When we hear the words, “We’d like to call you to serve in the nursery…” what comes to mind?
Perhaps a flood of memories when you nervously dropped off your child for the first time in nursery. Or gratitude for the watch care that your children experienced with their introduction to their first class at Church. Maybe a recollection of the relief you felt has you handed off your active toddler to a kind-hearted nursery worker and you would now have time at Church to recharge your heart and soul.
Life has so many seasons, and we each have varying talents and needs in this stressful life. A sacred space in the nursery allows us to both meet the needs of the lambs and their shepherds.
When a child loves to attend the nursery class, they will have a foundation to continue to love the Church.
With that said, as you begin or continue in this sacred calling space—the nursery—here are a few insights shared by several of our Leading Saints followers. When asked how to embrace this sacred calling, they shared their insights and discoveries that served their flock of “littles” that were entrusted to their care.
An Environment of Peace and Welcoming
Be sure to set up and be in the room before the children arrive. Consider spraying the room with pure orange oil (no chemicals) for olfactory memory.
Play acoustic piano/guitar music as they arrive (songs with voices make the room feel like it’s filled with people),
Some nursery leaders leave the door open so that the children don’t feel trapped away from their parents. This approach may vary depending on the students you have in your class.
If you have children who struggle coming to or staying in nursery, consider visiting children and their parents at their home with treats and a game to gently develop relationships of trust.
Establish Individual Relationships A great deal of safety can be felt in nursery as we connect individually to each child. This takes time and face to face interaction.
Invite the parents to leave because if they stay, they are slowing an important developmental stage for their child. As the children come into class, sit at the table, and play with playdough, so they join in the gathering moment.
Visiting Adults (or Substitutes)
When adults visit nursery, consider asking them not to interact with the other adults in general. This is a sacred hour for the children, not a time for adults to socialize. It’s just as sacred as any other church meeting. If we do talk to adults in the room, it’s about the children. (“Look how well Luna shared her toys!”)
The Importance of a Schedule
When a child learns what to expect each week in nursery, the transition from parents to nursery is smoother. Additionally, it becomes a weekly activity that the children look forward to as they develop their autonomy.
Having the same schedule each week is key. It might include:
- A gathering activity (playdough)
- Snack & story (read a book during snack or ask a parent to)
- A lesson (But mention the main topic of the lesson throughout their day: “did you just help someone like the Good Samaritan did?” Remember that Jesus and love are all they need to know so whatever the lesson topic is, still make it about Jesus)
- An art project
- A small motor activity (memory game)
- A large motor activity (hunting for toy lizards on the church grounds)
- Consider not pulling out toys at all except on special holidays, and when you do, each child gets one toy to play with and can exchange it for another toy (This should be at the end of class)
- Close with a gathering activity like a parachute or bubbles
Sing songs to help the children transition from each activity.
Lean into the talents of the teachers. If someone isn’t comfortable teaching, the other person can teach while their co-leader could focus on the activities.
Consider sending the parents an email each week about what was focused on, songs that were learned, etc.
Once every season consider sending home a Family Home Evening activity with the children to do with their families: a bug jar for a nature walk, a s’more kit to make and eat together, a kit to make an edible tree for birds at Christmas time, etc.
Every so often, bring in interesting gadgets: an apple peeler/corer they can hand crank, magnets, a bird nest with wood eggs in it, anything new that will interest them and draw attention to the lesson topic.
As leaders, it is helpful to sing together quietly throughout the nursery class time. For example, sing a song about the temple while playing with playdough, or sing a song about Jesus during water play, etc.
Keep in mind that a valuable goal is also to create an environment where parents could enjoy their classes because they were not worried about their toddler in nursery.
Cleanliness IS Important
We all know that nursery can be a giant petri dish of germs. In addition to reminding parents that children with illness, fever etc. should not be taken to nursery, here are a few ideas to teach and keep the area clean:
- Teach them to maintain a clean environment by putting hand sanitizer on the table in the shape of a face and they rub the table down
- Teach them to serve the Church by letting them clean the toys once every month by bringing in a huge tub of warm water and let them play with toys in it, include shaving cream and thank them for helping.
Alternate idea: Some young women and young men activities could also include them cleaning the toys each month for one of their evening activities.
In conjunction with the Primary presidency, split the nursery if there are 20+ kids (into younger/older age groups.) You can alternate groups in the toy room so they both get a lesson/snack time in a calmer space.
Having men in nursery is important. The kids love to play with them and sit on their laps or wrestle on the floor. Former bishops and grandfathers are wonderful to have in regular callings in the nursery.
Church standards are a minimum of two adults in every class. This should be true even if there’s only one child. One contributor found that the ideal ratio is one adult to every four to five children. Thus, if you have a nursery with ten children, it would be ideal to have four adults to support and guide them. This ratio is important because; there is always someone to take the crying or frightened child; or take the ones that needed to go to the bathroom; or to the parent for a diaper change.
If you divide the kids into younger and older classes for the lesson time, the younger ones can learn that if you sit on the chairs for story time, you can transition in to being with the “big kid” group.
A note for Primary presidencies to consider: Teens, newly-marrieds, and mothers with children in the nursery should NOT be in the nursery. They need to be with the adults growing their own testimonies. They will have plenty of opportunities later.
Another thing to be mindful of are children with special needs. It’s critical to collaborate with their parents on ways to best meet their needs. Sometimes they do not do well in sharing time with the other kids. The nursery has too many sensory items for them. You may want to consider having a separate room and modify the toys and activities to the needs of these special children. Be willing and educated to meet the one where they are in their development.
A Sacred Space
If we can focus on creating a peaceful environment, where the children can relate being at Church with a positive feeling, nursery is sacred.
Information contributed by:
Jim and Marla West live in Oregon and have been married for 42 years. They have served in nursery for many years. They have five sons and three grandchildren and enjoy gardening, canoeing, volunteering in the community, and working with the youth of the Church.
Diana Nielsen lives in a very small ward in Michigan. She raised eight children and that was the most rewarding part of her life. She is a registered nurse, has served as Relief Society president, stake nursery leader, ward nursery leader and currently serves as an activity day leader and Sunbeam teacher.
Lillian Angelovic is the Director of Operations for Leading Saints, lives in North Salt Lake, Utah, and served in the Japan, Sendai mission. She studied journalism and creative writing at the University of Utah and homeschooled her three (now-adult) children. She is also a hospital volunteer coordinator and loves helping people serve one another. Lillian currently serves in her ward’s nursery.