by KidMin Staff/ October 9, 2017
Of all the stages of childhood I have worked with, ministered to, and taught about, few are as fascinating to me as the first three years of life. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are in a season of life that contains so many of what we call in the field of child development “sensitive periods”—times of life when we are most ready and able to learn new things. I am convinced that we set the stage for most of our faith development during these first three years, so it is important for us as ministers to know how children learn during these stages and what they need to learn in these important years of life.
Setting the stage for learning. In order to learn in the unique way that God created them, children in the first three years of life have to feel safe in your care—which means we have to create spaces for them that enhance learning by helping them feel secure. Oftentimes we focus on the layout and design of the room to encourage learning. While these are important elements of learning, helping children feel safe is more about our response to them than room design. Following the principles of “consistency, predictability, and sensitivity” in our ministry help create environments that encourage children to learn.
YOU are the infants’ primary curriculum. Infants are uniquely designed to learn through their senses—what they can experience by seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. The first year of life, this tends to center on their interactions with the person taking care of them. They do not need an abundance of toys and manipulatives during this stage. Infants respond and learn best through human interaction. Staff your infant ministry with people who are willing to minister to infants through:
Through these learning opportunities, we are teaching infants they are a valuable and important part of our faith family. By providing a safe and responsive environment, we plant seeds of faith as they learn how to trust us and, by extension, their heavenly Father.
Their WORLD is the toddlers’ and preschoolers’ primary curriculum. In addition to using their senses to experience new things, toddlers and preschoolers add perpetual motion and exploration to their learning process. As ministers, we want to encourage their sometimes paradoxical need to learn through structure and exploration by providing:
By providing the foundation of repetition, you provide a safe and secure environment for children to experience God. Through variety and conversation in your ministry, you teach children that God made us all uniquely and that He wants them to have the freedom to experience Him. The grounding influence of responsibility encourages children to know they have a vital role in serving their faith family, and you give them the opportunity to explore their unique giftings at an early age.
Your ministry to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers provides a unique opportunity to set the foundation for their life’s faith journey as you create environments that teach them that they are important to their faith family, they are important to their heavenly Father, and they have an important and unique role to play.
Developmental concepts adapted from The Young Child: Development from Prebirth Through Age Eight (6th edition) textbook by Wittmer, Petersen, & Puckett.