Your Nursery—A Strategic Ministry
The nursery—it is a place of Cheerios, diapers, hugs, play, music, and simple truths about God. Though many nursery workers view this time as merely “childcare,” others envision the nursery as a critical-care ministry. Babies and toddlers have the ability to observe faith in relationship with others, learn simple truths about God, establish relational connections, and respond to a safe, peaceful atmosphere.
Consider these spiritual growth activities to help create a nurturing environment for each room in your nursery:
1. Seek to walk in the Spirit
Volunteer teachers set the atmosphere for the entire room. Whether toddlers are playing happily with each other, or a child is crying because he/she misses mom, depend on Jesus’ strength, not your own. Ask the Lord for grace, energy, and wisdom. He knows why the child is crying and what is causing the emotion. The only thing volunteers can truly control is the attitude of their hearts and the peace of their demeanor.
One young couple, Jesse and Carrie, were serving in the nursery with little Ellie—who was having a hard time. The toddler was bereft at the thought of leaving her mom. Having a child wailing and shaking the gate with both hands was less than ideal, so Jesse and Carrie swallowed their concern about things looking “put together” and sought to respond to Ellie’s needs.
Carrie calmly walked up to Ellie. She looked the toddler in the eye and calmly smiled. She tried several different techniques to soothe Ellie before she found one that worked. When Carrie prayed for wisdom and practical solutions, she finally was able to help Ellie and then return her focus on the whole class. Because Carrie was determined to remain peaceful, she was able to handle Ellie’s emotions without becoming derailed.
2. Talk freely about God’s care and Jesus’ love
Many volunteers enter the nursery expecting to hold babies, play, and sing songs. In addition to this, encourage your workers to see every conversation as an opportunity to mention God’s care and Jesus’ love. Volunteers can incorporate these moments into each morning. Plan a simple lesson, or just bring up the Lord’s name as you help children deal with their emotions, process conflict, and engage personally in play. You can plant many nuggets of truth during these odd moments!
3. Ensure that your surroundings are safe and baby-proofed
Creating a safe place for infants and toddlers is your first step to providing a nurturing atmosphere that children love. Warm lighting, age appropriate toys, clear room boundaries, and zero access to potentially injuring furniture or structures are all vital parts to an inviting space. Provide clear check-in and check-out procedures that ensure the child feels protected.
Your nursery is often one of the first places parents leave their infant or young child with another caregiver outside the family. Seeing safety procedures in place ministers to a parent’s heart. Denise, a new mom, struggled after leaving her four-month-old daughter in the nursery for the first time. “I cried through the service the whole time and fought anxiety,” Denise confessed. “I think that may have been just as much a process for me as it was for her.” A safe, nurturing, nursery environment can go a long way to help a child AND a parent transition well.
4. Develop routines that build confidence and predictability
Regardless of your program choices for the nursery, it is essential to establish rhythms and traditions for each hour. Creating a smooth flow helps nursery children know what to expect. Provide an area where it is safe for a toddler to run, climb, or play. Establish off-limit areas to block special furniture or protected items. If appropriate, incorporate music, stories, free play, and snack time. Maintaining a routine pattern in an unfamiliar environment can help infants and toddlers feel comfortable and confident!
5. Sing aloud, dance together, and play music with the children
Babies and toddlers love music and songs. Watching children bounce to a tune they love is one of the most endearing sights in world—melting the coldest of hearts! Play Scripture music, praise songs, traditional hymns, background music, or make up your own tunes. These songs introduce and reinforce important truths about God. Look for ways to insert a child’s name into a song or rhyme—to show the precious value that he/she has to you and to the Lord!