Succeeding as a Nursery Teacher

Nursery, why it exists and how we can make it a great experience for everyone.

Before I was the primary president I worked in the nursery with my husband. We have a very young and very large ward (it has since been spilt, twice). With over 60 children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old we had 3 nursery classes with 21 kids in each class. My husband and I had the smallest room with very little space to move, we consistently had 15 kids attending each week. During the 2 years I held this calling I learned to love teaching the gospel to these very small children. Later, as the primary president I came to really understand the importance of having a good nursery teacher and what types of things make nursery successful in preparing kids for primary.
The first thing a nursery teacher must know is that nursery isn’t a day care. The purpose is not only to keep the kids occupied so their parents can fulfill their callings; although this is important it is not the main purpose. When a person understands that nursery is a TEACHING calling this can be one of the most rewarding AND entertaining callings in the church.
In the manual “Behold Your Little Ones” it is stated, “The purpose of the nursery class is to help children learn the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and live it.” This means our purpose is not just to baby sit. Often times nursery is the very first experience a child will have in a classroom setting. They want to learn and they learn quickly. You are preparing them to enter into primary. Without nursery as a training course our little sunbeams will have difficulty understanding and participating in sharing time. You are teaching these children how to function and thrive in a classroom setting, something they will use for the next 20 years. Your job is very important.
The following is a list of 7 things you can do to improve your nursery teaching experience.
1- If your desire is to be a successful nursery teacher you must love the children. If you love the children you will love your calling and they will see it in you. Do what you do because you want what is best for the kids, not just because the Bishop asked you to be there. I promise you will begin to look forward to each Sunday if you can learn to love the children and show that you are excited to teach them; kids notice when a teacher cares about them rather than tolerates them.
2- One of the best ways to show a child you care is to use their name frequently. All people like to be called by their name, especially little people. Children love to be talked to and singled out and made to feel special and important. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the children by using their name. This seems so simple but is so profound. (I have had nursery teachers who after having the calling for 6 months still didn’t remember all the kids names, they obviously weren’t using the names often.)
3- Keep the Nursery tidy and organized: When our ward split and we became a new ward we purchased many toys and other resources in order for our nursery classes to be prepared with the things they would need. During the year between my position as a nursery worker and the primary president all of the nice toys were lost. The nursery worker has a responsibility to keep the closets clean, organized, and locked. This means learning what belongs to you and what belongs to other wards. This can also be a great teaching tool for the children. When it is time to clean up sing the clean up song (or some other song that indicates play time is over) and teach the children how to take care of their toys. The cars go in the car basket; the dolls go in the doll basket. This can be a fun game and is a great learning experience.

4- Being prepared to teach each week will do more for your success as a nursery worker than anything else you can do. You are responsible for these young children for 110 minutes of every week, you MUST COME PREPARED! (Click HERE to see the class schedule I used in nursery). Remember, consistency is key. Following a routine will help the kids enjoy nursery and be prepared for primary.
5- Use music and action games: When I taught nursery we came up with 7 or 8 different songs that we sang every Sunday during transition times. We sang a hello song during activity #1, we played Jack-in-the-box before the lesson, we sang here we are togetherduring activity #3, etc. (the manual has some great examples of how to do this). When the kids were playing with toys we played the Primary CD quietly in the back ground. Having songs to go along with each activity teaches the children it is time to change directions. They soon learned that after playing Jack-in-the-box they were going to sit on their chair and listen to the lesson.
6- Set up rules for your nursery and communicate these rules to the parents. Using the “letter to parents” in the Manual as a guide, write your parents a letter explaining the rules to them. Some of these rules may include: It is the parents responsibility to take the child to the bathroom and change diapers – the parents need to inform the teachers of where they will be, relief society, primary, young womens, etc. No outside toys or sippy cups – Leave your child and we will come get you if she cries for too long – kids who are being mean will be asked to leave, etc. It can be difficult to get to know people when teaching nursery but try engaging the parents in some conversation when they come pick up their kid. (Tell them something funny their kid did, or how they said the prayer during the lesson, etc.)
7- Don’t expect too much from the children, be patient and remember they are very young. Don’t look for perfection only worry about improvement. One of the primary workers I taught with once said that her goal as a nursery leader was to teach the children who Jesus was and for them to know 3 primary songs very well before they went to the Sunbeam class. This is a great goal!
I love nursery! After 4 years (and counting) of watching new sunbeams come into primary I can tell almost instantly which kids had a great nursery teacher and which ones had a nursery baby sitter. These kids are NOT too young to learn that they are children of God and they are NOT too young to learn that church is a fun and happy place to be.