How to Sincerely Enjoy Working in Nursery

Welcome to the nursery.

A friend of mine was recently called to be Nursery leader and solicited advice on how to run a successful nursery. (Actually, his question was whether or not I thought it was acceptable to teach the kids Klingon, but that’s another story.) I know this is a calling that many people dread, and may even turn down. It doesn’t have to be that way! Working in nursery can be fun, uplifting and educational, and needn’t lead to insanity. I’m probably too opinionated on this topic, both in number of opinions and how passionately they are held, but I wanted to share the advice I prepared for my friend with a wider audience in hopes of inspiring others with at least a few of my suggestions.

In no particular order, here are my tips for running a happy, nurturing, enjoyable nursery for all involved:

  1. You can make a slide out of a conference-size standard church building table by folding down the legs on one end and leaving the other up. If your tables are the current standard issue plastic top ones, the children won’t be able to pick up enough speed to require any kind of cushioning at the bottom.
  2. STRUCTURE. I know, I know, you like just letting the kids play and going with the flow. You don’t want to be “that guy,” the cruel drill sergeant. Believe me, I know, I’ve been there. The Primary President all but ordered me to take a highly structured approach when I was called to nursery and I am now a most zealous convert. You will not regret this:
    • Have a schedule and stick to it. The children will learn it fairly quickly and begin to anticipate each part.

    • The schedule should change pace often.
    • Make “free play” with toys as short as possible. Just during the drop-off time, if you can get away with it. Yes, you heard me right! Free play with toys is chaotic and too quickly depletes your mental energy. It is also the time when children are most likely to have conflicts with other children.
    • Have rituals and traditions for everything. This helps children know what is expected of them and have concrete, reliable things to look forward to. All this promotes well-being and happiness of the children and you. Events that can be marked by specific words or actions or little melodies are: clearing their place at the end of snack, sitting down for lesson, cleaning up toys. Anything that is chore-like–turn it into a little ritual game and they will focus more on the fun and familiarity of that then the chore itself.

    The reason for structure is that there aren’t enough of you to do a man-to-man defense. You need to go zone. You need activities that involve and entertain many children at once, instead of trying to console each one yourself. Most of the following tips are ways to maintain structure.

  3. For lessons, they love mystery. Put something, anything, in a paper bag and make them guess what it is, or let each child peek in the bag one at a time. It’s like catnip, every time.
  4. Our current nursery leader has a wand with a bee on it that she waves over each child’s head while they’re eating snack, and she says “Busy busy busy bee, won’t you say your name to me?” Then the chlid says their name and then all the children have to say loud “welcome [name],” then quiet “welcome [name].” This glosses over the otherwise awkward scenario where you don’t know or can’t remember a child’s name, and the repetition helps everyone learn the names.
  5. Learn the Barney clean-up song: “Clean-up! Clean-up! Everybody, everywhere! Clean-up! Clean-up! Everybody do your share.” Works like a charm.
  6. Get the primary songbook CDs and a CD player (or better yet ipod w/speakers) so when you do singing time you aren’t doing solos. Primary might tell you that they’ll send the primary chorister in to do song time for you, but the reality is that there are lot of exceptions or running-lates, and you just can’t leave 1/4 of your entire nursery schedule to chance/whim like that. It needs to happen at the scheduled time and happen every time, so have a plan for doing it yourself.
  7. For song time I have cardstock sunshines mounted on popsicle sticks that I hand out to each kid when we sing “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,” ditto with star for “I am like a Star shining brightly,” and a set with a kid’s face that is for “I am a child of God.” They quickly feel familiar and comfortable with the ritual of passing them out and recollecting them, and it helps them look forward to those songs. It also clearly marks the boundaries between songs, which I think helps them feel like we’re not just singing interminably.
  8. BUBBLES. Get one of those machines that makes tons of bubbles for you. No matter how well-run and harmonious your nursery is, those last 5 minutes before the parents arrive will often seem impossibly long. Bubbles are a great way to “play us out.”
  9. For disinfecting the toys, which most likely is being neglected, I like to buy the Costco disinfecting wipes 3-pack (the store brand version of this). Not very earth-friendly, but it gets the job done. When I was Activity Day leader I had the girls wipe down all the nursery toys as an activity. A service project counts towards their goals, they enjoyed it, and for me as a leader it was ideal (easy to plan, is done at the building, cheap).
  10. They really like to sing “Wheels on the Bus,” but I used to edit it to mitigate the outdated gender roles in the original lyrics (mom says “shh!” while dad reads the newspaper). [evil grin]
  11. I’m an advocate of being ruthless in enforcing the rule that children must be 18 months to attend. Having parents of younger children attend with the child doesn’t help; if anything it is worse because it is that much more distracting. If parents think their child needs time to adjust or warm up to nursery, tell them that’s fine, but that process will start when the child is 18 months old.
  12. It’s a good idea to deploy some kind of semiotics indicating place and ownership when it comes to snack time, otherwise they tend to be messier and more prone to poaching from each other. If you want to get crafty: The nursery in our ward did the cutest thing. They took photos of each child, then printed them in color on 8.5×11, and laminated them, and then that was each kid’s reusable placemat for snack time. The children know which place is theirs (no reading skills required), and they feel important and recognized.
  13. The new nursery manual is very well done. Sadly, it wasn’t published yet when I was teaching nursery. It contains not only lesson plans, but general tips for success such as dealing with conflict and reaching children with special needs. Julie M. Smith posted a glowing review of it over at Times & Seasons with more information.
  14. A real above-and-beyond nursery takes extra care in creating a welcoming environment for children right as they’re arriving. This can be tricky when you’re dealing with a hectic hand-off of the room from another ward, but so worthwhile if you can pull it off. My own kids really, really didn’t like being dropped off to nursery until we switched to a ward that had a table with a colorful vinyl tablecloth and play-dough waiting for them when they arrived. A welcoming environment with a specific activity going on gives children something to go to, rather than just away from mom and dad.

