Cognitive Development of Kids 3rd Grade and Below (Ages 3-8)
- Little ability to think in terms of general principles (kindness, goodness, etc.)
- Little ability to think about non-physical entities (God, heaven, etc.) God the father is a really big dad. Heaven is a literal place like the library or a big park.
- Visual symbols do not initially have symbolic meaning -- children must be taught what the cross stands for, for example and it will stand for the church or Jesus but not death that pays for sin.
- Cannot relate one fact to another, for example, the heart being like the inside of a tootsie pop that was hardened on the outside by sin. No way.
- Cannot make generalizations like what happens to a Sunday school class when the word of God is shared. Super no way.
- Religious stories are classified as any other stories. There is none more or less important. Jonah and Pinocchio are on the same level of truth or make-believe.
- The stories of miracles are primarily perceived as fairy tales. They cannot understand them as real.
- The older they get the more they can determine the difference between real and make believe but that's different than taking something that sounds like it can't be real (coming back from the dead) and assuming it's real.
What Should You Do?
If the majority of the kids who come up during your children's lesson are younger than 8 or 9 there are things you can do if you want the message to be for them. If it's really something for the adults then please give the kids candy when you're done for being willing to come up front. Just because they don't understand the larger concept of love, sin, or that Jesus loved them enough to die for their sin they do need to be introduced to the words and the older elementary kids are very interested in meanings of words. The younger ones will most likely equate sin to being mean and cannot transfer that to other actions and certainly not thoughts. They understand what they experience.
- Tell stories that are close to the emotions of the child. Stories telling of human characteristics such as loving, sharing, and caring are excellent at this stage. The child will accept these with awe and wonder and will relate them to itself.
- Use poems, riddles, and songs.
- Use props, pictures, voices, puppets, and/or volunteer actors to tell stories.
- If you have an abstract moral they won't get it but they can answer simple questions like, "What happened when I...?" "What happened when (the puppet) hit the other one?" "What would happen if you...?" The information needs to be relevant to their experiences, which are very egocentric.
- Show pictures and have kids answer questions about the picture. "What's happening in this picture?"
- Teach them what Christian symbols stand for.