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As catechists and teachers prepare for the start of the Gospel Weeklies program year, it’s helpful to consider the stage of development of the children they will be teaching. This is valuable for parents too! Below are some notes on child development from the Resource Manuals. Find the full manuals by scrolling to the bottom of the level pages for Seeds, Promise, Good News, Venture, and Visions.
Three- and four-year old children are very egocentric and cannot yet take the perspective of others. Their subjective view of life makes it difficult for them to see things from another person’s point of view. While limiting in some ways, their strong egocentricity is what motivates them to seek knowledge, have their needs met, and take on obstacles and challenges.
Primary children’s ability to symbolize, like their ability to think, is very concrete and literal. In developing the ability to think concretely, the primary child will understand God concretely in human terms. They will understand God’s love as being like the love of parents, teachers, and friends. They will draw God perhaps taller, bigger, higher, or older than human persons, but human nonetheless.
Children learn concretely by doing—by acting out, cutting and pasting, drawing and painting, making clay figures, handling objects, seeing pictures, and hearing stories. They learn through experiences—to pray by praying, to worship by worshiping, to share by sharing, to cooperate by cooperating, to love by loving and being loved.
Middle-grade children can empathize with others’ feelings and views. They can change the way they act when they realize how someone else feels. Catechists, teachers, and parents may frequently invite these children to consider what others feel and think as part of learning the reciprocal sense of the Golden Rule. When considering the morality of an action, Venture children can solve moral problems in ways that include both fairness and care. They can use both empathy and logic.
Teens’ cognitive development challenges them to outgrow their childhood concrete thinking in religion and other areas. Their questioning of childhood understanding is really a valuable, spiritual quest. They need to rethink and rework concepts they learned in elementary school but could only understand literally and concretely. God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush will now be recognized as a symbol, and the adolescent can begin to interpret what the symbol communicates about God.
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