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 aware 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 paying attention to tasks that they feel are repetitive of the information they already believe they know and understand. In contrast, other children are not confident that they know anything and might think they cannot learn when presented with an idea or topic.
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 topics.
- When possible, sing songs, use actions, and let them use objects as part of their learning.
- Give children specific and direct 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 them.
- When possible, allow children to process their learning with other children. This is especially important for children who are shy. Giving children time to talk with their friends about what they are learning helps them to be actively involved in learning.
- Do not limit what you teach because you think the children will not understand. Children in general, but particularly those ages 6–8, are able to understand complex ideas if they are given detailed explanations.
Children ages 6–8 are still developing physically. This can sometimes affect 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 time to wiggle. 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 paying attention to a task, 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. They are learning about the roles the persons of the trinity play in the Bible as well as in the children’s lives. The following suggestions will help guide the spiritual growth of young children.
- Make learning interactive. Children remember information with which they have physically and mentally interacted anyway, so the same is true when they are developing spiritually.
- 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 basic information about a topic before explaining the details. Children need to understand the basics of their faith before they can understand some of the more complicated parts of it.
- Help the children to know God and to understand that He loves them unconditionally. This is the foundation of Christianity. If they know and believe they are precious and loved, they will be more likely to accept other teachings of the faith.
- Remember to listen to them. Young children often are subjected to a lot of adult talking time, but they need opportunities to have their voices, thoughts and opinions heard by others.
It is important to know that children ages 6–8 differ greatly in their mental, physical and spiritual development. However, in general, they will respond to well-explained information, talking with friends abut what they are learning, and movement.