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Setting Your Children's Ministry Up for Success

July 27, 2021

Setting Your Children's Ministry Up for Success

Keeping a Child's Development in Mind

Nothing is tougher than when you feel you have lost all control over a group of children. You have some kids running around with excessive energy, others crying out that they’re bored or want to go home. It can make for a miserable experience for all. The good news is that 95% of the time the remedy is quite simple! And it is to make sure your lessons are hands-on and developmentally appropriate.

You would be shocked to know how many behavior issues can be cured with just a quick understanding of what a child is capable of at a given developmental stage and making sure your activities line up with those capabilities.

One of the biggest roadblocks to making a child’s (and teacher’s) classroom experience a positive one is lessons that are simply not targeting a child’s developmental ability or needs. Think of it this way – what if you were in a meeting where the main discussion was something that you learned several years ago with a slower pace and watered-down approach? Would you be able to stay completely engaged, or would your mind start to wonder or perhaps even begin to feel frustration? Or maybe the opposite happens, and you are on a conference call where the discussion is wrapped around ideas and data that you simply do not understand. The information is brand new and above your head, and you feel completely lost. How would that make you react in the moment?

Kids experience the same sorts of feelings when things are not on their level.

When activities are above or below where they are developmentally, they have the same instinctual reaction of frustration or anxiety. But instead of a more mature, controlled response like an adult would have, kids tend to either create their own entertainment or bail out. (And that bail-out can come with all sorts of drama!)

So how do you know what is developmentally appropriate for your age group? Here are a couple simple milestones to keep in mind when you are planning your time together:

Preschoolers (Ages 3-5):

  • Attention span: about 10 minutes
  • Cannot think abstractly
  • Motor skills still developing (like cutting, writing/drawing, throwing, and catching)
  • Love singing songs, imaginative play, and not-too-structured physical activity
  • Can follow a rule, but they don’t necessarily understand “right” from “wrong”
  • Emotionally, this age group can still have some separation anxieties or anxieties about anything new
  • Moving from a very egocentric attitude (all about me and what I want) to a place where they want to please and be more cooperative.

Lower Elementary (Grades K-3):

  • Attention span: about 15 minutes
  • Reading and number sense are emerging
  • Some will begin to understand abstract ideas while others still struggle
  • Able to understand cause and effect as well as grasp a main idea and explain it back to you
  • Loves to draw, paint, and create
  • Fairly cooperative and have a lot of energy
  • Enjoy engaging in games and are able to begin interacting in healthy competition
  • Friends are very important during these years and will often copy their peers
  • Begin to be build their self-image and also become more aware of others’ viewpoints of them.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6):

  • Attention span: about 20 minutes
  • Able to process more complex ideas and thoughts
  • Enjoy discussions that tinker not just with facts, but opinions
  • Like to gather lots of facts and opinions from various sources (friends, people of “authority”, social media) and begin to construct their own viewpoints
  • May begin moving into close relationships with others (“best friends”)
  • Insecurities tend to grow during this developmental stage
  • Can be very energetic and silly, love telling jokes
  • Lots of growth spurts (may be hungry or tired due to growth)
  • May “try on” different styles, attitudes, opinions, as they search for who they are or want to be.

Simply taking the time to understand the basics of the age group you are teaching will help your time with them be much more fruitful and fun! It’s so much easier to engage with kids when you have a better understanding of where they are and what types of things are important and impactful to them. So take a moment to look over the lessons you have planned. Are they ones that are active, participatory, and age appropriate? Do they offer children opportunities for success, or will they potentially lead to boredom or frustration? Tinker with plans to make sure you are doing all you can to meet your students right where they are. It’s worth the time and effort because when children are engaged with meaningful, age-appropriate activities, there will be less stress, fewer unwanted behaviors, and less anxiety for both students and teachers!


Hearts Alive offers Sunday School and Children’s church curriculum that has been designed with a child’s development in mind. We would love to send you a free sample. Sign up here!

Hearts Alive

Hearts Alive Sunday School and Children's Church provide liturgical congregations a highly-anticipated children’s curriculum that combines captivating content, lectionary alignment, and Gospel focus for children ages 3-12. For those seeking to engage children in a fun, age-appropriate application to the Revised Common Lectionary, Hearts Alive is a three-year course of study to give children a strong overview of the story of salvation and how it ties to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Hearts Alive supports and elevates liturgical traditions and the church calendar while using clear, contemporary learning techniques to present the Word of God. Learn more in our online community.

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