Pedagogical Practices

         Worship and reverence 


Worship time and religious instruction should be reserved and special. It should transform ordinary time and space into sacred time and space (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). During the week, worship time should be a time to explain and interpret the mystery of God, while the sacred Sabbath hours are set aside to allow adults and children to experience and dwell in the presence of God through music, “imagination, memory and meaning” (Stewart & Berryman, 1989, p. 14).


During the week, the morning worship story should be the means by which the children meet God and learn who He is (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). The sustainability of religious instruction is not in its excitement, but in its meaning and memories, especially sensorial memories and imaginations (Gillan Byrne, 2008; Barna, 2007). The function of the parent is not to entertain the children but to teach them how to reverently enter into His presence on a daily basis and derive meaning from the lessons (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). 


Teaching reverence requires careful preparation. Children need to learn how to quiet themselves and prepare for a worship experience rather than sit in an imposed silence (Stewart & Berryman, 1989, p. 14). In order to accomplish this, the parents should ensure that all materials are organized and readily available so as to not be a distraction to the children as they enter the worship story to experience, learn and listen to God (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). Demonstrate deep concentration upon entering the story time (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). Use simple materials as visual translations of the Bible will provide for meaningful silences (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). Hence, the materials should be treated reverently while the story is told using as few words and materials as possible (Stewart & Berryman, 1989).


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Active engagement

“Young children need love, security, appropriate freedom, continuity, order and meaning (Stewart & Berryman, 1989, p. 14). They experience the world in a concrete manner (Lee, 1988) and learn best through participation (Jackson, 2009). Thus, the intent of worship and instruction should be to experience and praise God (Stewart & Berryman, 1989).


Actively engaging in religious practices and benevolent activities helps children to understand the broad scope of living a religious life; a lifestyle which encompasses values-based living, thoughtfulness, empathy, thankfulness, altruism, patience and forgiveness, to name only a few (Barna, 2007). Through spiritual topics and activities, young children can develop “symmetrical, all-sided character” and broaden intellectual abilities through the study of God’s word and nature (White, RH, November 17, 1896, ¶9).


Young children will enjoy and seriously engage in performing religious practices. Special worship services, prayer and praise time, charitable deeds, food drives and acts of kindness are all readily performed and become authentic learning experiences; learning experiences which provide a positive religious foundation (Lee, 1988) from which later religious training matures.


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            Emphasizing affectivity


Religion is often too abstract for young children to grasp. Discussing the meaning of a story or parable, or emphasizing the nature of a concept are often lost within the young child’s concrete thought processes (Lee, 1988). Nevertheless, there is a way to instruct young children so that they and the instructor grow in love for God and for one another (Stewart & Berryman, 1989).


Studies cited by Lee (1988) indicate a high comprehension rate among young children when their religious educators spent considerable time teaching the children how to experience a story or parable through their feelings in addition to other sensorial exercises, such as music, modeling and age-appropriate role-playing. This allows the children to encounter God in an experiential way (Stewart & Berryman, 1989). Working with story figures, felts and art materials provides children the opportunity to respond to stories of God, enter into dialogues about and with God and “provides a way for young children to tell the stories of God to others” (Stewart & Berryman, 1989, p. 13).


Experiencing a story or parable through feelings and emotions requires the morning worship stories tell only the actions and description essential to the story. Definitions, elaborate explanations and unnecessary detail should be omitted in order to provide for periods of silence, “time and space through which the listener experiences the mystery, awe and wonder” inherent in sacred stories (Stewart & Berryman, 1989, p. 25). By focusing on the essential elements of the worship story without embellishment, the parent finds it both easier and necessary to rely more heavily on the Biblical text and the authenticity of the story. This in turn allows for the development of the child’s imagination and memory as the Holy Spirit moves among the children, impressing truth upon their hearts and minds (Stewart & Berryman, 1989).


Too often, parents and teachers focus on the external and abstract concepts of a religious story (e.g. the children of Israel marched around Jericho seven times, blew their trumpets and the walls fell down). Lee (1988) and the researchers cited in his chapter, recommend delving into the feelings of the different characters within the story, discussing these feelings and the reasons for such feelings (e.g. the Israelites were confused; the people of Jericho were afraid; both the Israelites and the people of Jericho thought that marching around a city was an odd way to fight a battle). In so doing, the children will begin to learn how to differentiate and discern the various aspects of their affective domain and how to respond appropriately to feelings and senses (e.g. the Israelites were obedient; the people of Jericho did not change their ways or leave their city once the Israelites were finished marching each day).


