Church-Hacker #2: The Romper Room

This is the second installment in our new series of tips and ideas for optimizing the three-hour block of Sunday meetings. The first installment (and the full explanation) is here.

There exists a state of limbo for children who are too young to attend nursery, but too old to sit quietly in the adult classes. These pre-nursery children and their parents are neither here nor there; they’re lost in the fog of the foyer, the parents chasing their toddlers around and sympathetically rolling their eyes at the other parents in a similar state.

I was recently one of those parents. Once Sacrament Meeting was over, if I wasn’t responsible for teaching a lesson, I had to decide between ducking in and out of class with my rambunctious daughter, roaming the halls with her, or just going home. Church was at 11, so most Sundays I headed home after Sacrament Meeting and put my kid down for her nap. And why not? I wasn’t going to be in a class anyway.

On any given Sunday, there are several other parents in my ward in the same situation, waiting for that 18-month mark to arrive so they can dump their kids in nursery and resume full church activity.

What if we could keep these parents at church by setting up a room for them and their pre-nursery children? The room doesn’t need toys (the parents will bring their own), doesn’t need a formal teacher (the parents can improvise their own lessons/discussions), and involves no extra callings. It’s just a room with a few chairs; the rugrats are free to play or scream, the parents can enjoy a good conversation, and the church’s halls are cleared of the typical toddler parades.

Has your ward implemented a pre-nursery solution? Is there a better idea for these families? Leave a comment and let us all know. And if you’ve got your own Church-Hacker idea, submit it here. See all entries in this series here.


  1. Chris Gordon says:

    I like the idea of your purgatory, though I suppose limbo is a better analogy. :)

    Our ward has a quiet policy of allowing pre-nursery toddlers to attend nursery with their parent. The understanding is that as long as the kiddo is with the parent, it doesn’t upend any laws affecting the ratio of adults-to-children. I’ve really enjoyed with our two because it gives us a chance to get to know and appreciate the nursery workers and has made the transition to nursery pretty painless.

    I think our difficulty would be in finding an available room. We’re already pretty strapped in our block, but I would have loved a limbo room just to have a place to be. In bad weather, we usually just romped around in the gym. In good, I copped out completely and took them across the street to the park. We’ve got a temple 10 minutes away so a couple of times I even took ’em for a stroll there.

  2. trying to improve the church is the first step towards apostasy. you should just roll with mediocrity.

  3. Yeah Chris, limbo is better…changing now

  4. Might the allure of this romper room make nursery less attractive? I, for one, try to keep my kids in classes with me just so they will be excited to be allowed into the nursery when they hit that age.

  5. Although it may work some places, in our current ward, there would literally be no spare room to implement this. I also have to say that, the two times I’ve been in limbo, I’ve really enjoyed just wandering the hallways and talking to the other limbo-bound parents. But if there were room and parents wanted it, I don’t see a reason not to do it.

    (We actually do something like that at Stake Conference: we discovered a couple years ago that nobody goes to the RS room, but it has a TV set up. So we went with our kids, and let them loose. Some other families with small children joined us. Others without kids did, too, but usually, when they noticed that the kids ruled the room, they quietly stepped out. And it’s a great way to do Stake Conference.)

  6. Norbert says:

    In our ward, said room is the kitchen.

  7. Jonathan Green says:

    In one ward, there was a Gospel Doctrine class (“the Loud Class”) set up just for this situation. I thought it worked well when we attended.

  8. Jonathan, I would love to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher in that class

  9. I’ve been in wards where the parents have found a room they just adopted and kind of did that. It’s like the foyer, onely enclosed. Personally, I think the halls can work better for wiggly toddlers who just want to do laps around the building, especially when they are learning to walk.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Sounds good to me! We always do that with the RS room during stake conference (and it’s nice that the meeting is piped in).

  11. Michael says:

    Running laps in the halls can be a serious pain for teachers and classes, especially with new open-door policies.

    I realize my case is unusual, but when my daughter acted up in Sacrament meeting, I’d take her out into the foyer, sit down with her, and wrap her up with arms/lap to the point where she only had about two inches movement in any direction. She’d fuss, she’d cry, and when she settled down we’d head back into the chapel. She quickly learned that she had a LOT more freedom in the chapel if she was behaving herself. I only had to do that a couple of times.

    I’m all for letting the kids in the nursery early IF the nursery leaders approve AND IF a parent stays one-on-one with their kid. I’d only take her to nursery early during Priesthood, so when she turned 18 months there was still an element of “graduating” to where she got to stay longer.

