The Nursery: Where Children Come First
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“The Nursery: Where Children Come First,” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 62–63

The Nursery: Where Children Come First

The nursery is playing a more prominent role in the lives of many Church members. That’s where children ages eighteen months to three years go on Sundays while their parents are attending or teaching priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, or Sunday School classes.

Some three-year-olds also attend the nursery—those who turn three after the date established in the local school district for school enrollment. For example, if the school enrollment date is September 30, the children who turn three in October would wait until the following September—the beginning of the next curriculum year—to begin the Sunbeam class in Primary. Children younger than eighteen months remain with their parents.

For some parents, the nursery is appreciated but not well understood. What exactly is it? What do children do there? And what can parents do to help their children enjoy and benefit from it?

The nursery is not a baby-sitting service, a convenience for parents. Its main purpose is “to serve the children, … to provide a safe, organized environment where young children can learn and play and have a happy church experience” (Nursery Guidebook, p. 1).

But how can any room full of energetic one- and two-year-olds (and even three-year-olds) be anything but a free-for-all? Adequate supervision by well-oriented permanent teachers is a key: there is at least one teacher for up to six children (the Primary leaders can determine if one or two teachers are needed); at least two teachers for every six to sixteen children; and if more children regularly attend, a second group is formed in another room with two or more teachers. The teachers have been oriented to the special needs of the youngsters and are in the nursery every week to give security to the children and unity to their learning experiences.


Some of the nursery’s main objectives are: (1) to help young children understand that church is a good place to be, and to learn to feel reverent, play constructively, and share and get along with others, and (2) to help build young children’s self-concept through warmth, love, and respect. “The children’s welfare should guide all the teacher’s efforts. The children come first, not the program” (Nursery Guidebook, p. 1).

No formal lessons from a manual are given, but stories, songs, finger plays, and other activities with gospel implications are used. The Nursery Guidebook, Nursery Workbook, andResource Book provide excellent suggestions for teachers.


The format for the one-hour-forty-minute nursery time has been carefully planned to meet these objectives. There are four separate time periods. The first, “greeting time,” lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. Teachers greet the children and spend a few moments individually with them. The atmosphere is calm and warm, the room is attractively decorated, the preparations are in order. The teachers help each child become interested in a toy.

After the children feel comfortable with the teachers, each other, and the situation, the second period, “gathering time,” begins. For fifteen to twenty minutes, the children have a prayer, sing songs, do finger plays, and talk about interesting things and ideas.

Next comes “activity playtime,” which lasts from forty-five minutes to an hour. During this time, the children choose toys or materials to work and play with. Teachers are supportive but not overbearing. They interrupt only when a child asks for help or can’t resolve a conflict. The children are encouraged to play with only one toy at a time, return it to a table or shelf before playing with another one, and wait for their turn if someone else has their favorite. They aren’t forced to share if they don’t want to.

The value of “activity playtime” is that it promotes interaction among the children, helps them explore their interests, lengthens their span of attention, and teaches them verbal skills, discipline, and problem-solving techniques. The toys provided for the children are selected for their educational merit and their safety. They are meant to teach, not simply entertain, and they do not encourage rowdiness.

Last is “closing time,” during which the children prepare to meet their parents. They may review what they talked about during gathering time and have a closing prayer. Then they sing songs, read stories, or play quiet games until their parents arrive.

Parents’ Role

What can parents do to help their children look forward to the nursery? The Nursery Guidebook gives some hints:

For several weeks before your child’s first experience in the nursery, prepare him for it by talking positively about it and telling him about all the good things he will find there.

Take your child to the nursery room when no one else is around. Give him a chance to explore it and become familiar with it while you are with him.

Remind him that his friends will also attend: “Your friend Joshua will be there, too!”

Introduce him to the nursery leaders before the first day so he will see familiar adult faces there and feel more secure.

When the big day arrives, remind your child about the happy times in store for him. Take extra time helping him get ready. Arrive at church in an unhurried, calm, and happy mood—and early enough to give him time to get reacquainted with the room, the teachers, his friends, and a toy before you leave. You might need to stay with him for a while the first few times until he feels comfortable.

Assure him that you will come and get him after class is over. Then pick him up on time.

After class ask him about the fun things that happened at the nursery that day—not in an interrogatory way, but as an invitation to share his experiences with the rest of the family.

Remember to support him with love and patience as he becomes comfortable with this new experience.

More Suggestions for Parents

Keep your child home if he’s sick. No child should be taken to the nursery when he has a fever, an eye discharge, a runny nose, diarrhea, a cough, a rash, has been vomiting, is unusually grumpy or cross, or has a disease treated with antibiotics within the previous forty-eight hours or an obvious childhood illness such as chicken pox (seven days), measles (until rash disappears), scarlet fever (until rash disappears), or mumps (until swelling has gone, usually seven days).

“If your child has a runny nose, cough, or rash caused by an allergy, please notify the nursery leader to alleviate concern about contagion” (Nursery Guidebook, pp. 22–23).

Help your child get a drink and use the rest room before going to the nursery room, and don’t allow him to bring his own toys from home.

Finally, remember that the nursery isn’t a babysitter—it’s a place where your child can learn as well as play.