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Appropriate Faith Development Through the Years

Here’s your developmentally appropriate guide-at-a-glance for effectively encouraging faith development in kids of all ages.


Faith Development for Babies

Typical Brain Development

  • Young babies recognize human faces and prefer them to inanimate objects.
  • A baby’s brain is beginning very early adaptation to the language it hears in the home.
  • Babies recognize familiar voices.
  • A baby’s healthy development is largely dependent upon how much the baby can consistently trust familiar adults to care for his or her needs.
  • Music and rhythm help stimulate infant brain development.

Typical Physical Development

  • Babies express curiosity and often bring things to their mouths as a way of exploration.
  • Between the ages of 4 months and 7 months, babies begin learning to sit, roll, and eventually creep.
  • At just a few months old, babies begin to recognize and even respond to people’s emotions.
  • They enjoy physical peekaboo-type play activities, especially with parents.
  • Babies enjoy seeing their image in a mirror.
  • At around 9 months, babies are able to express a wide range of emotions—and do so!

Faith Concepts

  • Babies seek and value unconditional love. Consistently demonstrating it is important to help them understand a loving God.
  • As you provide an environment where babies can develop a sense of trust in the adults around them, you lay groundwork for them to trust an unseen God.
  • People in the church community help demonstrate love for one another.

Questions You Can Answer

  • Am I safe?
  • Do I matter?
  • Are my physical needs met?
  • Can I trust people to care for me?
  • Do people see me?
  • Am I loved?

Effective Ways to Teach

  • Babies need gentle, loving physical touch to feel love.
  • They need eye contact and a person who will smile and interact with them.
  • Babies react in utero to music rhythms before birth. Any use of rhythm and cadence boosts development and is instantly engaging.
  • Read Scripture and Bible stories to babies. Even if they don’t literally understand, they sense your tone and expressions of love for them.
  • Babies thrive on routine. Add prayer time to your ritual.

Faith Development for Toddlers

Typical Brain Development

  • A toddler’s brain is developing social-emotional characteristics like making eye contact, responding to his or her name, and gesturing.
  • Inter- and intrapersonal intelligences are developing, which can lead to large emotions and power struggles with peers.
  • Connections in the toddler’s brain grow stronger through repetition, which is critical to learning.
  • Brain development is happening at an explosive rate. Toddlers are experiencing a lot of change and may be easily overwhelmed.
  • They may cling to caregivers and be fearful of strangers.
  • Toddlers experience an egocentric existence, resulting in the 2-year-old’s unmistakable anthem: “Mine!”

Typical Physical Development

  • Toddlers can walk on their own and enjoy their beginning autonomy.
  • They’re beginning to notice physical cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Toddlers begin pretend play and enjoy pulling and pushing toys.
  • They’re able to mimic others and follow two- and sometimes three-step directions.
  • They are drawn to things that interest them and will quickly abandon items, only to reclaim them later.
  • Toddlers love repetition, rhythm, and routine.
  • They have a limited attention span and become restless within a few minutes.
  • They’ll play side by side with others but not cooperatively with others.

Faith Concepts

  • God loves me.
  • Church is a special place.
  • God and Jesus are important.
  • God made me, so I am special.
  • I matter to God.
  • I can show love.

Questions You Can Answer

  • Do the people I am with like me and look happy?
  • What will happen when I push, touch, poke, or drop toys? What will happen when I do that to people?
  • Am I safe, even when I’m angry or unhappy?
  • How do I get what I want?
  • How can I be independent while still feeling safe?
  • Does God always love me?

Effective Ways to Teach

  • Toddlers need to move their bodies. Let them move while you tell or read Bible stories.
  • Encourage toddlers to experience joy in play.
  • Let toddlers be loud as they praise.
  • Toddlers won’t share easily. Have duplicate items for toddlers to touch and manipulate so conflict stays to a minimum. Intentionally model concepts of sharing, cooperation, and getting along with God’s people.
  • Use music and rhyme with lots of repetition for Scripture and stories.
  • Lead by example when developing character. Toddlers need to see what honesty, patience, self-control, repentance, and kindness look like before they can emulate positive character traits.
  • Prayer rituals can include children offering prayer requests and starting their own simple dialogue with God.

Faith Development for Preschoolers

Typical Brain Development

  • Preschoolers’ interactions with those around them help shape their personalities and ways of thinking and moving.
  • Their communication through words and actions is strong.
  • Preschoolers begin to play with others more and more rather than alongside them.
  • They may have difficulty discerning fiction from reality but also will not believe everything they hear.
  • Preschoolers’ imaginary inventions and worlds are heightened in their brains.

Typical Physical Development

  • Preschoolers can sing simple songs and recite short poems from memory, which is a great way to introduce first Scripture verses.
  • They can pour and cut with supervision.
  • Preschoolers are growing in creativity and enjoy tactile aspects of coloring, gluing, and painting.
  • They enjoy projects that enhance a lesson and offer engaging experiences, but they won’t maintain attention to lengthy activities.
  • Routine is key to preschoolers’ sense of security.
  • Preschoolers still love repetition, and it’s most effective for building brain connections.

Faith Concepts

  • Prayer is more than just “wishing” for something.
  • Jesus is my friend and helper.
  • God helps people in specific ways.
  • Everything in the Bible is true—it’s not a make-believe story.
  • At church, we worship God by loving others, praying, giving, singing, reading the Bible, and learning more about him.

Questions You Can Answer

  • What does God look like?
  • Where does God live?
  • Why did God make people?
  • What does my grandpa do in heaven?
  • Who is God to me?

