Tuesday, September 10, 2013

5 Ways to Memorize Scripture with Your Toddler

Yesterday we looked at the primary reason to teach the Bibleto children.  Today we are jumping into some practical suggestions for memorizing scripture with your toddler.

Memorization is a natural part of the learning process.  Toddlers are right in the beginning stages of development that allows them to not only learn quickly, but to thrive on rote memorization.  They memorize the songs from their favorite CD’s and television programs.  They love to hear the same books over and over again until – you guessed it! – they have it memorized.  All in all, memorization is a great teaching tool for young children.

That said, when I work on scripture memory with our toddlers, I do not require that they learn things perfectly.  Neither do I expect long term recall.  What I aim for is being able to get through the verse with prompting that is appropriate for the child’s age and ability.  I’ve found that our kids will naturally review scriptures on their own – just for fun.  And they will usually remember memory verses for a longer period of time than I do.

If I’m not requiring word-for-word regurgitation or long term recall, why am I teaching memory verses to toddlers?  Because I want the Word to be hidden in my children’s hearts.  They become more and more familiar with scripture as they hear Bible passages read to them and as they recite scripture that they have learned.  The more it goes in, the more there is for their little heads and hearts to be processing and growing to understand as age and God’s prompting allow.

So, here are the 5 ways that I memorize scripture with toddlers.

1. Hear It 
 The first and most important part of learning scripture is for children to hear it.  When introducing a new verse, I always say or sing it several times before expecting any participation from the toddler I am working with.  With a lot of repetition, young children will learn scripture by hearing alone.

2. Say It 
The next aspect of memorizing scripture with your toddler is to encourage them to say the verse.  I usually say a few words and pause to allow the child to “fill in the blanks”.  This gives them an opportunity to participate in reciting a verse that they may not know fully.  It also provides a few anchors for them as they are able to fill in more on their own.

3. Sign It 
I don’t know sign language, but I do know how to make up some simple hand motions to help toddlers remember scripture verses.  Hand motions, like “filling in the blanks”, gives children anchors in the memory passage.  Our kids (and Mom, too!) learned all of Psalm 19 last school year by using hand motions as a means of memorizing.  It's an effective tool!

4. See It 
This is one that I started when Joshua, our oldest, was memorizing his very first memory verse.  I’m not sure why I did it, but I wrote the verse on a large-ish piece of paper that we taped to the living room wall.  Even though he couldn't read the words, Joshua could see the verse and it helped give him a visual anchor in his memorization attempts.

Another way that I work on the “see it” aspect of learning memory verses, is what I like to call a "Picto-verse”.  I used this in modified form from the beginning by writing key words from a verse in different colors or highlighting them with an outline or other visual.  In some verses I replaced the key words with actual pictures (some realistic and some more representative).  Here is an example of a verse that the children in our church nursery learned with the help of a Picto-verse:


5. Sing It

This is one of my favorite ways to memorize scripture with little ones.  You don’t have to be a gifted song writer to pull this off.  You don’t even have to carry a tune.  I started this by using a familiar children’s song and changing the words.  With some creativity, you can make pretty much anything work with a simple melody.

My very first song was not a Bible verse but a concept and the kids still sing it!

To the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” 
           Jesus is the Son of God, Hallelujah!
           Jesus is the Son of God, Hallelujah! 

You can hear Abby and I singing a memory verse to go with the story of Noah in this post.

Putting it All Together

Here’s an example of how I might use a few different ways to teach one memory verse.
Hear It: Say the memory verse 2-3 times on my own.  I always say the reference at the beginning and the end of the verse.  If I have put the verse into song, I would say it the first time and then sing it each time after that.

See It: After the first 1-2 times of saying the verse for the child to hear, I would start to say/sing it and point to each word on a memory verse poster or picto-verse as I say/sing it.  In addition, I would emphasize the anchor words by pausing slightly before each one and by changing my inflections (much like how we emphasize certain syllables in words).

Say It/Sing It: At this point, I would give the child an opportunity to participate in reciting part of the memory verse with me.  While saying/singing and pointing to the words on the poster or picto-verse, I would wait for the child to “fill in the blanks” as I reach the anchor words.  I would repeat this 1-3 times, depending on how long the child can give their full attention.

Repeat:  Repetition is KEY!  Working on a verse multiple times a day for a couple of minutes at a time will help your child to learn a memory verse very quickly.

When I work with children in a church setting, I keep the same memory verse for a full month (the Bible story also stays the same with each week focusing on a different aspect of the story).  This allows plenty of time for repetition.

When I am working with my own toddlers at home, I usually stick with a verse for 1-2 weeks depending on its length and how diligent we have been to learn it.
Here’s one more example of how I might teach a memory verse using a slightly different variation of methods: 
 Hear It: Yes, I always start with saying the verse to my kids so they have the opportunity to hear it!  In this case, I would say the verse 1 time, adding the reference at the beginning and the end of the verse.
See It: Continuing in the hearing aspect, I would at this point add some hand motions.  Showing the hand motions and saying the verse 1-2 more times will allow the children to not only hear the verse, but also to see it. 

Say It/Sign It: Now I would give the children a chance to participate by joining me in saying and signing the verse.  I use the anchor words (usually the words that correspond with a hand motion) to help them stay with me.  I don’t expect that they get through it without prompting.  We go slowly and try to have fun as we learn. 

Repeat: As usual, we would repeat this 1-2 more times before ending for our first learning session.  I would repeat this through the day as often as possible.

A Note About Repetition: It is not necessary to start each memory verse session with hearing only.  After I introduce a verse, we jump right into reciting the verse together each time we review.  As I say the verse with my toddler (using a picto-verse, song, hand motions, or a combination of these things), she will hear both of us saying the verse together.

These are the ways that I've used to memorize scripture with my toddlers.  How about you?

Do you have any tried and true ways of memorizing scripture with young children?  If so, please share them in the comments section below!

Welcome Home Wednesdays


  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Having a 2 year old and 4 year old it is just easy to wait till they are old enough. But what a great reminder.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I agree, for some kids it's easier when they're older to start learning scripture. I found that our kids were reciting other things that they had heard repeatedly (songs, stories, etc) so we just started learning Bible verses for fun. I figured if they could memorize the theme song from their favorite TV program they could probably learn a short scripture verse. Now it's just something that we do for a fun challenge on different levels depending on our kids individual ages and abilities.
      Enjoy your little ones! :)

  2. I'm so glad you're encouraging people to memorize with their toddlers. We've found at every stage that we grossly underestimate our children's ability and enthusiasm for memory work! Last Christmas season, we all - Mommy, Daddy, and 3 girls, ages 8, 5, and 2 at the time memorized over 80 verses of the Christmas story! We were amazed but they just wanted to keep going, so we did. We would catch them reenacting the story with their Nativity set, saying Scripture word for word to go along with their story. It was amazing!

    So, to every one, be encouraged to just start. I guarantee they will surprise you!!! And I love your 5 strategies. Great stuff!

    1. Tina, Thanks for the encouragement! I definitely agree that children (especially toddlers and preschoolers) are often underesitmated in what they can do. That's great that your family memorized so much of the Christmas story! Definitely inspiring! My husband is working on John chapter 1 with our family. The kids love working on memory time with Daddy in the evenings and, as they have since they were very small, are thriving on the fun challenge. I feel like we just stumbled on the abilities of toddlers as our kids started repeating back to us Bible lessons and verses that we worked on at home and at church. There is so much they can soak up and learn to give them a firm foundation as they grow up!