For families of young children coming to church, first impressions have always been important. Adults have just a few moments to determine if it’s safe to leave their most precious people with a room full of strangers. Never has this been more true than now, as we edge toward the post-pandemic “new normal.” Though separation anxiety is always a possible factor in early education, it’s likely that many new families have never separated from one another before—even for the length of a church service.
Positive first impressions don’t happen by accident—but it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to make a change for the better. Here are a few simple steps you can take to help families (both parents and kiddos) feel welcomed, comfortable, and secure:
Set your heart
Long before you welcome children into your care, it’s important to make sure your heart is aligned with God’s. For you, that may mean spending time in prayer. It also may include taking the time to reflect on the needs of littles who have spent their formative years in quarantine. Coming in with realistic expectations and plans to distribute extra measures of grace is a wonderful start.
Set the scene
The classroom environment is the first to influence a new family’s comfort level. It makes all the difference when we take the time to come in and prepare the space with the children’s needs in mind. Some programs make the mistake of turning fun music up loud, setting out a bunch of super wild activities, and curating a kind of party environment. Unfortunately, this can be overwhelming for the littles—and the grownups who brought them. Instead, turn the music down low. Set out three or four fun activities that command a lot of kids’ attention, but don’t assault their senses. When everyone in the room knows the plan, and the room is set up for engagement, children and parents tend to be much more willing to trust that your classroom will be a safe place for them to enjoy.
Set the tone
One of the best steps you can take for making a smooth first impression is to make sure you have the right person greeting families at the door. This should be a person who is able to communicate the welcome message to everyone, especially new families. It’s important that they are able to be compassionate, accommodating, and knowledgeable. Ideally, this person would be able to answer the family’s questions, warmly connect the children to people and activities in the classroom, and convey a sense of security for the parents. Note: this could be a great volunteer position for someone who has all these gifts but prefers to not serve in the classroom the whole service.
When we take the time to really look around and make sure that the classroom is set up with first impressions in mind, we set our whole program up for success: children are more comfortable, adults feel trusting, and you get to start from a place of peace as well.