling. She enjoys reading books and drinking tea – especially at the same time!