Infants - Babies are learning to trust others and themselves in the first year of life. This sets the stage for the beginnings of faith, and so the parents or other caregivers are the primary sources of security and nurturing.
Toddlers - This is the age of the great imitator! Children ages 1 to 3 are learning more about themselves and how to behave by watching and imitating others. Since their cognitive development is primarily concerned with exploration and use of language, they are unable to comprehend the significance of religious activities, but will begin to memorize little prayers, etc. as they learn to talk.
Pre-schoolers - We know that four and five year olds are very busy and eager to please. This is when development of the conscience occurs, so they can begin to under- stand right and wrong. It is important for children of this age to view God as one who bestows unconditional love, rather than as a judge of good or bad behavior. Their think- ing is very concrete and so they benefit from picture Bible books, hearing Bible stories, and playing with small statues such as Nativity Scene figures. Their knowledge of faith and religion is learned from significant others in their environment, usually their parents.
School Age - Children of this age group, roughly 6 to 12, are eager to learn about all sorts of things. They often draw pictures of God with a human figure, representing heaven up in the sky and hell as filled with devilish creatures or monsters. They are very literal in their thinking and cannot understand abstract religious ideas. However, God can become very real and important to them, comforted by prayer and other religious rituals. Again, the beliefs and ideals of family and Church school teachers are of major influence in matters of faith.
Adolescents - This stage of development is one of searching and questioning as teenagers are discovering a sense of identity. They are often idealistic and can be very hard workers helping people who are not as fortunate, as they become involved in mission trips, soup kitchens, Crop Walks, etc. They are capable of abstract thinking and are able to empathize, philosophize, and think logically. It is not uncommon for them to have deep spiritual concerns, but are influenced by their friends, as well as family and religious leaders. The adolescent must come to terms with who they are and how they fit in the world, sorting out differing views and internalizing their own values. Parents can provide support and encouragement in their struggle and allow some freedom to question without censure.
All of us at First Presbyterian Church have a responsibility to guide our children by our example, our nurturing, and our prayers so that they grow—not only in body—but mind and spirit as well.