Nursery Department – 2’s and 3’s: Foundational Years




The Nursery classroom has in times past been called the “cry-room.” Just anyone who would, could take the babies, and welcome. The very progressive church added a “window” into the main auditorium, and
perhaps a loud speaker, so that the obliging soul who got stuck with the babies would at least hear part of the service, if the babies did not cry too much.

Now the emphasis is focused on early childhood education. (It was in the “old black Book” all the time–see Proverbs 22:6. It always takes science awhile to catch up with God’s Word. Witness all the furor over the dangers inherent in cigarette smoking. God had told honest-hearted, Holy Ghost-filled preachers years ago that tobacco would “defile the temple.”) The United States government allocates funds for research and study. Educators begin to plan curriculum for toddlers, and Sunday school specialists realize that there will have to be a few changes made in that “cryroom.”

Divide and Teach

First let us group those children under two years of age separately, if at all possible. It is wise to divide this group again, as soon as needed, into a cradle room for infants less than one year old, and toddlers, ages one to two.

The Nursery now will be designed to meet the needs of energetic, active, ever-learning 2’s and 3’s, who are ready for a simply organized Learning Center teaching experience.

Characteristics of the Nursery Child

Most 3’s and many 2’s are ready to learn about a world outside their own homes. The Nursery child is ready to begin to accept adults other than Mommy and Daddy, if they are warm, loving, affectionate people.

He is beginning to seek approval, love and praise, and therefore will conform to a simple routine. The tone of the teacher’s voice, and her facial expressions, are significant to him. Suggest, “Let me see you hang up your coat.” “Do you know where the books belong?” You may wish to sing a direction. Sing up and down the first five notes of the scale: “Books go on the rack; feet go on the floor.”

The Nursery child is aware of the atmosphere the teacher creates for him in the Nursery classroom. If there is love and security for him in his Sunday school experiences, he will associate positive, good feelings with his first knowledge of church and God. This is a big building block to use in a firm foundation for a later positive belief and acceptance of this great salvation.

One educator compared early childhood to the little stream that runs out of Lake Itaska in Minnesota. Here at the source it is only two feet deep and about ten feet wide. Later in its course the mighty Mississippi stretches about a mile from shore to shore, and digs a bed deeper than a hundred feet in many places. At the source the stream could easily be controlled and channeled. But half way down the river, or even a third of the way, who could re-direct such a mighty force?

Likewise, it takes a mighty surge of the Holy Ghost to rechannel a life in later years, after serving the devil has devastated that life, and left it irrevocably marked. At the source, however, can we not help with good, warm learning about-Jesus experiences in a classroom well-planned, and adequately equipped just for 2’s and 3’s?

One of the lessons that many parents are most anxious for the Nursery child to learn is to share. Do not be dismayed if you seem to be making little or no headway in teaching your little flock to play together peaceably, and to share with one another. Actually, very few three’s, and almost no two’s interact with a group. They play parallel, rather than together. One of the 3’s may play briefly with one other child, or possibly two or three. He is able to choose between two or three activities. The two-year-old wants to hold onto the puzzle and grab a book also. (Then, too, he wants anything he sees that someone else has, or at least he wants another like it.) At three, he may have enough patience to wait briefly for his turn.

The Nursery teacher must plan, then, for individual activity, as well as some co-operative activities. Slowly, but surely, growth and development does take place. The “terrible twos” become “trusting threes.” We never label a child stingy or selfish, or talk of the ill-effects of being an only child. We simply give him time and room in which to grow.

Nursery children have much better control over large muscles than small ones. Choose action songs rather than finger plays. We never expect the Nursery child to crayon pictures within the lines (dubious achievement anyway; a child’s own artwork is far more charming). Large 1/4 or 1/2-inch paint brushes, with a choice of four or five bright colors of tempera paint, give a nursery child a very satisfying art activity. Such a splash of bright color! A smock made from a man’s discarded shirt with the collar ripped off, the tail cut off and the sleeves cut to size and buttoned on backward, protects the child’s clothing while he paints. While creativity is in the making, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of tranquilizers, so cover the floor with newspapers, button up the smock (you will need a good cover-all apron yourself), and dole out a half inch of paint in a flat-bottomed jar about 3 inches in diameter. That way, a paint spill will be a
trickle instead of a torrent. And the artist, armed with his trusty sponge, may be able to handle a good part of it himself. We do teach our Nursery students to work only on the paper, to wipe up spills, and to put things away when he’s done, but teach these things gradually; don’t set standards too high. Remember, some children think to paint simply means to cover every square inch of the paper with one color. A safe, acceptable comment for the teacher to make is, “That’s very interesting. Would you like to tell me about it?”

