Almost every Bible program for kids includes memory verses. I prefer not to use them! I think memorization is a bad way to teach a complex subject when understanding is imperative to practical application.
Memorizing God’s Word is a noble thing to reach for, no doubt. And eventually, it WILL happen after enough study (even if not word for word). But for young kids who soak up everything we teach them, be it spoken or unspoken, rote memorization of Bible passages doesn’t seem like the best way to go. Here’s why.
This article originally appeared on my old blog, Townsley Times. If you came here looking for this particular article but thought you were going to a different site, never fear, you’re actually in the right place. 🙂
First off, we personally use several translations of the Bible. We usually start with KJV but look at other versions to get a better understanding if we are not clear on something (which is often, as my kids are little, and I’m not a KJV-onlyist even though I think it’s the best we’ve got for English speakers). We also use a concordance to go back to the original language and put things in proper context.
Memorizing multiple translations plus the Hebrew and Greek would just get confusing for everyone, and only committing one translation to memory would leave out some of the most important parts!
Second, and more importantly, memorizing something when you don’t understand it makes it so you won’t really think too hard about understanding it at a later date. Think back to when you were a kid. Maybe you would sing songs and have every word memorized yet have no clue what you were singing! Or the chants to the patty-cake hand clapping games. No idea what the heck we were saying, and I never thought to look it up later.
I find this aspect a little difficult to explain, so here’s an example. Who remembers the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? I learned every word of that in early elementary school! Think I had any idea what any of it means? I still don’t even know the story behind some of what he was referencing! And at the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Another example would be the various prayers or creeds we recite in a church building. The Lord’s Prayer…I have known it for so long but knowing the words and connecting with the meaning are vastly different things.
Having a child memorize Scripture by focusing on repetition is only rote memorization without any meaning. You might explain it sometimes before or after working on memorizing it, but with the focus on memory verses, it’s no better than schools teaching to the test. The kids might flat out forget all of it.
The Bible does say to hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). However, if we don’t understand it in the first place, storing it there makes little sense.
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for not teaching the Bible to young kids. I’m not suggesting to not go over verses multiple times, or to not have them do copywork or any of the other things you might do to teach the Bible and hide God’s Word in the hearts of your kids.
What I’m saying is, to help them to be familiar with the Bible, they need to a) understand the meaning, and b) know how to apply it. You might argue that those come later, but refer back to my second point. When the focus is on memorization and not application and real life, kids might memorize the words long enough to regurgitate them when you ask, but have not a clue what they’re saying. And that’s not what I want for my kids, and it’s a major part of why we homeschool. We want our kids to have true knowledge and understanding that they can apply to life.
So how else can one teach the Bible to kids? Lots of ways.
- By reading aloud and discussing what the passages mean in small chunks
- By putting events on a timeline
- By not just reading the popular stories or talking about popular people
- Living out the Great Commission
- Doing a craft, skit, piece of art, project, etc. — something hands-on to reinforce what they’re hearing or reading
- Using a concordance to look up words, and looking up information about the historical period
- Reading several translations
- Talking about it around the dinner table or with friends
- Doing a formal Bible study
- Using a Christian homeschool curriculum that incorporates the Bible into everyday learning activities
The more they hear it, the more they become familiar with it and learn the meaning of the passage. Rote memorization doesn’t do that. They will be familiar, but not have the meaning down. Truth be told, when you hear something too much, it all becomes jumbled together and start making no sense.
For the Psalm verse I referenced above…I knew the Bible said that about hiding God’s Word in our hearts but had to look up the book/chapter/verse to cite it. The point is that I know it’s there and I know what it means (and I know how to look it up, which is also important). And I seek to apply that verse with my family by having conversations about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and not just drilling memory verses.
What do you think? Do you find Scripture memorization useful for your kids? Why or why not?