Seven Ways to Help Kids Memorize Scripture

The Shema ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-7

When my youngest children were four and five, I wanted them to memorize the famous “Love” passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. So I made a poster using a different color for each phrase

First, we focused on the red words:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast.
Then, we moved to the orange words:
It is not proud, it is not rude. It is not self-seeking.

We proceeded in this colorful fashion until my kids memorized the entire passage. We called it the “First Corinthians Game.”

One morning, while gathering laundry at the top of the stairs, I heard my son say to his big sister, “Let’s play First Corinthians!”

His sister responded with a bored voice. “No thanks.”

Undeterred, he said, “Okay. I’ll do it.”

I stopped to listen and savor the moment.

In his tender four-year-old voice, he began. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking.”

His sister interrupted, “‘It is not rude.’ You’re supposed to say, ‘It is not rude.’”

He accidentally skipped that phrase. But he shouted back, “No! It is not self-seeking!”

She yelled again, “No! It is not rude!”

Their skirmish escalated, and my maternal moment of bliss ended. I had to march downstairs and break it up. Their words to each other were neither loving nor kind. Obviously, they missed the point.

First Corinthians 13

Later, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

Sometimes we work so hard at getting it “right” that we miss the point too. Reading the Bible is about transformation, not information. It’s about imprinting God’s Word on our hearts that we might love others with the same compassion Christ has shown us.

As much as I love to study God’s Word and memorize life-giving passages, I know a mere recollection of Bible verses isn’t enough. The Truth of Scripture must burrow deep into my soul, yielding a harvest of genuine service for Him.

At the end of my days, I don’t want to be known as someone who acquired head-knowledge without heart-compassion. I want to be someone who loves the way Jesus loves. And I want to teach my children to do the same. We still practice our memory verses. But we also talk about the meaning of those verses and how we can apply them to our lives.

 

Here are seven ways to help kids memorize Scripture:

 

1. Select one longer passage instead of many short memory verses.

The short weekly memory verses from Sunday School lessons are fine, but they usually reside in a person’s short-term memory. By the following week, they’re easily forgotten when it’s time to learn a new verse. Shorter verses are also more difficult to retain because they’re not attached to something larger.

We learn by association. So when we tackle a larger segment of Scripture, one section at a time, we stay focused on the same passage for a longer period of time, which supports retention in a person’s long-term memory. The children’s ministry at my church devotes every six months to learning one passage. Last winter, it was 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This spring and summer, the memory passage is Psalm 23.

2. Make a poster and give each section a different color.

Create line breaks to denote appropriate pauses. It’s much easier to absorb individual lines than one solid paragraph. This helps visual learners, especially when each line is assigned a specific color.

3. Create a pathway through your home and assign each line of the passage to a specific room or location in the house.

Start with the front door. When your child enters, have the first verse presented on one 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper. Let the child color the page. Then frame it. Set the framed words where they’re visually prominent. Then travel along a predetermined path — perhaps through the living, kitchen, dining area, and hallway — and end at your child’s bedside table or shelf. This helps physically active kids move through the house, associating each section of the passage with each sequential location. Each verse becomes a part of the house for the duration of the whole project. This especially helps kinesthetic learners.

4. Put the words to music.

It could be a new melody your child makes up, or it could be a tune as familiar as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Sing the passage together while driving in the car or walking around the block. This especially helps auditory learners.

5. Add motions to your song, or make it a cheer.

The more we engage our bodies, the more our minds have to pay attention.

6. Make a book.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Staple a few sheets of blank white paper together. Have your child write each verse from the passage on a separate sheet. Then draw a picture on each page that tells a visual story. Read the book often and admire your child’s artwork. Your child will associate each verse with the picture he/she drew and remember the sequence of the visual presentation.

7. Take turns reciting the passage before going to bed.

Kids are famous for wanting one more glass of water or one more hug before bedtime. The presence of their parents is comforting. When my kids were little and wanted to cuddle before going to sleep, I’d lie next to them in bed, and we’d take turns practicing our memory passage. They knew the routine. It wasn’t time to chat about the day. Once they finished their turn, they’d close their eyes and fall asleep while listening to Mom quietly recite the same passage.

Kids learn by example. And memorizing Scripture is something the whole family can do together. Then it becomes a central teaching focus for several months.

What helps you memorize Scripture?

