As a parent, I find that incorporating faith on the fly in everyday moments, seems to have a different kind of impact on kid’s ability to engage the world. It’s why I find books such an important tool for parenting and faith. A few minutes carved out at bedtime or in the middle of the afternoon can become an impromptu moment ripe with opportunity to talk about what matters most and how we love our neighbors. Over the years I have loved these conversations. And I have learned that with some thought, I can create small conversations with my kids about their faith. Below are some of the tips and tricks I have used to turn ordinary moments into small, holy ones.
Asking Wonder Questions
“I wonder” questions are the secret sauce to parenting in general but especially for cultivating an inquisitive and compassionate faith life. I will often start my “I wonder” questions with characters and expand to situations. Starting from the concrete and warming up to the abstract, works like an ice breaker. Questions like “I wonder how that character felt when that happened?” Or “I wonder…what would you do if you were faced with that problem?”
Wonder is a way to frame questions and invite imagination and creativity. It signals that there isn’t one right answer that a child needs to search for to be loved or receive your approval. It allows them to be creative problem solvers and see the story from several angles.
In the same vein as “I wonder” questions I try to help my little readers imagine themselves in the lives of the characters in the story to build empathy. Some of my favorite books to do this with are Enemy Pie by Derek Mungsonand Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. For Middle Grade readers I love Out of my Mind by Sharron Draper and Guts by Raina Telgemeier. I try to ask questions that center the story from the margins–instead of asking my kids to identify with the protagonist in the story, I try to get my young readers to imagine what it might be like to be the parent, sibling or enemy of the protagonist.
The story of the good Samaritan is a story Jesus told to stretch the imagination of his followers. Jesus invites us to imagine that people are our neighbors and are part of the love and care of God. Reading can be a way to stretch the imagination and teach the stories of Jesus even when the story is not explicitly faith based.
Show Me What You Hear
One of my readers is a physical child, who would rather be climbing trees and riding bikes than sitting curled up with a book. So rather than asking them to sit still during story time, I give them play doh or a white board and dry erase marker and give one simple instruction for listening “show me what you hear.”
Sometimes I get strange and unrelated doodles, but sometimes I get a view of the story I didn’t have before. The exercise is less about getting any sort of right answer out of a young listener. Instead it’s about supporting all the different ways that kids listen and learn. I never doubt that while children may look as though their mind is somewhere else, they are very much absorbing the story of faith.
Tell Me What
One of my favorite pre-reading and early reading skills is also a great way to teach faith using picture books. “Tell me what you see on this page…” can be an excellent conversation starter. “Tell me what you thought the main character should have done…” is another one. With my older readers I might say “tell me about a time when you felt or saw or heard something” and connect it to the theme of the book. This method includes pre-reading and early reading skills, incorporating senses and wonder.
I’d love to hear how you keep the squirmy, learners in your house engaged in reading about faith. If you are curious what picture books we love see my list of 20 Children’s Books to Enrich Young Faith or my list of 11 More Books to Enrich Young Faith.