Ages and Stages: Teaching Children at Each Level

Ages and Stages: Teaching Children at Each Level

“They learn best through discovery; love asking questions and trying out new games and ideas… They need security and structure; rely on adults for help and constant reassurance.”


Children’s Ages and Stages

Can six-year-olds work in groups? Why are the eight-year-olds suddenly so talkative? Children at different age levels have different gifts, interests, abilities, and challenges. As churches prepare for Sunday school and other children’s programs, it’s important for teachers and volunteers to know what to expect from each age. Teaching styes and activities can therefore be developmentally appropriate.

Below, Building Faith offers an “Ages & Stages” outline to help both professionals and volunteers in their planning. We’ve quoted from two wonderful resources in creating this list: 1) the website Parent Further, and 2) the book Yardsticks: Children in the classroom ages 4-14 by Chip Wood. Note that age groupings differ slightly from our breakdown below. Yardsticks, for example, has an entire chapter on each numerical age. For a fuller treatment on these age groups, check out Yardsticks and Parent Further.

Note: Everything below marked (PF) comes from the Parent Further website and everything marked (YS) comes from Yardsticks by Chip Wood.

4 and 5 Year Olds

Behaviors and developmental makers to look for:

  • Children begin hopping, climbing, swinging, and doing somersaults at this stage. PF
  • They learn best by moving large muscles. YS
  • At this age children often become frustrated with wanting to do something physically and not being able to do it yet. PF
  • They are often clumsy; collisions and spills are common. YS
  • At this age, children move easily between fantasy and reality. They can become quite emotional about their imaginary play. A great deal of social development occurs through fantasy play and imagination. PF
  • They need adult help finding words to express needs, instead of reacting physically. YS
  • Children at this stage learn from modeling; need chances to practice new behavior. YS
  • They are easily redirected from inappropriate behavior; teacher language is very important in helping children use language instead of physical means. YS
  • Children at this age need routines, along with consistent rules and discipline; respond well to clear and simple expectations. YS

6 And 7 Year Olds

Behaviors and developmental makers to look for:

  • They like to move. Many become restless and wiggle if they sit for too long. PF
  • They are often in a hurry; speed is a hallmark especially of six-year-olds. YS
  • Children at this age become more adept at relationships, but they also may have many conflicts with their peers. PF
  • They are extremely sensitive – an ounce of encouragement may be all they need to get through a difficult situation; severe criticism can truly injure them. YS
  • They tend to do best with one friend or work in pairs. PF
  • At this stage children tend to be self-centered. Most want to be first, and most want all the attention. PF
  • They will use tantrums, teasing, bossing, complaining, and tattling to try out relationships with authority; they learn best when adults understand but do not excessively tolerate this behavior. YS
  • These children learn best through discovery; love asking questions and trying out new games and ideas. YS
  • They need security and structure; rely on adults for help and constant reassurance. YS

8 and 9 Year Olds

Behaviors and developmental makers to look for:

  • Children at this age are competitive, and can become argumentative and quarrelsome when they lose. PF
  • They need their teacher’s sense of lightness and fun to help them relax in class and on the playground. YS
  • At this stage children can begin working well in small groups of three or four. PF
  • They prefer working within groups of the same gender. YS
  • These children still tend to be self-centered. Most want to be first, and most want all the attention. Squabbles can break out when your child feels slighted. PF
  • As they develop a growing sense of moral responsibility beyond themselves, they become more interested in fairness issues and may argue about them. YS
  • They like to push their physical limits; tire easily. YS
  • Children at this age are generally worried and anxious; need adult patience and clarity when giving directions or setting expectations. YS
  • They can be very self-critical; sarcastic humor from adults can be very hurtful. YS

10 And 11 Year Olds

Behaviors and developmental makers to look for:

  • These children enjoy the social aspects of learning. This works well when teachers encourage learning in small groups. PF
  • They love group games, relays, group initiatives, class outings, ropes courses, etc. YS
  • At this stage children move from concrete to abstract thinking. Concrete thinkers focus on the here and now, such as a particular house cat. Abstract thinkers focus on issues that are not associated with a specific instance. Thus, an abstract thinker can talk about domestic and wild cats, how they’re similar and different, and which ones they believe have more skills than others. PF
  • They may experience moodiness and roller-coaster emotions as they begin puberty. PF
  • They need adult empathy, humor, and sensitivity to help them cope with their rapidly changing minds and bodies. YS
  • Children at this age can be clumsy and uncoordinated due to growth spurts. PF
  • They are quite concerned with friendship and fairness issues; teams, groups, games, and competitions help them practice social interaction. YS 
  • They enjoy being noticed and rewarded for their efforts. YS


About the Quoted Resources

Yardsticks by Chip Wood – The first few chapters of Yardsticks has helpful content, such as a brief explanation of the principles of child development. Yardsticks is written for school teachers, so some of the information is irrelevant to a church setting and other information must be transferred into church context. This book has an introduction on each separate age (4-14) and bullet points related to physical development, social-emotional development, cognitive development, language development, fine and gross motor skills, reading, writing, and math.

Parent Further: Parent Further is a website aimed at helping “families strengthen relationships through shared activities.” While the target audience is parents, the “Understanding Age & Stages” provides excellent information applicable to a church setting. This section covers ages 0-18 in chunks of 2 to 4 years and provides information on what to expect, behavior and discipline, communication, health and daily care, learning and school, and safety.


Sarah Bentley Allred is an MDiv. student at Virginia Theological Seminary. Previously, Sarah served for four years as Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in High Point, North Carolina. She loves local coffee shops, board games, the beach, and exploring new places with her husband, Richard, and their dog, Grace.


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