When teaching young children, ages 6–8, it is important to understand that they are still developing concepts about themselves, their lives, and the world around them. While children of this age are generally confident about what they know, they still have a lot to learn, and it is our responsibility to teach them. As we do so, however, we must be cognizant of each child’s mental, physical and spiritual needs and abilities.
Metacognition is the process of knowing what you know. Most children ages 6–8 become metacognitive, meaning they begin to understand when they know something. As a result, they will often get distracted and stop attending to tasks that they feel are repetitive of the information they already believe they know and understand. In contrast, some children are not confident that they know anything and might be prone to thinking they cannot learn a given concept.
To help children focus on the material being taught, try the following.
- Give children small bits of information repeated multiple times to help them to remember it. This is especially important when teaching difficult concepts.
- When possible, sing songs, use actions, and let them manipulate objects as part of their learning.
- Give children explicit instructions.
- Refocus children between activities with a song, hand claps, or another transition signal. It is mentally difficult for children to transition from one activity to the next, so having a visible break between activities helps their brains change gears.
- When possible, allow children to process their learning collaboratively. This is particularly important for children who are shy. By giving children time to speak with their peers, you actively involve all of the students in their learning.
- Do not underestimate a child’s capacity for learning. Children in general, but particularly between the ages of six and eight, are able to understand complex ideas if they are given detailed explanations.
Children ages 6–8 are still physically developing as well. While certain elements of their physical development are irrelevant to their ability to learn, much of what they experience directly impacts their ability to learn. This is demonstrated by their inability to sit still—which is especially true for boys—and their need for active learning. To help them, try the following.
- Give children “wiggle time.” When learning requires them to sit for long periods of time, have children stand up and stretch or guide them in a brief, directed time of movement between each activity they do. Young children need to move around a lot.
- Keep activities short. Young children have short attention spans. If you see that children are no longer attending to a task, when possible, include a brief movement break in the activity or move on to a new activity.
- Allow children to sit down or move around after short periods of standing. While children need to move, they cannot be expected to stand in one place for a long time.
- Provide physical transitions between activities. The physicality of the transitions will help children to see and feel they are moving from one activity to the next.
Spiritually, children are just beginning to learn about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; their roles in the Bible as well as in the children’s lives. The following suggestions will help facilitate the spiritual growth of young children.
- Make learning interactive. Children remember information with which they have physically and mentally interacted anyway, so carry this over to spiritual development.
- Do not try to answer a spiritual question if you do not know the answer. Instead, take the time to look it up or simply say to the child, “That is a really great question! I am not sure what the answer is. If I figure it out, I will get back to you.”
- Explore the surface of a topic before digging deep. Children need to understand the basics of their faith before they can understand some of the complexities of it.
- Help the children to know God and to understand that He loves them unconditionally. This is the foundation of our faith. If they know and believe they are precious and loved, they will be more likely to accept other teachings of Christianity.
- Remember to listen to them. Young children often are subjected to a lot of adult lecture time, but they need opportunities to have their voices, thoughts and opinions heard by others.
Keep in mind, children ages 6–8 vary greatly in their mental, physical and spiritual development. However, in general, they will respond to thoroughly-explained information, cooperative learning, and opportunities to move.