Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Choose a Bible for Your Toddler

Welcome back to the Bible Basics How To Series!
On Monday we started out by getting a big picture idea of why it’s important to teach the Bible to toddlers.  And yesterday we talked about 5 ways to memorize scripture with your toddler. 

Today we’ll be looking at some questions that will hopefully help you choose a Bible for your toddler that you feel is meeting the goals of your family and the needs of your child. 

One thing that drives me nuts about Bible materials for young children is that they are often of very poor quality and usually water down what’s important and emphasize what is not even a part of the biblical text.  For this reason, it’s hard to find a Bible that is written for toddlers and maintains some integrity in terms of content and production. 

In today’s post I’ll give you a few questions to consider as you choose a Bible for your toddler.  I will not make a recommendation because every family has different views and values from each other.  I will, however give a list of Bibles that are out there so that you have a place to start looking. 

Now that we have all the introductions out of the way, let’s jump in!

3 Considerations in Choosing a Bible for Your Toddler

Toddler Bible or Grown Up Bible?  That is the question.

This has to be the first consideration as you look into different options for reading and teaching the Bible to your toddler.  There are a lot of Toddler Bibles, but not one is necessary for introducing your child to the Bible.  I see there being three main options when it comes to a Bible for your young child.

                  1.       Straight Up Grown Up Bible

No illustrations.  No paraphrases.  Just your favorite Bible translation and your own ability to break it down into understandable pieces for your child.

Your child will be hearing the Bible as God inspired men to write it and then again to translate it.  They won’t miss out on anything (unless you choose not to read it to them).  When they are grown up, they will probably be very comfortable working with the translation they know best and possibly others.

This can, however, be a bit daunting when you are trying to keep the attention of a wriggly 2-year-old.  Some Bible narratives are very short while others are long and sometimes span over several chapters with other events interspersed (Abraham is a good example of this).  If you are not familiar and comfortable with the text, it can feel easiest to just skip over things…even important things. 

2.       The Toddler Story Book Bible

This would be on the other end of the spectrum from the “grown-up” route.  Lots of colorful pictures.  A spattering of different Bible stories.  All told from someone else’s theological viewpoint.

Toddler story Bibles are usually very engaging.  Kids generally like the illustrations.  The stories are short and to the point, for the most part.  And it is very easy to pick up one of these story Bibles, flip to the narrative you want to teach, and go for it.  Not much preparation required.

However, many of these story book Bibles are flawed.  Some only include a few of the most popular Bible stories for kids.  Some leave out important information that can lead to confusion or big gaps in a child’s early understanding of scripture.  If you take this path, as most people seem to, make sure you find a toddler Bible that doesn’t skip out on things like, say, the crucifixion? 

3.       Mix and Match

This is what our family does, and what I think can even out the scales.  In our family, we read from a few different “grown-up” translations each evening at dinner and during Family Bible Time.  Our children have grown up – even from the womb – hearing the Bible read in the very words that Dad and Mom study it on their own.

We also have an illustrated preschool Bible story book that has been so well-loved that we replace it at least once a year.  The kids really like to have a Bible that they can flip through, “read”, and recall as they review what they’ve learned in Family Bible Time.  And I like that they have their own Bible to read – it starts them out having an appetite for God’s Word and being able to soak it up in a way that is appropriate for their age and ability.

In the end, no matter how you do it, the point is that you are exposing your child to the scriptures.  And that’s the main point!

The rest of these questions assume that you are choosing a Toddler Bible for your child, whether that includes also reading the “grown-up” version or not.

Theological Interpretation or Direct Re-Telling?

This question is one that I find to be very important when choosing a toddler story Bible.  Some story Bibles tell the Bible stories very plainly without adding any explanation as to why something may be happening.  They do not move beyond what scripture already says.

These are nice because you get a no-nonsense version of the selected Bible stories.  It can also leave some parents hanging out to dry as they try to explain a concept that they can understand well enough on their own, but don’t have the simple, concise explanation to give to their inquisitive toddler.

On the other side, there are story Bibles that are chalk full of theological interpretation.  These will sometimes leave a parent with strong theological ideas cringing.  And some of them are quite poor interpretations with no real scriptural foundation.  These are good when the theology is accurate and is put plainly for little minds to understand.  They are bad when the theology is off and leave both the parent and child with a poor understanding of the scripture passages they address.

My suggestion is to find a balance.  Either way you go, you need to be ready to explain things to your child that are either inaccurate in the Bible story book or give nothing in terms of helpful explanation.

What Is Appropriate for My Child?

You know your toddler better than anyone else does.  I might suggest (and I actually do) that you don’t use a toddler board book since they are often oversimplified and incomplete in their selection of stories.  But, you may have a toddler who simply cannot sit still for a five page rendering of Noah’s Ark, no matter how big the font and illustrations may be.

Looking through several different options will help you to find a Bible story book that will be age-appropriate for your child.  You might consider the length of each story selection, the detail that is or isn’t including in the retelling, and the simplicity or complexity of the illustrations.

