Part 1: Guiding our children spiritually intro
Part 2: the VIOLIN years
Part 3: the VIOLA years
Part 4: the CELLO years
Part 5: adding in the academics
Let's now go back to the beginning of that journey, to what I call the VIOLIN years.
What aspects of learning characterize these years? These six: Vocabulary, Imaginitive play, Observation, Listening, Impressing, and Narration.
Vocabulary. Children from the earliest years are soaking up words, ascribing meaning to them and learning how to use them effectively. In the first five years of life, in a verbally explosive time, children learn anywhere from 2600 to 10,000 words. By the age of ten, a child may have 20,000 words, and by age twelve, that has multiplied to about 50,000 words.
Imaginative play. Children in these years are full of ideas, and imaginative play is an important part of learning, encompassing make-believe and role-playing. It is part of their emotional development, their creativity, their language development, and their thinking and problem-solving abilities.
Observation. Remember the song line, "Oh, be careful little eyes what you see"? During these years, children are watching everything, and a primary way to teach them is to demonstrate it in some way, or to model it, as is suggested by the old maxim "More is caught than taught." Because of how they learn, we must help to guard their eyes and their minds in these tender years and to expose them to that which is true, good, and beautiful.
Listening. Another line in that song is, "Oh, be careful little ears what you hear." During these years, children are also listening and soaking up everything. They may not always understand what they hear, but it is still making an impression on them, and this is one reason why it is so easy for children to memorize things during these years, especially if they are set to music or repeated in some other memorable way.
Impressing. By this, I don't mean that we need to impress our children with great feats, but that early childhood is a time to heed the advice of Deuteronomy 6:7, referring to God's commandments, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Taking time in these early years to make the Word of God a normal part of every aspect of your life, including memorizing the Word, will make a huge impression now and later.
Narration. This is a time for stories, especially the true narratives from God's Word, and of heroes of our faith. It is also a time to enjoy fictional tales that have been written and shared from generation to generation, and to encourage and train them to tell those stories back to us.
Feeling and familiarity. From birth to age five, much of our children's spiritual development is going on subconsciously. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul refers to the image of mother of young children when he says, "But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." This is a time for gentleness and nurturing, for building our children's sense of trust, and also for helping them understand the whole idea of authority. Our goal during these years are to make spiritual learning and conversations a natural and regular part of our lives. Let the Bible and prayer and church be associated with sensations of loving familiarity and security, and let our parenting feed our children's earliest understanding of God in ways that are positive and true.
Modeling and mimicry. From age six to age nine, typically the early school years, children move from a more passive role in their spiritual development to a more active one, but still very dependent on what is being modeled for them. These are the years when I most consider the commands of Deuteronomy 6:7, referred to above, and also Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." While memorization of Scripture can certainly begin in the preschool years, it can explode during these early school years, as the ministry of Awana has shown. These are years to help our children grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures, of our Christian history, and of heroes of our faith. It's a time to introduce them, both by instruction and by modeling it ourselves, to habits of prayer, study, giving, and worship. It's also a time to gently guide them in cultivating heart attitudes and, when they find that difficult, to use those moments not to shame them legalistically, but to remind them of their need for God's grace.