Congrats on your calling working with Heavenly Father’s most pure and precious children! Keep at it and you will learn to love these children. I served in Nursery for almost 3 years (1 was during Covid). There have been so many lessons learned that I thought I would jot down some ideas for those of you looking for ways to improve your Nursery class and help bring the Spirit in.
Teach the doctrine
This isn’t a babysitting gig. Focus on the gospel and you will slowly see growth. We only sang songs that were in the Children’s Songbook. Make sure to have a lesson every week. Even if it is only 2′ long, it will make such a difference over time. Always have a prayer before the lesson. The kids are learning how to fold arms, sit in a chair for a few minutes, listen to a lesson, and even how to color.
Take time to read the Nursery Manual-especially the introduction. It is full of insights about young children and activities appropriate to their abilities and developmental levels. Pray for inspiration and the Lord will guide you to know how to help those kids in your class. One of the most beautiful things is when the kids learn to recognize “Jesus” or say amen after a prayer. They are learning about the Lord and are super close to Him.
Clean out your Nursery closet.
Pick a day during the week to go to your nursery class. Take an inventory of what is in your closet. If your building is older, you will probably need to do a lot of decluttering and organizing your closet. It is amazing what accumulates over time. My partner and I went during the week. We had a lot of toys that were broken or out of batteries. Some were very dirty and needed a good cleaning. It was also helpful for me to know what was in there and where things were located. We have two closets- so one is full of toys and the other has snacks, cleaning supplies, lesson helps, crayons, bubbles, etc.
Every week, keep the same schedule. Some might say that kids that young can’t follow a routine, but I saw what a difference it made in our class. Older kids adapted faster to a routine, but even the brand new ones (after Covid we had a full class of young kids who hadn’t been to church or around strangers) took only a few months to understand the routine. We even got to where kids would get the chairs out for singing time or go to the table for the lesson. They did really well with the routines!
Our schedule was an intro activity, singing time, wash hands, snack time, lesson time, and finally play time.
- Set up. This should be done before class. It is best if you aren’t distracted with other things when the kids come in. They deserve your full attention! When we were the 9:00 ward, I would go 15′ early to set up the room before sacrament meeting. If there is another ward earlier, then I would leave during the closing song so I could set up quickly before the kids got there. My own kids were really great helpers getting things ready. I have a plastic file folder bin with all the things needed to set up the classroom. So we just get that out and it is fast and easy. I have magnetic schedule pieces with an arrow, pictures of Jesus from church magazines that I laminated and stuck magnets on the back (I put one on every board in the classroom), and magnetic names (I cut foam sheets into strips and put foam letters on them to spell their name.) For a while I made a paper with hearts on it. When they came in they would put a sticker on a heart. When the chart was full, they could take it home. This works great if your kids are older. We also have a CD player to play songs from the Children’s Songbook as they come in. I have a small table at the door with their names on it. There are magnets attached so the kids stick them onto a chalkboard on the other side of the room. After they color a picture during lesson time, we use the name to hold their picture until their parents come.
- How much Time for each activity? Each week in nursery is unique. Some weeks they are engaged and loving the music so we sing more. Other weeks, they are antsy so we sing less and move on. That is one reason I love having playtime at the end. It works like an accordion of time for us. Some weeks we finish quickly and have lots of time to play (30′). While other weeks they have less (5-10′). It really is dependent on how many kids come (we’ve had anywhere from 1-10) and what their moods are like that week (like how well they slept or ate or are teething). We stick to the schedule but how long we do each activity is so flexible! Be observant and you will start to notice when they are getting distracted a lot-then it is time to move on.
- Activity Time. Since so many nursery kids are nervous to leave their parents and they don’t always come in at the same time, we have a simple activity at the beginning of class to distract them. I usually alternate weeks with each of these activities…Bubbles with my homemade “bubble catchers”. We have a rapid bubblemaker and a large bottle of bubbles. Remember to empty unused bubble solution after class. The kids love snowball fights with fake snowballs. The older kids like to throw them at you (they are soft) and the younger kids like to put them in a plastic bin and dump them on their heads. Cars is another favorite of theirs. If you put down one leg of a long table, it makes a nice race track and the kids LOVE IT! Mega Blocks are fun to build towers and knock them down. I’ve also made a paddle and blown up some water balloons (with air!) to hit with their paddles. The key with these activities is to be fun enough to distract the kids at the beginning of class. Once the kids are all calm and happy, we move on to singing time and you only have one thing to clean up. I don’t love letting the kids have play time at the beginning because it seemed harder to get them to want to do other things afterwards and it makes a big mess.
- Music Time. This is probably the kids favorite thing! We make a circle with the little chairs. In the middle of the circle we have some fish that I found pictures of and laminated. The names of a song are written on the back and a large paper clip on it. Someone had made a fishing pole with a dowel and yarn and a magnet glued onto the end. Then they each get a turn catching a fish with the pole. Each song has hand actions or something for them to hold. I’ve laminated them all to make them more durable. Each song with something to hold has its own bag to grab quickly (in my Nursery kit that I got out before class). Some kids need reminders to sit down or we physically pick them up and bring them back to the chair, but usually most are engaged. We only sing songs from the Children’s Songbook. Be enthusiastic and have fun with it! We usually sing each song once and the kids are getting better at putting the items back in the bag after each song (They are getting used to our routine!)