Effective Ways to Teach

  • Capitalize on a preschooler’s sense of wonder, and ask questions like, “I wonder how those stars got in the sky?” Let wondering questions lead children to truth.
  • Preschoolers learn best through play. Act out stories from the Bible, use toys to re-create events, make up a game about a Bible person, and use simple, open-ended crafts that are more about the process than the result.
  • Talk about God in all circumstances. Point out God through nature, in children’s positive attributes, and also when bad days happen.
  • Model simple prayers. Start with “Thank you, Jesus, for…”

Elementary Faith Development

Typical Brain Development

  • The elementary child’s brain can see things from other people’s perspectives.
  • School-age kids are learning advanced vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • They understand space and time and enjoy planning and building.
  • They can read and write and reason their thoughts.
  • The brain is “pruning” unused connections, so repetition and repeated experiences strengthen learning.

Typical Physical Development

  • School-age children most often have strong and practiced motor skills, but their coordination, endurance, and balance may be more sporadic.
  • Reading abilities vary with children. Some will read complex material with content comprehension, and others will struggle to keep up.
  • Fine motor skills vary widely at this age.
  • Kids’ sense of body image is developing, and they’ll become more self-conscious and self-critical.
  • Kids are sprouting! They’ll be in all shapes and sizes, and that’s normal. But they’ll be sensitive to comments about their physical stature—good or bad.

Faith Concepts

  • God is in control of their lives, and he’s rooting for them.
  • The Bible is God’s written Word, given to us because he loves us.
  • God wants us to do the right thing because we love him. We can ask for his forgiveness when we mess up or make poor choices, and he’ll still love us.
  • The church is God’s family, and God wants us to help others, even those far away.
  • God knows what we need but still wants us to talk to him through prayer.
  • God is always with us and always ready to listen.

Questions You Can Answer

  • Why did God create the world?
  • Why do some people die before they’re old?
  • Were dinosaurs on the ark?
  • Can we hear God speak?
  • Why does God let bad things happen?
  • Does God still do miracles?
  • Is the Bible true?

Effective Ways to Teach

  • Share personal stories of faith and how Scripture impacts you.
  • Guide kids toward facts, scriptural truth, and life application.
  • Help kids see how specific passages apply to their lives rather than focusing on rote memory.
  • Let kids have time to play and talk together so they can form relationships and practice what offering grace, sacrificing, and loving looks like in our world.
  • Teach kids through your personal experiences with faith and real-life issues such as doubt or loneliness. They need to hear and see real examples of faith in action.
  • Let them use their strong motor skills in games related to biblical concepts.
  • Encourage Bible reading plans based on their abilities to create lifelong practices. Resist calling on kids to read aloud; instead, let willing kids volunteer.

Preteen Faith Development

Typical Brain Development

  • Preteens’ brains don’t multitask very well, and too much information or too many questions can be quickly overwhelming and frustrating.
  • Preteens are still developing traits such as empathy, which can result in insults and teasing that’s hurtful to others.
  • Their brains process more abstract thoughts and concepts, and they’re more able to reason deductively to anticipate consequences.
  • Preteens’ brains are more reactive to situations, and they may speak before they think.
  • Instead of black-and-white thinking, a whole world of gray areas is developing, and preteens begin to test and question.
  • Preteens become more aware of their “inner voice” or conscience.

Typical Physical Development

  • Preteens enjoy mental and physical challenges and can do well in strategy and physical games.
  • They have an increased sense of depth perception, and their visual anticipation becomes more honed.
  • Physical changes associated with puberty begin to occur, resulting in sharper self-consciousness.
  • Their increased physical and emotional changes make it hard for them to sit still for long periods.

Faith Concepts

  • God is for me.
  • I am never alone.
  • God’s love and concern for me doesn’t change, no matter what my circumstances are or what I’ve done.
  • God’s grace is there for me if I ask for it.
  • God values all nationalities and cultures, and he expects us to value and respect everyone, too.
  • Jesus’ followers can take God’s Word into the world—whether that’s at school or across the globe.
  • God hears our prayers and communicates with us in accomplishing his will and not ours. God may not answer prayer in the way we want or expect him to, but he always answers.

Questions You Can Answer

  • What do I do when I have doubts?
  • What difference does faith make in my life?
  • How do you know God is real?
  • What will heaven be like, and do we experience our own life once we get there?
  • What happens to people I care about who don’t love God?
  • How can the whole Bible be true?

Effective Ways to Teach

  • Preteens are ready for deeper thoughts and questions. Connecting Bible truths to their lives will strengthen their understanding of faith.
  • They’ll benefit from sharing their stories and hearing others’ perspectives in a safe and welcoming environment.
  • Their brains are pruning unneeded things at this point, so repetition with active learning and hands-on service projects are important for retaining what’s important.
  • A preteen is also closely linked to peers, so group projects and service projects that impact the common good are beneficial. Even though preteens can be inwardly focused, doing service projects that interest them lets them help others and emulate Jesus.
  • Preteens are full of active energy you can harness to interact with them.
  • Preteens are very relational and do well with consistency and a focused environment.
  • They’re often insecure about physical, intellectual, and emotional differences, so ensure your space is free of teasing, put-downs, and pranks that will make a child feel singled out.
  • Worship can take on new creative forms with different styles of music, drawing or sculpting to music, and even offering praise through alphabet letters. Be willing to try different approaches.

A headshot of Sheila Halasz.Sheila Halasz founded a Christian preschool where she directs and coordinates an early childhood midweek program. She has co-authored curriculum and multiple books about teaching young children. She hosts the site powerofpreschoolers.com.

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!


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