Have fun! To me, there are few rewards as sweet as the moment when you’ve gained a toddler’s trust. It makes me suddenly mindful of all my unworthiness–that I’m an ofttimes messy, stubborn, prideful, lazy, unwise person–but with that humbling I am so inspired to want to be better. Cherish those moments and the honor it is to experience them.

Comments

  1. Excellent, Cynthia. A must-read for everyone who gets called to nursery. And everyone who fears being called to nursery.

  2. I still remember when my husband and I were called. I laughed and couldn’t stop. Poor bishopric guy didn’t know how to react. He finally continued on with his speal anyway. I practically hadn’t seen a baby/toddler in about 10 years and my husband was more clueless than I was.
    Nursery is awesome. When it is your calling, the Lord helps you love those kids and you’ll do anything for them.
    Even my hubby soon saw that it was waaayyyy better than Elder’s Quorum. He’d take off his tie, sit on the floor. What’s not to like?
    As long as they don’t leave you in too long.

  3. Forgot to mention–Ditto on structure. Structure is so good for kids and they are happy.

  4. Absolutely excellent post! I LOVE good nursery leaders. Almost all my children were blessed with them, and they really contributed to my children feeling comfortable and safe at church. And knowing my kids were being loved by an truly dedicated nursery leader sure helped me feel the Spirit at church. Thanks for posting this!

  5. Stephanie says:

    You are the nursery Goddess, Cynthia.

  6. Excellent advice. I liked serving in nursery a lot. My husband volunteered to help out so much that they called him in soon after I was released. I hope lots of wards are calling men to nursery. In my experience, they get down and play more than women (darn dresses) and often don’t seem as upset by crying. There were certain kids that would only go to nursery if my husband was there and would follow him like little ducklings down the hall to fill up the water pitcher. It’s so sweet to see them, now in primary, still excited to see him on Sunday or at the grocery store.

    Nursery can be wonderful. Order and structure are really, really important to a good experience for everyone. Love for the kids is the most important thing of all. They feel it and respond to how they are regarded.

  7. Seriously, you rule.

  8. Jennifer in GA says:

    Yes, yes, yes- especially regarding structure. I teach preschool, and I use a lot of the same school techniques when I was in Nursery and Sunbeams. We did the same things, in the same order every week.

    If I could a few more ideas to an already excellent list, I would also say don’t be afraid to be the “Nursery Nazi”.

    I know parents are often anxious to let their little ones go for the first time, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if the parent hangs around indefinitely. I’ve never met a child yet who didn’t adjust eventually if the parents simply dropped them off with a smile, hug and a quick “good bye!”. Parents sometimes forget that Nursery is not just playtime for two hours- it’s a class where these precious little ones can feel the Spirit if we let them.

    Also, be super strict about pick-up time. There have been times when I have been waiting for over 15 minutes for a parent to come get their child. Yes, sometimes the RS President or the Bishop just want to have a “quick word”, but more often than not people are just visiting. People don’t mean to take advantage of your time, but it happens far too often. Little things like this can lead to burn out very quickly.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up if you need supplies! There’s NOTHING worse than being stuck in a small room with 10 kids under the age of three and nothing to do for two hours. PlayDo, crayons, paper, glue sticks, bubbles etc should all be replaced on a regular basis.

