Use active learning in cradle roll — or your church nursery — to help little ones learn about the Bible.
* Plan pre-session activities to capture kids’ attention. When children first arrive, lead them to pre-session centers that introduce that day’s Bible story. Here are center ideas:
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- “I am special.” Tape a sheet of poster board to the wall. Trace each child’s hand on the poster board. Then write each child’s name on his or her traced hand. Take an instant-print picture of each child and pin that child’s photo next to his or her traced hand.
- “I go to church.” Set up a toy church made from a box. Create a parking lot with newsprint, marking off roads and parking areas at the church. With toy cars, have the children role play their trip to church. When it’s time for the story, kids can drive their cars to their seats and park them under their chairs.
- “Mary loved Jesus.” Set up a rocking chair with a large felt Mary mounted on wood standing next to it. Or tape a picture of Mary to the back of the rocker. Use the rocker to rock the babies and show them how Mary may’ve rocked Jesus when he was a baby.
*Make welcome time special. I sing a little welcome song and shake each hand to welcome children. I’ve also mounted a large felt church on wood. The doors are cut so they open to reveal a glued mirror behind them. As I go around the room, I let each child look in the mirror as I sing the welcome song to him or her.
Don’t forget birthdays and visitors. You might have a pin or sticker for each special occasion. We have a decorated chair for the birthday child to sit in as the class sings the “Happy Birthday” song. We also have a rocking horse for the visitor to sit on while we welcome him or her. Don’t forget that special hug that says, “I love you and so does Jesus.”
*Establish a signal. You’ll need to capture kids’ attention when they’re scattered around the room. Choose a signal to let kids know that it’s time to come together as a group. Use the same signal every week, for at least a quarter. This age group is comfortable with repetition.
Your signal could be the same song. Or you could use a unique bell that children can ring. Let one of them ring the signal. Praise the children as they move to group time.
*Involve children in prayer. Every child should be a part of prayer. We use a special prayer rug-either a towel or a throw rug. And we always use the same one. We say a prayer poem or sing a song as we spread out the prayer rug. The children kneel with the teachers on the rug. As I pray, I have the children repeat the prayer line by line after me.
*Create a hands-on story. Whatever your story, provide props for children to manipulate and experience fully. For our theme “Jesus as a Boy,” I talked about Jesus as a little boy. I had collected things to use that’d help children experience what Jesus did as a little boy. I had towels and homemade pillows. As I talked about Jesus sleeping, the children lay down on the towels and pillows. Then they rolled them up and put them back in place, just as Jesus did when he was a child.
Scrolls made out of paper and wood helped children pretend they were reading the Bible just as Jesus did. Homemade wooden hammers helped them experience how little Jesus helped his daddy work. A snack of fish sticks and bread helped them understand how Jesus ate.
You can also fill a large plastic container with water and use it as the Sea of Galilee. The children can float toy plastic boats on the sea as you talk about Jesus and the disciples at sea.
A plastic swimming pool filled with sand can be the village of Nazareth. Using cardboard houses, trees, and clothespin people, let the children experience Nazareth by walking the people around the village as you tell a story.
*Take time for the closing. Don’t let time slip away from you so that the closing is just whenever Mom or Dad shows up. Five minutes before parents are to arrive, gather the children together and pray with them. Sing a goodbye song waving goodbye to them as they go.
It takes a little longer for things you say to register with this age group. Don’t rush. Allow children time to have sensory experiences with what you’re sharing. In every class time, children should be able to hear, feel, touch, taste, and smell the story of the day.
These precious little ones can love God only through the people they love. Love them, be patient with them, smile, and hug them often. God will create in you his love to give to them. God promises in James 1:5 that he’ll give you the wisdom you need to create unforgettable experiences that’ll last a lifetime.
Jacquie Vanatta is an area children’s ministry director in Colorado.