Nursery: Where It All Begins!

When you hear the word nursery, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Some of us think, “Oh, I love holding babies!” Some of us think, “I need more help!” And some think, “I want to teach them, but I’m not sure what to do.” Let’s look at the divisions of nursery, the musts for a successful nursery, and the nursery connection to children’s ministry.

Divisions of nursery are important to understand as we launch into nursery leadership:

  • Infants – our youngest who simply smile and gurgle (with a little spit-up on the side)
  • Crawlers – usually under 12-months-old who crawl but do not yet walk (and put everything in their mouths)
  • Walkers – those who have progressed beyond a step or two and are fairly steady on their feet (also run at breakneck speed for having such short legs!)
  • Young Twos – those who turn two after the September 1 promotion
  • Two-year-olds – all who were two on September 1
  • Three-year-olds – all who were three on September 1

Depending on the size of your church and the number of children you have, all of these age groups may be in one room, two rooms, six rooms, or any number in between.

The reason it is important to understand these divisions is simply because it determines what we can expect to do with these ages of children. For example, if everyone is in one room, it is hard to do much in the way of organized teaching, crafts, or singing because you have little ones crawling and others walking, while everyone is putting everything in their mouths. So, what CAN you do? Set up a story/reading area and read a storybook Bible. If you have a separate room for two- and three-year-olds, you can have a great center-based teaching model for exploring God’s Word and use a formal curriculum.

Having a successful nursery has many elements, but we are going to look at four:

  1. First Impressions/Environment: What do parents see as they drop off their babies? Do they see shabby cribs that were donated after a family’s kids were no longer using them? Or do they see that old crib stripped and painted a fresh, new color that matches the nursery décor, or a brand-new evacuation crib? Are our nurseries Pinterest-worthy, or would you be embarrassed for someone to see a picture on Instagram? We know that this is not what draws people to our churches, but clean, beautiful nurseries make them willing to bring their babies back and leave them because they feel that their babies are safe and well cared for.
  2. Safety is a must in any nursery environment. Do we have all of our workers’ background checked? Do we have a good check-in and check-out system? Do we have emergency procedures in place, and do our parents know what they are? Do we have a well-baby policy for addressing who is too sick to be left in the nursery, risking infection to others? Are our toys appropriate for this age, or are there small parts that pose a choking hazard? Are there broken toys with sharp, pointy edges? Are the toys and the nursery surfaces cleaned after every use? We need to address all of these questions and more in order to have a safe, successful nursery.
  3. Staffing/Relationships: Do you have an all-volunteer nursery or an all-paid nursery staff or some combination thereof? Regardless of how you staff your nursery, the important part lands on relationships. It is comforting to parents to know that a consistent person is in the nursery with little ones. My preferred staffing model has often been one paid person in each of the nursery rooms and volunteers for all other positions. This way, there is the same person every week who greets and checks in the babies as well as knows the babies’ routines of napping, eating, etc. This paid worker can then know and help maintain all policies, change all diapers, and clean toys as part of her responsibilities. (Knowing that diaper changes are not their responsibility helps with recruiting volunteers as well.) Discuss these options with your leadership and plan for your church situation.
  4. Teaching this age group can be one of the greatest joys of life, in my experience. They are little sponges who can learn so much. For young twos and threes, it is a great time to build into their vocabulary words of faith that help lay a foundation for their life with Jesus. Learning the Bible stories from the Old and New Testaments, simple catechism questions and answers, songs of faith with truths about Jesus (“Jesus loves me, this I know”), and many other Bible basics can build a strong foundation at this young age. I am always so disappointed when I visit a church where nothing is being taught until the children are four. I want to yell, “You’re missing out by not teaching twos and threes! They are so incredible!”

Lastly, I just want to remind you how the nursery can and should be connected to the church and children’s ministry. New families with new babies often come to the nursery first. Do you have a way of gathering info and greeting them which can then be passed on to leadership for visitation and assimilation? Do you include the nursery as part of your church tours? The nursery is a great place for celebrations and milestones, births, and dedications or baptisms. Always connect parents and church members to what is happening in the nursery by at least putting birth announcements in bulletins or on announcement screens. Remember that the nursery is the first opportunity to disciple our precious God-given children to know and love Jesus.

B.A. Snider has more than 20 years’ experience as a children’s director in PCA churches ranging in size from 200 to 4,000 but finds her passion is the same no matter how many children she’s serving or teaching about Jesus. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and taught college until the Lord called her to seminary and full-time ministry. She graduated with a master’s degree in Christian Education from Columbia International University. Speaking at conferences, consulting with leadership, and training teachers brought her to  Great Commission Publications  in 2014 as the Children’s Ministry Consultant and Marketing Director.