Does Scripture Memory Still Matter for Kids?

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At my church, we use Awana for our Wednesday night program.  My nine year old son started in Sparks a little over four years ago now, and my seven year old daughter started in Cubbies at the same time when she was three. 
We have watched them memorize a multitude of verses during that time, and I’ve picked a few up myself helping them to learn.  Over the years, my wife and I have both gotten involved in the program.  We started volunteering as Cubbie leaders a couple of years ago, and last year I moved up to run game time for all of the kids from Sparks through T&T.  All of that to say, I am big fan of Awana.  Like everything else, I think there are things which could probably be improved, but all in all it has been an intensely positive experience.
Even with that though, I wasn’t prepared for what happened this year.  This year was Nathan’s first year in Cubbies.  He turned three in July.  He has watched his Mom (and me) serve in Cubbies.  He has watched as his cousin (who is one year older) started cubbies last year.  He has gone to church with us every Wednesday night, almost since he was born, and he was chomping at the bit to get his blue vest and FINALLY be a Cubbie.  He was in Puggles last year (a program for two year olds which was only open to kids of those who serve in Awana.  He had a blast in that program, and the people who work with that group are amazing, but Cubbies was where Nathan wanted to be.
It didn’t take long to see the reward either.  Three nights after Nathan’s first night in Cubbies, he wandered into my room with his sister’s pink guitar and announced that he had made a song up for me.  I was prepared for another jibberish song (which I cherish by the way), but I was floored when he started to play the following:

YouTube video

You might recognize the verse.  It is 1 John 4:10 and it is the official Cubbie key verse:

God loves us and sent his son!

So, why I am writing about this here on  Just to brag on my kid? Well, of course!  But, it also raises some bigger questions.  It seems to me that more and more people are beginning to malign scripture memorization for kids.  People argue that it is just rote memorization and doesn’t really help kids on their spiritual journey.  I beg to differ.  Nathan doesn’t fully understand the verse he was singing about.  At least I don’t think he does.  He does know the verse now though, and he won’t likely ever forget it. 
At some point in his life, when he needs it the most, God will call to mind a simple verse that he first learned when he was three years old, and it will mean the world to him then as it did this night.  I think that those of us in children’s ministry have to teach to a child’s heart.  God is a God of relationships and that goes far beyond a mere head knowledge.  However, a heart knowledge without head knowledge can easily lead to an emotional faith devoid of any firm foundation.  I want my kids (those who call me Dad and those who call me Mr. Wayne) to have both, and scripture memorization can be a key piece in the puzzle which God can use to solidify their foundation.

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