When adults read the Bible, they usually have a rough idea of when and where the stories occurred. Granted this knowledge may not extend beyond thousands of years ago in the Middle East, but it is still enough information to help in processing Bible stories and other information. Children, even older children, may have no earthly idea as to when and where or at times even if the stories in the Bible happened.
When they lack that information, it can cause problems. Information is often moved from short to long term memory because a person already has some other knowledge in their brain to which they can connect the new information. For example, if adults hear about Jesus being crucified with Roman guards watching, they will connect it to the other information they have learned over the years about the Roman empire.
Children don’t always have an extensive knowledge base about other cultures. So when they learn about Joseph going to Egypt in Bible class, it may actually be several years before they learn about the Egyptian culture in school. It’s important then to give them enough information to frame Bible stories that include Egypt to help them organize it in their brain. It’s not the exact technical description for what happens, but that is the gist of it.
Understanding time and place also helps students understand the historicity of the stories in the Bible (except parables). Otherwise, they may assume Bible stories are just like the fairy tales and other fiction stories they are told at home and school.
So what are some ways to help students attach time, place and other connections to the Bible stories you teach?
- World map quilt. I purchased a world map on fabric online. My mother took the fabric and made a simple quilt from it. It’s about the size of a crib quilt and is easy for me to transport and for students to handle. When I introduce a new set of Bible stories, I often pull out the map and have the students identify roughly where we live on the map. Then I have them try and find the country where the story takes place.
- Printable maps. You don’t want to go overboard, but giving each child his or her own maps to keep can help older children quite a bit. You may even want them to decorate a pocket folder where they can keep them together. There are lots of free printable Bible maps online. In addition to maps of Old Testament and New Testament lands, it can be helpful to give them a map to show what the countries in the Bible are called today. Some are the same, but many older countries like Persia have been replaced (Iran in this case) or the boundaries have changed since then. Students may also appreciate maps that show things like the places Jesus went, Paul’s missionary journeys and other travel maps. This website has a lot of free, printable Bible maps. (Please note their terms of service.)
- Giant timelines. This can actually be a fun activity for students to create as you study through the Bible. Check any timeline carefully before using. The dates from the Exodus backwards are still somewhat disputed. Personally, I have found the evidence for the earlier Exodus based on Daniel 6:1 compelling and tend to use those timelines (Not the later date during the reign of Ramses 2.). I also appreciate timelines that include events that occurred in secular history on another timeline below the Bible one. To me, it makes it easier for students to connect events in the Bible to secular events they are learning in school. You can create your own using roll paper and have students illustrate the various events.
- Family Tree of Jesus. I first stumbled across this giant poster years ago. Kids love it because it shows them in a very visual way how a lot of the people in the Bible are connected to each other. It’s hard to read from a distance, so I would pull it out at the beginning and end of class and let a few students at a time pour over it as long as they liked. It was fun to watch them start to understand the connections between people I had been attempting to teach them.
Taking the time to find ways to attach time and place to Bible stories will make it easier for the children in your class to remember them. When you can increase comprehension and improve memory, it’s worth any extra time and effort it may take.