“Happy Children in Relief Society Nurseries,” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 76–77
“The Relief Society nursery was designed to make it possible for mothers of young children to attend Relief Society. It is an accommodation to the sisters to assure the careful supervision of their children while they get the benefit of Relief Society attendance and activities.” (Louise W. Madsen, former second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.)
The ward nursery leader is called by the bishop, set apart to her position, and usually serves for a year. Depending on the number of children in the nursery, “mother assistants” are called to assist for shorter terms.
The Relief Society Nursery Manual suggests a format offering a variety of activities to teach the three-, four-, and five-year-olds social skills, motor skills, and qualities of character such as faith, obedience, creativity, cooperation, and courtesy.
The usual session includes a greeting, prayer, short lesson emphasizing real-life situations, art activities, rest activities, songs, and a closing prayer.
Sister Oramae Watters of the Washington Ward, St. George Utah East Stake, was so convinced of the nursery program’s value that when she was released as Relief Society president, she offered to serve as nursery leader. During that year, the chapel was under construction, so she held the nursery in her home. On a typical day, the children were dropped off by their mothers at “the house with the happy clown in the window,” coats were carefully put away, and the children chatted about their activities or looked at books until it was time to start the lesson.
Sister Watters was surprised to discover that “in this day of television” one of the children’s favorite activities was listening to stories. In fact, Sister Watters felt like “a real ham,” turning herself into a gruff old man or an excited rabbit as she read, but the reward of the children, wide-eyed and edging closer, was enough. They also enjoyed such art activities as making homemade clay-dough animals, painting murals, making cookies or bread, planting seeds, or learning to brush their teeth.
Sister Kirma S. Larsen, stake Relief Society homemaking counselor in the Tempe Arizona Stake, attributes much of the success of their program to the enthusiastic support of the stake and ward priesthood leaders. The stake president frequently visits the nurseries when he comes for ward conferences. At the autumn stake nursery seminar which orients the ward nursery leaders, a counselor in the stake presidency or a bishop bears his testimony of the importance of the program. The bishops who make the callings stress the importance of the assignment and encourage full commitment from the nursery leaders.
This priesthood support is backed up with specific help to the individual nursery leader. In addition to the fall seminar, the stake holds monthly workshops in connection with its leadership meetings. The stake nursery coordinator also visits each ward nursery periodically.
“Our program stresses that ‘this is a service of love’ and that ‘these are our children.’ One of the most outstanding results of this program is the sweet spirit of love and consideration the sisters show to each other’s children and to each other as they become converted to the program,” says Sister Larsen.
Sister Nancy Ann Young, nursery leader in the Tempe Eighth Ward, Tempe Arizona Stake, bears her testimony of the importance of her calling. “I have had many mothers come to me and say that their children brought them to Relief Society because ‘Sister Young loves me and will miss me if I’m not there,’ or ‘I want to go to Relief Society today because we are going to make airplanes.’”
Results like this take thorough preparation. For Sister Young, it started when she received her calling. She accepted it prayerfully and felt that the blessing she received when set apart gave her confidence in her ability. Prayer for gentleness and the ability to enjoy the activities along with the children accompany the preparation and presentation of each lesson.
She attends the stake nursery workshops and uses the suggestions made there. She gives each child her undivided attention for at least a couple of minutes during the class period, and makes sure the children know the mother assistant and feel comfortable with her. Most discipline problems are helped by two special “friends,” two faces mounted on each side of a pencil end: Mr. Quiet Please and Mr. Thanks a Lot.
“The most successful thing I do in my classroom,” says Sister Young, “is begin each lesson by asking, ‘What is the most special and important thing about Sister Young?’ All of their little faces light up, and their hands fly up in the air, each of them bursting to answer the question. Many times I let them all answer together: ‘You love each one of us!’ And as I look at each one of their beautiful eager little faces, I get tears in my eyes, because I really do love each one of them.”
It is this feeling of love that is more important than the airplanes or the activities or the stories, for it transcends the classroom. One of Sister Young’s most cherished memories is meeting one mother and her child in a store. The little boy tugged on his mother’s skirt and whispered, “Mommy, she loves me!”