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Gifts that keep on giving
The end of summer term often marks a change in the lives of children and young people. It may be a time when we want to give a gift to commemorate this change. But what to get? Here’s our guide to what you could give, and when
There are precious few rites of passage in our society, but marking important times in the lives of children and young people can be key to their spiritual and emotional development.
Giving a gift at these times shows you care, but presents can also be great tools for faith development. Giving something and leaving it at that is great in itself, but following up on your gift and helping the child or young person (and their family) engage with the ideas around it can be an effective discipleship tool. You might just ignite a lifelong love of exploring faith and getting to know Jesus better.
Baptism, dedication or confirmation
It’s a joyous occasion when a child or young person is baptised or dedicated, and we often mark such events with a shower of gifts. Whether you’re a godparent or it’s a member of a family you have been working with, it can be tricky to know what to get. Should you go for something that’s age-appropriate now or something that will last a lifetime? Here are some suggestions…
For a child
A Bible or Bible storybook is a classic choice for a baptism or dedication. Here are our top recommendations:
For a baby or toddler, go for The Big Bible Storybook (SPCK Publishing) or My First Bible (Barnabas for Children). Both feature more Bible stories than your average Bible storybook, including the Fall, the Exodus and the Exile, as well as a good mix of stories from the New Testament. While toddlers might not grasp the importance of engaging with the bigger picture of the Bible, starting now will help them become familiar with the broad scope of the Bible from an early age.
For older children, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Zondervan) takes a Christ-centric approach to the Bible, telling stories from the Old Testament and New, and focusing on where Jesus is in the story. This helps children (both new to faith and those brought up in the Church) to engage with Jesus at all times; seeing God’s plan at work in saving his people.
The Action Bible (DC Cook) is an impressive comic book retelling of much of the Bible. The artwork and text complement each other well, and will help an older child or younger young person engage with the Bible’s ‘big’ stories. It doesn’t shy away from the more difficult events, giving readers the chance to wrestle with and ask questions of the narrative.
You might also want to try The Prayer Experiment Notebook by Mina Munns and Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (SPCK), The Unofficial Holy Bible for Minecrafters (Sky Pony Press) or the Hands On Bible (Tyndale).
In some traditions a candle is used during baptism and giving a candle as a gift would give the child and their family a longerterm memory of this special event. This might be particularly true for families that are not currently linked to a church. They can remember the event and any vows they made whenever they light the candle. If you want a less flammable reminder, why not check out Preditos fridge magnets?
For a young person
To give a young person guidance in the journey they have just embarked on, you might like to give a gift that helps them navigate their early Christian faith. Christian Focus offers A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God, written by prolific Christian fiction writer Patricia St John. Written in 1983, it is showing its age a little, but the book is still engaging and offers a range of stories to help the reader access different aspects of the Christian faith. It would appeal to a young person who likes reading.
Prayer beads, crosses, icons or engraved silverware may also make good gifts. Giving these at the point of confirmation, for example, would give them a special significance; an outward symbol of an inward development of faith.
Of course, a Bible makes a great gift for a child or young person of any age. Choose a translation that is easy for children or young people to engage with, such as the Contemporary English Version, New Century Version or New Living Translation. Alternatively, go for a paraphrase such as The Message. While the illustration level in Bibles is not as high as in Bible storybooks, the gift of a Bible to a baby or toddler speaks volumes and lays the foundation for a love of the Bible in the family as a whole.
Summer is a time of change in many children’s and young people’s educational lives. There are various resources you can get hold of to smooth the way for those facing big changes.
Starting primary school
Scripture Union has revamped its popular Get Ready Go resource, which is now called It’s Your Next Step. The central section of the book is a pullout booklet for children about to start primary school. It is full of accessible information about school, as well as offering space for children to process their thoughts and feelings about this significant change. The rest of the book contains help and advice for parents as they navigate what might also be a challenging time for them. The mix of practical and spiritual support offered to parents and children creates space for both to address fears and record their excitement.
Moving from primary to secondary school
Again, Scripture Union is the ‘go-to’ provider for this ministry. It’s Your Move has been running for almost 20 years and has been regularly updated to meet the needs of children taking the big step of starting secondary school. This handy little book is full of help and advice on moving school, as well as space for children to reflect on their life at primary school and express their feelings about the move to secondary school. Scripture Union also produces material for assemblies and lessons using material from the book.
