In children’s church, one of the most chaotic parts of the day is pickup time. This can be especially true in early childhood classrooms. As families come to pick up their littles, the whole process can feel like a three-ring circus: grownups trying to get to their children, children crying for their parents, and caregivers trying to make sure that the children go home with the family newsletter, art project, and their own jackets. It can look like a recipe for disaster—but with careful planning and a little preparation, the moments at the end of class can be as much a part of your children’s curriculum as any other part of your day.
If your pick-up time could use a little reworking, but you’re not sure where to start, consider working backward. Where are the trouble spots? What are the easy things you could do right away? Here are five things to consider as you work to make the most out of the last minutes of your day with preschoolers:
- Location: Where is your sign-out table? If there is a huge bottleneck there, can you move the table outside the door into a hallway or a courtyard? Many churches find that not allowing parents into the room helps reduce crying and confusion.
- Staffing: Make sure you have the right person for the job working the door. A person who can stay vigilant helps keep children from slipping out unnoticed or with the wrong people. This person also can fulfill the critical role of connecting with parents, so it’s a great role for your extroverted volunteers/staff.
- Organization: The time to start thinking about pickup time is not just before the parents arrive—it’s before the children even come in the door! Some churches utilize files or cubbies to gather the children’s belongings, handouts, and art projects. Others rely on creative alternatives like numbered clothespins on a line or hanging storage pockets. Whatever you choose, keeping the children’s items in a designated place helps alleviate that last-minute scramble to gather everything while trying to leave.
- Activities: Commonly, the schedule for children’s church plans for all the most exciting activities to be done at the beginning of class, and then allows for less structured activities at the end. The issues with this are many: a) children are harder to round up to go home, b) parents get the wrong impression that their children were “just playing” the entire time, and c) the volunteers are left with a room full of toys to put away by themselves. Instead, try enlisting the children to clean up about 10 minutes before pick-up time and then engaging in an activity that doesn’t involve materials (like reviewing the story with the help of a hand puppet). Pro tip: Have the children face away from the exit—this prevents that “where is MY mommy?” anxiety that crops up with preschoolers when they’re just watching the door.
- Perspective: Remembering that ministry is still happening in the final minutes of children’s church is a good motivator to invest the time it takes to make sure pick-up time goes as smoothly as possible. A safe, organized, drama-free goodbye increases parents’ trust in our capability to care for their children, helps children to feel safer to come back next time, and can help avoid burnout in your volunteers.