Someone recently asked me what we do for our evening Bible time and I typed up a reply. I thought there might be other people looking for some ideas so I tidied my e-mail up a bit and here it is. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.
We have tried lots of things for Bible time through the years and we are always changing and moving things around. But, I'll be happy to share some of the things we have done. First of all, we always try to keep the our children engaged and having a good time. We don't look at it primarily as a training time. There is a bit of training that goes on (sit in your seat, don't bother your brother, you need to be singing, etc), but most of the actual training for these things should happen at other times. Bible time should never be the hardest part of their day if you know what I mean! The basic format that we have used for quite some time is this:
Singing (1-4 songs usually depending on how much time we have)
Reading the Bible
More singing (usually one more song).
I'll take each element and expound a bit.
Singing We have used:
*Chanted Psalms. My husband spent some time learning how to do this and it has really helped the boys memorize the passages easily
*Fun Sunday School type songs. Zacchaeus, Jesus Loves Me, Only a Boy Named David, Father Abraham
*Hymns. We sometimes work on ones that we sing often in church and other times use some that are simply easy for the kids to pick up and have meaty lyrics.
*Psalms (mostly word for word from the ESV) set to fun lively music. We LOVE Jamie Soles and Sons of Korah for this.
*Children's Scripture memory songs The Harrow Family and Steve Green are great options.
*General Christian kids songs. Again Jamie Soles is amazing. He is our favorite. Judy Rogers is also great.
*Contemporary Christian music. We are pretty selective about the feel of the music, but we like some of Matt Maher and Keith Green among others.
We basically mix it up, take requests, and try to create an atmosphere where they are actively participating and not embarrassed to worship God with their voices. Sometimes we will get up and dance with the kids during part of the singing time. Sometimes we all raise our hands together. When the kids are all little and are not reading yet, it can help to play some of the songs during the day. It is amazing how they pick up the words without trying!
Reading the Bible
Earlier this year we were reading the New Testament portion of everyone's daily Bible reading. We would all read it separately (along with a bit of the Old Testament) in the morning and then when we had evening Bible time Jeremy would read it again and we could talk about it. This also helped the non-readers to feel a part and hear that passage too. However, about half way through the year we realized that our younger boys were missing some of the basic Bible stories that our older boys knew. We changed things up and brought out the children's Bibles again. We like the Big Picture Story Bible and the Jesus Storybook Bible. We read a passage and talk about it a lot (especially if the storybook Bible says something that is not in the actual Bible). Sometimes we like to cover large chunks of Scripture and other times we take it slow. We don't want to dumb it down, but we also want to engage them at their own level. We have used the DVD's of Acts and Matthew. They are word for word from the text and are so helpful and bringing it to life! We just watch a chapter or two at a time and talk about them. We have also used the Picture Smart Bible. The kids enjoyed that a lot. It guides you in tracing (or coloring for younger kids) a picture that summarizes each book of the Bible. In the past we have used this time for Memory work and a few catechism questions, but we have moved those things into my homeschooling time during the day. The Bible reading part changes a lot based on the ages of your kids. But, I encourage people to just jump in a do something. You can always change things or tweak your plan along the way.
A VERY important aspect to this time is that we follow rabbit trails. If the kids have a question about anything at all, we usually talk about it at length and everyone ends up involved. Sometimes it comes from the text and other times it does not. But our kids know that there is no topic that is off limits. They can ask us anything and we will do our best to answer them in a thorough (and generally age appropriate) way. We have talked about work, sex, marriage, stealing, why some people don't go to church, homosexuality, whether we can trust the Bible, how we know God is real, and many other topics. Their honest questions are welcome. It is amazing what they come up with! And, as we handle all these questions we try to come across in a very gracious and loving way toward those that we might disagree with. For instance, if they ask why some people don't have communion every week, we explain why they don't, why we do, and that they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ and we are all one in Him. We don't want these conversations to raise self righteous, nit picky Christians.
This is something that we are still working on. We always keep a short list in our minds of the people that specifically need prayer right then. We focus on thanking God for many things, We sometimes use the Psalm that we sang as a springboard for our prayer. We often end with the Lord's prayer. Sometimes only Jeremy prays and other times we all take turns, or just let whoever wants to pray. Sometimes we kneel at the couch. Other times we raise our hands and look up to the sky. We have tried to teach them to close their eyes and fold their hands when appropriate, but we also don't want them to think that is is required by the Bible (since it isn't :0). We also sometimes intercede for specific areas where the church is persecuted. We have talked about having a plan for when we pray for what or keeping some kind of journal to keep track of how God has seen fit to answer our prayers, but right now we are just praying, I did begin a book called Prayer Saturated Kids and I look forward to the ideas that they will give in that book.
More of the songs I mentioned above.
For a while we were doing a short Bible time in the morning as well. That has not worked with our schedules here as well and so we have just been having everyone do their individual daily reading first thing in the morning. But, I LOVE singing about the Lord with my family in the morning. What a great way to start the day! Actually, maybe I will work that in before breakfast tomorrow!
We have done our Bible time in a variety of locations. We did it around the table for a while. Sometimes if it is late then we will do it in the boy's bedroom. But, we usually do it in the living room.
We do it nearly every night, but if we get home at 11:00 then we just tuck the kids in say a quick prayer with them or just kiss them goodnight. We want them to know that it is a normal and regular part of our life, but that it is not a sin to skip it if we get in late. Also, when we have church on Sunday nights we don't do it after we get home from that because we look at that time with the whole church as our Bible time.
Now our older kids lead it sometimes if Jeremy is gone. We tell them they are the man of the house and they enjoy getting to pick the songs, read the Bible, and lead the prayer time. They have even done it when we were both gone and they were here with a baby sitter. This is a great time to encourage them to lead in a humble servant like way. We are careful to notice if they are lording it over their brothers and nip that in the bud. We also encourage the other brothers to accept the leadership of the boy leading and not make it hard for him to lead. So far they have responded very well.
Sometimes one or two of ours have had trouble focusing and singing loud and strong or paying attention to the Bible reading. This is a time when we really do pick our battles. As I mentioned before, we don't want it to feel like a time when they can't do anything right. We cover over a little extra during this time. But occasionally we do have to call someone out about not participating or being silly. We try not to belittle them, but we are firm in letting them know how we expect them to act and that they don't need to be hamming in up when we are reading God's word. Sometimes we have worked with them one on one to make them feel comfortable singing out or to help them develop the skill of listening and looking at someone who is reading/speaking to them.
One of the things that I think they get out of this time is watching us enjoy God's Word, singing to Him and praying to Him. We show them how to do it and they follow us. And that reminds me…the Devil will try to thwart your plans! Make it a priority to work with your husband in this area and encourage each other's efforts.
As I said above, don't worry about it being perfect. Start out simple and just open God's Word with your kids. You will never regret spending time that way :0).