 

Writing for Him,
Denise

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Denise J. Hughes

Denise believes in the power of a well-told story. She teaches writing at Azusa Pacific University and even has her students start a blog. She’s the author of On Becoming a Writer: What Every Blogger Needs to Know, and she devotes her blog to helping others develop their craft and deepen their faith. You can connect with Denise on her blog — denisejhughes.com — or on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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  • ALIA_JOY

    Love this, Denise. I agree with the long passages. I have memorized so many soundbites over the years and although I have the gist of them, could not quote them to save my life. However the long passages sit deep. I used Ann Voskamp’s downloadable Moleskin memory books to memorize scripture and would have my children test me when I recited it. They both memorized the scripture passages long before I ever did just from testing me. And they loved to correct me when I got them wrong. Payback for homeschooling, I suppose. They loved being the ‘teachers.’

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  • http://kriscamealy.com/ KRIS CAMEALY

    I love this! When I was in middle school a friend and I made up a song to help us memorize the Bill Of Rights and we marched around the house singing it until we memorized it–movement and music combined really helped us get it down. Now, I am using the app, Scripture Typer to try to help me memorize scripture and it is really a neat tool.
    Thanks for this, Denise. Have you heard the Seeds Family Worship albums? Those are GREAT for memorizing scripture!! :)

  • http://www.SockmonkeysKitchen.com/ SOCKMONKEYS KITCHEN

    Love this, Denise! Growing up in a Christian School, we had to memorize Bible verses each week. My mom would often make up a song for each one… and to this day I can remember the words and the tunes! This is a great resource for memory work! =0)

  • EDITH PONT LMFT

    Thank you for sharing this Denise. I agree that the Word of God transforms and it’s not just information. My son is 20 months old and I’m already planning of ways I will teach him Scripture memorization. For the time being, we sing and dance – he loves it! I’m so overjoyed when some mornings he says, “church.” I’m gonna apply these tips with myself as well.

  • KATHY SCHWANKE

    We had morning devotions with one memory verse a week and five Bible stories (one each day) that supported the theme of the verse. (ie: hope, mercy, kindness, truth, etc) I wrote every verse on the back of business cards that I kept at the table. We quizzed/reviewed them often. Sometimes with “who can say it the fastest” just for fun.

    When we did longer portions (sermon on the mount) I wrote it out and added icons with hand motions and again, repeat often.

    When I realized I unknowingly memorized a poem in my Mother-in-law’s bathroom, I would put scripture on the wall above the toilet paper for repetitive viewing. :)

    My daughter was a summer missionary for three years with Child Evangelism Fellowship and taught Five Day Clubs rewarding scripture memory. They had fun games to do with groups. Often we would use them at home and I used them in my Sunday School class.

    When I taught High School, we memorized Psalm 1. I rewarded with doughnuts. I know that is probably not the most effective in making it into the heart, but I prayed the word would do the work God was sending it to do eventually… :)

    I recently sent the business cards home with my 21 year old son who was so busy with work and college that I wanted him to have them to take with in his pocket for quick focus and meditation while throwing boxes on the belt at the distribution warehouse he worked at.

    I love your ideas of coloring and creating a book. Creativity and repetition are key!

    It all whizzed by so quickly…such a grand adventure, parenting!

    I have to work much harder now that it is just for me…I listen to YouVersion audio when I drive.
    CAN’T WAIT FOR ALLUME!!!!

  • http://www.jacquewatkins.com/ JACQUE WATKINS

    Denise, I love this. And I’m with Alia, I printed out Ann’s cards and have them in a mini moleskine and the kids test me in the car…what a rich experience to memorize scripture. It is my prayer more people will stop being intimidated and just start. For me, it helps me to focus on the first letter of each word in the verse until I get it down. Also an accountability group helps me too…there’s a group of about 9 of us memorizing Romans right now, and we email each other every Friday a recording of us reciting our memory work. It is SO encouraging to do it together. And we just met for dinner to celebrate the completion of Romans 1…it was so fun! We’ve become heart sisters, indeed.

  • CHRISTIE ELKINS.

    I just loved this post, for both the honesty and the practicality! The “mini love argument” sounds just like something my kiddos would do ;) We use motions a lot, my kids come up with some great ones to help us!

  • LEESE

    A guy (music producer by profession) from my old church has started producing great Scripture songs for kids (and adults). He used to just do them for his kids, but then wrote one to use as our theme verse at our 3rd-5th grade winter camp 18 months ago and it was a HUGE hit.

    I think they just are finishing their 4th or 5th CD of songs (I think they’re also on itunes). They’ve been such a hit that churches and ministries are bringing him in to do VBS or other special programs for their kids/families.

    It’s called JumpStart3 http://jumpstart3.com/

    Just be aware, they WILL get stuck in your head :-)

  • SANDY

    Thank you for this. My daughter and I are memorizing Isaiah 53 and you have given some great ideas!