"We love because he first loved us.”
—1 John 4:19
Small children have some pretty basic needs. They need food and water. They need sleep and play; shelter and air. Developmental scientists as early as the 19th century began to discover that, especially in the early years, children have a need that is equal in importance to their physical requirements. They need to experience love.
This should come as no surprise to the Christian caregiver. Jesus, who is love, makes no secret of his desire that we love one another (John 13:34). It’s a simple thing to realize that "one another" includes the children we care for in the church nursery. Babies need love every bit as much as they need food and water.
What about love?
The question, “Can babies REALLY learn faith concepts?” can easily be answered with a resounding “YES!” Nonetheless, wrangling the nuances of which concepts babies can learn can be slightly more complicated.
In her book, “The Needs of Children” (1985), Mia Kellmer Pringle lists love and security as the most crucial needs of children. This starts at birth. Parents are the first to fulfil these needs. Then, as love comes from a widening circle of caregivers, an infant begins to form his or her definition of love in the first years of life.
This understanding has been proven to influence relationships throughout a person’s life. What a child thinks love feels like and looks like will also impact his or her relationship with God—either positively or negatively.
Church nursery caregivers teach about love through action
Here’s the exciting news: if you are caring for children in any capacity, you have a divine opportunity to take part in this process of teaching about love—and showing children how wonderful it can be!
The actions we take as we care for children make up the true nursery curriculum. And 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 serves as a helpful “lesson plan” to guide our actions so we can teach about love. In those passages, we learn about what love looks like. It’s patient and kind. It’s not boastful or arrogant. It hopes. Is truthful. Presses on.
Unfortunately, statistics show that many of our children are not seeing those qualities when learning about love in their homes. In the United States, a report of child abuse is made nearly every 10 seconds. The devastating odds are, there will be at least one child in our care receiving the false message that love hurts. Therefore, it becomes our mission to double down on love.
Three tips to create a loving culture in the church nursery
Every single tiny soul that comes into our doors must be greeted with the real thing—patient, kind, enduring, sacrificial love. The kind that Jesus models for us.
Practically, there are a few things caregivers can do to create a loving culture in the nursery:
All caregivers should gather to pray before receiving littles into the classroom. Connecting with God will help focus hearts and can influence the care of God’s kids. Asking for patience and kindness to flow through us and to children and families is a wonderful way to set the climate for love.
Stay in small groups
When there are multiple children and multiple helpers, it’s good practice to assign each child a primary caregiver. A primary caregiver has a small group of children on whom they are especially focused. Anyone, of course, can help a child when he or she needs something, but the child’s primary caregiver has the responsibility to anticipate those needs and ensure they are met.
With this structure, the same person performs diaper changes, feedings, playtime, and small group activities as much as possible. This facilitates a closer bond between children and caregivers and assures that children’s needs are met. Both are great ways to demonstrate to a child that he or she is truly loved.
Play at eye level
Setting the room up for success is an important element. Have plenty of places where adults can sit and play at the eye level of the children. Love is close and personal. So, arranging the space to accommodate eye contact and care is important.
Place beanbag chairs and cozy corners (in full visibility) around your room so the children can see you at their level and can come to you when feeling unsure or in need of a hug. Adults should not stand and watch kids play from on high. Instead, make a point to have face-to-face interaction at every opportunity.
When children experience love in real ways from caring adults it sets the stage for learning about God’s love as they grow and develop. When nursery caregivers focus on creating an environment that enriches a child’s understanding of faith, hope, and love, they are doing work that will impact a child’s entire testimony. That’s an honor worth investing in!