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Growing Season

Every age and every stage presents its challenges and joys--just ask the parents of kids in your ministry! No matter what age group you work with--babies, preschoolers, elementary, or preteens--you have your hands full with the big task of imparting God's truth into kids' minds and hearts.

We tracked down four noted experts to demystify kids' spiritual development by the ages. Read on to learn how to reach--and teach--the wonderful little people in your ministry!

BABIES AND TODDLERS: Faith-Filled Environments
Not long ago a children's ministry volunteer said to me that little ones just can't learn and understand spiritual concepts like older children. Perhaps others in your church agree with her impression of babies' learning abilities. The truth is, though, that this stage of infancy may seem simplistic to adults; however, it's a vital first step in spiritual growth.

Relationships are central to healthy spiritual growth in the lives of the very youngest. Infants and toddlers bond with the parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caregivers who look after their physical and emotional needs. Because adults care for their needs, infants develop a sense of trust. According to the psychologist Erik Erikson, infants who successfully learn to trust develop hope. And Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." In the first two years of life, the foundational concepts of spiritual formation--trust and hope--grow.

Additionally, while caring for the physical and emotional needs of infants and toddlers, adults teach them the language of faith. When soothing a crying infant, for instance, a teacher sings a song about Jesus. In the toddler room, children hear about Noah and the Ark. Parents talk about God and Jesus in their daily conversations with babies and toddlers. That's where growth comes from.

Ministry to Babies and Toddlers
You can support infants and toddlers' spiritual growth using these tips.

• Read to little ones about God and Jesus. Simple Bibles for toddlers such as board books about God's creation, animals, and family are great choices.
• Talk often about God and Jesus.
• Tell children constantly that Jesus loves them.
• Use teachable moments to highlight spiritual truths.
• As children learn to talk, help instill words of our faith such as God, Jesus, Bible, and pray in their vocabulary.
• Include infants and toddlers in spiritual activities such as worship and prayer.
• Know that infants and toddlers really do learn at church.
• Invite little ones to special worship occasions such as Christmas Eve.
• Encourage parents to have their youngest children present during prayer times at home.
• Pray with infants and toddlers. Explain that prayer is talking to God.
• Make prayer a part of the routine in your classroom.
• Remember that children discover God from infancy. Paul wrote to Timothy "from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures" (2 Timothy 3:15).

Joyce Meyers holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education. She teaches classes on early childhood education at Dallas Baptist University.

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