The nursery was perfect. Matching cribs lined one wall, each
with crisp pink and blue checked sheets. Developmentally
appropriate toys sat neatly on white shelves just waiting for tiny
hands to hold them. A wooden rocker sat motionless in the corner
with a soft, pale green afghan folded over its arm, ready to
comfort and warm a tiny soul. The small room waited for small
Outside the nursery, a flurry of activity filled the halls.
Children and their parents hurried by on their way to classes and
services. Laughter and excitement bubbled up everywhere --
everywhere except in the nursery.
Makes you feel sorry for the nursery, doesn't it? This scenario
may sound extreme -- but when we surveyed parents of babies and
toddlers to see whether they use the church nursery, we found that
some never do. So why don't these parents use our nurseries? Their
reasons may surprise you, but they also may inspire you to make
your nursery the place to be.
One common reason parents resist leaving their little ones in
your nursery is they're afraid their small children will be exposed
to otherwise-avoidable illnesses.
"My concern is that many parents will take a sick child to the
nursery," said one parent. "I also worry about whether things are
cleaned and disinfected. I suppose I should just ask, but then I
feel like the freaky mom who worries too much."
Take Action: Help parents see that you're taking measures to
keep all your small friends healthy and happy.
• Establish an illness policy. For example, require
that children who have a fever, runny nose with yellow discharge,
diarrhea, vomiting, or other symptoms remain with their parents.
Require that parents whose children become ill retrieve their child
within 10 minutes. Create an isolation area in your room so if a
child becomes ill, he or she can be separated from other children
while waiting for Mom or Dad.
• Keep your room sanitized. Clean all toys before
returning them to the shelves by rinsing them in a bleach and water
solution. Keep changing tables sanitary. Use disinfectant spray
liberally during peak illness seasons. Encourage hand-washing among
children and require it of volunteers. Provide sanitizing hand gel
at your entryway, changing tables, and restroom.
Post these policies and health-conscious procedures outside your
classroom and in your promotional materials so parents know you're
working to keep kids healthy.
Safe and Sound
Parents of young children have an especially keen radar when it
comes to safety, and if they feel as though your nursery doesn't
take necessary precautions to keep their little ones safe, they
won't be leaving their children with you any time soon.
"I wasn't pleased at all with the condition of our nursery,"
confided one parent. "It looked like nothing had been done since
Another reason this parent felt uneasy leaving her child:
"There's no check-in/check-out system whatsoever, and I've never
heard of any kind of background checks being done."
Play-n-Worship: Play-Along Bible
This music-focused, baby-centered resource helps infants
discover & learn about God-and their great big world.
Stimulating visual, tactile, and auditory experiences engage
babies-and connect them with God's truth.
Click here for more information or to place your
Shed light on your nursery as a safe place for babies.
Update your décor. There are simple,
inexpensive ways you can update your nursery. A coat of white paint
leaves a better impression than dreary paint. Use freshly laundered
linens. Tape visuals and safety mirrors at children's level.
Invest in background checks. Parents often
spend hours researching and interviewing potential day-care
providers and caregivers. It's illogical to them to leave their
child in the arms of a complete stranger with an unknown history.
Let parents know your volunteers have passed background checks.
Create "meet our volunteers" sheets where volunteers' photos are
posted. Include the volunteer's name, interests, education or
employment, and something about his or her passion for serving in
the nursery. (Click here to read Safety First: A
Guide to Conducting Background Checks).
Keep it safe. Do regular safety checks and
updates in your classroom. Provide CPR and first-aid classes for
your volunteers. Post safety rules and child-protection policies on
your doorways and throughout your rooms. Use a secure check-in
system, which can be as simple as requiring the same person to sign
in at drop-off and sign out when picking up.
When asked to describe her church's nursery, one parent's
response was, "One word -- chaos! I know the nursery becomes a
crazy place sometimes, and I worry that my infant won't get the
attention and care that she needs."
