There is some great research to help those of us who take the point in the spiritual journey of little people. In James Fowler’s book, “Stages of Faith,” Fowler considers the faith of little people up to about age 2 a pre-stage referred to as “Undifferentiated Faith.” This is when infants to 2s form their first pre-images of God.
That said, ministry and space provided to these little people should be about the very things that we would expect: Care and Safety.
Key biblical concepts for toddler and twos include “God cares for you” and “God made everything,” so be ready to get on your hands and knees to explore the world with this child! This is what I call “Faith on the Floor.”
The best things we can do at this stage is give them a place where they can be well cared or when their parents are absent and build in regular times for individual attention and hugs. Lots of hugs. Lots of love. Loads of adult attention, praise and encouragement in a safe, secure world of familiar people and routines.
Toddlers will experience God’s love and forgiveness through loving, caring persons, develop a sense of trust, experience prayer, begin to associate the name Jesus with certain pictures and with the Bible. And they can learn that the Bible is a special book.
Fowler refers to the next stage of faith as Intuitive-Projective faith which is found primarily in preschoolers 3 through age 5 is a direct reflection of parental faith. These preschool disciples will imitate the faith of important adults in his/her life. They may talk about God in human terms and have a mental image of God based on human characteristics. They’ll learn from the simple Bible stories of people who choose to do right, to help, and to obey. They are especially impacted by stories and themes that relate to what he/she experiences and knows in his/her daily life through repetition and ritual like at mealtimes, holidays, songs, and Bible reading from a child’s Bible.
As preschoolers get older, they enter into Mythic-Literal Faith, which lasts until around 11 or 12 years old. Through sharing life with other people of faith, children learn that the faith they received from their parents is shared by other important people as well; they get a firsthand look at how older Christians live their lives and they see that all of church life – not just the kid’s part- is for them. They are interested in God’s greatness, power, and supernatural abilities.
As we recognize the way children learn to walk, we can say the general order in which things happen, but we really can’t tell WHEN they are going to happen. The same is true about faith development. Faith is a gift from God and is a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives an an amazing outpouring of grace. But these stages are important to acknowledge to be sure we are on point to how little people learn.