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Chapter 1

UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN



1. THE WORLD OF THE CHILD
The saying, “children never change” is possibly true, but the world in which children are living today is changing rapidly, and as it changes, it pushes children into its new mould. While not necessarily worse, it is a different world from a decade or two ago.

A. EARLIER DEVELOPMENT
Children are being encouraged to see themselves as mature at a progressively younger age. Who heard of ten year olds wearing make up in the 1970s, or of boys wanting every detail of their clothing to fit in with current fashion? Manufacturers have realised that there is money in introducing pre-teenagers to the pop culture.

B. CHANGING FAMILY LIFE
The nature of family life is changing rapidly. Practically every child in our country has a friend who does not live with both their natural parents. It’s not the child’s fault if they cannot bounce into church with both father and mother. Families are more mobile than ever, and frequent moves around the country produce insecure and unsettled children.

C. CHANGING SCHOOL LIFE
Experiential learning has brought great changes in the quality of teaching and learning. Childhood education has become more enjoyable and fulfilling, with less children emerging as failures from the system. When junior ministry workers offer the “you listen, I talk” approach it’s little wonder that they loose the attention of children. At school children are exposed to different world-views. The result may well be a weakening of the plausibility of their own world-view. The Christian world-view is not presented at school, except as one of the options.

D. DECAYING LIVING STANDARDS
The decay of city centres and the fragmentation of rural communities has trapped children in areas of poor housing, bad debt, high unemployment and frequent crime. There is a growing sense of injustice when the children compare their lives with the lives of the privileged few.

E. GROWING AWARENESS OF ABUSE
The growing incidence of the abuse of children is alarming. With the alarming statistics being quoted, the possibility of emotional, physical and sexual abuse must be tucked away in the minds of all who work with children. Whether the incidence of abuse or our awareness of what has always existed is growing, is unsure. However, children’s workers must be aware that the pressures which lead people to hurt children exist within the church as well as outside.

F. ACCESS TO TELEVISION AND VIDEO
The access to TV and Video has brought benefits for the life of the child but at a great price. With increased knowledge and learning has come a fresh realisation that the world is violent, corrupt, and that sexual exploitation of children characterises advertising. These are realities of life, and hiding them is not the answer, but we may regret that children find out about a sick adult world too soon.

2. THE NATURE OF THE CHILD
While we realise that no two children are identical, children in the 7 to 11 year age group do share common characteristics. Even though there are children of 7 years who have not developed emotionally beyond 5, and there are 11 year olds who have developed physically far beyond their peers, children share some common characteristics:

A. FULL OF ENERGY
To ask a child to sit in one place for a long time is a futile request. All of their energy is redirected into the relentless need to fidget or disrupt. Those who work with children need to provide them with fun-activity, fast-moving experiences, and an opportunity to take part in what is going on. It is no use fighting a child’s natural energy, it must be channelled into creative, enjoyable, yet controlled forms of expression.

B. EAGER TO LEARN
Children continually develop crazes, which are opportunities to share information or new skills. We must teach the Bible in an exciting way that shows how it relates to everyday life. Children will absorb the teaching like a sponge if it is presented to them in an appealing and exciting manner. Children are developing the ability to distinguish what is real from what is fantasy. Miracle’s can be present a problem for children, so stress the purpose of the miracles, rather than presenting them as fantastic magical acts. Because children often think of God as an ancient, white-bearded man in the clouds, it is the children’s workers responsibility to move them forward in their understanding.

C. THINKING CONCRETELY
Children do not think in abstract ways until they reach their teens. As a result they do not relate to concepts such as being saved, or being redeemed. They are easily confused by old Bible translations and hymns. Talking to children is an art than has to be practised if it is to develop. Ensure that the language and illustrations that you use are a part of their everyday language. When a technical term or concept must be used, ie. the trinity, make sure that you discover ways to put it into their thought forms.

D. UNINHIBITED EXPRESSION
Because children have less hang ups that teens or adults about how people will view them, they are more spontaneous and uninhibited in speech and actions. They will come up with creative, spontaneous ideas for games or activities. The negative side of this is that they often say hurtful things to other children, possibly without intending to harm or crush them.

E. LOOKING FOR HEROES
The child’s life is full of adventure. Hero worship is to be expected at this age, as they relate to heroes and heroines. We should present the Bible as the story of heroes and heroines, and the christian life as an adventure. Jesus the real hero, was a different kind of hero than many of their contemporary heroes, as He chose love and compassion instead of violence. Acting out Bible stories helps children to identify with the heroes, and seeing the leader live out an adventurous life-style offers a healthy role-model.

