A rite of passage in many United Methodist churches is awarding Bibles to third-graders. Every year, in congregations across the United States, third-graders line up at the altar rail to receive their Bibles. Names are inscribed inside. The books smell of fresh ink and have that delicious creak when the children open them. Then what? Too often, the children go home, and the Bibles go up on the shelf.
The sheer number of pages can be overwhelming to a child. Explain what the citation John 3:16 means and how to search first for the book, then the chapter and then the verse. Make a game out of it. Have the third-graders sit around a table (or on the floor) with their Bibles. Put craft sticks (spoons will work, too) in the middle. Race to see who can find the book and the chapter and verse first. Whoever does so grabs a stick. When all the sticks have been taken, the person with the most is the winner.
3. Play memory games to learn the books of the Bible. Start with the New Testament. Make an index card for each New Testament book. If the third-graders enjoy art, let them decorate the cards. Then scramble the cards and ask the children to put the cards in order. If your classroom is big enough, make a full-size sheet for each book. Let the children work as teams to put the books in order. Or play a card game. Have a set of cards for each child. Shuffle and deal them. Play a game (call it "New Testament Rummy") where children can discard only if they have the next book in order. Whoever discards all their cards first wins.
4. Read beloved stories together. Most children's Bibles have indexes of famous stories and parables. Show your third-graders how to use this index to choose a different story each Sunday. Reserve time for children to find stories that are familiar or that sound interesting to them. Ask the children to take turns reading the Scripture. Although you may need to help them with some words, third-graders often love to be asked to read. It is also important to recognize not every child learns in the same way. Some children need someone to read to them.
5. Make art part of the Bible experience. Encourage the third-grade Sunday school class to draw or paint the story they have heard or read. Make sure you write the Bible verse that corresponds to the drawing. Using string or ribbon, bind these drawings so each child has an "art Bible."
Talk about the writers in the Bible. Do a little research so you can share information about the writers. For instance, children are usually fascinated to know Paul wrote many of the letters that are books in the New Testament from prison. Encourage the children to channel their "inner Paul" and write a letter to their church. They can suggest things the church is doing well and things they think should be improved. Or ask them to write letters to friends or relatives explaining how God wants them to live. The title of these letters can be "Heather's letter to the church at &ellipsis;"
6. Invite children to highlight Scripture or passages. The most precious Bibles are those that are used. Encourage students to highlight verses or stories they read in their Bibles. Let them write notes or questions in the margins. These markings will not deface the children's Bibles. Rather, they will stand as precious reminders of their childhood thoughts as they age. Make sure you communicate to the parents that their children's Bibles may become well worn.
Third-grade minds are like sponges - open to new words and ideas. What a perfect time for the Bible to come into their lives. With your help, that new Bible will make an imprint on their hearts - rather than their bookshelves.