We who nurture the life of children could be compared to gardeners, conscientiously serving the God-given stages of the growing plant. We seek to support its development as a seedling, a young plant, and a fruit-bearing or mature plant.
However, Christian educators of young children often begin to water, weed, and prune without first observing children to grasp the stages of their relationship with God. God has planned human and spiritual growth just as well as God has prepared plant growth.
Catholic scholar Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators Gianna Gobbi and others around the world and in many denominations have carefully observed the stages of newborn to 12 year-old children’s relationship with God, and they have developed an approach to religious formation, called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that serves those stages well. The encounter with God over the years includes coming to know God who is love, God who is personal, and God who is just and merciful, as these and other aspects of God match the developmental strengths of the growing child.
Here is that development and its implications in very broad strokes:
- Ages 0 to 6. Young children are in a relationship of love with God. This begins with life. This time is one of joy. For the young child, Christianity is not about doing good, but about being in love with Jesus. We serve this period with parables such as the good shepherd, the found sheep, the mustard seed, the pearl of great price, and the leaven, as well as the narratives of the birth of Christ, the Last Supper, and the women at the tomb. The signs of God’s presence through water, bread, and wine are also introduced according to the practice of each congregation.