  12. A ward in my old stake had a “loud” Sunday School class where the pre-nursery kids could just roam around while the adults talked. I thought it sounded like bliss, and so did most people that attended, but I know the people with reasonably well-behaved babies felt like they got dirty looks from classmates if they tried to go to normal class. I say just ignore the looks if your kid is fine, but there was some drama about it.

  13. In our ward, said room is the kitchen.

    As always, the Church is a little truer in Finland…

  14. I don’t mind kids going with the parent to nursery, although they are much more likely to get sick doing so. The kitchen is kept locked in our building on Sundays–maybe to prevent children from access to knives and other harmful utensils?

  15. Our building also has real estate constraints. The only room not in use is the gym, but since there’s another ward’s sacrament meeting in the chapel and a class on the stage, and the fact that it’s the gym (so would be way too much fun!), seems tough to do.

    But I like the concept and would argue it’s worth looking for space.

    We lived in a ward years ago that had the “loud” GD class and the “quiet” one. I happened to teach the quiet one, and my wife was leader of one of our ward’s four nurseries (newlywed & nearly dead Provo ward), so our little ones were most often with her.

  16. I think it sounds like a great idea. I’m also a fan of parents taking their kids to nursery early and staying with them. When I was nursery leader, this was a huge help. I didn’t have any assistants, so it was great to have extra adults present, and it made the transition easier for the kids.

  17. andrew h says:

    I miss the “cry rooms” that chapels had in the olden days, not that they would have helped much with this problem.

    I have not heard of any “open door” policy. My wif and I have moved a bit lately so in the last several months we have been in 3 Stakes in 3 cities in two states (Ut ans Id) and all Primary doors where we have been and in the wards of my co-workers are still closed.

  18. I’m with esodhiambo. My four kids all transitioned to nursery really well because it was way better than coming to class with me.
    Its strange to have my perspective change after parenting for 13 years. I remember the first and second being so torturous to take to church. But by the fourth kid it was no big deal.
    As a former nursery leader, I don’t like parents bringing younger children in to the class. It is a real class and having extra adults and children is disruptive, but I love scheduled, organized nurseries.

  19. “As a former nursery leader, I don’t like parents bringing younger children in to the class. It is a real class and having extra adults and children is disruptive.”

    You’re saying young children are more disruptive in the nursery than they are in Gospel Doctrine?

  20. Julie M. Smith says:

    Once when I was a GD teacher, the bishopric sought my opinion on adding a second class. I suggested adding something like what you describe, where everyone would be on the floor with their toddlers and have a GD lesson. They did it and I am under the impression it went well, although I never got to visit since I was teaching the other class!

    I have to say that I hated that 11mo-18mo stage at church with a passion . . . so very difficult!

  21. I’ve decided that 3 hour church is an atomic bomb in the sleeping schedule of babies. If you have a child that is too young for nursery and needs its sleep, then you and your spouse get a free pass on alternating Sundays.

    Also, I agree that nursery is a hard enough without constant disruption. Drop your healthy child off and leave. Do not linger. Do not hover within earshot in case your child cries. Go away. One parent staying with a younger child is much more disruptive in nursery than it would be in GD. This is because some of the other kids can’t handle the fact that someone’s parent is there and theirs is not or simply that a stranger is there and soon you can get a critical mass of hysterical toddlers.

    I say this having spent five years in the nursery in three different wards.

  22. I’ve been in wards that had a separate class for parents with pre-nursery children. We called it “Baby Gospel Doctrine”, but “loud” works, too.

  23. My daughter is 13, and I’m still sometimes tempted to just take her home after sacrament meeting and put her down for a nap.

  24. britt k says:

    I’ve had wards with the “loud class”. Currently we don’t have that and we have a fairly packed building and few parents at any one time in this situation.

    most of the time my hsuband has the walking 11mo in the sling and she falls asleep. The rest of the time we do laps, attemp class, wiggle…our nursery is huge, so we haven’t done that yet.

  25. A random John, I’d prefer a critical mass of hysterical toddlers in nursery than one slightly weepy toddler in Gospel Doctrine. I’ve been a nursery leader and a GD teacher; I can deal with crying kids in a roomful of toys, but I can’t bring the spirit into a room of distracted or annoyed adults.

  26. I also have been a Nursery Leader and a GD teacher. If I had to pick one scenario over the other, I’d pick the weepy toddler in GD – for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that adults are supposed to be able to deal with distractions and understand charity better than the very young.

  27. I’d prefer a critical mass of hysterical toddlers in nursery than one slightly weepy toddler in Gospel Doctrine.

    I’d prefer a critical mass of hysterical toddlers in nursery to a slightly weepy instructor in Gospel Doctrine.