F. DESIRE TO WIN
Play among children of this age is characterised by poor organisation, heated disputes over rules, lop-sided scores, and accusations of cheating. They have a very strong desire to win as an individual. Children must be taught teamwork - the ability to work together in a common cause with other children.

G. CONSCIOUS OF JUSTICE
While the words “justice” and “morality” may not be a part of the child’s vocabulary, the phrase, “It’s not fair” shows that the child is concerned with right and wrong. Children are beginning to see the difference between “being sorry” and “saying sorry”. The need for Jesus as a Saviour begins to take on deeper significance. Teach children about the crucifixion by explaining that it was not fair and that Jesus was punished in their place. Their sense of justice will help them to respond appropriately.

H. DEVELOPING SELF-IDENTITY
Children need praise from parents and friends to build a healthy self-concept. Their encounters with other children starts the process that will determine what they become, and the quality of this becoming depends on the qualities of the people encountered. This is the age of sex-segregation where boys like to play with boys and girls with girls. But mixed activities will bring healthy interaction that will help prepare children for adolescence, and ultimately, marriage. It is important to teach children that God views them not just as boys, girls, members of a gang, scholars, members of a cultural grouping, race or nationality, but as special individuals he made to be friends with!

I. DEVELOPING GROUP IDENTITY
Children during this age begin to show signs of decreased dependence on their parents and long to be “in” with their peer group. Workers should ensure that youth groups are places with a strong sense of group identity. Encouraging involvement will cause children to begin to “own” the group. Children at this age are extremely sensitive about being excluded from a group or an activity, and they need special encouragement.

3. UNDERSTANDING CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Every person goes through a process of development towards maturity. In this process a child gradually becomes able to think and understand in more complex ways. Our ministry to children needs to be geared to the way that children think and understand, not the way adolescents or adults think. The following list indicates some of the differences in thinking ability, identified by Jean Piaget.

Preconceptual Stage (ages one and a half to four)
* Imitative language, only partially understood
* Objects seem stable, not able to grasp changing shapes due to perspective
* Lacks abstracting ability to perceive space apart from perspective
* Beginning to distinguish between past, present and future
* Reasoning is by analogy to experience

Intuitive stage (ages four to seven)
* Language and thought tied to phenomenal experience: words represent child’s experience
* Comprehends and responds to adult language, but cannot understand conversation
* Objects now maintain identity despite changes in position perspective
* Number sense develops with ability to measure quantity
* Can compensate fully for perspective changes caused by change in position
* Time sense is still personalised; interaction between time, space and distance not grasped
* Interested in explaining causes of what is observed, but understanding is still intuitive

Concrete Stage (ages seven to ten)
* Can trace change in states through complex series rather than rely on impression of state
* Can take others’ point of view and integrate their perspective with their own
* Beginning to distinguish variables that cause change and mentally predict changes
* Capacity to perceive objects, numbers, time, space, is significantly developed
* Mechanical explanations of cause are given priority

Formal Operations Stage (ages ten to fifteen)
* The ability to think about thought is developed
* Able to explore relations between the real and the possible

The Characteristics of Spiritually Growing Children:

At Age Six:
* Likes to hear Bible stories
* Feels a natural love for Jesus
* Able to say that God made everything
* Recognize that they have hard times and need to pray about them

At Age Seven:
* Developing an ethical sense about self, though it is not always consistent
* Have ideas about acceptable behaviour
* Are able to make a distinction between what they are told and what they experience
* Have reasoning powers that can be used in learning spiritual truth

At Age Eight:
* Can do limited Bible reading
* Are happiest with yes or no answers to moral problems
* Have some concern for others and what happens to them
* Want very definite information about God

At Age Nine:
* Can be challenged to co-operate
* Can be more objective about themselves
* Is ready to accept some historical information about the Bible
* Need help developing into the kind of person they want to become

At Age Ten:
* Can learn many facts but need help seeing how Bible truth applies
* Should be encouraged to read Bible for themselves
* Prayer is becoming very meaningful
* May want to share their faith

At Age Eleven:
* Have many new values that they are trying and testing
* Tend to judge right and wrong by their feelings
* Can relate some Bible truth to themselves without help
* Need help from Christian teachers in dealing with emotional reactions to situations





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