And the Moral of the Story Is…

A pastor was giving the children’s message during church. For this part of the service, he would gather all the children around him and give a brief lesson before dismissing them for children’s church.

On this particular Sunday, he was using squirrels for an object lesson on industry and preparation. He started out by saying, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children nodded eagerly.

“This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (pause)…” No hands went up. “And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (pause)…” The children were looking at each other, but still no hands raised. “And it jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)…”

Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The pastor breathed a sigh of relief and called on him. “Well,” said the boy, “I *know* the answer must be Jesus … but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”

I’ve become increasingly aware that my parenting/educational perspective can come more from moralism than a biblical worldview. In an effort to correct this, I sometimes “over-God” everything by making practically everything I say have a reference to the truth that God allowed for it, God created it, God is aware of it.

How do you approach teaching kids that, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)? What does math look like when taught from a biblical worldview? How about science? art? music? How do you avoid the “squirrel scenario”?



Filed under How Kids Think

18 responses to “And the Moral of the Story Is…

  1. Mel

    Our children are small enough that they still need space to be kids, but big enough that they need to “get” how the “world” works.

    This might sound pretty simple, but essentially our view for our kids is that God is everywhere, He knows everything and He can control everything. However God is gracious enough that he still wants us to make choices. He has given us all the guidelines we need in the Bible, as well as wisdom and commonsense, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, to help us make the right the decisions. We also really do encourage our kids to think WWJD?

    Re the maths. To get how God fits in maths you only have to look at stuff like the Fibonacci sequence. Only God could create nature like that. Re science, while we don’t have to agree with everything scientists say they believe or discover, we can certainly use a lot of science to understand how incredible God’s creations really are.

    This is my first visit to your webpage. I don’t blog. I have found your page after visiting with Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer.


  2. Honestly, I think it is possible to “over-God” things with the kids. I want very much to instill a Biblical world-view in my kids, but I don’t want to beat them over the head to the point that I’m setting them up for rebellion when they’re older.

    (And I know that’s a touchy thing to say and will offend some, but there you go.)

    I think it packs a greater “punch” if you don’t have God’s name in every single sentence you utter (and believe me, I know it’s tempting to do that). Words tend to mean more when they’re used when they’re truly the most relevant, not thrown out at every possible opportunity.

    An example off the top of my head? I think if every time I fixed dinner I was saying “oh God made the lettuce and thank you Lord for the chicken and God is the author of eggs…” well, I think that might lose its meaning after a while.

    But if every now and then, when I’m fixing my ba-zillionth PB&J sandwich, I pause to reflect on how VERY thankful I am that God made peanuts–well, that has more potential to stick with them.

    Does that make any sense?

  3. Rose Bexar

    To a certain extent, math and science have no worldview. We all live in the same world that operates according to the same principles, and kids need to know that 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of their religious convictions. But once you start getting beyond basic principles and into areas that need interpretation or areas that provoke the question “Why does this work?” you need to have the mental framework in place to see God’s craftmanship. And it isn’t always helpful to say, as my HS biology teachers said, “I’m a Christian; I don’t believe in evolution; we’re not doing this unit.” (I went to public school in a small town where teachers could get away with doing that.) It isn’t just a matter of not accepting the explanation; kids need to understand the science and learn *why* Darwinism is full of holes, and they also need to be able to see why creation science is a *science* and not just an article of faith. There’s also the sense of wonder that G. K. Chesterton talks so much about in _Orthodoxy_; secular science tends to steer people away from wonder, but Christians need to be able to step back from the data and recognize God’s infinite creativity.
    As to art and music, I think the same kind of progression applies–learning how to do the basics, finding and developing the talents, learning what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and then giving them the theory once they’re *ready* for it. Of course, it’s somewhat different in the arts because there is so much good stuff on sacred themes for them to learn from, both technically and spiritually–but they need to have some exposure to secular stuff, too (and the same goes for literature).
    There’s another dimension to tackle, though, given your 1 Cor. reference–always, always giving God your absolute best. That includes doing your best on your schoolwork. Now, it’s easy for that to turn into perfectionism, which you also need to watch for, and they do need to learn how to prioritize what to invest their energy in (some assignments just aren’t worth the amount of effort one could spend on them), but that work ethic needs to be instilled early on and consistently encouraged.

