It's a wondrous responsibility, but we often have no clue how to do that. Right now we live in a golden age of accessibility to resources. With that comes great opportunity and great temptation.
Before I list micro-reviews of some of my favorite resources for young children, here are some thoughts:
-If something insults my intelligence or bores me to tears, my kids don’t need to be watching or reading it, because it’s probably not stimulating their minds either.
-For every family, media rules look different, but Peter and I have decided that ideally our kids don’t get more than 20-30 minutes of screen time a day (TV or iPad) and if I can go without either for a day, that’s even better. Of course some days I turn a blind eye when Netflix starts a 2nd (or 3rd) episode, or occasionally we’ll watch a movie in one sitting, but I don’t think anyone can really contest that kids are better off with minimal amounts of time in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 do not consume any television.
-I love getting children's resources from Christian Book Distributors. They consistently have the lowest prices. I also shop at Westminster Books and Amazon, of course. I also get some really great free books in exchange for reviews from Cross Focused Reviews.
-If you would like me to add you to an email list where I send you updates on recommended resources or really good deals, contact me and tell me what you're looking for :)
I’d like to welcome you to join me as I navigate all this. Below I’ve listed and left micro-reviews of some of the best resources I’ve found for very young kids.
Final note: Not enough people read this blog for me to be making any money for my endorsements ha! These are just recommendations from my heart. At the end I listed my top 5 favorites.
- The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross by Carl Laferton and illustrated Catalina Echeverri. This might be my favorite storybook. The illustrations are a whimsical delight and the message (which walks through the theme of separation from/fellowship with God throughout the Bible) is written clearly and in very kid-friendly language.
- The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm and illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker. This is actually my favorite children’s storybook (and I really like the ESV Big Picture Bible which contains the full biblical text and has 225 brand-new illustrations, even for more obscure stories or abstract passages like Romans 8.) It tells the stories plainly (with a broad interpretational arc pointing to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3) and the watercolor illustrations are really great. There aren’t many words on each page, so you can definitely read it to a baby.
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago. This book is pretty famous, and rightly so, because the illustrations are neat and the stories are well-written and very strongly point to Jesus. Honestly, I think they’re a little too strongly interpreted, so this isn’t my favorite book. Also, since there are so many words on each page, it can be a lot harder for younger kids or children with learning disabilities to build up the attention span and sit still for this book. Along with the devotional book by the same author/artist team entitled Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, there have been some really rich and insightful moments in these books that have deeply encouraged my heart as an adult.
- The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung and illustrated by Don Clark. The unique and eye-catching illustrations are definitely my favorite thing about this book; much truth has even been communicated in the pictures. Thankfully, the kids like the pictures too! I like Kevin DeYoung’s progression through the Bible in this book as well; reading it went way faster than I thought it would because the kids just kept wanting me to read more and more.
- God’s Great Plan by Melissa Cutrera and illustrated by Matthew Sample II. I gave it a full review a couple years ago here. This book quickly and gracefully goes through God’s story of redemption through rhyming couplets. The author intentionally made the couplets memorable, and even before Stephen was really talking he loved to recite the last word of each line. This book definitely goes beyond trite and oversimplified information and gives rich theological insight.
- R.C. Sprout has written some good books for kids that are good parallels for the gospel. My favorites are The Prince's Poison Cup and The Lightlings.
- Francis Chan has written some good books for kids too! Halfway Herbert is about a little boy who learns to rely on the Holy Spirit for help. I like it but find it necessary to add that Jesus is our righteousness.
- I love almost anything by Bill Peet. My favorites: Farewell to Shady Glade, No Such Thing, Merle the High Flying Squirrel, and The Luckiest One of All. Bill Peet (1915-2002) was a gifted and wildly creative author and illustrator (he’s done a lot of work for Disney) and his stories are timeless and whimsical. They seem to get better every single time I read them, and it’s good for my kids to expand their imaginations.