And while we’re talking about illustrations, does it matter to you if the characters look particularly “biblical” or not?  Do you want your child to see realistic illustrations or cartoonish characters?  Do you care if Queen Esther sits down in an armchair next to end table that is holding a vase and flower?  Or perhaps illustrations are not on your radar?

Also, important on this topic of appropriateness is the content found in each story and its delivery.  I will address this a bit more in the next section, but it’s important to mention here as well.  Many toddler Bibles err on the side of “caution” and tend to leave out pertinent information.  They don’t want to use words related to or associated with sin or death.  This to me is a big problem, but you need to find your own stance on this.  How much information do you want given in particular passages?  And how do you prefer that information be presented in the Bible story book you choose for your toddler?

Whatever your preferences, find something that will enable your child to build a solid foundation of biblical understanding.

My Personal Considerations

Now, for a few suggestions of my own.  Take this or leave it…I won’t be offended either way.

When Claude and I are looking for materials that support the Bible teaching we do at home, we are usually looking for three main things.  They are listed here in no particular order.

Does It Include the “Hard Stuff”?

With this, we are looking primarily at the heart of the gospel – Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave.  If a story Bible does not include this text, we will not read it with our children.  In fact, we won’t even keep it on our bookshelves.  Without the gospel, what good is any of God’s Word?  I can turn on Sesame Street or Barney to teach sharing and being kind, but the only place my children can go for eternal life and forgiveness of sin is to Jesus – and Jesus is revealed in God’s Word.

Some other books and Bible story collections that I’ve read also skip over other “hard stuff”.  Noah is a good example.  My kids were given a very cute and chubby board book with the story of Noah.  It talked about a man named Noah who, with some instruction from God, built a big boat that was eventually filled with animals.  The boat kept him and the animals safe during a flood, the whales splashed and played together happily when the rain stopped, and everything ended with a beautiful rainbow.

But why did Noah build an ark?  Why was there a flood?  Why was there a rainbow?  We miss the entire point of the flood account in so many toddler Bible stories because no one wants to tell little kids the truth.  God was angry with the people because they had become increasingly evil.  He wanted to wipe everyone out and start over.  And if you miss that part, then you really miss out on the significance of God’s covenant with Noah as symbolized in the rainbow.

The point of scripture is for us to know God through the study of it.  We can’t really know God if we use a bunch of euphemisms or blatantly cut out the things that are hard for us to wrap our minds around.

Does It Include Extra-Biblical Characters or Events?

This is also very important to us when we choose Bible resources for our children.  I want the Bible story books our toddlers read to include the people and events that are actually recorded in the Bible.  I don’t want teddy bears or modern-day preschoolers interjected in the text or the illustrations.

Along these lines, I also want to make sure that there aren’t a lot of metaphors or other extra-biblical explanations for Bible texts that are included in the story book Bible.  An example of this is taking the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and likening it to a caterpillar in its cocoon.  A fellow nursery-aged Sunday School teacher had a student tell her the story of Jesus’ crucifixion like this: Jesus died on the cross and then He was buried.  Then He turned into a beautiful butterfly and flew up to heaven.  It’s nice imagery, but as far as I know there is no mention of a butterfly in scripture.

Overall, I feel strongly that extra-biblical imagery, characters, and events lead to confusion.  When teaching toddlers, simplicity is paramount.  Adding in extra people and concepts will only muddy the waters of understanding.  And isn’t it enough to keep the real Bible characters and events straight?  In my opinion it is best to leave butterflies and cuddly bears out of the picture.

Does It Include More than the “Bible’s Greatest Hits”?

For us, it’s important that the selection of stories in a toddler Bible collection be wide enough to cover a range of bases.  I’m not a fan of tiny Bibles with all of ten stories retold inside.  And some of the “Bible’s Greatest Hits” are a bit isolated in terms of using them to build a strong biblical foundation.  It’s all too easy for a compilation of “favorite Bible stories” to be disjointed – not making any sense as to how stories fit together in a bigger picture.

The more stories that are included, the better chance there is of them fitting together and making some sort of sense.  Of course, this is not a guarantee.  Some toddler Bibles do a better job than others when weaving together a string of sometimes unrelated accounts.

I’m generally looking for stories that contribute to developing an overview of biblical history.  You may be looking for something different.  But no matter what you’re looking for, I think that more is better in terms of what is included in a toddler Bible.  For one thing, you get more for your money!  ;)

Last, but not least, here is an informative link with a listof several toddler/preschool Bibles and a review for each one.  You may or may not agree with what the reviewer has to say (I didn’t always agree), but I felt he/she did a very good job and gave some information that would be helpful to anyone who is trying to wade through the choices of toddler Bibles.  The post also serves as a list of some of the common toddler Bibles that you can find – and it has links to each of them which is quite handy.

Now it’s your turn.  What things do you consider when choosing Bible-based resources for your toddler?  What is your favorite toddler Bible and why?

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