    People think I’m crazy because I love working with Nursery/Sunbeam age kids, but I do love it.

  9. Cynthia,

    I totally forgot: Pinecones.

  10. Great post. Great advice! I love nursery too. Play dough, snack time, what’s not to love?

    When I was the nursery leader I wanted it to be a place the kids felt like they should be. It was their nursery/class, not a place where mom and dad dumped them for two hours. So I took pictures of all the kids, laminated them, put velcro on the back and made a big poster we put out every Sunday. As kids arrived their photo was placed on the poster. It was like a visible roll call, I guess.

    Nursery is the best calling in the church, IMO. Even better than teaching the oldest girls in Primary.

    The first time I served in the nursery, the primary president told me that when she had served there previously, in her setting apart blessing she was told that if Christ were to walk into the building that day, the first place he would go is the nursery. I don’t doubt it.

  11. Cynthia L. says:

    Great thoughts, Jennifer.

    I know parents are often anxious to let their little ones go for the first time, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if the parent hangs around indefinitely. I’ve never met a child yet who didn’t adjust eventually if the parents simply dropped them off with a smile, hug and a quick “good bye!”. Parents sometimes forget that Nursery is not just playtime for two hours- it’s a class where these precious little ones can feel the Spirit if we let them.

    YES!! It is very hard to maintain structure and the feeling of a real classroom when parents are there hanging out, even when they’re trying to be good an not turn it into a foyer-like hangout. In my experience, many children put up a bigger fuss while the parent is there, then very quickly adjust like nothing happened as soon as the parent leaves. It’s almost like a little show to make their parents feel needed, although I mean that as more of an analogy since I don’t think it is necessarily insincere on the part of the child. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat–you can’t observe your own child in an environment without changing the dynamic.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up if you need supplies!

    I’m in the primary presidency now, and our newly called nursery leader contacted us about budget for purchasing a few toys and supplies. I’m so used to the idea that the primary closet contains whatever people have donated over the years, a collection of random, half broken things that really should be cut back, not expanded, that it never occurred to me to buy things. But it is such a good idea! A few well-chosen things are better than a ton of junk. Of course money is always tight, so extravagant visions just aren’t going to happen, but nursery leaders should absolutely be entitled to some of the primary budget.

  12. Thanks for posting this. I wish it had been around when I was in nursery. I was totally out of my element when I got called, since I have no kids and hadn’t ever spent time around toddlers, but I ended up muddling through and loving the calling.

    One thing I would add is to get a list of reliable substitutes who don’t mind being called upon on short notice. When I was nursery leader, I had three nursery workers called to help out, but there was never a week where more than one of them was there and there were often weeks where I was flying solo and had to draft people from the hallways to help out.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    You know, I would have thought that lots of unstructured play time would have been better, but you’ve convinced me that the structure and ritual are good things. Now that I think about it, I think having plenty of structure and ritual would make the whole experience easier on me, too, were I to be in that position.

    Do you have enough things to do to structure the whole two hours?

  14. There are some good tips in here that are definitely in line with good child teaching practices, however, I think that it’s a little overzealous when it comes to the 18 month rule. You need to have a better sense about the needs of all the families in the ward. Flexibility and accommodation on this topic out weigh structure and a successful experience for the children. I think too many people take their church callings way to serious and then start offending others and driving everyone else insane.

  15. This is a great post. Nursery is a great calling (or at least it is if you aren’t a stay-at-home-mom to 3 children who are all in nursery with you — then it’s horrible). I definitely agree that structure is important, but in my experience there should definitely be some free play time. We usually had about half an hour, after we’d done all the other things (drop-off, lesson, snacks, music) and that worked well for us. I also never had any issues with children coming in a little earlier that 18 months if their parents came in with them (but the parents who wanted to do that were always good about helping with everything, and I was always desperate for more help, so that was probably why I liked it). That’s something that I think will differ from nursery to nursery, so parents should respect the decision of the nursery leader in their ward.

    Just one side note — please NO PLAY-DOH!!! Play-doh is made with wheat, one of the top 8 allergens, and there’s a pretty good chance that someone in your building, if not your ward, is allergic. Play-doh gets ground into the carpet that the children play on, it gets spread all over the table that the children eat off of, and it’s all over everyone’s hands which then play with all the toys (which are then also contaminated). It’s a nightmare for anyone who has children with allergies. I’ve found puzzles work pretty well as a drop-off time activity.

