As the weather finally warms up around the country, daydreams about beach-time will start to become realities for many families. And nothing beats a trip to the ocean—or a hike in the woods or a splash under the lawn sprinkler—as the ultimate classroom for teaching young children about God.
Here are five natural ways to give such pleasurable pastimes with your child a spiritual quality that will inform his or her lifelong understanding of the God who made them:
1. Ask what they think: Questions galvanize thoughts and help us sort out what we believe. You can spur your child’s thoughts about God merely by asking them what they think about Him: Why do you think God made the ocean? What do you think He is like? What does He see down deep in the water? Sometimes the answers are funny, but try to sincerely appreciate and honor them. Don’t worry about correcting, and don’t insist on an answer. Let the questions linger as food for thought because they also share important truths about God’s qualities.
2. Notice the details: Can you believe the amazing variety of birds, fish, plants, and bugs? What about seashells? Is it possible to find two that look exactly alike? God’s infinite creativity is on full display at the beach, and He surely made it for all to enjoy. Dig into sand, study insects, compare shells, feel the slime of seaweed. Talk about the details. Thank God, and say how much God must enjoy it, too!
3. Play “I Wonder…”: Use your child’s natural curiosity—and exercise your own—by playing “I wonder” in a variety of situations to connect your child’s life with God. For example, wonder out loud about Jesus’ life as a little boy and what his days were like. “I wonder if Jesus enjoyed going to the beach? I wonder if Jesus liked riding in a boat?” Leave pauses for your child to wonder or respond too. You could say, “We’re doing the same sort of things Jesus did!”
4. Share what you know: My young daughter actually taught me this strategy of sharing information by starting with the phrase did you know. Often her comment would be something I did not know, such as a detail about the fairy world. So my response would be one of pleasant surprise. “No! I had no idea! Tell me more.” Did you know lead-ins are a way to share information while inviting a response, which pulls children in and might lead to their own questions. Did you know that God is everywhere at once? Did you know that God is Spirit?
5. Start a round of “God Made”: Pick a natural time, like sitting on a beach blanket and watching the ocean waves, to start a round of God made. You lead with an example like, “God made salt water.” Pause to see if your child offers an example. If not, offer another one, “God made seagulls.” Some children will jump in with their own ideas. Others might need to be asked: “What do you think God made?” The possibilities are endless, of course, and sometimes funny. Have fun with it and be silly too.
Keep in mind games and conversation starters like these are usually very brief. You’ll know when a child is ready to move on. That’s fine! You are creating golden moments that enrich a child’s inner life and help them grow from the inside, out. You are making God a natural part of your world; He’s part of the company you keep. And you are taking time out to praise God for all He has made.