I have a confession to make. I taught my daughter the Fourth Commandment before any of the other Ten Commandments. Not that she didn’t know who God was (First Commandment), or that we don’t lie about God or use His name in vain (Second Commandment), or know that going to church is important (Third Commandment). No, she did something that her mother and I had clearly told her not to do. I decided that I was going to nip that issue right away, give her a heavy dose of the first use of the Law, and teach her the Fourth Commandment.
In a patient, calm, and loving way, of course.
It was after teaching her the Fourth Commandment that my wife and I realized that she could learn the text of the Commandments by heart. She actually was so proud that she knew the words. Two weeks later, my wife came downstairs and asked me if I had taught her the Fourth Commandment because our daughter had just told her, “Mommy, the Fourth Commandment is: Honor your father and your mother.”
We were blown away that our three-year-old had remembered the text. It is possible! We began thinking about how we could teach the Ten Commandments in a structured way to her while at the same time not overwhelming her with information. Here are a few tips on how to teach your preschooler the Ten Commandments.
Focus on one at a time.
While little ones are sponges and can remember a lot, focusing on one commandment at a time will make this a manageable task for both you and your child. Keeping their focus on just one commandment will not only give you time to help them memorize the text of that commandment, it will give you time to talk to them about what that commandment means at an understandable level.
Teach them in order.
Teaching them to memorize the text of the Ten Commandments will be much easier to do in order. Your child is learning how to count in order: 1, 2, 3, 4. Introducing new language for numbers such as first (1), second (2), and so on will be challenging enough. Teaching things in a scattered order could confuse them. (In my example, I taught my daughter the Fourth Commandment first, and it was a challenge to get her to remember the order of the other commandments because the Fourth was out of order with how she knew how to count.)
Chunk them as you teach.
As you teach your child the commandment, do it in chunks. Let’s use the First Commandment as an example.
Parent: Repeat after me. The First Commandment.
Child: The First Commandment.
Parent: You shall have.
Child: You shall have.
Parent: No other gods.
Child: No other gods.
Parent: You shall have no other gods.
Child: You shall have no other gods.
Do this as much as you need to until they get it. Eventually, you will be able to ask, “What is the First Commandment?” and your child will respond with, “You shall have no other gods.”
Find a time to teach when you have their full attention.
As you start this process, find a time in your routine when you have your child’s full attention. For some, breakfast might be the best time; others might find it easier to incorporate this learning into their bedtime routine. I do it while I am combing my daughter’s hair after she takes a bath. She sits in my lap and we talk about the Ten Commandments. (Do I get bonus points for finding a way to get her to sit still while I comb the knots out of her hair?)
Review, review, review.
Quiz your child during your teaching time. Don’t start off with new material. Instead, start by asking what he or she last learned. We are currently working on the Fifth Commandment. Before we start learning the new text, we review what we have learned already. The exciting part about this is seeing your child’s sense of accomplishment. They get so excited when they know the right response.
Have cue words.
When you ask your child “What is the Second Commandment?” and they respond with “I don’t know,” have some cue words ready to go. I use the Second Commandment because this is the one that my daughter needs a little help to get started. Here is an example conversation.
Me: What is the Second Commandment?
Daughter: I don’t know.
Me: You shall not . . .
Daughter: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Simple cue words will help spark their memory, helping them feel successful. This practice will also help you know whether they just needed a little help getting started or if you need to reteach them the content.
Take your time!
How does the saying go, Rome wasn’t built in a day? Take your time, and take as much of it as you need. As you are working with your preschooler, don’t rush this. Teach them to know the commandments by heart first, before you start working on the “What does this mean?” text. It may take several sessions for your child to know the text you are working on by heart, and that is okay. Some of the commandments are learned quickly, and others take more time. So be sure to take your time!
This is not a comprehensive list, just some thoughts and ideas. What are your ideas? We’d love to hear from you below! God’s blessings as you teach your children the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3 ESV).Click Here to Download Small Catechism Flash Cards