  16. These ideas are good, as far as they go. I agree that structure is necessary. But the structured activities should be geared towards turning the snotty little beggars into someone I actually would spend 15 minutes with voluntarily. So, here’s the schedule I use:

    10:15 Welcome dirge played while children file in somberly
    10:20 Vigorous marching and drill (include at least 10 minutes of standing at attention)
    10:40 Review of the children standing at attention, noting deficiencies in dress and grooming
    10:45 Pugil sticks
    11:00 SERE exercises
    11:30 Obscure scripture memorization and recital
    11:45 Sin aversion therapy using the Ludovico technique
    11:58 Bubbles
    12:00 Pick-up by parents

  17. gst,

    Where were you when they correlated the new curriculum?

  18. I disagree with your 18 months position. I was in a ward where pre-18 were welcome with parents. Heck, they were unofficially welcome without parents if they were well-behaved but I stuck around anyway out of some arbitrary sense of duty. I helped with all the kids (maybe you’re worried that an adult can’t hack or support your drill sergeant schedule?). The kids who started a month or two early adjusted much better. There’s some separation anxiety onset at right around 18 months, and if you have them used to nursery before that sets in they are much more likely to stay without a fuss.

  19. I hope lots of wards are calling men to nursery. In my experience, they get down and play more than women (darn dresses)

    In my ward, nursery leaders follow the counsel of the Relief Society presidency to “wear pantsuits so that they can participate more comfortably with the children.”

  20. Julie M. Smith says:

    Sorry to burst gst’s bubble, but marching and scripture memory are actually great ideas!

  21. Yeah, Julie, and so is the rest of my program.

  22. Researcher says:

    I’ll have to disagree with at least one item in Justin’s link. One of the women states that the ratio of leader to child should be 1 to 8. From my experience, it should be no higher than 1 to 6 with an absolute minimum of two leaders.

    By the way, excellent guide, Cynthia L. I agree with all your points. My two-year-old attends a twice-weekly two-hour preschool that is structured like that, and he absolutely loves it. He doesn’t love nursery, which includes a lot of unstructured play.

  23. I just got called to the nursery for the third time in the last five years. I love the calling, but it is a little rough to be so isolated when I’m brand-new in the ward and an SAHM.

    On the age of entrance issue, in my experience what’s more important than whether parents are permitted to bring their children in before 18 months or not is the consistency of policy. It’s best if all involved decide on and stick to a policy, whether that’s no kids before 18 months or that kids can start transitioning in at 17 months or whatever.

    I do understand the difficulty of managing pre-18 month toddlers for three hours at church, having recently finished up that ordeal myself, but one of the problems nursery workers often have is parents who don’t understand that nursery is–or should be–a class, with its own routines and structures. Some parents treat it like day care or like the foyer, and they sometimes want to drop off children who are too young and hang out there and socialize. The last time I had this calling the singing leader kept leaving her twelve-month-old daughter with us and vanishing without a word.

    We would never bring our kids to Beehives or deacons’ quorum a couple of months before they turned twelve and hang out in the corner gossiping with each other. No more should we do that to nursery workers.

  24. Cynthia, can you write up one of these posts to get me from 4:00 to bedtime? That would be great. Thanks.

  25. I think this is so important! We went from nursery leaders who weren’t thrilled about being there to fabulous leaders, and it changed our lives on Sunday. My son not only enjoyed nursery, but told us little snippets. “Jesus made the water,” etc.

    I agree with the 18 month rule, especially if there are a ton of little kids. I also think it is okay to ask people not to bring their kids in when they are visibly sick. This is not being overzealous in your callng :)

    a few more ideas-

    -we had a black glove that we used to sing eency weency spider. Let kids take a turn using it
    -bought cheap sippy cups that we marked each week. So much better than giving an 18
    month old a smoosh-able paper cup. Only used the cups during snacks and took them home and washed them
    -bubble machine at the beginning
    -had a sheet and a stuffed monkey. Played parachute at the end of each nursery time while waiting (and waiting) for parents
    -each nursery is different, but having a loose schedule, a list of go to songs or activities, having lots of love for the kids, always doing a lesson, a few fingerplays/greeting songs/movement based songs, etc and really praying over the kids makes a world of difference.
    -if you really don’t want to be there, tell the bishopric. Ours would release you so fast. If they won’t/can’t, re-read her post until you convince yourself it really is a great calling!

  26. Julie M. Smith says:

    I love the idea of the water and sponge in that Ensign article. And the wig and brush. (I find it interesting that they so strongly emphasized separating the kids, instead of teaching them to share.)