Certainly we sing with Nursery children. Dr. Robert B. Smith, University of Illinois Child Development Laboratory, tells of research that he did with Nursery school children. He says that children who receive early group music experiences perform much more tunefully than children who are introduced to singing much later. Nursery school youngsters do show one common characteristic, however. They sing the lower tones, Middle C up to A, better than those above A. You may need to transpose some of their songs.

The attention span of the Nursery child is very brief-only three to five minutes. This means storytime must be short. Waning interest may be sparked in various centers by questions. “What will Mrs. Zaccheus have for dinner when Jesus comes to visit them?” “The baby is sick. Whom does the Bible tell us to call when we have sick folks?”

Nursery children have little or no concept of time. Omit time in relation to their story. However, they will respond to music cues to indicate changes in schedule. “Is that the cleanup time song?”

The Nursery child is curious. Notice how intensely and seriously the young child goes about the endless manipulation of his environment. Whether building the wall of Jericho or working a puzzle, a child’s
uninhibited powers are called forth. It is this personal involvement that gives play its powerful educational values. A dull, barren environment, whether it is the Sunday school classroom or the home, shuts off these learning experiences for young children. A stale, drab teaching situation dulls the appetite for learning about God, and makes later teaching far more difficult. Could it be that the Junior High dropouts may be traced to dull, uninteresting Nursery classroom experiences? “This church doesn’t like little folks. They bought all the chairs for big folks.”

Sameness spells security to the Nursery child. “That’s my teacher.” How important it is to be greeted by the same smiling face each week. Try this experiment: Sing a fairly new song, and count the children who participate. Then sing “Jesus Loves Me.” It is old to you but lovely to almost all little ones because it is familiar.

Further in-depth study of the Nursery child should be made by the teachers. Check your local public library under Education, for texts on nursery education.

The Nursery Child and Good Discipline

One writer has said that, “If, in instructing a child, you are vexed with it for want of adroitness, try, if you have never tried before, to write with your left hand, and then remember that a child is all left hand.”

Another harassed individual expressed himself this way, “Give me 200 active two-year-olds and I can conquer the world.”

As teacher of the Nursery Department you soon learn that two and three-year-olds do not want to be restricted or inhibited in any manner and they are not inclined to conceal their viewpoint. The Nursery
student will not want to pick up, cleanup, put his toys away. He will definitely not want any part of rest time. If he has learned to accept his teacher he may want to monopolize her time. He wants to sit next to
her every storytime. A patient but competent Nursery teacher will eventually succeed in helping the Nursery child to settle down and accept the Nursery Department procedure. The Kindergarten teacher will
then rise up and call the Nursery teacher blessed.

There is always the student though who is “difficult”. . . “a problem child.” Remember that if a child is a problem, he may have a problem. If you can discover what his problem is and help him solve it, your problem will be taken care of.

Milk for Babes

Recently I had an interesting letter from a teacher of three-year-olds, JoAnn Tate, Montgomery, Illinois. In the letter Sister Tate mentioned that they were serving their students milk and a very simple cookie or Rice Krispies rather than a sweet drink or chocolate. As she so kindly pointed out, sugar and chocolate are not very nourishing food for young children.

Several years ago I sat in on a lecture by a renowned pediatrician, Dr. Billy Crook, from Jackson, Tennessee. This doctor was constantly trying to counsel mothers of hyperactive children. Through
research he was able to pinpoint several items of diet that caused behavioral problems in children. His lecture has remained in my memory and I too regret that we as Sunday school teachers are often prone to
take the cheapest, quickest way out when planning refreshments.