As another example, Lee (1988) suggests parents and religious educators use songs, model and role play what different kinds of prayer feel like, such as the prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer of peace, healing or protection, the fervent prayer, the prayer of forgiveness.


Certainly, all the different affective aspects of a story or concept are not dealt with at one time. The parent begins this process and continues it as either a series, unit of study or enhancement activity. However, the parent should be purposeful in the attempt to emphasize affectivity when dealing with religious matters (Lee, 1988).

Symbolism is a powerful way of helping young children understand and remember abstract concepts. Demonstrate the meaning of symbols by using tangible objects and natural world correlations (Gillan Byrne, 2008). One successful method of teaching the concept of symbolism is to have a Symbolism Box containing items such as silk flowers, a mirror and a plastic or stuffed animal. As each item is brought out of the box, even children as young as two years of age know the difference between a real animal and a plastic animal, a real flower versus a fake flower. This, then, is used to help them learn how symbols are used for representation. The symbolism box concept can also be very useful in teaching children how to differentiate between what is real and what is not real – a very important concept in a world so full of superficiality and make believe.

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Dream sharing


The concept of teaching children how to share their dreams is drawn from the many accounts where the God of Heaven spoke to Bible characters in dreams (e.g. Jacob, Joseph, Jonah, Solomon, David).  Citing Frankl and Freud, Lee (1988) proposes adults should encourage young children to share their dreams as a means of helping them understand their sense of perception.


Dream sharing can benefit children by teaching them how to share their thoughts, hopes and fears. Recalling and sharing their dreams provides opportunities for discourse with caring adults who can then help the young child learn from their dreams. Sometimes the dreams are funny memories of recent events. Other times, the dreams are of a more serious nature such as monsters or other fears.

Dream sharing can also lead into a conversation about the importance of protecting the mind from images and thoughts that are harmful. By using the principle of Philippians 4:8, caring adults can help children learn how to protect their minds. This principle states: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things." If followed carefully, the advice in this Bible verse will provide multitudinous teachable moments as parents help children learn wrong from right, good from evil, appropriate from inappropriate. In addition, parents will be afforded the opportunity to teach young children how to pray for God’s protection, His salvation, from scary and bad thoughts.


Being able to recall and learn from dreams provides valuable learning opportunities for young children. Learning to draw lessons from an intensely personal experience, such as a dream, strengthens one’s sense of perception and ability to recognize and respond to an intensely personal God (Lee, 1988).


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            Story Telling


Reading stories is an enjoyable way of imparting information to young children; so is story telling. Children love to hear stories about real life occurrences, especially if the story is about them! Stories can be used to help share a lesson learned or testimony based on a similar situation. Telling stories are a powerful avenue for connecting and broadening a child’s spiritual dimension – the emotional, social and belief structures that help form character and behavior. Sharing brief stories about why certain beliefs are held helps the child formulate concepts of relevance and meaning. Religious instruction may not curtail destructive lifestyle tendencies; however, strongly held beliefs are intimately linked to our sense of self and purpose (Vader, 2006; Perry, 1998).

Religious language


Christian religion is replete with colloquialism, none of which are meaningful to young children. “Fishers of men”, “covered by His blood”, “Christ died for sins”, and “WWJD” are just a few of the confusing axioms used to demonstrate an “exclusively cognitive reflection about God” (Lee, 1988, p. 166, ¶3).


Here again is a reminder of the young child’s cognitive limitations. Being concrete and affective, young children will best learn from religious language which is rich in metaphors and imagery, action and affect (Lee, 1988). This pedagogical approach brings together the other three: Simple religious language and explanations with abundant opportunities for sensorial and experiential learning. The parents must act in a biblical manner, thus teaching through their example the lessons they desire to impart (Lee, 1988).
        The Blessing

All of us desire genuine love and acceptance. The blessing is an important means for communicating a sense of identity, meaning, love and acceptance. The blessing not only provides a much needed sense of personal acceptance and love, it also plays an important part in protecting and even freeing them to develop intimate relationships.


The blessing is of critical importance for anyone who desires to cleave, or draw close, to another person in an intimate relationship. The purpose of a blessing is to construct, and in some cases reconstruct, relationships.


