Children are curious, receptive and eager to learn, and parents and teachers can help direct this energy toward the Good News. Reading spiritual literature together—at bedtime, on rainy days, and in the classroom— is a wonderful way to harness natural interest and help a child grow closer to God. Story time, like any other time, is an opportunity to show children how to stay Christ-centered.
Selecting Reading Material
- Ask experienced teachers and bookstores to recommend age-appropriate, spiritually rich books to add to your shelves, such as lives of saints written for children, collections of children’s Bible stories, and picture books with a Christian message.
- Look for colorful illustrations or Byzantine icons, which will help keep children’s attention.
- Cultivate a love for God by choosing books that express theological concepts in ways and words that your child can understand, thereby planting seeds in the child’s mind and soul that can be cultivated over a lifetime.
- Choose stories that reinforce one of the constant themes of early childhood spiritual education: God’s love for both humanity and individual human beings.
- Another recurring focus is that God loves us so much He gave us our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ; from an early age, you can expose children to the idea of having a relationship with Christ.
During Story Time
Create active learning opportunities and extensions to an exercise that might seem passive. There are many ways to actively engage young children even as you read to them:
- Set a standard for daily and weekly reading patterns. Consistency and repetition will make spiritual literature important in the child’s life.
- Young children are eager to make decisions, and could be offered a choice, such as, “Would you like to read the May page about St. Constantine and St. Helen, or would you like to read the April page about St. George?” Small children might simply point to the page of their choice.
- Allow the child to hold the book or to turn the pages while you are reading.
Keep the Story Alive
Set aside some quality time after story time. Extending the children’s engagement with the story is a powerful way to support learning and remembering, especially at a young age, when imagination and invention are developing.
- Follow every story with a short complementary prayer—in this way, you can reflect on and reinforce the theme. Combining prayer and reading evokes the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.
- Ask concrete but open-ended questions about the story, allowing children to answer freely, retelling and reinterpreting the story in their own words.
- Stimulate curiosity and creativity; for example, ask a child to act out a simple sentence from the story. The adult might say, “Do you think you can show me the look on St. Helen’s face when she discovered the Cross?” Adding a physical act like this will help the child remember the message. Acting is practical in Sunday school classrooms—no materials or mess—and is quite fun at home, too.
Maria (Kouremenou) Khoury is the author of eight Orthodox children’s books including Christina Goes to the Holy Land. She is a graduate of Hellenic College (1982), Harvard University (1985) and Boston University (1992), where she earned her EdD. Born in Tripoli, Greece, she was raised in Denver, Colorado. She is also the author of Witness in the Holy Land, reflecting personal experiences living under military occupation.