- Torchlighters: This growing DVD series is created by the Christian History Institute and partners with Voice of the Martyrs. Whether you have kids or not, you need to watch these depictions of various heroes of the faith such as Jim Elliot, Gladys Aylward, William Tyndale, Richard Wurmbrand, Amy Carmichael, etc. The animation is very simple and the voice actors could have more authentic accents, but the writers were so intentional about using actual quotes and stories and scriptures, and it’s bound to reawaken your affections for Jesus and making Him known. The recommended age is 8+, but I just screen them beforehand and skip the scary parts when I’m showing them to my kids (who are 2 and 4.) They have been very responsive to these videos and talk about them for months afterward; some of our richest conversations have taken place after watching the stories of Christians who were hurt for their faith. Best part: you can watch them free if you have Amazon prime! If not, you can get them from the library or order them from the website.
- Theo Presents: This is a Christian cartoon series that is actually really well-done. The animation is modern and excellent, and deep theological truths are communicated in really accessible ways from multiple different angles using fairly lovable characters. I’m able to stream it free on Right Now Media, but if you don’t have access to that you can order the whole series from the website or download collections or episodes. Each episode is only 10 minutes. Here’s a review from TGC and a bonus video on Youtube.
- What’s In the Bible: Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, has actually said he regrets the moralism he infused in his popular children’s series, so he started a huge new project: same fun sense of humor, well-made puppets, much more biblical truth (and even church history!) Peter and I watched many of the videos before we had any kids just because we enjoyed them and they helped us get the big-picture of what goes on in each book of the Bible. They’re quite silly and you might not agree with 100% of what is said, but overall it’s a solid series and I have no problem showing them to my kids. I can’t imagine a better way for biblical facts to be presented so well visually. Plus, in most of the Old Testament videos, YouTube stars Rhett and Link do some awesome songs! You can get this series from the library, Right Now Media, or online (the complete set is $143.)
- Seeds Family Worship makes some great videos with hand motions that help your children memorize scripture and get the wiggles out. Some of them are available for free here on Youtube.
- This YouTube playlist I made and am still working on: There are some really great videos for children on Youtube! Some highlights include the hilarious Tractor, Tractor video by Slugs and Bugs (and their more serious but very sweet video God Made Me), a visual telling of a children’s book by Francis Chan, and the compelling and rich animated videos by The Bible Project. Unfortunately, YouTube sometimes shows commercials that are totally age-inappropriate.
- Sometimes there are great movies on Netflix. Right now they have Prince of Egypt, one of the best movies and soundtracks of all time, and Joseph: King of Dreams (which is also quite good.) Of course Dreamworks took artistic liberties, but just let your kids now what is expressly biblical and what isn't.
- The Miracle Maker is an incredible claymation film that sticks to the biblical text very closely. And Jesus actually looks Mediterranean, yay!
- Dispatches from the Front is a DVD series opening up windows to the Church around the world that is not made for children (and probably needs to be screened prior to showing young children) but is extremely edifying and worth sharing with your family. (You might want to break up the DVD so it doesn't feel so long for the young kids. And you'll probably have to explain as you go.)
- Seeds Family Worship, available for streaming on Amazon Prime Music for free, skillfully puts scripture to song. They are such a gift to the church.
- I Dream of You by JJ Heller. The lyrics are great, her voice is so lovely, and the music is so gentle. For four months I listened to this every single day, often all night long, to calm myself and help Evangeline sleep. And nope, I didn't even get tired of it. Free to stream on Amazon Prime Music.
- The Rockabye Baby series (especially Coldplay) is wonderful. Familiar tunes by The Beatles, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, are made into lullaby music (no words, as far as I know.) Lots of xylophone. Also available for free streaming on Amazon Prime Music.
- Slugs and Bugs CD's by Randall Goodgame and often guest-starring Andrew Peterson are so good. Some songs are purely silly, some are purely scriptural, and many are a funny and meaningful blend in between.
- Sovereign Grace Kids makes great music! Lyrical theology for children at its finest.
5) The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross
4) Slugs and Bugs
3) The Big Picture Story Bible
2) Seeds Family Worship
1) Your Bible.
The best resource for your children is your very own discipleship. Tell them what you're learning from your time in the Word. Tell them (with wise restraint) what you're struggling with and how the Lord is helping you. Lead them in worship of Jesus all throughout the day as you see pretty birds or eat yummy cookies or meet with a woman who just lost her husband but is still rejoicing in our God. No one can disciple your child like you can. :)
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