A blessing begins with meaningful touching. It continues with a spoken message of high value, a message that pictures a special future for the individual being blessed, and one that is based on an active commitment to see the blessing come to pass.


Meaningful touch is an essential element in bestowing the blessing as it is the key to communicating warmth, personal acceptance, and affirmation.


A spoken message is the act of bestowing the blessing. In order for a blessing to bloom and grow in the life of the recipient, it must be verbalized. The words of a blessing are necessary to provide genuine acceptance.


Attaching high value to the one being blessed is the fruition of the meaningful touch and spoken message. To value someone is to honor them; to recognize who they are and the redeeming qualities they have cultivated throughout their life.


A blessing message that pictures a special future for the ones being blessed communicates a message of encouragement, promise and security.

It conveys to them that the gifts and character traits they now possess are attributes that God can bless and use in the future.


An active commitment to a blessing means that the words being spoken are backed with a sense of personal responsibility to help the ones being blessed be successful.

Blessings typically have a spiritual tone to them. However, they need not be religious in nature. Blessings can be as long as a full page, or as short as a few sentences. They are simply the heart-felt thoughts of loved ones being shared.

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The plan of salvation is a topic that that has been studied since the Garden of Eden. If adults have struggled with it for so many years, how then are we to teach this to our young children? Perhaps in its most simplistic form we can find some answers and strategies. Consider the following scenarios:

Infants and toddlers have no problem requesting assistance from adults. Alas, once autonomy sets in, the young preschool-age child seems to forget, and sometimes refuses, to ask for help. It is at these times when a caring adult can remind the child: "I am here and I can help you if you ask." Herein lies a spiritual lesson: Christ is always willing to assist us, rescue us, intercede for us. We just have to ask.

Frustration and anger are two emotions that tend to bubble over and have a domino effect on one's behavior and outlook. Punishing a child, criticizing or rebuking them, mocking them or being sarcastic tend to aggravate the situation and infect others who may be involved or witnessing a given situation.

Instead, these times provide opportunities to teach the young child how to surrender to Christ ("Dear Jesus, I'm so sorry"), to ask that His Spirit come into our hearts ("please help me"), that the bad feelings and behaviors be taken away ("send Satan away") and replaced with peace and joy ("give me a happy heart").

This simple activity is an example of how Jesus saves; He saves us by helping us - moment by moment, day by day. When we're upset, when we're hurt, when we've lost something... Yes, even a young child can understand the Jesus can save us. He saves us by helping us; we just have to ask.

2010, C. Gillan Byrne

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To schedule a speaking appointment with Dr. Gillan Byrne, please use the email link or call (479) 216-9771.


Barna, G. (2007, Aug. 6). Americans Not Concerned About Their Spiritual Condition. Ventura, CA: The Barna Group, Ltd. Retrieved from:

Gillan Byrne, C. (2008). Spiritual development of the young child. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the California Association of Private School Organizations, Long Beach, CA.

Gillan, S. (2007). Young children and spirituality. Unpublished manuscript.

Kanter, Janet. (2007, November 6). Spiritual health: Data supporting a revised definition based on spiritual need fulfillment. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the American Public Health Association, Washington, D.C.
Jackson, Robert. (2009). The interpretive approach to religious education and the development of a community of practice. In: Religious education research through a community of practice: action research and the interpretive approach. Religious diversity and education in Europe (Bd.13). Waxmann, Münster, pp. 21-31. ISBN 978-3-8309-2158-5

Lee, J. M. (1988). How to teach: Foundations, processes, procedures. In D. Ratcliff (Ed.), Handbook of Preschool Religious Education (pp. 152-223). Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press.

Perry, Bruce, D. (1998). Incubated in Terror: Neurodevelopmental Factors in the “Cycle of Violence”. In Joy D. Osofsky (Ed.), Children in a violent society. (pp. 124-149). New York, NY: Gilford Press. ISBN 978-1-57230-387-4

Stewart, S. & Berryman, J. (1989). Young children and worship. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.

White, E. G. (1954; 2002). Child Guidance. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association. 

White, E.G. (1896, November 17). A letter from Sister White. The Review and Herald [RH]. Retrieved from$fn=default.htm$vid=default

Vader, John-Paul. (2006, October). Spiritual health: The next frontier. European Journal of Public Health, 16(5): 457. 


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