Five Moves to Extra-Ordinary Teaching, Part 2

Leadership / Teaching Techniques //

Colleen Derr, Associate Professor Wesley Seminary


Jesus told us to “let the little children to come”, that we must “become like this little child”, AND “the Kingdom of God belongs to them”. What does it mean for the Kingdom to belong to children and for children to serve as an example for spiritual vitality?


For starters I believe it means they are capable of more than just experiencing biblical stories so they can store them away in their memory banks until they are ready to experience spiritual growth – some time into adulthood or at least adolescence. I believe it means that they are capable to grasp God’s love and character, to understand that God desires for them to be His children, and to see Jesus as God’s Son who is our example of how to live, how to love, and how to believe NOW.   Children are asked to have faith in a great many things like Santa Clause, the Easter bunny, and the Tooth Fairy; and they eagerly jump into having faith in God Too. Sofia Cavalletti (2002) [1]observed children for over forty-five years as she developed the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd”. From her observations she suggested that young children (2 to 3 years) experience God in “an intense, all-engaging experience of enjoyment” (p. ix) and encourages faith education during the “golden age” or youngest years so to not “neglect the most important and foundational ‘moment’ of faith formation” (p. ix). Children, very young children, are capable of experiencing God!


In the second part of our series, we ask the question: “Where are they now?” In order for our teaching to lead to transforming and growing faith, we need to determine the child’s “location” to provide instruction that “fits” them.


Step Two: Determine the Location


The second step in designing instruction that results in transformation is to determine the location of the children – their developmental location. After we have taken inventory of all the things in the room (step one) and identified the opportunities, challenges, and threats and have learned how to capitalize on the opportunities, respond to the challenges, and manage the threats we are ready to move on in our instructional design to determining the unique location of every child in our care.


There are generalizations we can make about a child’s developmental level based on age, but to get an accurate grasp of each child’s unique developmental level we must know them – spend time with them – and be observant!


Where is their location in terms of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development?

–       For children in the age range you serve, what is the “expected” level of physical development? Do your children meet those, exceed those, or have they not quite “arrived” yet? Are there factors that delay development?

o   How does each child’s level of physical development impact your teaching moments? Do you create instruction, experiences, and movements that each child can physically participate in?

–       What do they already know? Are they pre-readers or readers? Do they think concretely in what they can see/hear/feel/touch or can they make application and connection beyond what is seen?

–       What have they already experienced? From previous teachers and experiences in your church context, at home, at school, with friends? No matter how young, they are not “blank slates” waiting to be “written on” but they come already with a great deal of knowledge and experience – build on what they already know!

o   How does what the children already know and what they have already experienced impact the way you develop your lessons and how you build connections between new information and experiences and “old” ones?

–       How do they perceive information and learn?

o   What is their learning style? Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile?

o   What is their personality preference? Think in terms of the characters from Winnie the Pooh…which one are they? Owl – strong leaders, Pooh – get along and go along with everyone, Tigger – outgoing and high energy, or Eeyore – cautious and deliberate?

o   How “smart” are they? Are they good with words, numbers, people, nature, music, drawing, dancing, or are they reflective?

–       What do they need? Abraham Maslow, a social scientist, suggested that people experience five motivational needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. The “lower level” needs must be met before the higher needs can be addressed. In other words, a child cannot grasp love until their bellies are full and they feel safe.


Where the children in your ministry are “at” in terms of development, experiences, ability, personality, learning style, and needs determines what you say and how you say it – what you do and how you do it. Meet the children where they are – so you can help them grow as Jesus did: “in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52)!


Where are they now? Next time…where are they going?




[1] Cavalletti, S. (2002). The religious potential of the child: 6 to 12 years old. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.






About the Author

Colleen Derr serves as Professor of Christian Ministry and Congregational Formation at Wesley Seminary. She provides oversight to the M.Div. spiritual formation courses and the MA in Child, Youth and Family Ministry program. Prior to joining Wesley Seminary Dr. Derr has served as Director of Children’s Ministry for The Wesleyan Church and as Assistant Pastor of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana. She has been involved in local church Christian education for over 30 years. Colleen developed a children’s catechism program for The Wesleyan Church, Building Faith Kids, and a preteen discipleship tool, Explore. In addition, she developed a host of training materials for local church ministry leaders and has provided training and consultation for local churches across the country.