How Do I Get My Kids to Pay Attention When Reading the Bible?

by Julie Reynolds at
| Time: 4 Minutes

If you have read our articles about what family worship is, and why your family would want to give it a try, you may wonder how to get started.

Perhaps your kids are young, and you know they can’t sit for long, or you don’t feel confident that your kids will be interested and engaged in reading the Bible.

Some of your kids’ abilities to focus will grow out of the habit of reading together, so let’s talk about one technique for how to help your kids pay attention during Bible reading—it’s called narration.

What Is Narration?

Narration is the practice of “telling back,” or having your children retell what has just been read to them. Simple, right?

Narration isn’t a novel idea; it’s very natural to us. We narrate all the time. We are narrating when we share with a friend what we read in a book, or when we repeat to a friend a conversation we had with a coworker, or when we share with a family member what the message at church was about. We retell our experiences all the time.

Narration is based on the premise that what we can recall to others, we know well. What your child can repeat from what they read tells you what they have heard and retained. Repeating what they heard also reinforces that knowledge in their memory and jumpstarts their thinking and reflecting process.

Having discussed what narration is, you may wonder how to begin using this technique with your family.

How to Narrate?

Here’s how to integrate narration into your family worship time.

1. Look out for tough concepts or words. Take a look at your Bible passage before you read it. Are there words or concepts you should explain that your child may not know? Only pick one, maybe two. It will be tough for your child to tell back what they heard about a concept they don’t understand or a word they have never heard. Arm them with the information they will need to retell what they heard.

For example, if you are reading about faith as a mustard seed, explain that mustard seeds are tiny, like the head of a pin. (Or show them the mustard seeds in coarse ground mustard, if you have some on hand.) Just give a short explanation. Don’t worry about all the vocabulary or concepts, just those that might be especially foreign or puzzling, because your kids will learn to understand words from their context as they narrate.

2. Remind your kids that they will be narrating. Before you read, tell your children you will be asking them to tell back what they have heard. If they know this, they will be prepared to pay attention.

3. Read and narrate a little at a time. Read a small portion, even a single verse at first. Ask a different kid each time to tell back the reading.

Note that you are not asking them to paraphrase, but to use as much of the sequence and language of the actual Bible reading as they can. Narration is a team process, so if one child can only remember a portion of the reading, ask another child to help them out and fill in the gaps.

Also keep in mind that you may have to wait a few moments for a response, as this is not a regularly practiced discipline. Embrace awkward silence—it will give your kids time to think. Your kids will learn to tell each small portion back in more detail and more accurately as you narrate regularly—don’t expect them to get it all, especially as you start.

Keep reading and asking the children to narrate until you reach the end of the passage. Try to keep reading small portions, especially at first, to give everyone time to get used to this practice.

4. Reflect on what you have read. Once reading and narrating are done, ask reflective questions, such as:

a. What words do you remember from these Bible verses?

b. What did this reading make you think about?

c. Did this Bible passage make you think of any other Bible passages?

d. What does this passage tell us about God?

e. What does this passage tell us about ourselves?

This whole process can take 5-10 minutes to start. It can feel awkward at first because we are not used to this intermediary step of telling back. But narration is both an important and fruitful practice as we study the Bible.

Why Is Narration Important?

As we conclude, consider four reasons why narration is such a valuable practice.

First, narration assures us that our kids have heard God’s Word. Narration tells us, as parents, that our children have listened to the passage. We know they are paying attention! And because we trust that God’s Word never goes out without effect (Isaiah 55:11), we can trust God to cause it to bear fruit in their lives.

Second, narration serves our kids by training them to be better listeners. Listening and hearing correctly is the first step to thinking and understanding. Being a good listener is also a vital relational and social skill. One college professor wisely said that you should not voice your opinion until you are able to repeat the other person’s argument. Narration trains our kids to listen and understand before reflecting and voicing a response. It teaches our kids to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Third, narration serves our kids by cultivating the habit of careful and deliberate thinking, which is an essential skill for navigating cultural winds and ideas. It raises the expectations for our kids to attend, especially to God’s Word. We need Christians who will listen, understand, and speak clearly to others about who Jesus is, what the Bible has to say about who God is, and how we should live.

Finally, narration bears fruit by setting the stage for thinking, wondering, and worshipping. Hearing what the Bible says is the first step. As your kids get into the habit, they will start asking questions, and eagerly offering their thoughts on the passage that they have thoroughly understood. In fact, you may find yourself asking them to remember to narrate first, then get on to the discussion!

Give narration a try! Regularly practicing this habit promises long-term benefits, growing eagerness to remember what the Bible says, and thinking deeply about its truth.

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