  4. To be cliche I think the biblical worldview in some ways really comes down to what would Jesus do. And I don’t mean in a silly flippant way, but really thinking about things from all angles. (my husband is teaching me this slowly… very slowly).

    We’re big on world issues in our house. Take abortion. I believe it’s wrong. I think it should be outlawed. He believes it’s wrong too… but what would happen then to all the women who still get pregnant? How are we going to support them? Who will care for these babies? The child protective services? See it’s not such a simple problem any more and if we truly want to know what Jesus would do we have to see the people behind the issue. Even if those people are making poor choices.
    These are the kinds of conversations that he had with his students at the christian school last year (junior high/high school)

    In terms of doing everything for the glory of God I think it means simply doing your best in everything. No, of course not perfectionism, but giving it a good effort. It means keeping the classroom clean and your stuff in good repair. It means giving a good effort on your homework. It means helping out when you see a need (fellow student, teacher, or other) rather than thinking that someone else will do it. I think this last one would make a world (literally) of difference if we could just get everyone to help out when they saw a need, small or big. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He met people’s needs.

    As far as teaching specific subjects… well, of course in the arts it’s putting out your best effort whether it’s band, choir, or art class. All these things can be used to glorify God as well.
    In science it’s understanding that God created everything yet He did put scientific laws in motion that we can learn about (I believe in micro evolution, but I also believe that there are some things about macro evolution that we just may not understand until we get to heaven – and I am a science teacher by the way). Even scientific research can be used to glorify God when it helps us learn to better manage our planet and/or save more people’s lives.
    A good knowledge of math can be a help economically. You will be wise with your finances and possibly even in a position to help out those in need through mission style giving or maybe micro business.
    These are big picture ideas and I really don’t think that every little thing or every day people need to be reminded that God is in everything, but as long as it’s there in the introduction and brought up every once in awhile I think kids will start to remember that there is a bigger reason for all of this.
    Just my … multiple cents!

  5. This is a little off-topic from your original question, but I think one reason children respond as in the “squirrel scenario” is that we are teaching them in developmentally inappropriate ways. Teachers of young children (and I’ve done this, too) seem to spend a lot of time asking questions, trying to draw the ideas out of their students. Five year olds aren’t ready for Socratic questioning, and what they learn instead of thinking is how to guess in the general category of most likely answers and watch the teacher’s face to see how close they are.

    Hence the inevitable “Jesus” answer to any question asked in Sunday School. In other circumstances, as Christopher Robin observed, it’s more likely to be “Sixpence or a Hundred Inches Long.” We need to stop playing guessing games with young children and instead feed them with rich stories and let them digest and use the ideas as they are ready.

    As for teaching specific subjects from a Biblical worldview, the answer lies in Deuteronomy 6:6. God’s words are to be in our hearts first. Only as we speak to children from what is in our hearts–from the truths that are alive and significant to us–will we do it in a way that is meaningful and balanced. If we are speaking of God just to fulfill our perceived obligations to educate in a particular way, we’re going to bore, confuse, and overload.

  6. Karen

    After reading the discussion, I was brought a memory of my own childhood. Every Sunday, we would go to church, then my brother and I would attend Sunday school and my parents would go home. One Sunday, Nick and I were walking home and as we came around the corner I saw my parents in the rose garden. They were tending it together talking quietly. I had not understood the lesson for that particular Sunday, I was bored with trying to understand this God that was being forced upon me, I didn’t want to memorize another stinkin’ Bible verse, and then I saw my parents and it all seemed to make so much more sense. They were teaching me about God by their actions, not their words.

    My mother was pruning as my dad worked fertilizer in around the roots, it was a large garden and they had barely begun, but I knew it would be finished sooner with a couple more hands to help. I went inside to change my clothes and then came out and joined the conversation and the work. It was a long day, but very much worth it when I looked up to see our neighbor smiling at me through her window. You see, it was her garden and my parents had seen that this year, she had become too old and frail to do it herself.

    I do not remember one word of God being spoken that day, but the actions of His word were like a shout from the heavens. In raising my daughter, I try to make my actions shout and keep my words at a whisper.