I Peter 2:2 mentions the “milk of the word for newborn spiritual babes.” Perhaps we need to take heed to the natural nourishment as well as the spiritual nourishment offered in our classes.

Try it and note if you see some improvement. More tranquility and serenity in a classroom would be worth a few cents spent for proper food.

A little child is exceedingly vulnerable to teaching (good and bad). Never again at any other period in his life will he learn as much and as quickly as in the first five years of his life. Never again in his life will effective teaching and compassionate help be as vital.

The key to good discipline in the Nursery Department is to “get understanding” Proverbs 4:5-7. One characteristic of Nursery children which colors much of their behavior is fear. A strange room a strange
adult, noisy unknown children–can cause a Nursery child to hold back, to dread entering the classroom, to cry for Mommy. Remember his fear is real. Take time to carefully reassure him, “Mommy is gone, Mommy will be back!”

Arrange your classroom in such a way that “No, no’s” are at a minimum. Keep rules simple but be consistent in enforcing them. E. G. “No, Johnny, we do not leave this classroom.

No, Susie, people are not for biting!”

Try to avoid unnecessary conflict. Why make an issue of every little thing. This does not mean that you should give in and not require anything of the child. But keep your requirements simple and give and take.

Toddlers can be tigers in the classroom. They make messes, break things, touch, poke, ask endless questions. They make it easy to nag (no, don’t, mustn’t.) Yet the more you nag, the harder it is for the
child to learn. Again, the best plan is prevention. Keep the child so busy doing right things that he doesn’t have time for the wrong. Reward verbally the good things a child does.

Always keep in mind the child’s developmental level when planning the program for the Nursery Department. A three-year-old cannot sit still for half an hour–it is physically impossible. Plan to work with, not against his developmental level.

The Nursery Teacher

God give us Jochebeds and Hannahs in our Nursery classrooms! Godly, dedicated women who sincerely love children and feel a definite responsibility for them. These teachers should be mature, responsible
women. Teen-agers are not mature enough for this great task. The finest, most dedicated youngster just does not have the reservoir of experience necessary for this delicate duty. Older women may not be
physically strong enough for this challenging job. It has been well said that a teacher of young children must have the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, and the strength of Samson for her job.

Ladies, this job is too big for us. We need some help. Young children need to associate godly men with their first learning experiences in church. A few, brave men have accepted the challenge, and are teaching most effectively in the Nursery classes. Since children are imitators, who is going to be Bold Daniel or Daring David for these wee ones to model after? If this early childhood education is so vital (and many are convinced that it is) why does the church wait until the Junior Boys class to place men teachers?

Four and nine-tenths million American children have no father figure in the home. How much greater is the number of small, impressionable children who never get to know the joy of a godly, Christian man. Is it any wonder that many get the idea that church is for sissies? Sir, if you would only sit in the rocking chair and lend us your moral support, you would find yourself the star of the teaching staff. A young man who had never taught before was prevailed upon to teach in a Beginner department. Every Sunday his center was the most crowded. Ten and twelve children wanted to be in Brother Mack’s center. If you can prevail on a godly man to share in this important task, by all means do so.

Of course, all teachers must be spirit filled–not twenty years ago, but a current, rich, vital experience that bubbles over with enthusiasm. A dedicated teacher who will go the second mile, changes the pictures often, learns new songs, and visits new prospects, as well as absentees.

A loyal teacher will often mention, “Our fine pastor, Brother__________’s,” name. She will attend weekly and monthly staff meetings, pay her tithes, and support the total program of the church.

A studious teacher knows the truth, but realizes her need to learn more about the Bible than the Nursery curriculum offers. She studies early childhood education to learn more about her age group–its traits, its potentials, its problems. If we would feed our little flock, we must have more than Pablum ourselves.

An energetic teacher will scrub the floor, clean the windows, check supplies, induce someone to build new equipment, plan original visual aids. Needless to say, a lazy person could never qualify.

Staff Needed

Department Superintendent
Associate Superintendent
Teachers. One teacher for each Learning Center is ideal. There should, by all means, be a ratio of 1 adult to each 4 to 6 children.

