When I was five, I believed Miami, Florida belonged to me—My Ami. And I remember the disappointment when my parents discovered my interpretation of Miami and, ever-so-gently informed me that Miami, Florida, did not belong to five-year-old me.
Young children see the world in literal terms. If we say, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” or, “I gave someone a cold shoulder,” they’re interpreting the phrases literally. According to the late Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, children are concrete thinkers from ages 2-7. Their cognition has developed, but not their abstract thinking. If we say, “we were on a wild goose chase,” they envision an actual chase through the field with geese honking and feathers flapping.
Keeping the developmental stages of children at the front of our cortex is critical when we are writing, especially when we write devotions. Consider how the phrases washed by the blood or body of Christ sound to a child? Even more abstract—born again? The goal is to avoid sounding illogical and confusing to our young audience.
The challenge is how to write Biblical stories with words a child can digest. We want our readers to comprehend the story and the Bible lesson. If you consider over a million words in the English language, choosing the right word for the right age isn’t too daunting.
Start writing and see what thoughts land on the page. If your first draft sounds like a sermon ready for adult church, that’s fine. Now you have material you can use. You can fashion those abstract concepts, church phrases, and Christianese into digestible bites.
By the time I was twelve, I’d visited Miami, appreciated the city’s beauty, and was well aware that I couldn’t own Miami or any other city. All children reach abstract thought development around age twelve. But still, when we write for this age group, we don’t want to throw dull, dead terms at them. We want the Bible to come alive, even when they’re old enough to understand Miami doesn’t belong to them.
Here’s a quick strategy to keep in mind when you’re crafting devotions.
- Stay on Eye level for the Concrete Thinkers: Pretend you’re standing next to the child for whom you’re writing the devotion. For the younger audience, squat, so you are face to face. Get eye contact. Think about how you would speak to this child without using baby talk. Then write the devotion.
- Maintain Eye Contact with Abstract Thinkers: Once the child reaches the abstract thinking stage, pretend you’re standing beside them with full eye contact but not squatting at eye level. Increase the level of vocabulary words, but always incorporate as many word pictures as possible in the devotion.
Now you have a glimpse into how to write and how not to write for children. I’m looking forward to a deep dive with Karen Whiting for the Writing Devotions Master Class on April 23rd, even if I’m not going to be sitting with my laptop under an umbrella on Miami Beach.
Terri Kelly is the author of Ida Scudder Missionary Doctor and Mary Slessor Missionary Mother. As a writer, she has contributed to multiple compilations, including Divine Moments, Stupid Moments, Additional Christmas Moments, Faith and Family, and Spirit and Heart. In addition to numerous online publications, she has published articles in multiple magazines including, Clubhouse, WHOA Magazine, Kids’Ark Magazine, and Asheville Lifestyles. Terri teaches at writing conferences and is appointment director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference. A twenty-nine year teaching veteran, Terri blogs for teachers on how to survive and thrive life at terribkelly.com.
Facebook: Terri Kelly