Take Action: Action can be a good thing; it
means babies are stimulated and people are interacting. Chaos,
though, is a bad thing; it can be a telltale sign of
disorganization and discord.
Streamline. Update your processes for check-in
and check-out. Organize your room. Massage your classroom routine
to make it as efficient and child-friendly as possible.
The reason one parent gave for not using the nursery is
surprising -- and worrisome: "[At our previous church], I didn't
even know where the nursery was."
Take Action: Don't assume parents know about
your nursery. Many smaller churches have wonderful -- but empty --
nurseries because they're tucked away where visitors, and even
regular attenders, can't easily find them.
Go public. Promote your nursery's location and
benefits. Spend time "walking the carpet" -- shaking hands and
inviting parents to stop in for a visit. Have an open house
following services. Do a little PR. Train ushers to escort parents
to the nursery. And make your nursery accessible -- optimally, it
should be within eyeshot of the worship area, allowing parents
convenience and ease of mind.
"Our church attendance has been spotty this year, [due] to the
child care and our son's response," said one parent. "He clings to
us and doesn't want to go at all...Honestly, I just don't know what
our future at this church will be."
If you've ever wondered how important your nursery or toddler
ministry is, this parent's response is your answer.
Take Action: If a child resists coming or a
child who attended stops, dig deeper. In one situation the parents
discovered that another child was biting their son. The teacher was
able to resolve the situation. Had it been ignored, the parents may
have opted to keep their son out of the nursery permanently.
We also found that one of the common reasons parents don't leave
their children in the nursery is actually positive: "We wanted to
begin worship as a new family."
Take Action: Today's families trend toward
family togetherness, so it's no surprise that many young families
want to worship together. Support these families by informing them
about your services and providing worship "care kits" for their
little ones, such as crayons, coloring sheets, and simple snacks.
Provide a cry room or nursing room where parents can still see or
hear the service.
The Great News
The great news is that hundreds of thousands of parents use
their church nurseries every weekend and throughout the week -- and
they love it!
"The nursery coordinator really knows my kids and our family,"
said another parent whose three daughters all stayed in their
nursery. "Even the weekly volunteers seem genuinely interested in
loving little ones!"
For a reproducible (PDF) "Invitation to Parents" you can use to
inform parents about the wonderful things happening in your
Will You Pass My Test?
We recently left our church of six years. The deciding factor
was our toddler's consistent negative reaction to the nursery -- we
want him to have a positive beginning at church. In our search for
a new church, I used a mental checklist to evaluate each church's
nursery. I'll bet most church visitors have a similar checklist.
Here's a peek at what parents are looking for.
• What's your classroom or nursery like? Is the
atmosphere fun and engaging?
• Is my child safe? Do you have a system in place
to stop someone else from claiming my child? Does the door lock so
my child can't wander away? Are there safety features -- outlet
covers, sturdy cribs and swings, and age-appropriate toys? Can you
quickly contact me if my child needs me?
• What happens at drop-off? Separation anxiety is
normal, but does my child's reluctance seem like more? Does the
teacher try to engage him, as well as assure me that he'll be
• Is there structure? Do you follow a routine?
How will I know what my child experienced?
• Are you interested? Do you verify the spelling
and pronunciation of his name? Are you happy to be there? If we
come back, do you remember him?
• How do other kids act? Are they happy or upset?
engaged or bored? Is the classroom chaotic?
• What's my child's reaction? I'll ask him if he
liked Sunday school and ask him simple questions about the lesson.
I'll pay attention to his emotions when I pick him up, and may peek
into the classroom before I make my presence known. Is he
participating and having fun, or is he crying for me?
• Will you answer my questions? If our first
visit went well, I'll call the children's ministry director to find
out more about your ministry. Do you welcome this
After trying a few churches, we've found one we like. The clincher
was the other day when out of the blue my son said, "I like going
Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children's Ministry
Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.