Responsibilities Of Each Staff Member

Department Superintendent. Supervises the department. Should arrive by 9:00. Conducts weekly planning sessions (30 minutes before a week night service is ideal). Conducts monthly planning sessions some time before the beginning of a new month. Makes assignments of Learning Centers for each teacher, rotating them. If one teacher is dismissed to attend morning worship, the superintendent should schedule this. Makes pupil assignment and visitation prospects, dividing this responsibility so that all teachers are active in the visitation effort. Personally greets children, and meets new parents, as they arrive. Is responsible
for the main Bible lesson.

Associate Superintendent. Assists the superintendent. Acts as superintendent in her absence. Has own Learning Center assignment. May be in charge of last group time, although it is wise to share this experience, in order that all teachers may have opportunity to teach entire group.

Secretary. Keeps all records. Receives the offering, and always explains why we need the offering and what we do with it. Gets names and addresses of new students. This may take real ingenuity, as almost no nursery student can give this information for himself. Has no Learning Center assignment, but may assist as needed when records are complete.

Teachers. All teachers are expected to attend the weekly and monthly planning sessions. They should be ready, in the weekly session, to discuss their plans for the following Sunday. Thorough preparation must be made for each lesson. Makes contacts of absentees and prospects. The teacher should prepare her center each week to bear out the theme of the lesson. Some things from previous lessons should be used for review. Plan for something new and different in decoration or lesson presentation each Sunday. Each teacher has an opportunity to tell the story in the Extended Session to the entire group when her turn comes. An effective teacher is always a student. She should read widely, background Bible material as well as training material. She must be a devoted, consecrated Christian, with an abiding love for children.

The Classroom

This classroom may be the young child’s first social experience in a group his own age. Here he may form his very first impressions of church.

Happy is the Nursery child whose first memory of a Sunday school classroom is a large room, clean and sunshiny, well ventilated and well-lighted, decorated simply and colorfully. Even a dark basement room can be painted a light color and kept immaculate.

Floor covering should be easily cleaned. More and more churches are using a good grade of high density back commercial carpeting in classrooms. Vinyl or asphalt tile is good. If you use these, you should use a large washable rug for story time.

Cap all electrical outlets. Covers for them may be purchased at hardware stores. If at all possible, a bathroom should be adjacent to the Nursery classroom.

Allow at least a minimum of 15 square feet of floor space per child. A Nursery is not dead. It is full of alive children, and plenty of movement is planned, not prohibited. Space in which to move is essential. Don’t bother with curtains. They just get dirty and keep out the sunshine. Keep windows sparkling clean.

Learning Centers and Equipment

Housekeeping Center–Should be as large as possible, because of the variety of play within it. It corresponds to all the phases of indoor living in a child’s home life, and is undefinably related to the
concept of God in the home. A child size wooden stove with storage space in it, a kitchen cabinet, table and chairs, large doll bed big enough for the nursery child to “be the baby” if he so desires. Large washable dolls with clothing. Optional: iron and ironing board, chest, doll’s hi-chair, rocking chair. ! ” .


Block Center–Blocks are basic equipment for Nursery classes. Blocks can build anything from the wall of Jericho to the Sea of Galilee. Various types of blocks are available: hollow and solid blocks, Blockbusters, and building boards (to make roofs and ramps), each fitted so neatly on storage shelves that the children enjoy putting the blocks away, as well as building with them. Wooden doll families (wedgies), transportation toys and toy animals, as well as a small scale model of a Bible-time house and Noah’s ark, stimulate ideas.

Nature Center–Open shelves and nature materials, table and chairs.

Puzzle Center–Table, chairs, wooden tray puzzles with from 6 to 10 pieces per puzzle.

Activity Tables–For extra activity and workbook time.

Teaching Center–Teaching table, picture rail, chair for teacher, flannelboard.

, Book Center–Book rack, table and chairs, good supply of simple, attractive books on the nursery level. (Bible stories, also nature and practical themes). Books may be borrowed from your local public library.

Paint Center–Painting easel, tempera paint (powdered is less expensive). Plain newsprint for the easel. Smocks made from men’s
shirts, as mentioned earlier.

Secretary Desk And Chair–Small desk and light chair.

