By Ann Edwards
Have you ever seen a baby almost leap from a mother’s arms into the arms of a caring teacher? How does that happen? What elements are needed for this to occur? Creating an environment for babies, 1’s and 2’s can be an exciting adventure.
Social/Emotional Influence in the Environment
First, we must understand what babies, 1’s, & 2’s need in order to learn. The first thing a child needs is someone who is a nurturing, caring, and comforting force in their life. In order for a child to build strong relationships, they need plenty of tender loving care. Without it, a child may not have the proper wiring needed to form strong relationships.
The opportunity to bond with teachers is great when you consider the teacher is relaying biblical concepts, attitudes, and feelings. Babies babies, 1’s, & 2’s who come to church each Sunday need consistent teachers they can know and trust. Trust is an important element in any relationship in life. Each child will learn to trust, and out of those trusting experiences, they will hopefully one day learn to trust God. These relationships are built over time. The consistent care and stimulation will create wonderful times for learning and laying that foundation for faith.
– Are teachers ready when the first child arrives?
– Are young preschoolers reassured when they are anxious and do not want to be separated from Mom or Dad?
– Are babies, 1’s, and 2’s encouraged to use the Bible?
– Do teachers interact with the child using biblical teaching pictures, blocks, books, manipulative toys, and nature items?
– Do teachers encourage language skills by talking about what they are doing and using simple Bible phrases/verses, conversation, and songs?
Physical Environment of the Classroom
Young preschoolers need an environment where they can feel comfortable. They need opportunities to explore and investigate their physical environment. Each child needs opportunities to move and manipulate the teaching resources and equipment around them. Provide space where preschoolers can move easily without hazards (like tables and chairs that do not meet their physical development).
– Babies will need cribs to rest in, mats for teachers to sit beside them while they play with specific materials and resources, and rocking chairs where teachers can feed, cuddle, and comfort them.
– Ones are on-the-move and need plenty of space. They are developing skills needed for the rest of life. Being mobile for the first time is like opening a present at every new experience. Provide blocks (cardboard), doll crib, child-sized rocker, and non-breakable mirror attached to the wall. The child will begin to engage in pretend play (playing out actions they have seen others do). What a great opportunity to say as the child plays with the doll: “Jesus was once a baby just like you. Jesus loves you.”
– Twos need a little more equipment such as a child-sized stove, sink, small table, four child-sized chairs, doll crib, child-sized rocker, cardboard blocks, art easel/table, and a place to experience nature items (nonpoisonous and safe). As the child grows, so will his play needs. Teachers need to be prepared with activities that stimulate a child’s understanding of God, Jesus, Bible, church, family, community and world, self, and creation. Activities in each learning center serve as a vehicle to teach the Bible and encourage their understanding of the biblical content of the teaching session. Provide for success and satisfaction in each activity. This will encourage the child’s ability to try something new.
Physical Environment Checklist
– Are the Bible-learning centers set up for use as soon as the first child arrives?
– Are distractions removed that would hinder teaching the biblical content for the session?
– Do teachers use Bible phrases/verses as children work in the Bible-learning centers?
– Are security procedures used by parents and teachers?
– Are resources and materials safe for all children to use?
Mental Environment of the Classroom
All preschoolers are multisensory learners. Babies use their senses to understand the world around them. Teachers must utilize the child’s senses to help the learning process begin. Stimulating a child’s ability may mean having a blanket on the floor with the Bible or a Bible teaching picture underneath. When the child reaches for the blanket and lifts it up, he is surprised to find something like a Bible. This is one way we might encourage learning mentally. In understanding a one-year-olds’ need to investigate a non-poisonous flower or reach for a large picture of a flower, we can say: “God made the flower for you. God loves you.” These are just a few examples of having firsthand experiences through which they can make “life applications” about God and applying a Bible truth . . . God loves them. Through activities and adult interaction in the session, a relationship is built between the teacher and the child. The child will begin to expect to have “fun” at church because their learning needs, as well as physical and emotional needs, are being met. It is through this consistency that he will begin his journey to know more about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the church.
Mental Environment Checklist
– Are babies, 1’s, & 2’s encouraged to try new things?
– Do activities stimulate more than one of their senses?
– Are Bible truths relayed in ways they can understand?
– Is variety in activities used from Sunday-to-Sunday?
Spiritual Environment of the Classroom
God created children with the capacity to learn about Him. If you believe this statement it will guide you to help the child learn in ways God intended for them to learn.
Babies, 1’s, & 2’s learn through:
– Repetition: Provide a Bible each Sunday so that the child can learn it is a special book that tells us about God and Jesus.
– Senses: Provide opportunities for them to explore through touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste (limited to the age of the child). Music often can set the tone of the morning.
– Relationships: Be consistent in our attendance.
– Curiosity: Provide books, pictures, nature items (safe and nonpoisonous), blocks, puzzles, and toys that stimulate their interest.
– Play: Interact with them and encourage two-way communication and parallel play experiences.
– Imitation: Encourage language development and interaction with the child.
– Hands-on experiences: Allow the child to use her skills and curiosity to touch and play with new and familiar resources.
– Satisfaction: “Plan” successful experiences. We know what they are capable of learning and doing. We encourage them through our words as they play.
Spiritual Environment Checklist
– Do you have more than one Bible in the classroom?
– Do teachers use prayer thoughts and Bible phrases/verses?
– Do teachers use songs, including the name of the child in the song?
– Do teachers use Bible conversation as they make life applications to the biblical content?
Teaching babies, 1’s, and 2’s is truly a gift. The investment we make in their lives now will pay off when we see them walk through the church doors with expectancy and joy. A child this age may not remember what you said about God but you indeed started him on his own journey and perhaps he encouraged you along your own spiritual journey. Have fun and join God in what He is doing in the life of the child!
Ann is a Childhood Ministry Specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville,TN. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Judson College in Marion, AL and a Masters in Religious Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. You can email her at [email protected]