I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Sundays, we meet together for worship, and then we meet in groups for more focused lessons. Children who are between eighteen months and three years old meet together in the Nursery for playtime, snacktime, singing time, lesson time, and then bubble time while they wait for their parents.
Our nursery’s toys needed updating, so I took on the project because I love early childhood education. I asked myself, how would Maria Montessori teach the gospel in her classroom?
First, I went through the closets and cleaned out broken, old, weird things. I worked with the stake to get the locks fixed. Then I donated toys that were too large to fit in cupboards, because if nursery ever comes back, four wards of children should not be playing with the same toys. That’s between fifty and a hundred children! I feel bad for the parents of the last ward to use them. Moving on from the germ rant.
Young children All children learn better through their fingers than their ears. Maybe they can learn the gospel through their fingers too? These are the items I settled on to try to get that to happen. Each item’s stock image is a link for purchase. I don’t have affiliate links set up so buy whatever you want.
I went through the nursery lesson manual to see what toys could help teach the content, which is why I purchased this toy. Lesson 10 is “I Can Take Care of My Body.” My children were obsessed with the potty when it came, so I’m a little worried it will cause fights in nursery. (The baby triggers a button on the seat that puts a little yellow dot in the potty. When you close the lid it resets it to white.) If I were in nursery, I’d get out the set and play with it myself and give turns to children. “Erika, would you like to help the baby go potty? Yay! Okay, Bethany’s turn! Bethany, baby needs to wash his hands.”
My children retell the Christmas Story with these toys, so I got a set for the Nursery. The new one has a girl angel, so I switched it out with mine to be more scriptural. It has wings, but there’s nothing I can do about that. The new stable plays music and lights up, which I thought would be annoying for nursery leaders so I switched it with mine too. Now I get to deal with all the fights over the light-up toy.
Fisher Price also has Noah’s Ark set. We had one, but my kids didn’t play with it as much as it deserved, so I donated it to the nursery, since I was going to buy one for them anyway. I hope nursery leaders use it to tell the story to the children. If not, children like animals and animals are God’s creations so there’s that.
The last time I was in nursery, it was really hard to gather all the children for singing time. I’d gather some, and then turn my attention to get more, and the first group would lose interest. It was like herding cats. My solution? Buy stuff!
My library’s storytime uses these during some songs. You dance around with them while singing and it’s fun.
I also bought this kleenex box cover, thinking scarves can be pulled through the chimney like a kleenex. Leaders can reinforce color words as each scarf is pulled out. Toddlers adore pulling out tissues so I think this is going to be as magical as bubble time at the end of nursery. As long as riots over turn-taking do not erupt. And if the scarves are placed in one at a time and if the nursery leader holds the box and pushes up the scarves when the box gets close to empty and if only half the scarves are placed in the box at one time… I’m filled with doubt over this five dollar purchase.
Also egg shakers, a staple for toddler music class.
I cut out pictures of the prophets and apostles and women leaders, wrote their last names on the back, and laminated the tiny rectangles. They fit in this tiny treasure box. My toddlers like me to pick up each picture, sneak a look at the back, and say, “Oaks. Say ‘Oaks.’” “Oats.” Next one. “Ballard. Say, ‘Ballard.’” And so on. The next time I pulled out the treasure box Erika said, “Let’s find Ballard!” and she was really excited when I found him.
I think that one purpose of nursery is to teach language, gospel nouns in particular.
One thing Maria Montessori did was hang pictures at the child’s height, not the adults height, for them to enjoy. She didn’t plaster the walls with educational or motivational posters; she kept the walls very simple and calm.
I bought a cool picture frame that holds six pictures and bends in many directions. I’m hoping the interesting frame will bring attention to the images of Jesus I cut out of my Come Follow Me manual. And I hope they don’t pinch their fingers in the frame.
The frame might be too fragile for a large group of toddlers. Montessori classrooms give toddlers breakable dishes (that were purchased at a thrift store) because toddlers are capable of learning to be careful with things. It takes the teacher being really careful with them, and reminding them often, and, yes, breaking the dishes. I’m filled with worry over this one, because I didn’t purchase it at a thrift store. If nursery is too crazy for an adult to be on full time worry-over-frame duty, I’ll unreimburse the purchase and bring it home.
A ward member was giving away a binder full of gospel art kit images, so I kept the most simple and important pictures and put that on a low shelf for children’s use. I would have purchased the Gospel Art Book from the distribution center if I had not found a copy. And if the binder format is troublesome it still is an option.
Children will not naturally pick up the binder. so adults can look at it with children. Especially if a child needs a distraction.
I really wanted something like this to teach about emotions, but I didn’t find a good option.
And the emotions I would have wanted are:
- Sad (We feel sad when we lose things)
- Jealous (We feel jealous when we want something someone else has)
- Shy (We feel shy when we are afraid we won’t be socially approved)
- Scared (We feel scared when we think danger is imminent)
- Infuriated (We feel infuriated when we see injustice, like when someone takes our toy)
- Frustrated (We feel frustrated when we are trying to do something but we can’t)
These are six of the most common negative emotions toddlers face, and when a child is overwhelmed by one of these you can calm them down by naming their emotion and reciting why we feel that emotion. It is also good to tell them it makes sense that they are feeling this way. Inside the human brain, the amygdala’s job is to keep you alive. When it senses a situation which requires action, it will send an emotion and the emotion causes the action. It won’t be quiet until it knows it has done it’s job, which is to send messages. So it will keep sending them. Although in toddlerhood many useful functions are not well-developed, emotional messages of sadness and fear are. Once you acknowledge the message from the amygdala, it can stop transmitting and the child will calm down.
I can’t* wait for nursery to start up again!
*I kind of can, until I know that nursery won’t make me die.