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Participants (Faithful Journeys)

Faithful Journeys is designed for use with children in second and third grades. You may find it useful to think about the developmental norms for this age group. Not all children arrive at each developmental stage at the same time, but knowing what to expect overall from seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds can be quite helpful, especially to first-time leaders.

In Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook ( Boston : Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd discusses developmental characteristics of school-age children. She notes that by age seven, children's learning disabilities and behavioral or psychological issues may have appeared and been identified. Individual learning styles and strengths may also be apparent. Children who need glasses often get their first pair around this age.

In a section on moral development, Hurd notes that the typical child in this age group is "passionately interested" in moral issues:

She seeks what is fair and right... By developing games with rules, playing sports, or creating or belonging to clubs, the school-age child practices figuring out what is fair... This play is practice for more generalized moral decision making.

In general, children in second or third grade are:

  • Able to use gross and fine motor skills, which are almost fully developed
  • Influenced by media images and messages; beginning to compare themselves to norms perceived as desirable
  • Engaging in logical thinking based on "concrete operational" thinking
  • Practicing cognitive skills of acquiring, storing, and retrieving information
  • Developing their individual learning style, which may be auditory visual, sensory and/or kinesthetic
  • Showing their domain-specific intelligence, which may be verbal/linguistic, musical/rhythmic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and/or naturalist
  • Finding self-esteem in their knowledge and their student identity
  • Engaging peers; learning through mutual friendships
  • Able to comprehend the perspectives of others
  • Likely to engage in gender-segregated play
  • Interested in their own racial, ethnic and gender identity, and seeking affirmation of these identities from peers
  • Learning and negotiating early understandings of social scripts about sexuality
  • Aware of and able to apply the Golden Rule (treating others as they wish to be treated)
  • Energized by developing rules for play or work that ensure fairness
  • Interested in personal moral issues and able to wrestle with moral dilemmas in relationships
  • Aware of societal moral issues
  • Interested in helping to solve community and world problems
  • Showing interest in concrete aspects of faith and religion
  • "Doing" religion or spirituality by participating in rituals, practices and traditions.

Hurd offers a variety of strategies that speak to these developmental considerations and may help you shape your sessions effectively. You can:

  • Provide for children's overall physical needs, including nutrition, exercise and rest
  • Allow children to be active; avoid extended times of sitting and listening
  • Provide time for play and hands-on activities
  • Present challenges that promote children's use of their thinking skills
  • Support different learning styles
  • Encourage problem solving and discussion; allow children opportunities to experience others' perspectives through role play
  • Support children's natural impulse toward rule making and peer-to-peer negotiation of what is fair
  • Allow time with like-identity peers; support or facilitate mixed-peer time, as well
  • Intervene appropriately against exclusion or bullying, yet affirm children's need to work out relational complexities as a part of their moral development
  • Recognize the unique needs that attend the identity development of children who may be multiracial, multiethnic, transgender, and/or a "minority" in another way
  • Offer children many ways to contribute to the community
  • Give opportunities to "do" religion and be part of a faith community
  • Welcome large spiritual questions; encourage questioning of religion
  • Support self-esteem; affirm the child's developing body and identity
  • Support the whole child as an individual and as a member of the group
  • Provide encouragement and love.

Integrating All Participants

By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help make every session inclusive of children with a range of physical and cognitive abilities, learning styles, food allergies, and other needs or limitations. As you plan sessions, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for children who are differently abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.

Find out about participants' medical conditions and their allergies, particularly to food. Sessions 5 and 13 offer food activities. Make sure all the children can eat any ingredients in any food you plan to provide.

Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole group and individual activities. You may substitute alternate activities for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your design of each session.

In the Including All Participants sections, you will often find the suggestion to bring out the fidget objects basket. A basket full of manipulable objects, such as pipe cleaners or clay, can keep restless hands and minds busy. Make fidget objects available when you feel that some or all of the children may have difficulty sitting through longer periods of listening or discussion. Find more information about fidget objects in the Before You Start section of this Introduction and in Session 2, Leader Resource 2.

Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group. If you have questions about the accessibility or adaptability of a particular activity, please ask your director of religious education for advice.

In the Teacher Development section of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations website, find descriptions of a helpful resource book, Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs.

For more information contact web @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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