Eighteenth century children were seen and treated as small adults and in evangelical and Methodist circles this was intensified by an almost obsessive concern for their salvation. The Wesley children learned the Lord's Prayer from their mother as soon as they could talk. As they grew up, she taught them in turn, insisting that the girls learnt to read before they began needlework, and held regular conversations with them. In a letter of 24 July 1732 she gave John Wesley a detailed account of her methods and he was strongly influenced by them. His views on how children should be treated, set out in the Rules of Kingswood School, and the regime he insisted on there, were excessively harsh by today's standards. But his awareness of children's educational needs, particularly in the new urban environments, led to the establishment ofday schools for poor children at Kingswood, the New Room and theFoundery and, in 1748, the first residential school at Kingswood. Wesley published Instructions for Children (1745), based on the writings of the Abbé Fleury and the mystical poet Poiret. He urged his preachers to relate to children, to encourage their parents and to preach about education. Charles Wesley's hymns provided prayers for parents ('for grace to guide what grace has given') and for children ('to train and bring them up for heaven').

Between 1800 and 1950 millions of children passed through Methodist Sunday Schools. Day schools flourished from 1837 until 1902 and further residential schools, beginning withWoodhouse Grove in 1811, were established.T.B. Stephenson founded theNCHO in 1869.

The Methodist Church is involved in ecumenical and voluntary organizations for the well-being of children: toddlers' clubs, play-groups and Shell Groups (for mixed 7 to 11s) exist in many churches. Most recently, parenthood training and the result of a study project on Afro-Caribbean spirituality in this country are contributing to the direction and quality of future work with children.The section 'For little Children' in the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) acknowledged their place in public worship. In new areas, churches have often developed from work with children.Infant baptism, the sacrament of belonging to the Church, is the basis of all-age worship and of sensitivity to children's spirituality. Children 'received into the congregation of Christ's flock', and thus accepted for themselves, are regarded as capable of worship and of contributing to it. The Big Blue Planet song-book offered contemporary material for this purpose.

After the Children Act (1989) child protection guidelines were applied to Church life. The Methodist Church has taken a lead in the area of safeguarding of children and young people within its life, evidenced by the Conference's approval of 'Guidelines for Safeguarding' in 1994 and of various policies and procedures, including 'Safeguarding Children and Young People' (Revised edition 2010). The responsibilities of the Connexion, the Districts and the local Church for ensuring the safety of children and young people is spelt out very clearly, including the requirement to appoint a local safeguarding coordinator and to ensure that all those working with children and young people have been checked with the government's Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Standing Orders, besides prohibiting from work with children and young people persons who are convicted of or cautioned for any of a large number of offences relating to children, also more specifically bar those convicted of or cautioned for sexual offences against children, from holding a much wider range of offices within the church. In 2011 the Conference approved a detailed proposal for a major Past Safeguarding Cases Review, which reported to the Conference in 2015 ('Courage, Cost and Hope') with a number of significant recommendations which the Conference accepted. A Connexional Safeguarding Committee.has responsibilities acros a wide range of safeguarding matters (extending to both children and vulnerable adults) and the appointments of safeguarding officers are required at all levels of church life.

See also Education; Youth work

  • L.F. Church, The Early Methodist People (1948) pp.236-46
  • Paul Sangster, Pity My Simplicity: the Evangelical Revival and the Religious Education of Children (1963)
  • John A. Newton, Susanna Wesley and the Puritan Tradition in Methodism (1968)
  • Douglas S. Hubery, The Methodist Contribution to Education in England (1977)
  • E. Ann Buckroyd, '"Hymns for Children"', in WHS Proceedings, 41 pp.117-22
  • Conference Agenda, 2000, pp.404-17