Once Upon a Time: Kids and Story

Pastors Paul and Nancy Lee Gauche explore how to share the stories of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures with children.

“Once upon a time…”

These four words have been igniting imaginations since the beginning of time. As long as there has been a story to tell, the fire of imagination has been fanning into flame all of the components of a good story: drama, plot and surprise, twists, turns and suspense, action, conflict and, often — redemption, grace and hope. Generations of children have been invited into “Once upon a time…” only to find themselves not only hearers and tellers of the story but also actresses and actors living out the Story.

When we ask the question “How can grandparents, godparents, mentors and other significant adults talk with kids about the bible?” we’re really asking questions about igniting imaginations around the ancient words of the biblical narrative with the hope and expectation that the “Once upon a time…” story will be turned into a present day Story and passed from generation to generation.

How does this happen?

There are many ways that the Jewish and Christian scriptures tell the “Once upon a time…” stories to children — of all ages. And once told, these stories begin to live not only in, but through those to whom the stories are told. For this is more than a Story told, it is a Story lived. And there are many ways that grandparents, Godparents, mentors and other significant adults can engage the story of God with the child. We’ll look at three.

Develop your own love and passion for the Word of God

It’s been said that you cannot lead people where you yourself are not already going. The same is true when it comes to sharing the Word of God with kids. We can’t expect the Word of God to come alive in the hearts, minds and lives of kids if that word hasn’t been ignited in the lives of adults as well. This is about passing on the contagious passion that allows us to hear the phrase “Once upon a time…” expecting it to speak again and again. Whenever someone displays passion for what they are talking about, a natural contagious atmosphere is created. It’s easier for a child to be enveloped into the story when they see someone they know, trust and even love being enveloped by the story. When adults share with kids the thrill and excitement of the biblical story, a safe place is created where wonder and caution, doubt and adventure blend together to help the story come alive.

Use “I wonder” statements

The Godly Play™ methodology encourages children to explore spirituality by responding to “I wonder” statements made by adults. For example “I wonder which part of the story was most important to you today…” or “I wonder which part you like best, today?” Forming well crafted “I wonder” statements takes practice and thought, but can lead to rich discussions with children. Along those same lines, it’s been helpful to help young learners ‘wonder’ out loud about a biblical story. This is done by reading or acting out the biblical story a few times before saying anything about it. “I wonder which person in the story you seemed most drawn to?” “I wonder what you heard in a new way.” “I wonder what part of the story you’ve never heard before.”

Give kids an “experience” with the Bible rather than the Bible itself as a book

We love giving young kids bibles, and that is encouraged. But along with the book, tie in experiences of the Bible. There are resources galore that intersect with the Biblical narrative. Movies, outings, artistic works, crafts and a myriad of other resources help us live more deeply into the word. The Word becoming flesh. Moving the words from the page to an experience is the gift of grace! As well as working with all the developmental stages of a young person and her or his capacities, there is sacred potential in the seemingly mundane task of repetition. When reading Peter Rabbit to a small child or coming once again to the last page of Goodnight Moon, who of us has not experienced the thrill (or, depending upon the hour of the evening, the challenge) of hearing the child beg us to “Read it again!” You might think about the word of God like a penny on the post office floor. “Look Mama, a penny!” says a 4-year-old girl. Her mother, busy with the clerk at the counter mumbles an acknowledgement. The little girl then puts the penny down in a new place on the floor. “Look Mama!” She exclaims again, “I found another one!” The little girl keeps at it until she has found the five same pennies and each one of them brand new!

What if every time a child opened God’s Word it was brand new? What if each time the bible was opened it spoke clearly, directly and in a new and transformational way to the child? We would have, quite possibly, what A. W. Tozer was getting at when he wrote in The Pursuit of God:

I think a new world will arise out of the religious mists when we approach our Bible with the idea that it is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking. The prophets habitually said, “Thus saith the Lord.” They meant their hearers to understand that God’s speaking is in the continuous present. We may use the past tense properly to indicate that at a certain time a certain word of God was spoken, but a word of God once spoken continues to be spoken, as a child once born continues to be alive, or a world once created continues to exist. And those are but imperfect illustrations, for children die and worlds burn out, but the word of our God endure[s] forever” (p. 77).

Perhaps the most important truth a child can hear is that God’s word does still speak. And it speaks because the word is God — has become flesh and dwells among us, in us, through us. When we begin to open this dynamic word for children — for our children and our grandchildren, we watch with awe and wonder how it comes alive not just “Once upon a time…” but over and over again.

Pastors Paul and Nancy Lee Gauche are brand new grandparents to Ruby Grace! They are already teaching little Ruby Grace how to “Eat this Book.” For over 35 years they have been vocationally involved in getting the Christian Scriptures into the minds, hearts, ears and mouths, hands and feet of young people! It is a lifelong adventure!

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