Helping Babies and Toddlers Learn

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*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.

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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.

Copyright© Group Publishing, Inc. / Children’s Ministry
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