Children’s Chairs–You may wish one for each child, or you could make out with fewer if you use a washable rug for story time, and in front of the book center.

Tack Board–18 to 24 inches wide and 5 to 6 feet long Even little children like to pin up their own work.

Record Player And Table.

Coat Rack–One for children and one for adults.

Equipment–All tables should be 10 inches higher than chairs. A round table adds interest. You can make a good one from an electric cable spool by simply sawing out a plywood top to extend 8 to 10 inches around the spool. Chairs should be 9 to 10 inches in height.

Supplies To Have On Hand

Construction paper
Non-roll crayons, large size
Paint brushes, 1/2 to 1/4 inches in size (Please, no water colors!)
Tempera paint (powdered)
Liquid starch to mix with paint
Plasticene clay
Home-made Play Doh
1 part salt to 3 parts flour, just enough water to mix. 1 Tablespoon cooking oil and tempera paint for color. 1 teaspoon alumfor preservative.
Large dolls and clothing
A pair of telephones (play)
Dust mop and dust cloth
Pots and pans
Iron and ironing board
Rolling pin and cookie cutters
Bed linens for doll bed Dish cloths
Paper paste
Puzzles, several wooden tray puzzles with 6 to 10 pieces per puzzle.
Waste baskets
Good selection of books
Large Bible for Teaching Center
Scissors Stapler Large kindergarten pencils Nursery records
Nature Materials–leaves, shells, bird nest, thorns, palm leaf, wasp nest, fish and fish bowls, etc.
Dress-up-grownups’ clothing, taken up so that children can walk without tripping. Purses, hats and gloves. Men’s hats, lunch box.

Block Center–transportation toys, ark, model of Bible-time home, animals, wooden or rubber family groups and community helpers for block center. Unit, hollow, cardboard Blockbusters, (can be purchased now in graduated sizes). Make your own wooden blocks from 2 x 4’s. Cut 8 blocks, size (in inches) 2x2x4; 4 blocks, 2x4x4; and 2 blocks, 2x4x8. Sand smooth and wax, leaving the natural color of the wood.

Pictures–Next to direct contact with the real thing (for example: a real, slippery, swimming fish in a small bowl), a good picture is one of the basic teaching tools for the Nursery teacher. Remember the vocabulary of small children is so limited. For example, when you speak of calling on the Lord, a child may get a mental image of a telephone conversation. We need more than words to communicate effectively with youngsters. One needs to be constantly on the lookout for good pictures. The word “famine” has little or no meaning for young American children. Search for a picture of an emaciated child or animal; even a black and white newspaper clipping will do. Calendars and magazines are good sources. Ask your friends to help you save such material. A central file for all teachers to share is sometimes used. Detailed directions for mounting and filing are given in the chapter on Primaries.

Picture Sources–Many places of business display large colorful advertising displays which are changed periodically. If you speak to them in advance, leaving your name and phone number, they will often
give you these pictures and gimmicks when they are taken down.

Look through the yellow pages of your phone directory to find possible sources. Good pictures of animals, people, food, flowers, transportation and other items could be secured from advertising agencies, feed and seed stores, florists, grocery stores, travel agents, pet shops.

Sunday Morning
Suggested Time Schedule

to 10:05 Welcome Time: Attendance charts and Learning Centers
10:05-10:20 Learning Centers
10:20-10:30 Clean-Up Time
10:30-10:40 Worship Time
10:40-10:50 Bible Story
10:5011:00 Rest Time
11:00-11:15 Refreshments
11:15-11:45 Learning Centers
11:45-11:50 Clean-Up Time
11:50-11:55 Worship Time
11:55-12:00 Practical Story

Adapt this schedule to fit your local situation.

A Typical Sunday Morning in a Nursery Department

Planning ahead is the key to a good Sunday morning in the Nursery Department. Every teacher is aware of the total teaching objective. Every teacher has made her own preparation for her own center. All supplies and equipment that will be needed are in place. The room should be decorated to relate to the theme of the lesson as well as seasonal decorations and decorations of a practical nature. All absentees have been contacted and several new prospects are expected.

