“Read me a Jesus story, Mommy. I like the stories he told. I'm a sheep. Baaa,” she says as she pretends to be a little lamb frolicking in the room. Jesus' parables are simple enough for young children to enjoy, with deeper meanings and truths that adults understand. Use activities to teach the parables to your toddler or preschooler so she remembers the story and its meaning.
Jesus told parables about how his believes can make a difference in the world. With the salt parables in Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34-35, let your child taste rice cooked without salt and rice cooked with salt to understand how he can make the world “taste better” by following Jesus example in caring for other people. In Matthew 5:14-16, use a flashlight to demonstrate how “letting his light shine” and make the world a better place because people see the light of God through the way he loves and cares for others. In Luke 10:25-37, dramatize the story of the Good Samaritan and talk about ways to show love to others.
Jesus used sheep in several parables because the people knew about sheep. Give your toddler a stuffed lamb to hold as you read the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7. Hide the lamb and let your child leave her other sheep and go looking for the lost one. Serve party foods when she finds it. In John 10:1-18, Jesus portrays himself as the Good Shepherd. He says the sheep follow him because they know him and his voice and trust him to care for them. Blindfold your child and call her name. Talk her through an obstacle course as she listens to your voice and follows your commands.
In Matthew 13: 44-46, Jesus tells two parables that compare gaining salvation with treasures you would give everything to gain. Give your little one a stack of play money and have him determine how much he would pay for his favorite toy, a pet, your attention for a full day and God’s love. You might express that your love for your child is beyond price. The three parables found in Luke 15 – the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son – all demonstrate that God places great value on each person. Instruct your child to search for a hidden coin until it is found or watch a dramatization of the prodigal son. Talk about why Jesus died to pay the ultimate price for each person’s salvation.
Jesus used seeds in several parables. In Mark 4:3-9, Jesus tells the story of seed planted in four soils. Replicate the story by planting seeds in four spots, using top soil, clay or a sidewalk, pebbles and a section of weedy ground. Talk about which kind of ground your child wants to be and how she must listen and follow God’s law to bear good fruit. Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19 contain the parable of the mustard seed, and how a little faith can produce great results. Examine an apple, mustard or pine seed and compare the seed to the size of the tree it produces. Talk about how many seeds each tree will produce in a lifetime as a result of the one seed that produced the tree. Compare that illustration with the number of people your child might touch for God during her lifetime.