Little Sponges

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  –Proverbs 22:6

This verse resonates with me these days as I observe Spud.  Each day I notice him doing 1 or 2, sometimes 3 new things that he didn’t do the day before—and these are just the things I notice; imagine how many more there are that I don’t pick up on.

I’m a firm believer in how important these early years are; how they set the tone/direction/scope of all their years to come.  In our family, our primary hope/goal is that our children will accept Jesus as their Best Friend and Savior. 

It’s easy to think, sometimes, that this kind of decision is something that just happens when a child is older.  And while the actual decision often comes when a child is more mature, all I have to do is watch Spud poring over his favorite books to be reminded that the groundwork for these important Life decisions is being laid right now.

As a teacher I often got the feeling at workshops and classes that we were supposed to be finding the Next Great Gimmick that would trick our students into learning (spiritual subjects or otherwise) or the latest Song and Dance that would captivate their video-game-playing, tv-watching, ipod-listening, food-additive-eating little bodies into actually learning something.  And while popular culture and its affects on kids are a sad reality in today’s classrooms, the bottom line still remains that kids are sponges just waiting to soak up anything of substance that we place in their path.

In Spud’s case, the My Bible Friends series by Etta B. Degering is one of the first things we “placed in his path”. First published in the late 1960’s, the five books contain 20 or so Bible stories from both the Old and New Testament.   The link above is just one place I was able to find them online; you can often find them at thrift stores and garage sales as well.mbf 4 mbf 3 My favorite thing about these books is definitely the illustrations—full-color oil (?) two-page spreads accompany every page of text.  My parents read these books to me as a child, and these images still come to mind when I hear a particular Bible story mentioned in a sermon or discussed during a Bible study. 

mbf 7

Yes, many of the female characters look a little like a 1950’s housewife in disguise, and most every character sports gleaming white teeth of the same decade, but every illustration is filled with painstaking attention to detail, and, to my limited knowledge, appears to be historically accurate.  To my way of thinking, they’re a vast improvement over the cartoony characters used in more modern publications.

The words of each story are simple enough for children to understand, yet detailed enough to hold their interest.  Degering skillfully weaves Biblical facts with plausible added details to tell the story in a way that makes it come alive. 

We don’t know the name of the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem, but it could have been “Small Donkey”.  We don’t know for sure that Joseph and Benjamin helped Jacob dye and spin the wool for the Coat of Many Colors, but it’s possible.

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I recently read in a “parenting book” that children of Spud’s age (16 months) are incapable of sitting still for stories of any length.  On some days this is true; on most days, Spud disproves this theory.  He sits through the stories, not because he’s forced to, but because he wants to.

And to my little sponge, it’s making a difference.  I know this because of the way he:

  • insists on these books being the first thing he looks at in the morning and the last before bed at night
  • points to the different colors of wool (see pix above) over and over AND over while I say their names
  • studies the pages on his own and “tells” the story to himself in his own special jibber-jabber
  • cheers when Captain Namaan is healed after his seventh dip in the river Jordan
  • makes the sound of Small Donkey’s hooves clip-clopping their way to Bethlehem
  • reminds ME to say his bedtime prayer when I forget
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