When you see “Ten Commandments” in the upcoming Sunday school lesson title, do you …
- pull out that past-the-expiration-date cottage cheese in the back of the fridge and consider how much you would need to consume to make you sick enough to miss church?
- attend a child’s sporting event (any event will do—except maybe golf) and scream enthusiastically for the entire time (thus, losing your voice and making it impossible for you to teach); or
- feel really excited about teaching the laws of God to young minds?!?
If you answered “3,” you may want to skip this post—or stick around anyway. Maybe we’ll spark some new ideas for your children’s ministry too!
Teaching the Ten Commandments for kids can feel difficult and awkward.
After all, we spend a lot of time trying to make children at church realize that following Jesus is NOT all about knowing a bunch of rules.
But the truth is, just like the Israelites, we all need rules. And when it comes right down to it, most all of us like rules.
The Ten Commandments for Kids: A Game to Get Started
When it’s time to start planning the Ten Commandments lesson for kids in your ministry, you might want to start out with a game—the Game of No Rules.
This game is easy to play. You, the leader, are the only one who gets to decide about points, who’s in or out, and essentially anything going on in the game.
Simply tell your group you are all going to play a new game. Then throw a bunch of soft balls or other toys in the middle of the room. Next, say: “Ready, set, go!”
You will get lots of blank looks. That’s exactly what should happen.
As kids start moving, picking up toys, or even asking questions, randomly shout out consequences or award points. “You asked a question! 5 points!” “You didn’t say anything. 10 points!” “Picking up toys—Negative 500 points.” “No movement within time limit. You’re frozen forever!” “You’re wearing red! Sit out for 2 minutes!”
Be as random as you want to be. No doubt you will start hearing shouts of “That’s not fair!” and “Hey! You didn’t tell us that was a rule!” or even “AAAAhhh! Stop the madness!”
Why Rules Matter
After a few minutes of this intentional chaos, have everyone sit down (or break up into your smaller, age-level groups). Explain that playing a game without knowing the rules can be confusing, frustrating, and even end up eventually hurting people.
Ask your students to imagine what would happen if there were no traffic rules. (You can do a Google search for “traffic chaos” and find video clips of traffic scenes from some countries where there seem to be no laws … or where everyone ignores them. These may be intriguing for your kids to see.)
After they give you some ideas about what could happen with no road rules, ask them to give you their reasons for why rules are important in general. They will probably come up with some very good reasons!
Children often have a strong sense of what’s fair or not—often well before they are old enough to get the concept of principles such as sharing and telling the truth.
Introducing God’s “Ten Good Rules”
It can be helpful to talk about the benefits of rules before introducing the “Ten Good Rules” God gave His people, because that is exactly what children should see about the Ten Commandments. These were ten good rules God gifted to His people.
Rules that would bring about good results for anyone who followed them.
Rules that would help keep people safe and at peace.
Rules that would show them how to love and respect one another and God.
Rules that would help them stay close to the One who wanted to give them every good thing.
God knew His people very well. He knew their hearts. He knew they were human—that they often made mistakes, chose poorly, and acted without thinking.
God gave His people these rules as reminders of what was good and right—as reminders of who He created them to be.
Adapting the Words of the Ten Commandments for Kids
Even very small children are able to memorize the Ten Commandments, but when we talk about the Ten Commandments for kids, it can be helpful to put the rules in forms they can understand even better.
Some of the language that is translated from the ancient Hebrew can be difficult, and the context for all these rules must be considered as well.
Some words such as Sabbath or adultery may need to be put into a version that will have a clear, relevant meaning for children.
There is no need, however, to stretch the rules to have a more specific application to the lives of the children you are teaching—some of these rules simply won’t have an application right now for them.
Children are not married, and they are unlikely to be in a situation where they might murder anyone, for example (we hope!). But it can be good to frame all of the commandments in the context of them being the ways God wants us to treat Him and to treat others.
For more ways to bring your lessons to life, check out Unexpected Ways to Help Kids See the Bible Is Real and 13 Creative Bible Verse Games and Activities for Kids.
Jesus summed up the Law with these two sentences: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39, NIV). I think we can do no better than to follow His example. All of the Ten Good Rules remind us of those two directives: Show love and respect to God, and show love and respect to others.
Age-Appropriate Versions of the Ten Commandments for Kids
What follows are the texts of the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus 20:1–17 (NIV) along with suggestions for age-appropriate versions of each good rule: the Ten Commandments for kids (the main text of the alternative commandment for each age group is set in italics).
(Note: You may also find a list of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.)
Remember, when you teach the Ten Commandments for kids, consider this: Having kids memorize these ten rules is great. But helping kids understand what it means to love and respect God and each other is even better (and more important).
Teaching the Ten Commandments to kids really shouldn’t happen just once—you can point out how people are following God’s good rules all year round!
And you will be modeling love and respect for these young minds when you take time to consider what they need to know, how you can help them best to know it, and how you can demonstrate it in your own life every day.