Welcome to the first installment in our series, Entering Through Their Door & Knowing the Age Group You Teach, in which we will look at developmental stages of our learners. St. Ignatius of Loyola said that, when teaching or speaking to a group, it is always best to “enter through their door, but be sure to leave through your door.” His advice is that we need to take learners where they are and move them to the next step in their journeys. With that in mind, we will look at the various age groups that catechists teach, beginning with early childhood.
Early childhood includes the ages of 3–5, which translates into preschool and kindergarten. I have always admired catechists who work with children at this age; it’s not my gift! Here are some characteristics of children in the early childhood stage.
Children at this age:
- learn through their senses.
- are enormously curious.
- love to ask questions.
- have magical explanations for natural phenomena.
- have vivid imaginations.
- love to sing, move, rhyme, and dance.
- need structure and routine.
- have rapidly expanding cognitive abilities but short attention spans.
- are incapable of sitting still for long periods.
- express themselves symbolically through play as well as through color and design.
With that as a background, consider using the following activity types and tools that work well with early childhood:
- activities that involve movement
- manipulatives such as puzzles and prayer beads (for example, these Loyola Learning Tools)
- very short stories that engage children in the storytelling process
- coloring and drawing
- singing, dancing, hand clapping, and rhyming
- storyboards, puppets, and plush figures (such as Jesus the Teacher and Mary, Our Mother)
- games and activities that encourage teamwork, cooperation, and sharing
- brief guided reflections (2–3 minutes)
I’m impressed with the Early Learning Faith Formation Resources that Loyola Press offers, which I am confident will help those of you early childhood catechists to effectively engage your little disciples. Be sure to take a look!
In addition to what I provided above, what characteristics would you add to describe early childhood learners? What other activities or methodologies work best with this age group?
Our Bible Story Hour is is geared to three- to five-year-olds. For the Joseph and his coat lesson, I took some yarn scraps and knitted a tiny colorful coat (it was really a vest) and turned the Jesus plush doll into Joseph for the day. The kids enjoyed passing the plush figure around and putting on and taking off his coat.