  28. It was called “Foyer 101” and I’m stall attending that class even though my youngest is 9. Although I like Chris Gordons idea. Just organize it yourself and dont exclude anyone and it’ll be great.

  29. Last Lemming says:

    the parents can improvise their own lessons/discussions

    Ha Ha. Good one.

  30. Last Lemming, the situation would be similar to High Priests. :-)

  31. I think the extra adults/young kids in nursery only works if the adults in there assume that they’ll be working in the nursery, not socializing in the corner while their kid mingles with the older kids and the harried nursery workers now have a greater age range to wrangle and the distraction of extra people in the room to work around.

    A huge benefit of an inactive spouse is being able to leave the baby at home until nursery age. No missed naps and no adult left at home feeling as if they’re missing out.

  32. A huge benefit of an inactive spouse is being able to leave the baby at home until nursery age. No missed naps and no adult left at home feeling as if they’re missing out

    I should volunteer to be someone’s inactive spouse.

  33. I’m not sure what the point of a pre-nursery would be other than clearing the halls of the “typical toddler parades.” The parents still wouldn’t be attending lessons and the babies still wouldn’t be getting their naps. Not sure what the answer is. Japanese-style nap pods?

    I’m actually kind of enjoying my new 1-hour block. Sacrament meeting and then taking baby home for a nap.

    I’ve given up trying to corral my overtired 14-month old for 3 hours smack in the middle of naptime. We go to sacrament then home

  34. Swisster says:

    Some of these great options are not available if you have one car and/or if you live 1/2 hour from your church. Wish all churches had a bit more space — comfy space.

  35. I like the “loud” Gospel Doctrine class idea. Most wards should have at least 2 GD classes anyway. I recall telling my wife that I’d love to be the 2d teacher — so long as I had enough advance notice of my first class to individually invite all the “hall with kids” parents to come, establishing immediately that anyone who wants a quiet discussion should go to the other class.

  36. When I taught nursery our stake was adamant that no child under 18 months be allowed in the nursery, even with a parent. I thought it was ridiculous. Of course, this was the same leadership that insisted the kids only color pictures with a religious theme, no animals, generic people, plants, etc. They also didn’t want them coloring drawings of Jesus because they didn’t want the kids to think Jesus was a cartoon. I invited them to furnish a photo of Jesus and I would let the kids color on that, otherwise, cartoon Jesus would have to do.

    A lot of kids seem to fare better coming into nursery at 15 or 16 months. Something magical happens at about 18 months that causes children to believe the nursery room is a cage of death and their only hope is to shriek long enough in order to produce enough snot to keep nursery leaders at bay.

    Our building has no available rooms during the block. However, if we did, I would be all for creating a self-styled nursery for younger kiddos. I imagine in some wards parents would eventually work out a trade system for attending classes as well.

  37. Matt W. says:

    In my ward, we just go to Nursery with the little tikes until the come of age. For example, at around 12 months, I started taking each of my girls to nursery. It’s nice because it gives me 6 months or so to play with them, get to know the nursery workers, get new ones called if needed, and by the time I am not there, my kids are not shocked that they are there without parents. It’s effectively the same thing as the “romper room” idea, except snack and toys are provided. On any given sunday, there are 3-4 parents doing this in my ward. It’s nice.

  38. Matt W. says:

    Oh, and Nursery is not a real class in my ward. It’s basically play time for an hour, then singing time for 10 minutes, then a 2 minute lesson, then snack, then more playtime.

  39. Having pre-18-month kids attend nursery can be done, but it needs to be understood that doing so turns nursery into a romper room. It also needs to be understood that a nursery that is exclusively the prescribed ages is a class, not a romper room. Or at least, it is supposed to be a class–some wards seem to have gone on so long with the pre-18’s attending with parents and romper room style format, that they don’t know the alternative. The dynamic is totally different between the two options.

    I prefer to have nursery be a class, though I can understand the argument for the other (especially as a parent of twins who were once between 12 and 18mo). I just think that a decision should be made, with understanding of the tradeoffs, rather than parents just crashing the nursery ad hoc not realizing that they are totally changing the dynamic because just their presence changes it.

  40. We have a “loud” Sunday School class by default–the “quiet” GD class is packed into the RS room, and there is no room and a lot of older, deafer people in it. The Gospel Essentials class is in the high priests’ room, has far fewer (and usually younger) members. It’s sort of evolved into the pre-nursery class naturally. There is room for parents to let their children sit next to them/roll around on the floor, nobody gets frustrated with the occasional noise, and you don’t have to step over a ton of people to get to the door to change a diaper or remove a crying child.

