One of the reasons my husband and I came to Anglicanism is because of the reverence in the worship. The glad solemnity of our Anglican liturgy harmonized with our understanding of the Scriptures — humility and the “fear of the Lord” as part of our response to the love and mercy of Christ.
As we became parents, it was important to us to communicate that reverence and glad solemnity to our children. We felt it did a disservice to both Christianity and our children to dumb the faith down, but it can be confusing to have that conviction. So many of the books and products available for children are kitsch-y, cartoon-y, irreverent. I don’t really want my children associating Bible stories with talking vegetables…
So, we have been very reticent. Going along with our church, we have invited our children into the fullness of our Christian practice. They attend the liturgy with us from the very beginning, learning the service music and hymns. We try to give them what we believe is the truly beautiful in music, liturgy, and language — at church and at home (This is also why I love the Godly Play Sunday school program at our church).
When coming to these conclusions, it would have been helpful to know more about Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason was a 19th century British educator, an Anglican, who believed that the dignity of the child (“children are born persons”) means that we give them the best and the fullest in all areas, not dumbing it down to “their level.” This means the best books (“living books” in her words), time outside in God’s creation, and a vision of a education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
I have found her thoughts on teaching children about God and the Scriptures to be so refreshing. Her words don’t give me that frantic anxiety that I need to do more and more and more; instead, it’s simplified my thoughts and practices. While recognizing that this is our weightiest responsibility, she urges a simple trust that Scripture itself is powerful (without weighing it down with our comments and applications) and that God is faithful to provide us with what our children need.
Though Charlotte Mason is a big deal in the homeschooling world, I think these concepts from Charlotte Mason are helpful to anyone concerned with teaching our children about God (which, really, should include all Christians, since we are one family in Christ).
The following excerpts on speaking about God and teaching the Bible are all from her first volume, Home Education. Here are three principles that I’ve taken to heart:
- Read to children straight from the Scriptures.
“We are apt to believe that children cannot be interested in the Bible unless its pages be watered down — turned into the slipshod English we prefer to offer them. . . The Old Testament should, for various reasons, be read to the children. The gospel stories they might be read for themselves as soon as they can read them beautifully. It is a mistake to use paraphrases of the text; the fine roll of Bible English appeals to children with a compelling music, and they will probably retain through life their first conception of the Bible scenes, and also, the very words in which these scenes are portrayed. This is a great possession.”
“Therefore, let the minds of young children be well stored with the beautiful narratives of the Old Testament and of the gospels, but, in order that these stories may be always fresh and delightful to them, care must be taken lest Bible teaching stale upon their minds. Children are more capable of being bored than even we ourselves and many a revolt has been brought about by the undue rubbing-in of the Bible, in season and out of season, even in nursery days.”
- Avoid making “endless comments and applications.”
“A word about the reading of the Bible. I think we make a mistake in burying the text under our endless comments and applications. Also, I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life. The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. a seed, light as thistle down, wafted into the child’s soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child’s day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible.”
“Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults.”
- Teach what we know about God, trusting Him to provide us with what our children need.
“We must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them — this person, these; that person, those some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another . . . Let the parent who only knows one thing from above teach his child that one; more will come to him by the child is ready for more.”
“It is better that these teachings be rare and precious, than too frequent and slightly valued; better not at all, than that the child should be surfeited with the mere sight of spiritual food, rudely served.”
When I wrote the first draft of this post, it was three times as long because I had so many quotations I wanted to include. (I compiled those quotes into a page, if you are interested in reading more). But what do you think? Do you agree with these quotations from Charlotte Mason? Who have you been influenced by as you consider this topic? How do you teach your children about God and the Scriptures with reverence?