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The Importance of Blending Theology and Psychology in Kids Ministry

If we want kids to understand the complexities of theology, we must consider developmental psychology & break down ideas for understanding.
theology and psychology

When it comes to communicating with kid, adults often assume two things:

First, they assume that kids think like we do now.

Second, they assume that kids think we did when we were there age.

Neither of which are true.

The truth is that kids don’t process information like we do as adults.

Even more, kids are growing up in a vastly different world then we did.

Both of which ultimately impact how they experience new information.

This is true for how we help kids understand reading and mathematics. It’s true for how they learn to play sports and dance. And it’s also true for how they experience relationships with family, friends, and strangers.

Developmental Psychology

How do we know this? We know this because of discoveries made through developmental psychology. The field of developmental psychology has been around for a while. In fact, much of how kids learn in school is based on research that has been around for well over 50 years. And while the basic understanding hasn’t changed, more recent discoveries from the field child development have allowed us nuanced understanding of how kids learn, grow, and process information throughout the major phases of their life. Orange’s extensive research of developmental psychology through the Phase Project has shaped how we create each of our age-specific curriculum.

These updated insights include how kids use different aspects of their brain to:

  • regulate attention
  • concentrate
  • experience trauma
  • connect with arts or sciences
  • employ learning styles and intelligences

As educators learn from new understanding, they update how curriculum is taught in schools. They update how teachers are trained in university and what resources for parents at home. Many school districts have completely changed their programs based on updated research. Everything from the curriculum kids experience to how their schools are organized is tweaked. Information is developed from simple to complex ideas.

What Developmental Psychology Looks Like in the Classroom

In a school classroom it may look something like:

  • Reading: You learn the alphabet in kindergarten before learning sight words or reading sentences. Eventually understanding the complexities of William Faulkner in AP Lit.
  • Math: You learn number sense and place value before learning addition, subtraction, or fractions. Doing this lays a foundation for conceptualizing advanced algebra and calculus.
  • Social Studies: You might learn big chunks of history before putting seeing how the events are connected in AP History. The highlights will help you understand the cause and effect of consecutive World Wars on the global economy.

You get the idea.

Yet although we know this is true for reading, math, and history, when it comes to faith formation, we don’t put the same understanding to practice.

But we need to remember that this is also true for how kids learn theology, experience the stories of the Bible, and come to and understanding of their part in God’s One Big Story. In faith formation, psychology and theology should be considered together.

Incorporating Developmental Psychology and Theology

Throughout the history of the church, not many have paid attention to what educators have learned from developmental psychologists. Most have not considered the impact psychology and theology can have when blended together.

Instead of breaking down information. . .

  • We want our preschoolers to understand substitutionary atonement.
  • Also, we hope our elementary students can unpack the major eschatology theories.
  • Or at the very least, we hope our kids know all the Bible stories in order, how they connect to Jesus, and have some idea of the stories’ main plot points and details.

This might be what we want, but this isn’t how kids learn best.

For a long time, faith formation and elementary education were treated as separate disciplines that didn’t need to interact with each other. One being focused on math and reading. The other focused on helping kids know the content in the Bible.

However, as we allow psychology and theology to intersect, we’ve realized that we have a lot to learn about how best to help kids experience the truth of the Bible.

Why You Need Developmental Appropriate Kids Curriculum

That’s why at Orange, we create our 252 Kids and First Look curriculum with two things in mind:

First, we hope to be theologically sound for the 10,000 churches and 80+ diverse denominations who partner with us.

But we also strive to be developmentally appropriate for the over 664,000 kids who experience curriculum each week.

We want all kids to have an authentic, everyday faith in Jesus that transforms the way they see God, themselves, and the rest of the world. The best way to help them understand what that means is for them to learn and experience it in a way that connects with how they learn as kids, including

  • One big idea and theme each month that connects to kid-friendly application points.
  • A single Bible story a week that’s presented in a way each phase of development will understand, yet stays true to the eventual way they will understand that story.
  • One bottom line each month for preschoolers and one bottom line for elementary students.
  • Complex ideas broken into simple phrases so kids can understand them.
  • Activities that connect with various learning styles at each developmental phase.
  • Discussion questions attached to activities for younger students.
  • Discussion questions on their own for preteens.

Each story, each bottom line, each definition is a building block to the ultimate understanding and faith in Jesus that a person will experience as an adult.

When it comes to faith formation, this is a long game. It required we understand both theology, and psychology.

We use the best of what we know now to provide what kids needs to begin their forever relationship with Jesus.

Learn more about 252 Kids Ministry Curriculum and First Look Preschool Curriculum, and try any of Orange’s developmentally appropriate curriculum for free today.

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