    I’m also a big fan of rice and measuring cups.

  27. Sunny (9),
    You also forgot the Waldorf Salad. Clearly none should be denied Waldorf Salad, should they?

    The nuts and the apples…so crisp and lovely.

  28. I disagree with the blanket judgments I found within these two comments:

    “I know parents are often anxious to let their little ones go for the first time, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if the parent hangs around indefinitely. I’ve never met a child yet who didn’t adjust eventually if the parents simply dropped them off with a smile, hug and a quick “good bye!”.”

    and

    “YES!! It is very hard to maintain structure and the feeling of a real classroom when parents are there hanging out, even when they’re trying to be good an not turn it into a foyer-like hangout. In my experience, many children put up a bigger fuss while the parent is there, then very quickly adjust like nothing happened as soon as the parent leaves. It’s almost like a little show to make their parents feel needed, although I mean that as more of an analogy since I don’t think it is necessarily insincere on the part of the child.”

    The new manual also disagrees. In a letter to the parents with a child in the nursery the manual suggests:

    • Remain in the nursery class with your child if he or she is afraid.

    Also, the manual gives these scenarios and possible solutions to the teachers:

    Problem: A parent brings a child to the nursery class, and the child cries when the parent tries to leave.

    Solution: Invite the parent to stay until the child is calm and settled. Try to interest the child in the activity that is taking place in the nursery class, and invite him or her to participate.

    Problem: A child begins to cry and whine. When you try to give comfort, he or she says something like, “I don’t like you” or “You’re not my mother” and pulls away.

    Solution: Redirect the child’s attention to things happening in nursery or to a toy or book. This may help the child settle down. If he or she is inconsolable, take the child to his or her parent.

    I have seen far too many children have unnecessarily traumatic nursery introductions because parents felt pressured by the teachers who gave what I perceived as a condescending “just leave, that’s the best thing, she’ll be FINE!” while their 18 month old was crying their eyes out and hanging on like a scared-to-death little monkey. I come with 12 years experience in the field of child development, and felt a huge wave of relief when I read these new manuals. They are right-on with child development best practices, and with what I consider a respect for parents that is often lacking in nursery.

    Many children this age need longer transitions than we want to give them, but it’s completely developmentally appropriate and we serve them best when we respond to their very normal fears with empathy and flexibility. What is so strange about a small child (practically still a baby) being terrified to be left with strangers? Every parent should be welcomed to stay until their child feels comfortable both with the routine of the nursery and with the nursery leaders themselves. This may take several weeks, for some children it may take months. And of course, some children enter nursery running so fast they won’t even look back when their parent tries to say goodbye. Every child should be treated as an individual and every parent should be shown the respect of assuming that they know what is best for their child. If they feel that staying with their child is helpful, we should honor their judgment and withhold our own judgment.

    I do agree that for SOME children, the anticipation of knowing their parent is about to leave is worse than the actual leaving, and as soon as the parent is gone the child adjusts quickly. This however, is so often touted as what will happen for every child if parents would just let go quickly and matter-of-factly, and that is simply not the case. Not at all. I’m grateful for the new manual, I wish more nursery leaders would study it carefully and be more thoughtful and less all-or-nothing with how they address separation anxiety and parent interaction.

  29. uhhh…the table “slide” is against church guidelines….no “climbing” toys are allowed in nursery! Other than that…well said. Now how to spread the word…??

  30. Cynthia L. says:

    Rachel,

    “I do agree that for SOME children, the anticipation of knowing their parent is about to leave is worse than the actual leaving, and as soon as the parent is gone the child adjusts quickly.”

    Then we agree. I just said “many” and you said “some.” I’m not sure there’s a substantive distinction there. It’s hard for me to imagine a nursery leader shoving a parent out the door “while their 18 month old was crying their eyes out and hanging on like a scared-to-death little monkey,” as your scenario posits, but if you’ve seen it happen then, yes, that’s not appropriate.

  31. If the parent needs to stay, the child is not ready. In my experience, Cynthia is right on this. I tend to think that it is the parent and not the child who is having seperation issues.

    My kids were very ready. The alternative was Gospel Doctrine and Elder”s Quorum. Wait…I want to go to nursery. Do they allow blogging on your phone in nursery? They are starting to give me dirty looks in Elder’s Quorum.

  32. Wow, this a great post! I’ve never been in nursery, but I guess I’m strange because I would love it! :) Even reading these ideas made me all excited to be in there someday.

