More growth and development takes place during the first three years of life than at any other time, according to Diane Trister Dodge and Cate Heroman, authors of Building Your Baby’s Brain: A Parent’s Guide to the First Five Years. So why is it that the nursery is usually the most neglected area of the church? Christian values should be instilled in children as early as possible. After talking with members of churches who run successful nurseries, as well as my own experience working with young children, I have a plan that will enrich almost every church nursery.
First and foremost, you must have dedicated volunteers. The best way to get more “hands” to help with the basic care of small children is to force all parents who have a child in the nursery to commit to working a specific day each month or quarter, depending on the size of your church. You should also ask for other volunteers in the church to do specific jobs. For example, one person can do Music Time, while someone else could be in charge of Story Time. Without a stated position, some people will not do anything for fear of intruding. When workers know their job is to provide the music or to prepare the lesson, they will be more enthusiastic.
The nursery is also a great ministry for the older generation. When requesting volunteers, be sure to let the older ladies know that small babies need “rockers.” Another good way to recruit help in the nursery is to have a night for teens. for example, every Sunday night could be youth night where the teens keep the nursery, with at least one adult parent. This gives the youth hands-on experience with small children and allows them to give back to their church.
After volunteers are signed up, have a training session. There is no greater duty than teaching children about God. Your volunteers will appreciate the instruction. Give the teachers and helpers a schedule of the day and insist they follow it. Small children need structure and consistency; however, they also need flexibility, so don’t be too rigid. What children learn now will influence them the rest of their lives.
The nursery should be divided by maturity, if possible. Babies that are not yet walking should be in one area and the toddlers should be in another area. The small babies, while not able to comprehend a Bible lesson, enjoy being read to a listening to Christian music. Even though they are not able to speak yet, you will be surprised to hear them singing. “Jesus Loves Me” as soon as they are able to talk. Most importantly, little babies need to feel loved and protected.
- Free Play
The toddlers, though not able to sit down for long periods of time, are able to begin learning about God. Although they enjoy some instruction, they will need a lot of time for free play because this is the best form of learning for their age group. Make sure they are playing fair by playing with them. Too often, nursery volunteers spend the whole morning sitting in the rocking chair waiting for church to be over.
The children should be allowed to play when they first come in. After a few minutes of getting everyone in and settled down from their parents’ departure, start your own worship service. If possible, take the children to a classroom without toys for this time. Sing and play games with the kids for about 20 minutes. Children at this age are sponges. They soak up everything they hear. I have heard 2-year-olds recite the books of the Bible, Old and New Testament, as well as several verses of scripture. This can be taught in your nursery by using simple tapes, CDs or your own silly songs. Be sure that this is fun time and not a time the children dread.
You can then sit the kids down for a short story that contains their Bible lesson in terms toddlers can understand. Don’t forget to end with prayer. They may not understand what is being said, but they will learn the importance of prayer and will develop the habit of praying themselves. I started praying with my own daughter at night when she was about 18 months old. It wasn’t long before she started expecting this. As soon as she would lie down she would say “Dear God, Dear God.” She began reminding me on occasions when I forgot.
After the structured time, take the children outside or back to their room for free play. If any of the kids are interested in sitting down to do a craft, make this available to them, but don’t force it.
When it’s about 20 minutes before they leave, serve the toddlers a snack. Singing a prayer like “Thank You, Father” or “The Lord Is Good to Me” is a great way to teach them appreciation. Watching a group of 20- to 30-month-old babies sit in front of their food and sing this prayer is so heartwarming. After the food is blessed, turn on a Christian video. This is a good way for them to wind down while the volunteers clean up, change diapers and prepare for the parents to pick up their children.
You have one to five hours a week to teach children about God’s love. Too many churches take this time for granted. They allow the children to just meander around with little adult interaction. Besides being boring for the children, it is uninspiring for the adults. By following the plan above during worship service, Sunday School, Sunday night and Wednesday night, your church will be doing its part in providing spiritual growth for its children.
There is no greater duty than teaching children about God.