Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bible Memory Tips

Dear friends,

My 10 year old son Micah and 8 year old daughter Naomi are preparing to compete in the local Bible Bee. The full version of the Bee was too overwhelming (100 passages, plus multiple choice Scripture knowledge questions) so we opted for the 50 passage Mini Bee instead. We try to work a little bit on it every day, but sometimes we miss. My 6 year old son Ben reads the verses to me, but hasn't memorized many yet, while 4 year old Melody tries to recite a few words from hearing her siblings say them.

I formatted four pages of the verses for the Mini-Bee in a way that makes it easier to memorize. This is the passage that Micah memorized this morning.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you
that is not common to man.
God is faithful,
and He will not let you be tempted
beyond your ability, but with the temptation
He will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.

Notice that each line has only one or two logical phrases in it. This helps the concepts fix into the mind and makes the words easier to remember. We try to repeat the words rhythmically several times. For longer passages, I start out by saying the short words, and they have to fill in the key words, such as temptation or overtaken. Repetition and accuracy are the keys. Over and over, word for word. Micah can pretty much do a whole page of over a dozen passages without stopping.

Dr. David Murray gives a video lesson on How To Memorize: 10 Fast Facts, which is specifically geared for Bible Bee folks but very helpful to anyone. (I love the Scottish accent!) This article & video on Tim Challies' blog will also be encouraging for adults: Memorizing Scripture - An Interview

A finally, an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.


“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,
and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Colossians 3:16-17
Why is Bible memory such a big deal for home schoolers? Since Scripture is the cornerstone for our lives, we should always have it instantly accessible to our hearts, our minds and our tongues. When we have decisions to make, what impressions will come to mind? It will be the ones we have taken the time to hide in our hearts. Children are like sponges, ready to soak up Scripture -- if we make it a priority and a regular habit! That’s the why, now for the how.

Use relevance. The verses you choose should have some interest to a child. Basic theology (who is God and what is he like?) and Christian living (how should I act?) are the best choices at this age level. You might find that the memory verses that your child brings home from Sunday School are sufficient. You could also choose a series of verses that will reinforce a certain principle. If your child is struggling to develop a character quality like patience or kindness, this is an obvious topic for memory verses! Here is a list of good starting verses:
  • Psalm 119:105 and 119:111 and 139:14
  • Proverbs 17:17
  • Matthew 4:4 and 11:28-30
  • Mark 16:15
  • John 14:15
  • Romans 3:23 and 5:8 and 6:23
  • Philippians 4:7 and 4:13 and 4:19
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • James 1:22
  • 1 Peter 5:7
  • 1 John 4:7-8 and 4:11 and 5:14

Use repetition. A non-reading preschooler can memorize Bible verses by listening to you say them over and over, and eventually repeating after you phrase by phrase. A friend told me that her two year old daughter memorized a large portion of Proverbs 2 just by overhearing her two older brothers do their memory work each day. An older child can look at the verse while saying it out loud. If he is memorizing more than one verse in a passage over a period of days, he can recite as much as he knows every day, and then add a little bit more. “For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there." Isaiah 28:9-10

Use explanations and vocabulary. If there are any words that he doesn’t understand, take the time to explain them to him, and see if he can tell you what they mean in his own words. How can this Bible verse be applied in his life? This is a vital time to learn basic theological words like: Heaven, eternal, everlasting, faith, mercy, grace, sin, transgression, deceive, salvation, sacrifice, Lamb of God, high priest, Pharisee, Gentile, ransom, redeem, witness, holy, pure, righteous, obedient, command, exhort, evangelize, and gospel.

Use a chanting rhythm. Ephesians 6:1 can be emphasized this way: “CHILdren, obey your PARents in the LORD for this is RIGHT.” Proverbs 20:12 is another good one for young children: “EARS that HEAR and EYES that SEE -- the LORD has MADE them BOTH.”

Use hand motions. “Everyone who hears (put your hand to your ear) these words of mine (point up to God) and puts them into practice is like a wise man (tap head) who built his house (make a roof with your hands) on the rock (make a solid place with your hands).” Matthew 7:24.

Use music.
You can also listen to and sing Bible verses set to catchy tunes. I’ve made up my own little ditties for verses I want my family to learn. My faovites: Hide 'Em In Your Heart by Steve Green -- two volumes of Scripture memory songs for children on CD or DVD.

Use games.
Simple games can also be quite effective for teaching Scripture memory. Write the verse on a chalkboard or a whiteboard. Erase one word at a time, and try to recite it from memory. Write a verse in large letters on paper, and then cut it apart. Can your child arrange it in the correct order? (For more adventure, hide the pieces around the room first!) Or, for an even more tactile experience, write each word of the verse on a different pebble. A kinesthetic child might want to recite the verse while jumping rope.

Use verse cards. My first introduction to this was on a Teen Missions team when I was 15. We had packets of about 40 verses each year, and I can still recall many of these over 20 years later. I wish I had started as a young child! You can make your own using index cards. If you want them to look professional, you can print them from your computer on special business card paper.

Use little homemade booklets. Fold over several sheets of paper and staple at the edge. Write out a Bible passage in large letters throughout the pages, and draw simple illustrations. Read through the book every day for a few weeks with your child and see how easily she remembers the verses.

Use writing.
Let your older child copy the verse several times, first looking at the text, and later doing it from memory.

Use review. Check periodically to see if your child can say the verses from memory. Go back to the verses you have learned in past weeks and months. If you don’t take the effort to make this a priority, it is unlikely that your child will stick with Bible memory. Many families have quiz nights, or brief daily review times.

Use discretion. My only caveat about using games or other memory activities (including hand motions) is that some are so silly that they trivialize Scripture. A memory method should help your child focus on the true meaning of Scripture rather than distract him with puns that will put distorted images into his head.

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