Quick Tips for Teaching Elementary Children at Every Age

This quick-reference guide will help you think of the best ways to reach children from grades 1 to 5!
9 min read

It’s true that every child is different. However, there are certain characteristics that tend to be the same about most children in a given age group. Let this quick-reference guide serve not to pigeonhole the children you teach but to help you think of the best ways to relate to them based on their common interests and abilities.

What to Expect from Children in Grades 1-2

Teachers who demonstrate their faith in a consistent, loving way are models through which children can understand the loving nature of God.

Physical

These children are growing rapidly. Younger first graders may be physically more like preschoolers, while the ones moving toward third grade have hit a new level of physical maturity that shouts, “I’m not a little kid anymore!”

Although these children may be expected to sit in school at this age, they still need frequent opportunities for movement during every class session. Small-muscle coordination is still developing and improving.

Girls are ahead of boys at this stage of development.

Teaching Tips:

Use activities that involve simple folding, cutting, and writing skills. Always offer drawing in place of writing for those who struggle with writing. Give them frequent opportunities to change position and to move around the room or outdoors.

Vary the kinds of activities to help keep attention high and discipline problems to a minimum.

Emotional

Children are experiencing new and frequently intense feelings as they grow more independent. Sometimes a child finds it hard to control his or her behavior. There is still a deep need for approval from adults and a growing need for approval by peers.

Teaching Tips:

Seek opportunities to help each child in your class KNOW and FEEL you love him or her. Show genuine interest in each child and his or her activities and accomplishments. Learn children’s names and use them frequently in positive ways.

And don’t forget to smile! Show them you care.

Children having fun outdoor
Image Credit: vitranc/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Social

Children this age are greatly concerned with pleasing their teachers. Each child is struggling to become socially accepted by their peer group as well. The Golden Rule is still a difficult concept at this age.

Being first and winning are very important … and taking turns is hard! This skill improves by the end of the second grade. A child’s social process moves gradually from I to you to us.

Teaching Tips:

Provide opportunities for children to practice taking turns. Help each child accept the opinions and wishes of others and consider the welfare of the group as well as his or her own. Call attention to times when the group cooperates successfully. And thank children for ways you see them sharing, taking turns, etc.!

Cognitive

There is an intense eagerness to learn! Children of this age ask many questions. They like to repeat stories and activities. Their concept of time is limited. Thinking is focused on here and now rather than past or future. Listening and speaking skills are developing rapidly; girls are ahead of boys.

A child tends to think everyone shares his or her view. Children see parts rather than how the parts make up the whole. They think very literally.

Teaching Tips:

Consider the skill and ability levels of the children in planning activities. For example, some can handle reading and writing activities while others may do better with music or art. Use pictures to help them understand Bible times and people. Avoid symbolic language, which often confuses them.

Use a variety of activities to keep brains alert and functioning at optimal levels. And it helps reach all different learning styles!

Spiritual

Children can sense the greatness, wonder, and love of God when given visual and specific examples. The nonphysical nature of God is baffling, but God’s presence in every area of life is generally accepted when parents and teachers communicate this in both their attitudes and their actions.

Children can think of Jesus as a friend but need specific examples of how Jesus expresses His love and care.

This understanding leads many children to belief and acceptance of Jesus as personal Savior. Children can comprehend talking to God anywhere, anytime, and in their own words—they need regular opportunities to pray. They can also comprehend that the Old Testament tells what happened before Jesus was born and the New Testament tells of His birth, work on Earth, return to Heaven, and what happened in God’s family on Earth.

Teaching Tips:

The Gospel becomes real to children as they feel genuine love from adults. Teachers who demonstrate their faith in a consistent, loving way are models through which children can understand the loving nature of God.

What to Expect from Children in Grades 3-4

Let all children know by your words and by your actions that “love is spoken here” and that you will not let others hurt them nor let them hurt others.

Physical

Children at this level have increasingly good large and small-muscle coordination. The girls are still ahead of the boys. Children can work diligently for longer periods but can become impatient with delays or their own imperfect abilities.

Teaching Tips:

Give clear, specific instructions. Allow children as much independence as possible in preparing materials. Assign children the responsibility for cleanup.

Emotional

This is the age of teasing, nicknames, criticism, and increased use of verbal skills to vent anger.

By eight years of age, children have developed a sense of fair play and a value system of right and wrong. At nine years children are searching for identity beyond membership in the family unit.

Teaching Tips:

Here is a marvelous opportunity for the teacher to present a Christian model at the time children are eagerly searching for models! Provide experiences that encourage children’s creativity.

