by Sheryl Haystead
The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner Gospel Light.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many toys for babies and toddlers that involve keys? There are plastic keys, rubber chewable keys, keys attached to buttons that make startling noises when you press them and keys that come in a rainbow of colors! And kids love ’em all!
Maybe little kids like keys so much because they see their parents using them frequently and because keys accomplish so much–they open big doors and they bring huge machines to life!
It occurred to me that in our nursery ministry we have some keys that if we use them a lot, our children will want to use them, too! The keys I’m talking about are the ones that can bring the Bible to life-even in the nursery. It’s one of the overlooked parts of the nursery. In the day to day “work” of caring for children-changing diapers, serving Cheerios, checking in and checking out, rocking a crying child-we may lose sight of the fact that we can meet spiritual needs as well as physical and emotional needs. Our goal in the nursery is to build a foundation of spiritual understanding for these littlest ones whom Jesus loves. And we can do that by teaching the Bible-pure and simple.
The first key is you-your words and your actions. Want to teach 1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient, love is kind”? Then show love and understanding to a tearful child. Speak and act gently to re-direct a rambunctious toddler. It’s often said (because it’s so true): The young child learns more from who you are than from what you say! From infancy, the child continually picks up ways of doing things from observation of others. If you show kindness by sharing blocks and building a tower with a toddler, the child will learn to share. If you calmly and patiently direct the hands of a curious toddler away from a younger child, the child will learn patience. A baby’s learning takes place all the time, as a natural part of living. Therefore, the Bible teaching in your nursery program is accomplished by your every look, word and act. Your role in the nursery, then, is not only to do “babysitter” things but also to participate with children in the midst of their activity. Your role is not only to transmit the knowledge of what God’s Word says, you get to demonstrate it!
The second key is your conversation-connecting Bible concepts and words to a child’s play. The little ones in the nursery have limited vocabularies and experiences. This combination results in a limited ability to understand and combine concepts. When you and a child are playing with toy cars, you understand that God shows His love for you by providing good things. The toddler, however, may only think I like this red car! You have the opportunity to provide the words that help the child respond to the activity and relate the Bible to the play activity. Benjamin, you’re having fun playing with the cars. God loves you. He helps you have toys to play with! Once this connection is made (and repeated often!), the child has a way to think about God when he or she plays with cars. Or how about the fun adventure of rolling or bouncing a soft ball? Ashlyn is exploring how hands and fingers work. But it’s also a perfect moment for a nearby teacher to connect the Bible concept of “God Made You” to her play activity. Ashlyn, look at how you rolled the ball! God made your hands. God made your fingers. God made you! Without your words, the play activity would nurture the mind and body, but not the spirit of the child.
While the words you speak to a child in the midst of an activity are important, even more powerful are words that you sing to the child. Putting your words to a simple tune that you know well will increase the child’s attention to what you say and retention of those words. For example, try singing the Bible verse noted above, “Love is patient, love is kind,” to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” You don’t have to sing the whole song, just a few phrases, that you sing softly and gently to accompany the child’s play.
A third key is your ministry to the family. In the nursery, the only member of a family we may focus on is the baby! But each baby is part of a family to which we can minister, too. Use your nursery’s records to acquaint yourself with each child’s family. They come in all shapes and sizes-moms and dads, single parents, grandparents, foster parents, etc. Then be ready to motivate each family to give their children more than toy keys to play with. Let parents know the Bible concepts you are talking about in the nursery so that they can talk about them at home, too. Whether it’s through an e-mail, a special page on your church website, or a take-home piece provided by your nursery curriculum, make every effort to get parents excited about the life-long impact they have on their children’s lives. When even a few parents respond to the opportunity to build their child’s faith, the benefits will keep on growing! God’s Word has promised: “My word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty” (Isaiah 55:11, NIV). Believe this promise as you tell God’s Word to both child and parent.
The fourth key is to help others in your church get the vision of how the Bible can be taught in the nursery. Pastors, parents, often the congregation as whole, and even sometimes the people who work in the nursery may not understand the significance and true purpose of a nursery ministry. The majority of people in your congregation probably never USE, never SEE or even WALK into your church nursery. So of course they will be unaware of its potential and unaware of the ministry opportunities. (You can imagine the effect this lack of awareness has on recruiting caregivers and improving the nursery facility or rooms, or getting budget dollars allocated.) So it’s up to you to help others see that the nursery is a place that can make a positive difference in the lives of children. Publicly thank your nursery teachers at the same time you show appreciation to Sunday School teachers. Every month, on a poster in the hallway or in a box in the church newsletter, list the Bible concept being talked about in the nursery.
When Jesus welcomed children, He didn’t say “Let the little children come for some day they will grow up and become important and able to understand what I’m teaching.” Jesus simply said “Let the little children come.” Jesus saw something of great significance in childhood besides the future. He recognized the worth and value of the child today. Babies and toddlers are not just waiting for some distant date of real meaning. Their stage of development is a valuable part of life that can’t be rushed through or skipped over. You can’t begin too soon to teach God’s Word, pure and simple.
Sheryl Haystead has been a leader in children’s ministry for over 25 years. She has a solid understanding of real-life ministry because of her contact with children’s pastors throughout the United States and because she is a committed Sunday school teacher in her own church. As Senior Managing Editor at Gospel Light, Sheryl has written a wide variety of popular children’s ministry resources. Sheryl and her husband, Wes, live in California. Sheryl believes that it’s never too soon (or too late!) to nurture children in the faith. Sheryl lead three workshops at CPC ’10: (1) Training That Works, (2) Nurturing Babies and Toddlers in the Faith and (3) VBS Director Power Boost.