Learning in the Nursery

May 9th, 2012

Juan and his mother appear at the door of our church nursery. Juan peeks in to see what is going on. He is reluctant to let go of his mom’s hand. What a difference it will make if he sees caregivers who are on the floor playing with children! What a difference it will make if he is greeted warmly and invited to join in the fun!

The time that children spend in our church nurseries should be a time of fun, a time of love, and a time of learning. Young children form ideas about who God is and what church is like by what they experience in the church nursery. It is so important that we use this precious time to love and nurture the little ones in our care.

What are some ways that we can play with children in the nursery and at the same time take advantage of the valuable opportunity God has given us?

Make Music

Music should be a part of every church nursery. You can sing to the children or play a CD or cassette. In addition to traditional Christian children’s songs, such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” you can make up songs using the student’s names. You can also use songs to help motivate children to help clean up, to “quiet” the mood, or to draw them to the snack table.

While infants can enjoy the rhythm and sounds as we sing, toddlers and preschoolers also enjoy trying to sing along and do the motions. Even if a song doesn’t have motions, or you don’t know them, make up movements to go along. Wave your arms, march around the room. Provide bowls and boxes for pounding on as drums. Put bells or aquarium gravel in plastic bottles. Glue the lid on and let the shaking begin.

Young children are very non-judgmental about singing abilities. They enjoy the rhythm and the movement whether we can carry a tune or not. So, don’t be shy. The point is to encourage these little ones to have fun while making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

Try Interactive Story-Telling

Another way you can “teach” your nursery students is to read or tell stories to them. Invite the older nursery students to join in the story-telling by repeating words or sounds or imitating certain motions as you share a simplified Bible story. This doesn’t have to be a “formal” affair. Be creative with the resources you have on hand. If you have a story book with pictures but the words are too complicated, improvise. Simply talk about the pictures. If you have a lot of toy animals, use them to help tell the story of creation. Discuss how Adam was given the job of naming each animal, and see how many animals your students can name. Finally, imitate the animal sounds together.

Include Art

Even small children enjoy trying their hands at art. With a little thought, toddlers and preschoolers can participate in safe art activities that help illustrate Bible stories or convey Biblical messages. For example, give each child a piece of clear contact paper cut into the shape of a rainbow. Provide pieces of tissue paper, wrapping paper, ribbons, etc., in a variety of colors. After peeling the backs off the contact paper, let the students enjoy sticking the colored pieces on the contact paper. Have the children work on their rainbows as you tell the story of Noah and the ark.

Play Games

Remember, young children have very short attention spans. But even small children can participate in simple games. For example, you can say, “God loves you, _____ (name a child). _____(Say Child’s name again), run to me. God loves you.” Then you could replace “run” with other actions such as “crawl,” “jump,” or “walk.”

Since most children enjoy hunting for things. You could help your students search for paper fish and bread loaves as you tell children how Jesus multiplied a little boy’s lunch. Blankets, balls, water and sand also offer lots of opportunities for fun “games.” It is not important how organized the activity. Games simply offer another chance for students to connect with the Bible story or theme you are trying to present.

For many children their first experiences in church will be in the church nursery; therefore nursery workers have a golden opportunity to make time there memorable. Plan activities, spend time talking and playing with these precious little ones. Help them learn that church is a happy, safe, fun place and that the people there can be trusted. Help them learn that God loves them. Surround them with love so that they may grow in their knowledge of the Lord.

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