    I do have to throw something out there though…this depends entirely on the situation and the people in nursery, but I do want to make others aware that trying to adjust to the special needs of families should at least be on your radar. I was a young, single mom at one time, and my nursery leaders took my daughter in at 16 months. They offered to and I gladly accepted! (I’m sure it was because I dragged myself into church every week looking exhausted and haggard). I appreciated it SO, SO, SO much!!! At that time in my life I really needed the break to be in RS to be spiritually uplifted.

    So, I’m not saying this is always possible or even needed, but do be aware of special situations and don’t be (too) obsessed with sticking to rules and regulations just for the sake of it. They are there to promote harmony and order, but should be flexible when needed (and possible).

  33. ClaudiaHen says:

    #30,

    Our nursery leaders let my scared 19-month-old cry the entire time without coming to get me. She’s not a loud crier, so she wasn’t disturbing anyone!?! That’s what they told me when I picked her up and she was streaked with tears. I was in the Primary presidency at the time and I was LIVID. She wouldn’t go to nursery for months afterward.

    I’m a big fan of the matter of fact goodbye and giving them a few minutes. It worked really well for my older three boys, but not for my daughter. It still breaks my heart to think of her miserable for two hours. She’s almost three now and goes very cheerfully to nursery, but she needed a long adjustment time, particularly after her experience.

    I also agree that 18 months is the worst possible timing for separation anxiety. Maybe that will change someday.

    I was in nursery for a good long stint. I loved it, but at the same time, I had young kids at home and I really needed a kid break during that time. I think it’s so sad that in my old ward, no one would take the nursery callings so that parents who could have used a break are called instead, since they are the only ones who say yes.

  34. Cynthia, These are great! I’m three weeks into my Nursery calling and your ideas have been wonderful (And the Klingon is going very well!). It’s taking me awhile to get into the role, but I’m working with great people who know the ropes and have a structured approach. These ideas will help a lot, so thank you.

    I never pegged myself as a nursery person, but so far it’s been great. I must say the lessons are a little more complex and involved compared to what I’m used to in High Priests, and I’m not used to people paying attention and interacting and asking real questions, but it’s a nice change.

  35. Cynthia L. says:

    As far as the controversy over the age thing, what I really meant is that I’m an advocate of the right of the teacher to not feel helplessly obligated to let any parent of any age child indiscriminately drop off their child in nursery and expected to just deal. Of course, if the teacher feels there are special circumstances, or that a younger child can be incorporated without throwing everything into chaos, that’s great. But some parents feel entitled to bringing their children in earlier, and I think if the teacher, after consideration and charity, feels that just can’t be accommodated, that should be respected.

  36. Cynthia L. says:

    I never pegged myself as a nursery person, but so far it’s been great. I must say the lessons are a little more complex and involved compared to what I’m used to in High Priests, and I’m not used to people paying attention and interacting and asking real questions, but it’s a nice change.

    LOL. It is true that people really underestimate the beauty and nuance of the Nursery curriculum. A whole lesson on appreciating water! There is potential for college-level thinking right there, no joke.

  37. I don’t know if this has been mentioned or not but I love the way my ward does nursery. We have a large number of nursery age kids but not enough toys for 3 separate nurseries…

    sooooo…Instead of dividing the small number of toys they do a rotation, with each nursery starting in a different room: Snack room, Lesson Room, or Toy Room. Then after a small amount of time they switch and it not only helps with structure but with letting all of the kids play with the toys without major fights.

  38. ClaudiaHen,

    You should have control over whether you child stays in the nursery or not. I also think it is important that parents be able to stop in. Adjustments are rough.

    Of course, I cry on the inside for two hours on Sunday. It is not fun.

    Cynthia,

    This is so great.

  39. Julie M. Smith says:

    Just a thought:

    We had a Clinger who didn’t want Daddy to leave him in nursery. My dh had a brilliant solution: he sat against the wall and T could sit with him as long as he liked, but if he wanted to get up and play, dh was out of there. This gave T control over the situation, and after a few minutes each week, he’d toddle off to play and dh would leave.

  40. Cynthia L. says:

    April and Julie, excellent ideas.

    Julie, I did a similar thing (sitting in the corner trying to be boring) to help our kids transition, and it worked well.

    April, I taught in nursery in a ward with 2 nurseries, divided by age. We didn’t change rooms (I would have loved that), but I did really like having the age groups separate. There is such a huge developmental range between 18 months and 3 years. Then again, I had the older group, so maybe that’s why I think it is such a great idea. :-) Having older children around to be examples is a great way to introduce structure to the younger ones. They naturally love to mimic what the bigger kids are doing.

