Jared Kennedy is the cofounder and managing editor of Gospel-Centered Family, a ministry that helps churches and families share Jesus with the next generation. He’s developed two VBS programs and has written several books for children. His latest, Jesus Came for Me: The True Story of Christmas (New Growth Press) helps explain the story of Christmas to toddlers. In this interview Jared explains the best way to share the message of Christmas with little ones—including pointers while reading—and gives us a brief overview on the new Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible series.
Jared, what’s the best way to communicate the message of Christmas to your toddler?
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to read and tell the story. According to child psychologists, a “narrative” function emerges in children by age three. That’s just science recognizing the truth that God made the human brain so that we think in stories.
Preschoolers are definitely able to grasp the basic plotline of a good story, and from a young age, toddlers also begin to tell stories about their daily lives. As they grow, kids begin to make up even more stories about themselves—about their toys and about imaginative adventures they’re going on. Hearing and telling stories give kids a sense of rooted identity.
But another big thing is creating family traditions that help you tell that story well. That can be as simple as a bedtime routine or something special you do together as a family at Christmas. Our family will read our Christmas devotional then ride around local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights.
When our preschoolers were buckled into car seats, those drives were short. As they grew older, we added a stop at a coffee shop for a cup of hot chocolate. And our kids remind us to do that year after year even now that they’ve become teenagers.
Jesus Came for Me sets out to teach toddlers and preschoolers about the true story of Christmas. How much are children that young able to grasp the importance of Jesus as the promised Savior?
You know, toddlers and young preschoolers are learning by rote and by recognition. Here’s what I mean by that. Little kids are learning to repeat back stories, verses, and biblical truth; sometimes they do that without a whole lot of thought about what the words and stories mean.
But those basic concepts are foundational; learning these truths are essential for kids if they’re going to grow up to have a more mature faith later in life.
Think about this for a moment. Two-year-olds typically have a 200-word vocabulary while three-year-olds have a 1,500-word vocabulary. That’s 1,300 words in a year! Even if we’re faithfully learning the “word of the day” along with Alexa, adults might only learn 350 or so new words in a year.
But our youngest kids are learning so many brand-new truths! So, when you read to your preschooler about basic Bible concepts—God’s promise, Jesus being both God and man, his miraculous birth and the angels’ announcement, or even the word, Christmas—they’re just learning those words and their significance for the first time.
Later on, preschoolers will be able to recognize biblical concepts that have been taught before. And, by God’s grace, they’ll spend their whole lives learning to trust the God those stories point them to.
Do you begin the retelling of the story on the night of his birth or do you tell more leading up and following his actual birth?
The board book begins with the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah and ends with the visit of the wise men.
How do you interject thoughts and questions into the book to make the Bible story more personal to the little readers?
Each of the three stories that make up the book is accompanied by brightly colored illustrations by Trish Mahoney that both highlight the story and add fun interactive elements to keep even the youngest child’s attention. Each of the stories also ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to further reinforce a key truth such as: “Have you ever had a wait a long time? Will you share the good news like the shepherds?”
I’d encourage parents to read the book slowly, to point out the facial expressions on the people’s faces and talk with their children about how each person in the story reacted to the events of Christmas. Point out how the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable and the announcement to poor shepherds isn’t what we’d expect when a king is born.
Can you share more about Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible series, including the story Bible itself?
In The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, my goal was to trace God’s perfect promises through fifty-two Old and New Testament stories, to retell them in simple and compelling ways with toddlers and preschoolers in mind. Each gospel-centered story highlights God’s tale of redemption through Jesus and the unexpected and surprising ways that God’s grace and mercy are revealed throughout the Bible.
Jesus Rose for Me is the first book in the storybook series. It includes the four Easter week stories from the story Bible. Jesus Came for Me is the second. A third board book about Jesus’s miracles is coming out in 2021.
Visit Jared Kennedy’s author page:
Jesus Came for Me
written by Jared Kennedy
illustrated by Trish Mahoney
New Growth Press
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