I have an unpleasant memory from Sunday School many, many years ago. I was supposed to memorize the Bible verse of the week, but I hadn’t. My older sister had. Feeling like a failure, I practiced the verse over and over again in the car on the way. When the teacher handed the little stickers and prizes out to the other kids as they recited it, I blanked. I didn’t get a sticker. What strikes me about the story is that I remember the sticker, but not the verse that I was supposed to know.
Maybe this is why I like the Charlotte Mason method so much. External motivations, like stickers, prizes, and even praise, left me feeling inadequate so many times as a child. I want my children to fill their hearts with the inspiring words of scripture, but I don’t want to approach this in a stressful way. They should enjoy the process and the prize is the fact that these priceless words are in their hearts.
I tend to disagree with Charlotte Mason’s advice regarding spirituality in the early years. We read Bible storybooks instead of the real Bible (you can read about that here) and I encourage scripture memorization before the age of six, which she did not. But, one of her approaches to scripture memorization seems perfect for the early years.
Charlotte Mason’s Gentle Approach
I recently read what Charlotte Mason had to say about memorizing worthy words, recitation, in Home Education. She said that the words should be read to the child as they play or prepare for the day. Just by gently rereading it a half-dozen times or so, the child will soon remember it. No “repeat after me’s” or sticker chart motivators.
In the following passage, Charlotte Mason explained this method which a woman presented to her as being effective for her niece:
She read a poem through to E.; then the next day, while the little girl was making a doll’s frock, perhaps, she read it again; once again the next day, while E.’s hair was being brushed. She got in about six or more readings, according to the length of the poem, at odd and unexpected times, and in the end E. could say the poem which she had not learned. I have tried the plan often since, and found it effectual. The child must not try to recollect or to say the verse over to himself, but, as far as may be, present an open mind to receive an impression of interest.” Home Education, page 225
Miss H memorized her first Bible verse at the age of three. We started with Psalm 118:24: This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! When I greeted her at her bed in the morning, I said the verse. When we had a happy moment playing together, I repeated it. Soon she started saying it with me. Then, I got her started with, “This is…” and she completed the verse herself, with a joyful smile on her face.
We moved onto another verse, and she seemed to understand right away that the end-goal was to memorize it, even though I hadn’t stressed that fact. It’s Ephesians 4:32: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. We discussed the word “compassionate,” and when she heard that same word on the radio station that we listen to, she was so excited!
For awhile, she repeated these verses everywhere she went. I told her how special it is to put these words in her heart and she told me, “I didn’t put them there. Jesus did.”
Although the purpose of this is to make recitation enjoyable, it’s also important to encourage clear pronunciation and intonation. These things help your child in everyday communications. On the same note, I didn’t worry about Miss H memorizing the chapter names and verse numbers in Bible recitations until she learned how to count well!
Choosing Worthy Words
Bible verses are worthy words to remember during the early years, but as they begin formal lessons, they can memorize shorts poems, sayings, or nursery rhymes. Doing this helps build vocabulary, communication skills, and, if the right text is chosen, introduces them to inspirational ideas. You don’t have to avoid words that your child doesn’t know. As long as there aren’t more than a few unfamiliar words, it’s a great learning opportunity. You can start with short verses or phrases, but children are capable of pretty long recitations!
Once the verse, poem, or other text has been memorized, reviewing it every once in awhile helps them keep it in their memory. Finding moments where the text is applicable is a great way to incorporate it.
Bible Memory Verse Suggestions
These verses are short but meaningful for the early years.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Psalm 118:24
A friend loves at all times… Proverbs 17:17 (part a)
Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
Give thanks to Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:1