Leaving school or youth group
A young person going off to university is an easily recognisable time of transition. Fusion has created the Student Linkup Box, which contains lots of help on moving away, including spiritual and practical help. Fusion’s Miriam Swaffield says: “It’s everything you need to know. It works on its own to help you equip yourself and start on the front foot ready to share the good news. It helps you change from survive to thrive at university!”
But what about those who are not going to uni? How do we help them move into the adult congregation? You might want to give them a gift to mark the end of their youth group membership. A Bible is a great idea but you could also try a faith autobiography – Jackie Pullinger or Bear Grylls would be good choices – or perhaps some Christian clothing or jewellery.
Birthdays or Sunday school prizes
Birthdays are great times to bless children and young people with a gift, ensuring they are celebrated in line with your safeguarding policy. While in adulthood you might not want to be reminded of how old you are, another year represents another milestone for the younger generations.
In the same way, a Sunday school prize can mark a milestone, for example completing one year in a children’s or youth group, or moving from one to the other. Presenting something as simple as a fiction book or a wooden cross as a prize can elevate a gift to something that is treasured for longer than you might normally expect.
Bibles and Bible storybooks books are ideal for any age group, but you might want to choose something slightly different to mark these occasions.
For younger children
There are some great books out there for younger children. God and Me (Make Believe Ideas) is a devotional aimed at 4 to 8-yearolds and is ideal for parents and carers to use with their children. Everyday stories are mixed with Bible stories, and children can explore issues arising in a variety of different ways. Penny Boshoff is a creative author and, while it would be on the expensive side to buy multiple copies of this book all at once, it makes a great discipleship tool.
The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross (Good Book Company) is a beautifully illustrated book helping children aged 4 to 6 explore the big story of the Bible. It starts with creation, progressing through the Bible to the crucifixion and resurrection, then heading on to the new creation. The pages are heavy on illustration and light on text, making the book appealing for children to explore and ideal for reading at bedtime.
For older children
Diary of a Disciple: Luke’s Story and Diary of a Disciple: Peter and Paul’s Story (both Scripture Union) are retellings of Luke’s Gospel and Acts respectively. They are presented very visually, with lots of blackand- white artwork and illustrated text. They will appeal to all children, but particularly to those who are put off by lots of text on a page. In addition to the story, there are information boxes helping readers understand the context and a bit of biblical history. Author Gemma Willis says: “I wanted to create a way in to the Bible for children who might otherwise never explore the richness, beauty and life-transforming power of our faith story.”
Fiction can be a powerful way of helping children explore faith and life. The Topz range of books from CWR are well written and the author, Alexa Tewkesbury, manages to get the tone of voice right, even if the Christian content is a little heavy-handed. Kathy Lee is a writer who skilfully combines faith elements into a fiction story so that it flows naturally. Try her Tales of Rome series (SPCK Publishing) for a great faith-based, historical adventure series.
For young people
Patricia St John’s stories are powerful for young people, even more than 30 years after they were published. Her youth titles – The Victor, Nothing Else Matters and I Needed a Neighbour (currently published by Scripture Union) and Twice Freed (Christian Focus) – cover some hard-hitting subjects including illness, war, reconciliation and poverty through effective storytelling. They help young people consider these issues and what their faith has to say about them.
If you want something more modern, New York Times bestselling author Francine Rivers is also a great fiction writer to consider for this age group.
Becca Dean’s prayer book for older young people is well worth looking at. Be Live Pray (Scripture Union) explores many different ways to pray, offering lots of creative activities to help young people connect with God. Wonder, Fear and Longing by Mark Yaconelli (SPCK Publishing) is another great book on prayer, particularly for older young people.
Messy Church has produced some great gifts for families to use at home. Called Messy Mini Books, these little booklets are crammed full of activities and ideas to help kickstart faith development at home. They’re cheap enough to provide every family with a copy at the end of a Messy Church term.
Any of these journeys and milestones could be marked with something like an Audible membership so they can listen to, rather than read a book. Or you could point people in the direction of apps such as the Guardians of Ancora (Scripture Union). Nice stationery would appeal to some, while others might like music or DVDs. You’ll need to find out how particular children or young people access music and films so you don’t get them a format they can’t use!
Whatever you choose, make it part of a discipleship relationship rather than just giving a gift and leaving it at that. Find out how the child, young person or family used the gift. What did they think of it? What questions do they have? With a little bit of thought you can make the best gift into a great discipleship opportunity!
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