Helping Young Children Memorize Scripture

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Everyone learns differently. You may be familiar with the famous cartoon that shows a classroom with a monkey, a fish, and an elephant as students. The teacher says that to make sure grades are fair, everyone will get the same test: climb a nearby tree. Lucky monkey!

While it may seem obvious, we all have different natural abilities and, as such, different ‘extra-effort-required’ areas. Memorization may come easily for your child: Bible passages flow from the tongue after only a few repeats. But this isn’t always the case. Here are some strategies I’ve found to be helpful as our children pursue hiding God’s Word in their hearts.

1)     Repetition. It seems fairly obvious, but repetition is important, particularly for non-readers. If you have a different verse for each day of the month or even in a week, that’s likely too much time for a child to recall words. Stick with the same verse for a week or two, until it’s really in there. Find a habit. We do our verses at the breakfast table, every day. If you intend to just ‘fit it in’—you won’t.

2)     Understanding. Words are just words if the child doesn’t understand what they’re learning. Simplification isn’t necessary. They can learn ‘transgression’ in the passage as long as you explain it means ‘sin’—otherwise they’re just making sounds. Explain once or twice, but ask them frequently to make sure they are recalling.

3)     Don’t worry about the reference. I know, every Sunday school teacher from here to Canada just fainted, but truly, I can always sense my son’s frustration when he’s trying to remember Ecclesiastes or Ephesians, First or Second Peter, 118:1 or 1:18. I often cue with, “It’s your turn with Psalm 34:8-13,” and let them begin. This way they hear the reference each time, but I don’t require recall on that. Remember, it’s the words that God gave us. The ‘addresses’ are man-made additions to help us look it up (and we DO have Google for that now).

4)     Work in passages instead of single verses. Longer seems harder, right? But it frequently isn’t. A kid may need a starter word here and there to get from one thought to the next in a series of verses, but a complete passage provides context and a single train of thought. A child can also often catch onto the rhythm of the words, adding an extra memory trigger. Bonus: kids gain a huge sense of accomplishment when they recite all of Psalm 100 or all of Psalm 23.

5)     Songs, motions and rhythm. Get your child’s body engaged with their mind: muscle memory is real. Pointing up for ‘God’ and to their mouth for ‘words’ will help them sequence the phrases they are learning. Say or sing the verse each time with the same rhythm and inflections to help your child establish a thought pattern with the words. Bum-da-da-DA-dum, ba-da-da-DA. It sticks.

6)     Repetition. See what I did there? Come back to passages approximately every three weeks. We stick with a new section for about that long, and rotate in previously learned passages about two days of the week. This allows past verses to stay fresh without an overwhelming time commitment each day.

On the day I give their A+ and we call a passage ‘hidden in our heart’, it’s picture-perfect. But usually, when we come back to it for our first review, things get a little mixed up. But I don’t lose heart—I offer help in the form of whatever motions, rhythm, or cue words we used. More often than not, the correct memories wake up, and the words come tumbling out.