Some Nursery Departments have found that it is a good idea to have an older woman (grandmother type) to welcome the children. She may prefer to sit in a rocking chair near the door and she will expect to have some of the boys and girls crawl up into her lap for a special warm welcome. The secretary should be seated at a desk near the door also. Teachers are in their assigned learning centers.

Soon after each boy and girl feels secure about Mother’s leaving, he will be shown where to place his offering and a brief explanation will be given as to what his offering will be used for. Help will be given him as he needs it with his coat and cap. Many Nursery Department students will be quick to say, “Me do it!” It is good teaching to allow each child to do as much as he can but be quick to give assistance when a child becomes frustrated with trying to hang up a coat or some other task that he is still just a little too immature to accomplish.

Plan time so that the child is free to move from one center to another. No one is forced to stay in any particular part of the room, but may go where he is interested.

What is the curious Nursery student interested in today? Is it the goldfish in the aquarium? Perhaps it is the new Playdoh in the Housekeeping Center. Plan for his curiosity. Have drawers or cabinets or toy boxes which he can investigate. Plan new toys and activities periodically.

Allow ample time for Cleanup Time. At first the young children will need plenty of time and quite a lot of help. Encourage them to do as much as they can. As they attend regularly, they become more skillful, and the time needed may be less.

One of the main objectives of the Nursery Department should be to teach how to worship. Since a two or three-year-old child learns only by observation and repetition, we must use this means to show him how
to worship.

Start your worship time with a familiar song. The Nursery child prefers to sing songs he knows but he can be taught new songs occasionally.

Bible Story Time–“At last,” a misguided, uninformed teacher may sigh, “We are going to stop all this playing nonsense and teach the children the Word of God.” Remember there is no clear line between work
and play to the young child. He has been learning all morning, although his learning may have been outside your lesson plans. “She’s not interested in me. She talks all the time to the other teacher.” Is this
Johnny’s opinion of you? Application. Can you make the Bible truth simple enough for a Nursery child to understand? This is our goal.

Rest and refreshments–Plan rest and snack periods. Try not to frighten a child. Since most young children fear that Mother someday will not come back, never threaten this as a punishment. The child usually needs his morning snack for extra energy so we do not withhold snack as a punishment either.

Learning Centers and Crafts–What fun it is to make something that is lesson-related to take home to show Mom and Dad! Give help only as needed. Activity worksheets and other crafts provide excellent opportunity for this. If a child is kept busy doing planned activities, he will not have as much need or opportunity to get into mischief. This, of course, is the mammoth task of the Nursery teacher. Do you care enough to plan enough to challenge the most active 2 year old?

Clean-Up Time–A final cleanup time and every toy and piece of equipment is in its proper place. All supplies have been carefully assembled and placed in the supply cabinet for the next session.

Worship Time–Another worship session is in order because repetition is the way the young child learns best. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little and the ever learning Nursery child does learn about Jesus and His love.

Practical Story Time–One final sit-down time for one more story is a good way to end a typical Sunday morning in the Nursery Department.

Building Self-esteem in Young Children

Currently Christian Book Stores are stocking several books on the subject of self-esteem. Perhaps one of the most popular is Dr. Robert Schuler’s book called Self-Esteem published by Word.

In a recent workshop on self-esteem a very active interesting professor taught with two student aids. All who attended the workshop left laughing, talking and feeling a strong sense of self-worth. The professor achieved this in a very large group of over 200 kindergarten and nursery teachers by several simple methods.

Not all of these methods would work with young children. However, there are several things that will help your young students to know that you value them.

At least once during the session, try to call each child by name. A touch–just a pat on the shoulder–lets a child know that you are aware of him. Let the child draw pictures of his family and share with the class the names of his sisters and brothers as well as pets. Be sure to pin badges or name-tags on new children. Make hand prints, either in tempera paint or plaster of Paris. Make a mural of footprints. Encourage the child to draw a picture of his house and point out his room. Take photographs of the children then back these with leaf shapes and pin to a class “tree.”

Self-esteem is a strong sense of self, a feeling of identity, of belonging, of being special. Be sure that each child in your class feels special because he is.

God bless you in your teaching. Only special people take the time and energy to pour out their hearts and minister to little children. But Jesus said,

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew, 25:40).