  7. mama2tlc

    Wow.. Lots of good posts here. I agree with the idea that we expect to much from little ones. Just focus on learning Bible stories, the facts that God loves unconditionally, Jesus died on the cross, etc. When they are older, then they are ready for the how and why questions.
    For example,
    With my toddler, I focus on obedience first. She isn’t old enough to know why sometimes. when she is older we’ll get to that.

    With Math, Science, etc. Bob Jones has a great looking math program. Never used it, but got to look at it and I thought it could be quite great.
    We also used a curriculm that combined Bible, Science and History. The children in my class had a folder named, His Story. Because History is the story God has written for all of us. We started at The Beginning in Genesis and all along the way looked at/ studied/praised God for the ways He had worked out everything. As we studied The Beginning, we were able to also study creation… Clara Barton, we studied the Human Body…etc.

    Last, actions do speak louder than any words. I must be kind if I want them to be kind. I must say please and thank you. Everyone giggles when they hear my toddler say excuse me. It’s because I say it when I need her to move, if I bump into her etc. When I am grumpy, she is grumpy. But the sweetest thing in the world to do is turn on praise music. She dances and sings, ‘holwy, holwy, holwy’ and ‘amazin God’ amazin God’ and she lifts her hands- and praises God. Now, I couldn’t tell her to do that. I had to get my heart in the right place first. Much better than being grumpy. I experienced this as a teacher too.

  8. Every child, every person learns differently. I think my biggest mistake as a parent, an educator (not professionally, but generally) is using a cookie cutter approach.

    My son is a question kid. “Why did my Grandma, Daddy’s Mommy, go to heaven to be with Jesus? -to- Daddy, can I get married? -to- “What is a Depot and why do they call it The Home Depot?” When he has a question I answer it the best I can. He is a thinker on his own, I only supply him with the “basic” info.

    I think most kids can comprehend more than we give them credit for. My son memorizes scripture, but I’m not sure he REALLY knows what it means. However, he will one day. All I can do, with God’s guidance is the very best I can. Leading by example is the best option I have. Being ready to give a reason for every action, good or bad.

  9. I think Queen of Carrots is really on to something about the way we teach little ones.

    My kids aren’t little anymore, though, and as far as Megan’s question: How do you approach teaching kids that, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)? What does math look like when taught from a biblical worldview? How about science? art? music?

    I believe we parents/teachers set the tone for this. Do I see all subjects under Christ’s lordship? Am I glorifying God in the way I work at schoolwork? Am I appreciating (or at least working to appreciate) math, when it’s definitely not my favorite thing, because it was created by God? Am I “dazzled” (as our pastor likes to say) by God? Do I compartmentalize my faith?

    I do think we have to be intentional about teaching our children as we walk, rise, go along the way, etc., but they need to see us doing and believing what we’re teaching/talking about.

  10. I was reading an old journal entry that reminded me of this thread– about how I need to remind myself (and those I teach) that we are working toward the redemption of all things– that whatever we do, we do to the glory of God knowing that eventually our math, science, art, music, etc. all hint at something glorious in the New Creation. That our efforts are not in vain. For example: in studying higher math concepts in college, our class collectively realized that the sheer beauty of Calculus points to the Creator and hints at a perfect order that we only see “as through a glass darkly.” As we delved deeper into abstract formulas, the Truth of divine guidance became clearer. Even math points to Christ! This gives our studies meaning. Though we continue learning and striving to understand, we know we will not see it perfected in the here and now, but there is a purpose to higher study and one day it will be realized.

    I’m not sure how this relates to younger students, but I know I want my kid(s) to understand that their studies are not just for knowledge itself, but for the glory of God, to glorify Him with their minds and to bear witness to the fact that they are created in His image with intelligence and love and can use this to share His goodness and the hope of Christ with the world. Though they won’t ever reach the pinnacle of that understanding now or even be sure they will see fruit from their efforts, we hope for the day God will make everything perfect and we can know Him perfectly. Therefore, our learning is part of a grander picture of striving for the New Creation and even “small” things like an algebra test are part of our calling to reflect redemption.

  11. kim

    I try to teach my kids to do their best. I have told them that God knows we are not perfect, He doesnt expect us to always do things right, but He does love it when we try our best.

    The parable of the tithes (is that what it’s called???) is a good example; it’s not who gave the most, it’s who gave their best. We may not have 100 coins to give, but if we give God our best, He will be so happy.

