Growing Faith In Kids 101
by Susan Burke
As parents and educators we embrace and celebrate every milestone in our children’s
lives. We watch them grow physically, mentally, and socially. But what about their faith?
What does faith development look like? John Westerhoff sums it up best. He likens faith
to a tree trunk. “The young trunk has few rings; older trunks have many. The rings of
faith growth occur as a result of life experiences and in interacting with others and with
God.” He identifies four main stages of faith development, but I will only unpack the first
stage: Experienced Faith (ages 2-7 years).
The Experiencd Faith stage is the what ‘we’ do and how ‘we’ act stage. It’s a time of
imitation. Faith is more ‘caught’ than ‘taught’. Our actions with our children influence
their perceptions and hence their faith much more than the words we speak. Our
students need to experience trust, love, and acceptance. We do this through warmth,
hugs, active listening and countless experiences of unconditional love. We are Jesus
with skin on.
So what does this mean for our Jesus Time and Chapel?
We need to meet our students where they are, very “concrete” thinkers. We need to find
something in the Bible story that relates to their concrete experience of life. It is usually
not necessary to go any deeper than the story itself. Because our students need to
relate the lesson to their daily lives, our #1 go to is: dramatic play. This allows the
children to place themselves “in” the story. Being creative, dressing up, and using their
imagination is right in their wheelhouse! Acting out Bible truths of sharing and helping
are perfect for these little ones. Remember that acts of kindness that have begun in the
“head” will eventually make it to the “heart” as they mature. Which is why service
projects, no matter how small, are so important, even at this young age.
Teaching children to express joy and praise to God through music is paramount.
Students at this age love repetition. They love the standards – Jesus Loves Me, This
Little Light of Mine, Rise and Shine! and in my class – The Wise Man and the Silly Man.
Anything with movement, motion and instruments energizes even the quietest
worshiper. An entire Bible story can be played out in a song, and because it is a song,
it will transfer to the child’s long-term memory quicker.
A last thought on these little thinkers. Though their world is governed by their limited
experiences, their imagination knows no bounds. They believe that Santa and the tooth
fairy are real and talking animals, though unrealistic, fit the way they naturally think at
this stage. They find the Bible story of Balaam’s donkey and the great fish that
swallowed Jonah to be completely appropriate ways for God to communicate. But
amazingly, they believe miracles are entirely credible and no problem is too big for their
God to handle. They pray with absolute confidence. Surely this is what Jesus referred
to in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you
will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ESV