Let all children know by your words and by your actions that “love is spoken here” and that you will not let others hurt them nor let them hurt others. Make your class a safe place where children feel accepted, where they are comfortable asking hard questions and where they may express their true feelings without fear of teasing.

teacher reading elementary students
Image Credit: Peter Cade/Stone/Getty Images

Social

Children’s desire for status within the peer group becomes more intense. This often leads to acting silly or showing off to gain attention.

Most children remain shy with strangers and exhibit strong preferences for being with a few close friends. Many children still lack the essential social skills needed to make and retain friendships.

Teaching Tips:

This age is a good time to use activities in which pairs or small groups of children can work together. Create natural opportunities for each child to get to know others and to take on greater responsibility.

Cognitive

Children are beginning to realize there may be valid opinions besides their own. They are becoming able to evaluate alternatives, and they are less likely than before to fasten onto one viewpoint as the only one possible. Children are also beginning to think in terms of “the whole.” They can begin learning some of those harder stories.

As children think more conceptually, they also have a high level of creativity. However, by this stage, many children have become self-conscious about their creative efforts as their understanding has grown to exceed their abilities in some areas.

Teaching Tips:

Encourage children to look up information and discover their own answers to problems. Provide art, music, and drama activities to help children learn Bible information and concepts. Encourage children to use their Bibles by finding and reading portions of Scripture.

Bible learning games are good for this age, and children are often eager to memorize Bible verses. Help children understand the meanings and context of the verses they memorize.

Spiritual

Children are open to sensing the need for God’s continuous help and guidance. The child can recognize the need for a personal Savior. There may be a desire to become a member of God’s family. Children who indicate an awareness of sin and concern about accepting Jesus as Savior need clear and careful guidance without pressure.

Teaching Tips:

Give children opportunities to communicate with God through prayer. Help them understand the forgiving nature of God. Talk personally with a child whom you sense the Holy Spirit is leading to trust the Lord Jesus. Ask simple questions to determine the child’s level of understanding.

What to Expect from Children in Grades 5-6

Include many opportunities for talking, questioning, and discussing in a safe, accepting environment.

Physical

Children have mastered most basic physical skills. They are active and curious and seek a variety of new experiences.

Rapid growth can cause some 11-year-olds to tire easily.

Teaching Tips:

10-year-old boys will still participate in activities with girls, but by 11 years of age they tend to work and play better with their own sex. In your class provide some time for children to be grouped in different ways. This is a good age for exploration and research activities. Use active, creative ways to memorize Bible verses.

Emotional

Children are usually cooperative, easygoing, content, friendly, and agreeable. Most adults enjoy working with this age group. Even though both girls and boys begin to think about their future as adults, their interests tend to differ significantly.

Be aware of behavioral changes that result from the 11-year-olds’ emotional growth. Children are experiencing unsteady emotions and often shift from one mood to another.

Teaching Tips:

Changes of feelings require patient understanding from adults. Give many opportunities to make choices with only a few necessary limits. Take time to listen as children share their experiences and problems with you.

If your class includes sixth graders who are attending middle school, realize that these children are greatly influenced by their peers. They may show signs of low self-acceptance and need your care and support more than ever.

Social

Friendships and activities with their peers flourish. Children draw together and away from adults in their desire for independence. The child usually does not want to stand alone in competition.

Teaching Tips:

Children no longer think aloud. Keeping communication open is of prime importance! Listen, ask open-ended questions, and avoid making judgmental comments to help them feel that it is safe to share freely.

Image Credit: sudo takeshi/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Cognitive

Children of this age are verbal! Making ethical decisions becomes a challenging task. They are able to express ideas and feelings in a creative way.

By 11 years of age, many children have begun to reason abstractly. They begin to think of themselves as adults and yet at the same time are questioning adult concepts. Hero worship is strong.

Teaching Tips:

Include many opportunities for talking, questioning, and discussing in a safe, accepting environment. These are good years for poetry, songs, drama, stories, drawing, and painting.

Give guidance in a way that does not damage children’s efforts to become thinking, self-directed people. Be aware of children with difficulty in reading. Plan other ways for them to gain information and be sensitive if asking children to read aloud. You can find more tips here.

Spiritual

Children can have deep feelings of love for God, can share the good news of Jesus with a friend, and are capable of involvement in evangelism and service projects. The child may seek guidance from God to make every day and long-range decisions.

Teaching Tips:

Provide opportunities for children to make choices and decisions based on Bible concepts. Plan prayer, Bible reading, and worship experiences.

Involve children in work and service projects.

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  Updated on June 24, 2021

About the Author

  • Your Ministry Spark Team is made of ministry volunteers, leaders, and experts who work with David C Cook. We’re passionate about helping others know, love, and follow Jesus. And, we have a big heart for those who serve the kingdom—that’s you. Together, we can do this!

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