  41. Thanks for this post, Cynthia. Great ideas! I’ll definitely refer back if they ever call me to nursery again.

    I don’t have any suggestions, but I have to say that I loved the nursery (probably because I wasn’t a SAHP at the time, as Vada points out so well). It was always stunning to me to see how much personality the kids had in nursery that I never really saw in any other circumstance where I guess they were surrounded by bigger people.

  42. Great list. I concur on the ages: if your nursery has room and you are willing and able, then feel free to invite upcoming kids in a little early, but as a parent, don’t presume that your nursery leader can take on your handful.

    Also, I posted the list of symptoms unwelcome in the nursery on the door. Some parents just don’t think of it, especially those who don’t use a preschool or daycare, which all have similar rules.

    If I were to write a similar list for parents of nursery kids, my #1, bolded and underlined, would be: pick your child up ON TIME. I leave RS before the closing about half of the time, because it always seems to run just a few minutes over. I feel like nursery is such an intense calling, it needs to end on time–nothing worse than sitting there staring at some lonely kid, sad his parents aren’t there when everyone else has been picked up, for an extra 15 minutes on a fast Sunday. Ugh.

  43. Swisster says:

    #34 and 36 — so true. There’s something to be said for being able to run your own kingdom and teach the way you think is best. The older we get, the more we are expected to conform in our classes, sometimes making church less “real.” Nursery is real!

  44. Our nursery leaders let my scared 19-month-old cry the entire time without coming to get me. She’s not a loud crier, so she wasn’t disturbing anyone!?!

    For what little it’s worth, I would never do this. I tend to give kids about ten minutes to get over the departure of their parent. Most calm down and get distracted by toys and activities in that time. But some don’t. If they’re still sobbing at ten minutes, I go get the parent.

    Most of the children I’ve seen during my four nursery rotations in the last few years have adjusted relatively quickly–a few weeks seems to be the average. But some need a lot more time, and some go through rough patches after having seemingly adjusted. I remember one little girl in particular who took months to get over her convulsive sobbing every time her parent left. In cases like that, I have no problem at all with parents providing transitional support as long as it’s needed.

    I do have to throw something out there though…this depends entirely on the situation and the people in nursery, but I do want to make others aware that trying to adjust to the special needs of families should at least be on your radar. I was a young, single mom at one time, and my nursery leaders took my daughter in at 16 months. They offered to and I gladly accepted! (I’m sure it was because I dragged myself into church every week looking exhausted and haggard). I appreciated it SO, SO, SO much!!! At that time in my life I really needed the break to be in RS to be spiritually uplifted.

    So, I’m not saying this is always possible or even needed, but do be aware of special situations and don’t be (too) obsessed with sticking to rules and regulations just for the sake of it. They are there to promote harmony and order, but should be flexible when needed (and possible).

    Agreed. Every rule has very legitimate exceptions.

  45. My wife and I were called to the nursery as soon as we were married. Loved the nursery. Hated that none of the parents stayed around long enough to even say hi to us. Then ward boundaries changed and we got switched. We were called to the nursery again, but then the calling was changed to teaching the 10-11-year-olds. Love this calling, as well.

    Speaking from my experience in the nursery, I agree with everything in Cynthia’s list, with one exception: the clean up song. Having just learned it was from Barney, I have made a vow to never, ever, ever sing that song again for as long as I live. No wonder I always found it so annoying!

    On the topic of allowing kids in before 18 months, and what to do with crying children… I totally agree that there is, for most children, no good reason to bring them in early. (For special cases, though, I am totally willing to be flexible on this! One of our nursery workers was a single mum with an infant. Her son was very welcome to our nursery!) With crying kids, we would use the ten minute rule. If the child couldn’t be calmed at that point, we would dispatch a nursery worker to find a parent, and the child was gone. While there is much to be said for leaving the ninety and nine to go after the one, I will not sacrifice the ninety and nine and lost all one hundred of them.

  46. One idea that was missed is having a brightly colored lesson/singing blanket to help keep the kiddos in one place. This is particularly helpful if you can’t partition the toys out of sight.

    I have really mixed emotions about two other elements of this post.

    I think structure is great – half of why I can finally get my kid to go to nursery is that he knows he will sing the sunbeam song. Yet I’ve seen over structured nurseries including eliminating play time. (In one ward where I subbed, with so many kids that they made the 1st nursery class consist of 12 18-24 month olds, the leaders thought that it was somehow appropriate to have no play time!)

