Engaging preschool families: Incorporating developmentally appropriate practices

Jan 14, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Linda Tibbitts


“Like the disciples, we need to let the children come to Jesus. We need to create an environment where parents feel inspired to bring their children to Christ.” This statement was the premise of a Sparkhouse webinar as well as a series of early childhood blog posts .

In one post, I wrote about accomplishing this by building relationships with families. In another, I discussed ways to provide a strong biblical basis by using a kid-friendly Story Bible with supporting activities. In this blog, I will talk about how to foster an environment where preschoolers can ‘come to Jesus’ through play.

In ministry with young children, it’s important to understand and value play-based learning. Physician and educator, Maria Montessori said, “play is the work of the child.” As children play, they experiment with the world around them and build foundations for future learning.

As we plan for classroom play, providing both teacher-guided and child-guided activities fosters an environment where children can explore the Bible in a childlike manner.

Teacher-guided experiences

Teacher-guided experiences include songs, stories, fingerplays, rituals, discussions and prayers that happen during circle time – usually at a story rug with the teacher front and center.

Songs and stories are simple and catchy, fingerplays and rituals involve movement, and discussions are brief, often prompting children to point at pictures and objects in the room. Prayers focus on the theme of the story and are often simple enough for children to repeat. Circle time is usually conducted for 10-15 minutes at the beginning and end of the time together.

Child-guided activities

Child-guided activities occur when the child manages the choice, pace, and exploration of teacher-created stations. These can include sensory tables, discovery centers, art using interesting media, imaginative play, reading, sorting, play dough, and other play-based options.

As stations are prepared, consider how little ones approach their world. I’ve found that most preschoolers engage zealously when they are able to explore stations that have rich sensory experiences and opportunities for experimentation with minimal direction from adults. Some successes include:

  • Gazing into mama’s eyes while she reads a story
  • Squeezing, pulling, and tossing objects of different textures
  • Pretending to dress a doll as baby Moses
  • Experimenting with sound after hearing stories about Hannah and Samuel
  • Playing with a doll house in the context of learning about Joseph and his family
  • Painting a favorite Bible story then telling an adult all about the picture without fear of correction
  • Hunting for objects in a sensory table filled with sand like the desert Abraham crossed
  • Splashing while playing with Jonah’s boat in a water-filled tub


The children we serve in our early childhood ministries are as individual as the fingerprints that God designed for each of them. Children come to us with preferences, ideas, interests, abilities, and curiosities.

In order to serve our children well, we need to meet them where they are so the Bible stories are accessible to them at any age and stage. We can tell that we are succeeding when the children are busy and engaged!


Interested in learning more? Check out our webinar featuring Linda and more of her tips!

Topics: Early Childhood Ministry

Linda Tibbitts

Written by Linda Tibbitts

Linda's ministry focus is to help build Christian homes by equipping families to nurture children in the faith. She serves as director of children’s ministry at Trinity UMC in Orrville, Ohio where she previously served as director of youth ministries. Her first career was teaching and leading curriculum review and revision for Orrville City Schools.


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