  12. Two things in response to previous posts, and then to answer Megan’s question.

    First, “doing your best” is OK encouragement to let a kid know that he doesn’t have to nail everything he tries perfectly the first time. However, the Bible is quite clear in a number of places that good intentions are not a substitute for holiness. Uzzah (1 Chron. 13) had good intentions when he tried to steady the ark, and God smote him. Further, all our rightneousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Kids know that intuitively and they want assurance (as we do) that they aren’t “crazy”. They need for the Bible to validate what they experience in their minds (namely, “I want to love God, but I can’t resist beating the trash out of my brother when the opportunity arises.”) The question then is how best to communicate plainly to any given age.

    Second, I agree that elementary aged children can comprehend rather sophisticated biblical ideas. My 5 yo asked me earlier this summer why, “if Saul saw the light and was changed and loved God, why did he still do bad things?” That is a big question! We talked about being made new, but not being totally new, about how believing in Jesus frees you to fight against your sin, and about Romans 7 and 8 (there was a 7 yo in on the conversation as well). Again, he knew intuitively that he, like Paul, believes in Jesus but still does bad things, and he needed to make sense of it.

    On to what we try to do—–
    First, we always used “normal” words that we would use around each other around the young kids and we expected that they would learn what they meant later. That was following the advice of Susan Hunt from the education office of the PCA. That turned out to be sound advice. We didn’t dumb anything down. So they were familiar with words like “santification” (that one came in particularly handy in the above mentioned conversation with the 5 yo, as you can imagine) at a young age.

    Second, giving them the big story of the Bible is HUGE for them having a “full orbed” faith at a young age. The Bible is not a book of rules to follow, nor is it about heroes we should “be like”. It is about God and how He redeems His people. My 7 yo is into Judges right now. We’re talking about the whole picture of running away from God, God drawing you back, idolatry, “forgetting”, etc. And, that there isn’t anyplace else to go (John 6, Hebrews). We need Jesus.

    Megan, your question is too big! So many things to say. Everything else seems tangential to the question, but important too. Wish we could talk in person.

    One more thing, in case anyone is freaked out at talking about idolatry with a 7 yr old, I heard one kid tell the other that he had made his Star Wars toy into an idol, because “you always hold it in your hand”. I fully thought he was going to tell him that idols are small figures, and then I heard him say, “an idol is something that you love more than you love God.” So they DO GET IT. I had never explicitly told them that, although I had talked at length with my husband about such things in front of them. Clearly, I had underestimated God’s working in him.

  13. i love what queen of carrots said about feeding them rich stories rather than asking questions. i try to do that. around first grade we do a lot of fables. my kids have really remembered those stories and at times, brought them back up again. just the other day my boy was calling us over and over again saying he was hurt and he wasn’t. my girls brought up the story of the boy who cries wolf and i had an opportunity to tell it again. even my 3 year old hung on every word.

  14. Warning: soapbox sermon ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
    How math is taught depends upon the teacher’s religious presuppositions. I think we are largely unaware of this because our culture is built upon Christian thinking and presuppositions. Even those who do not call themselves Christians are still affected by generations of Christian thinking.
    In a world that is truly ruled by chance, you never know if 2+2 will be 4. We simply assume that it will be the same answer we have generally seen. (“How do I know that 2+2 is four? In my experience, 2+2 has always been 4.”) This is the logical conclusion of those who hold to evolution.
    If I believe that truth is relative, 2+2 will be whatever I believe it to be. This thinking has begun to infiltrate schools, in that teachers will ask for a “a better” answer rather than the *correct* answer. The concept of right and wrong is slowly being erased – perhaps because we have forgotten the importance, the basis, and the definition of the concept.
    Many eastern religions hold that all is one. This underlying belief has obvious impact upon mathematics – and believe it or not, it does have practical mathematical application.
    Evolution is the most obvious example of why science can and must be taught from a Christian perspective. Evolution is based not upon the simple observation of the world around us, but the *interpretation* of what we see. Non-Christians have interpreted what they see based upon non-Christian assumptions, and put forth their opinions as fact. By teaching these “facts” to very young children, they are teaching children to build their thinking upon non-Christian thought patterns. They are teaching children the “squirrel scenario” in reverse. The answer *can’t* be God, so it must be evolution.
    In music and art, our presuppositions very quickly come into play again: how do we know what is good or what is beautiful? Is it because it pleases *me*? Doesn’t this sound a bit humanistic?
    What if I hate what you love? Is quality in art or music simply relative? We are certainly seeing the effects of pursuing art and music from an anti-Christian perspective: violent rap music and poo-smeared canvas art come immediately to mind. Without an absolute standard, who are we to say that these works of art are inferior to those of Michelangelo or Bach?

