Years ago one of my daughters felt shy about going to nursery. Thank goodness for Nancy Rush. This dear nursery leader treated all the children with love and made them feel important. They received cards and special treats on their birthdays. Often, when the weather was warm, they played outside or looked for butterflies. Other times Nancy would bring cookies and frosting to church and let the children decorate. They stamped cards, did scrapbook pages to give to their parents, and planted seeds in paper cups to grow for their gardens.
A move took Nancy away from our ward but she gave my daughter a beautiful book before she left. Almost a decade later my daughter was looking through the book and said, “I love Nancy.”
“Do you still remember her?” I asked.
“Yes. Nancy was the best!”
Nancy truly was the best nursery leader my daughter could have had. She made all the difference in the world for my child.
As a mother who has sent six children to nursery, I understand the importance of a good nursery leader. As a former nursery leader, I understand the trepidation of the calling. Can you really love and enjoy nursery?
Here are some tips that might help you and the children share the best time of the week.
Be in the nursery early to greet each child by name and with a smile, a hug (if appropriate) or high-five.
Have things ready to go including tissues, wet wipes and a garbage can.
Have a schedule: Nurseries will not work without one! Leaders dislike their calling and children fuss, cry and feel more frustration without one. They need routine. You need routine. Create a schedule and visibly post in the room! (This will also help any substitutes.) A great article and basic schedule are provided at lds.org (see below).
My first experience with the nursery was amazing. With over 30 children in the nursery, the wise bishop called three full-time leaders. Two part-time helpers rotated in each hour. The children and leaders loved nursery. This is the schedule they used.
Clean-up and wash hands for snack
Snack and clean up
Free choice (During the last ten minutes the children could choose from three activities: listening to stories with one leader, coloring quietly at the table with another leader, or playing games with another leader such as Ring-Around-The-Rosie (so no toys were used).
When the parents came the room was clean, the toys put away and the children happily engaged in an activity of their choice. Wow! What a great learning experience for me!
Play with them. Get down on the floor, even in a dress, and play.
Guard against escape artists by sitting in front of the door as you play. You may have to move for parents coming in and out, but that’s okay.
Sometimes you just have to let them wiggle it all out (especially around the holidays). Hold different kinds of races or jumping contests, let them act out different animals, play follow the leader. Those real wiggly days will happen so just join in and wiggle with them. You’ll have more fun if you do.
Play games while cleaning. Let the children pick up toys by color, shape or function. Teach them to have fun cleaning.
Children love to help. Let them pass out napkins or paper towels and paper cups.
Try to keep snacks healthy. Besides avoiding sugar buzzes, healthy snacks are cleaner! Raisins make less mess than cookies. Water is cleaner than juice if spilled. Make sure snacks are small and easy to chew. Use small paper cups for drinks and don’t fill them full. Know of any allergies and plan accordingly
Have a weekly lesson. Children love lessons. Lessons are also important for you, the leader. You will feel you are making an important contribution to their growth and development, and will often feel the spirit very strongly.
Keep them short, about 10 minutes long. You can adapt lessons from the primary manual or create special lessons just for them such as sharing, how to pray or having a new baby at home. Use stories, pictures, puppets, toys--they love visual aids and facial expressions are your greatest aid.
Have lesson time in a special place every week. This helps the children settle for the lesson. Letting each child sit on their own personal rug (samples from a flooring store) helps keep little hands and feet from invading the space of other children. (If you want, let the children decorate their rug square during an activity time and store them in the closet. When they leave nursery they can take it with them to use when saying their prayers.)
Plan a lesson-related activity. Think beyond the coloring crayons but remember you will need to do prep work at home. Cut out pieces ahead of time, pre-assemble some parts and be prepared to help with finishing touches. Remember glue sticks work better than liquid glue, all supplies should be washable with water and never use paints without large paint shirts and drop clothes.
Try to help the children make something they can take home with them every week. They love accomplishing that, you will feel better, and the parents will love seeing that their children are doing something more than just playing.
Look in the Friend for ideas. There are also some great books with pages you can photocopy and craft ideas you can use.
Consider a special rest area. In one corner, have a soft quilt and large fluffy pillow. Let the children know this area is for resting. If a child is tired, he can lay down there to rest (and even nap if he chooses) before coming back into the mix. A safe, quiet area where he can retreat and be comfortable will save a lot of tired tears.
Use music. Music can change moods. Use quiet music to settle down before lesson time or just before their parents come.
Don't forget prayers. Help them pray at snack time or in conjunction with the lessons.
I always found that the more I prepared for nursery during the week, the more I loved my time in nursery on Sundays.
An excellent source for nursery is this article at lds.org
Nursery Time Fun and Games, Vol. 1
Creative Companion for Nursery
For lots more Nursery idea and activity books and CD-ROMs, check out your favorite LDS bookstore.