  41. Sabrina says:

    I proposed a romper room idea, similar to the OP’s idea, in my BYU married student ward’s ward council a few years ago, when my first daughter hit this limbo state. Probably at least 1/3 of that ward’s population would have been able to attend such a “class”. I was shot down immediately. Everyone said it was more important for these parents to be part of the larger group and that most people enjoy seeing the children and aren’t annoyed by their antics so they should try to attend as much as possible and just push through the difficult period.

    Now, that I have one child in primary, one in nursery and one on the way, I don’t look forward to the limbo state again and would love if our current ward instituted such a class. However, I am not sure our building has an extra room to spare for it either :(

  42. #36 Sunny: “I invited them to furnish a photo of Jesus and I would let the kids color on that, otherwise, cartoon Jesus would have to do.”


  43. Kyle M,

    GD is just a holding cell for people that don’t have better things to do during that hour. A weep kid can be removed from the room without much fuss. Adults are, in fact, adults and can deal with it. Toddlers not so much.

    That said I’m all for making a romper room available. Our ward simply doesn’t have room for one.

  44. Why can’t parents bring a pack and play and set up nap time in the less populated foyer? Surely your kid doesn’t sleep the entire 2 hour period after SM.

  45. I had always thought that the pre-nursery SS class would be a great idea. You would just need the room though. Then you could let the kids walk around all they want and then you could still discuss the SS lesson (assuming everyone had read it beforehand). One friend of mine called the hall/foyer-walking thing the Lobby First Ward.

  46. Taking laps during the second hour was perhaps the best GD experience I ever had. Part of me misses that stage.

  47. Ugh, this would be the best thing ever. When my twins were in this pre-nursery stage, my husband and I went straight home after sacrament meeting every single week. The GD class was held IN THE GYM, so even when the twins were at their quietest, they were still ridiculously loud, and with the two of them constantly sprinting in different directions, taking turns in the foyer wasn’t really an option for us. I *wish* there had been some kind of “romper room” – my post partum depression was still rather severe and I could have really used the fellowship.

  48. It’s disgusting that a church that is supposed to support families ends up taking so much away from them.

    And we wonder why people don’t want to convert? Imagine bringing an investigating mom and dad of a 13 month old to church. Now tell them that they will be expected to tend to their child’s needs from 11-2 without accss to a high chair, a sleeping space or even toys. Imagine watching them observe the masses of miserable toddlers and their frustrated overwhelmed parents.

    This is what happens in organizations where women are sidelined and given no voice!!!!!!

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Bitter much, Belle?

  50. #44 LOL. I”m guessing you don’t have kids?

  51. Jessica says:

    I always brought a stroller to church. When my toddler got cranky, I strapped them in and walked laps around the building until they fell asleep. Then I went back to class. No misery, no bitterness, and a nice bit of exercise. I managed to convince a few other mothers to try it, too, but I don’t think it caught on long-term.

  52. When I go to sacrament meeting, I go home right after and take a nap. I’m 51.

  53. “Less populated foyer”? Never seen such a thing.

    As another former Nursery leader and SS teacher, I will also weigh in that I would MUCH rather deal with distressed adults than distressed toddlers. Why make Nursery a stressful place for the very population it is supposed to serve? And what adult goes to SS to actually listen to the lesson?

  54. britt k says:

    This all reminds me of one of my favorite times in my personal church history… in a newlywed-nearly dead ward in south provo the most happening place to be was the nursing mother’s lounge. I learned SO much in there…some of it actually relating to the gospel. So many laughs shared and advice given and love shared and diapers changed. There were frequently 6 women in there.

    good times.

  55. Man, the amount of Gospel Doctrine cynicism on this thread is sad! I figured that would be the most-appreciated part of the block among BCC readers–guess I’m spoiled with good teachers.

    If you guys have ideas for Gospel Doctrine teachers, send to churchhacker at gmail.

  56. Allow small children to attend Gospel Doctrine!

  57. Mat W. #38: Oh, and Nursery is not a real class in my ward. It’s basically play time for an hour, then singing time for 10 minutes, then a 2 minute lesson, then snack, then more playtime.

    That actually sounds like a pretty developmentally appropriate class for toddlers. The activities are brief enough for their short attention spans and playing not only develops their social/emotional/motor/etc. skills, but associates church with a pleasant experience. Maybe nursery is the real-ist class in your ward.

    I think we’re missing the big picture with the romper room. I can’t think of any good reason why nursery shouldn’t start at one year or 15 months or whatever (staffing and space are not good reasons, if we can make concessions for the big people, we can make concessions for people under age three). Many gyms/daycares/etc. will take babies at 5 weeks. Why not have nursery start a little earlier before that darn separation anxiety kicks in?

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