    Actual methods might vary but teachers must teach every subject from a Christian perspective, or else they are teaching from an anti-Christian perspective. There is no neutrality, even in math, science and the arts, and it is good for our children to understand this from the very beginning.

  15. Rose Bexar

    What you’ve said is true, Kim, and I’ve made the same argument earlier. The fact that there are rules implies a Rule-maker, and it’s no accident that “Meotod,” the Measurer, was one of the Anglo-Saxon names for God. Indeed, the idea that we can know *at all* requires a certain set of beliefs–look at Julia Kristeva’s essay that argues, on the basis of Lacanian/Freudian psychoanalysis, that learning is impossible. My only point in saying “to a certain extent” was that *classroom instruction* need not, and perhaps should not, *begin* by hammering the fact that the world works because God designed it. The assumption has to be there, but it doesn’t have to be explicit until the child asks how we know.

  16. graceful

    I actually happen not to like the phrase “do your best” as a way to explain the 1 Corinthians verse to kids, because I think many kids interpret that phrase as “do it perfectly.” The unfortunate effect of that sentiment, for children of all ability levels, is that they think you are “dumb” if you have to put forth any effort. To put it another way, many kids think that being smart is equivalent to doing something perfectly the first time you try, without having to expend any effort – so telling them that the Bible says to “do your best” may actually be communicating something very different than what we were hoping to communicate! A better way to explain doing everything (in terms of education) for God’s glory is, I think, to talk about attitude. What does it mean for a student to do math or art or history to God’s glory? I think it may be to honor their teacher, respect students they’re working with, work dilligently, complete assignments and tests with honesty, be humble about their successes, and maintain a positive attitude about those things they don’t like or aren’t good at.

    In terms of how to teach different subjects from a biblical worldview, this is the classic “integration of faith and learning” question. I went to a Christian college and learned about various faith integration models, and found some more personally satisfying than others. I wonder if I still have my class notes about that… Anyway, I think a helpful place to start is to repeatedly communicate to kids that education is about creativity, curiosity, and learning about truth, beauty, and goodness in various forms – and that all of those things ultimately teach us about God and point us to Christ. Making that connection happens incrementally over time and, in my opinion, should be the student’s job just as much as (if not more than) the teacher’s job. Let them know that those connections will happen if they’re on the lookout, and then let them use their minds! Kids are so often capable of more than we think. I’m not saying never help them out, but I do think that modeling making your own connections about what you’re learning is more powerful than taking their learning into your own hands and doing their mind-work for them.

    How to avoid the squirrel scenario? One way is to make sure your methods are developmentally appropriate, as another commenter suggested. Another way is to ask more sophisticated questions that require something more than a one-word answer. 🙂

  17. With all due respect to a seemingly like-minded (which is to doctrinal position) blogger, I must disagree with Shannon (comment #2) when she says,

    “An example off the top of my head? I think if every time I fixed dinner I was saying “oh God made the lettuce and thank you Lord for the chicken and God is the author of eggs…” well, I think that might lose its meaning after a while.”

    Actually, considering how many millions of moments in a day we neglect to recognize and thank God for the wonderful way He holds our very beings together (Colossians), I think it’s tremendously important to help children see God in as much as is within our ability and control to do.

    He is a great God, and worthy to be praised!

    We often pause to thank God for His blessings and care…right down to the origins so we can really “get it.” I wouldn’t normally leave a link, but may I be so bold? You can read such a prayer I blogged to remember here:

  18. Kevin

    I’m was a math major. Frankly, I don’t see there is much relationship between math and religion. However, there are a few points to be made, though they don’t really fit in with studying math itself.

    1) Math is useful to us because God created an orderly universe

    2) Math can be used (e.g. statistics) to promote ideas that accord with a biblical world view, but only if mathematicians do the necessary work.

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