- Songs we know: One favorite song is Smiles. We have happy and sad faces laminated and taped on large popsicle sticks. Before we sing, I ask them to show me their happy face, then sad face. During the song we hold up which ever one the song is talking about…If you chance to meet a frown-we hold up the frowny face and I make an exaggerated frown on my face. They love it! Another favorite is “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam” with a circle sun that they put their faces through. For “I love to see the temple” I printed off different temple pictures (4×6) and laminated and put on a popsicle stick. “I am a child of God” has little finger puppets that only fit on my pinky. For “Follow The Prophet” I printed about 4×6 pictures of different prophets from the Church of Jesus Christ images, wrote the prophet’s name on it, laminated and taped a popsicle stick on. We only sing the chorus and march in a circle. “Jesus said love everyone is a heart on a popsicle stick. “I am like a star” is a star to hold. There are some great action songs (Nothing to hold): “Head, Shoulders, Knees and toes”, “If you’re Happy and you Know it”, “Book of Mormon Stories”, “Once There was a Snowman”, “Popcorn Popping”, and “Do as I’m doing”. “Christmas bells are Ringing” is a fun one for Christmas time to ring a bell and hold a picture of baby Jesus. Maybe start with 5-6 songs and introduce a new one each month. Here is the Music playlist. There is a Gospel for Kids app that has all of the songs with music. The kids love to watch any thing on your phones so you can play any of the music or videos for them.
- Hand washing. We always wash hands before snacks. We have them form a line, (Yes this takes a lot of reminding) put bubbles on their hands, rub hands together, wash off bubbles (foam soap), dry with a towel, throw away paper towel, and sit on the blanket. When all 10 kids come we might give them a squirt of sanitizer instead. When we came back after the Covid break, they were all new kids and needed lots of coaching and reminders. Just keep at it! They will get it eventually! They actually love washing their hands now.
- Snack Time. We move the chairs and place a blanket on the ground for a picnic. This blanket usually gets dirty and needs to be washed every week. They sit there while they have snacks in a bowl and drink of water in a plastic cup. You can write each kid’s name on a cup then they don’t get mixed up. One nursery leader helps wash hands while the other gets the snacks ready (Our bathroom is in our room). When snack time is over we put the dishes into a 2 gallon bag to take home and wash. While they are eating on the blanket, I like to read a story about animals and we make animal sounds or show pictures (use the Gospel Art Kit). It’s best to throw away snack items now, but sometimes we let them eat them at the table during the lesson. The kids love Goldfish crackers the best but we usually have animal cookies or vanilla wafers too. We keep it simple and have snacks that can stay fresh in the closet.
- Lesson Time. We have a big long table that is lowered to the kid’s height. We put little chairs around the table for the lesson. I find it is nice to have a different seating arrangement for each activity so the kids move often and it mixes it up! First thing we do before the lesson is that we always have a prayer. Most of our kids are new so we are working on folding arms during the prayer. We ask someone to say the prayer (which usually entails one of the leaders saying a short prayer-pretending the kids are helping). The older kids can repeat what you say in the prayer. Model everything you want the kids to do. I make big arm movements when folding my arms. Study the lesson ahead of time and make copies before class. The nursery manual has so many fun optional activities at the end of every lesson so be sure to read through them and pick one that will work for your class. Teach the gospel in a super simplified way but bear testimony often. Use lots of pictures or use songs and videos from the Gospel Kids app. I found that kids loved pulling something out of a paper lunch bag-even just a picture. They love having something to hold while you teach. We always do the coloring page at the end of the lesson. Most of the younger kids will need to learn how to color (on paper not the table!), but they will learn quickly. I like to point out simple things in the picture like, “Do you want to color his nose or his eyes? or Look at the sheep or the mommy”. Then they focus on coloring those parts. Teaching the pure and simple truths will bring in the Spirit and help you have joy as you teach!
- Play Time. Kids need time to play and explore. Sometimes adults treat this as social time, but the kids love it if you get down to their level and play with them. The older kids loved creating meals with the play food, or showing them how to wrap up the baby or making car noises. If you don’t have a lot of toys, you can ask ward members to donate old toys. We have a toy closet full of cars and trains, exploring toys, pop up toys (which the kids love), baby dolls with a blanket and bottle, puzzles, books, play food, Mr. Potato head, etc. I try not to get everything out. We let them choose something then shut the cupboards. Kids love it when you sit and play with them and sometimes they just play on their own. Keep an eye on them, though. There is always one that likes to explore and get into trouble when you aren’t looking. It is nice to put this at the end because they are more tired and this is a great time for them to unwind and do what they want.
- Clean Up Toys. We usually wait until close to the hour because some parents come late because of their callings or they like to socialize. If you have kids that are still there after you clean up, we like to play “Ring around the Rosie” or other moving games so they don’t start missing parents. You’ll get really good at the art of distraction!
- Transitions. Music is a fun way to move on to the next activity. You can sing or play alternate versions of songs…like “cleaning the room is fun to do” or “if you’re happy and you know it come sit down”. Keep it consistent every week and the kids will learn quickly what they need to do next.
Upset kids. We have had kids that cry or get injured. That is part of the calling. They might be fine one minute and then suddenly realize dad isn’t there and cry. I’ve found that one of us can usually comfort them and get them to calm down…lots of distractions and hugs work well. If they are really upset or crying without breathing (you’ll soon learn this cry), then you need to get their parents. Since you should be 2 deep always, we have the parents fill out a simple form at the beginning of the year with the phone numbers on them so we can text them if there are any issues…like poopy diapers or their child needs them.
Kids often just need space. Other times they just want to sit next to you the entire day. Learn to be silly and have fun! Make funny noises, be silly, pretend sneeze, sing songs, whatever.
Stay home if you are sick. These kids aren’t in school and often catch bugs easily. Also, encourage parents to keep them home when they are sick or irritable. These kids are too young to wear a mask so this is important.
The key is to have fun. You will probably sweat a lot running around and helping kids stay in each location, I know we do. But it is one of my very favorite callings. There is a sweet pureness with these kids. I love making them smile and learn about Jesus. It is so rewarding and exhausting! Do you have any fun things you do in your nursery class?