    Thank you #28. The view that “parents need to get over it” (the separation anxiety) and the kids will eventually adjust are misguided from a child development point of view, particularly at 18 months. It also goes against some (my own) parenting philosophy. (And no, nursery does not trump that!)

    I’ve also found that forcing my 30 month old toddler/preschooler to stay (at nursery, preschool) before he is ready completely backfires and not just for nursery. In the few instances it has happened, he generally cries for less than 3 minutes, but then whimpers for a long time which most nursery leaders will ignore. He is very verbal but generally anxious kid and will actually say when I get him and generally any time the activity is mentioned “mommy leaving is scary and makes me sad.” When I forced him to do it anyways, he wouldn’t even leave the house the next few times I had to leave him somewhere (even if it is somewhere like his sitters that he normally likes), because he is freaked out. Once a week nursery is just not often enough for some (not all) kids to be completely comfortable with the person and place until they are well into their third year.

  47. It also goes against some (my own) parenting philosophy. (And no, nursery does not trump that!)

    In general I’d agree. But I’ve seen some sticky conflicts arise. For instance, a few years ago when I got called into nursery we had a young mother who was hanging out with her three-year-old for the entire time and had never even attempted to leave her daughter because of a very intense parenting philosophy of attachment. When we finally pried her out (the mother, not the daughter, was engaging in quite distracting behavior!), her daughter did not even notice her mother had gone. That was definitely a case where the nursery simply could not accommodate a particular parenting philosophy.

    I’m all for reasonable accommodations. If you’re a single mother struggling to manage an infant and a sixteen-month-old, sure, we can take your sixteen-month-old early. If a child has food allergies or special needs, I really believe in doing all we can to make nursery work for that child. If your child needs a long time with you there to adjust–fine by me. But–as anyone who as ever worked with children, in our out the church, can attest!–occasionally parents simply want to make over and dictate the entire program to an impossible degree. At a certain point, if your parenting philosophy diverges radically from what we’re able to offer, I think you need to reconsider whether nursery is right for your family.

  48. #47–agreed. Nursery is not a right, it is a bonus. If it isn’t right for your kid, cool, take him to Sunday School with you, but don’t insist that a reasonable program be made over in your image (ahem, Waldorf style or Sunbeams Jr.) unless you are willing to be the Nursery Leader yourself.

  49. Peter LLC says:

    gst, have you seen The White Ribbon yet?

  50. #10 — Susan M, I agree the Savior would like the nursery. When I was bishop, I would sometimes sneek into the nursery for a needed break on my often over-stuffed Sabbath. :-)

    Sad about Barney’s appropriating that clean up song. :-(

    For Wheels on the Bus, we liked including the names of our own children when we sang it. Do they do that in Nursery?

  51. Starfoxy says:

    My only addition to this discussion is the fact that felt pieces stick to the prickly wall carpet found on the lower half of most new church buildings. Sometimes I used it as a built in flannel board for lessons, but usually I used a bag of felt scraps as a waiting for pick up activity.

  52. Kimarie says:

    Nursery was one of my first callings several years ago in my very small ward. There was no structure in place, I didn’t even know there was a manual. The toy closet was opened when the kids came in and they played until five minutes to leave, at which time we cleaned up the toys. It was boring for the nursery leaders and the kids. I was so glad when i was released from that calling. A couple years later when I had my first son they called the new bishop’s wife as nursery leader and she had it set up like a preschool, with structured playtime, lessons, singing time, fun activities, etc. My son loved nursery and it was great preschool preparation for him, since I was a stay at home mom.
    As far as the drop-off separation anxiety and crying, I think nursery leaders just need to work with the parents to figure out what will work for that individual child. My older son would scream bloody murder when I dropped him off, but seconds after I was gone he was playing happily. If I stayed with him it would just prolong the crying and tantrums. But some kids do better with a longer transition time. When my younger son transitioned to primary they called me as his teacher’s assistant. When he was having problems with sitting during sharing/singing time, the primary presidency talked to me about moving me to senior primary and calling someone else to help with his class to see if he did better when I wasn’t there. I really didn’t think it would work but we tried it and he did great for the other teacher. I’m so glad they were willing to work with me and figure out what would work for my son, at first I was afraid he just couldn’t handle primary, and I thought they might ask me to just keep him with me at church.

  53. Cynthia L. says:

    Starfoxy, I’m glad the carpet walls are good for something. ;-)

    Alex, Nicole, ESO, Paul, Kimarie, and everyone before, thanks for your comments. I feel like I’m on the same page as just about everyone, then I wonder why we don’t see more nurseries run like this!

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