At church, my current calling (unpaid assignment) is Nursery Leader. Basically I'm the teacher (with a couple awesome assistants) for the 2 hour Sunday School class for 18 month to 3 year olds.
I don't claim to be the best Nursery leader. I also don't claim to have come up with all these things myself. However, I do love my calling and I think our nursery is pretty great. Maybe some of these ideas will be helpful to others.
1. Think about your schedule and mix it around until you find a routine that works for your kids.
Take into consideration the time of day, if the kids ate snack during Sacrament Meeting, and attention spans.
Last year we started the class with the lesson. As soon as the kids came in from Sacrament Meeting, we had chairs set up for them to immediately come in and sit down on. Surprisingly, they had great attention spans when we did it this way! I thought the last thing they would want to do right after sitting with their parents in one meeting would be to sit still for another meeting. But it totally worked.
This year we have been unable to continue that because I'm also the organist. So I'm always a little late getting to the room. Here's what we're trying currently:
Before church I set up the room with a few activities and toys. Not very much. Sometimes playdough on the table (that's a real winner!)
Once the kids get tired of those things, we put them away and sit them down for snack.
After snack we sometimes go for a walk outside.
Next is free play time.
The last 20 minutes is clean up and then music and lesson.
2. One popular item to have out as the kids gather is the book basket.
Recently we had two new additions to our nursery who have had a hard time transitioning. (If kids cry for their moms, I don't take them there unless they are out of control to the point of disturbing other children or if mom instructs me otherwise.) A real winner with each of these new children is reading! If they're crying and pointing to the door, sometimes nothing else will calm them down as fast as a good book. It's really surprising how well it has worked in these cases!
3. Another good strategy is to keep the sad child busy.
One boy got to the point where he wasn't screaming and crying the whole time, but if he sat down to play and got to thinking about mom, then the waterworks would start again. So for a week or two I just made him my special helper. I had him follow me around, giving him jobs the whole time. He got toys out of the closet with me, cleaned up a spill, put the music activity on the table, stacked the chairs, etc. He was so engaged in helping that he didn't have time to be sad!
4. Use sippy cups instead of little disposable cups.
It's sometimes a pain to remember to wash them each week, but it's cheaper than continually buying paper cups. And we never have to worry about spills on the table!
Also, the kids are learning responsibility by helping to dump out their cups in the sink and put them in the wash bucket. They love to help by doing this job!
5. We do keep little dixie cups in the closet, though.
They're good for if I forget the sippies or if kids have extra snack they want to take home instead of throw away.
6. The kids love to go on walks for a change of scenery.
It also gives one leader a chance to stay behind and clean up/set up the room without little ones underfoot and grabbing things from the closet.
We don't use the classic rope-with-handles that a lot of nurseries and preschools use to go on walks. It seems so boring to me and not worth the hassle of teaching them to stay holding onto the rope.
Instead, we're working on teaching them to walk reverently down the hall. Once we're outside, they're free to run to the nearest lamppost. Then they have to wait at the poll until everyone arrives and they're given the OK to go to the next pole. So we make our way around the building like this, going from pole to pole with lots of praise for listening and waiting.
7. Our nursery owns several doll strollers, almost one for each child.
The kids love to take these on our walks (with or without a doll inside.)
8. As an alternative to a walk outside, we used to take the kids into an extra section of the cultural hall.
This let them work on gross motor skills (throw balls, hula hoop, run) and get lots of energy out in a short time. It also takes less adult supervision if you're short handed for the day. And finally, it's a safer option if you have kids who are "runners." Don't want to risk one of them bolting ahead and going into the parking lot!
9. I play a little game to get everyone's attention and to get them calmed down and ready to reverently walk down the hall.
I stand at the door and say, "If you're ready to go, put your finger on your..." and then I'll name a body part. After doing this 3 or 4 times I've usually got everyone playing along. The last one before I open the door is, "If you're ready to go, zip your lips." Some of the kids have learned what to expect so when they hear us say it's time to walk, they'll stand near the door, look up at me, and put their finger on their nose in anticipation.
10. The same type of technique is useful in getting everyone reverent for prayer, too.
I usually lead them in a verse of Roll Your Hands or My Hands before we pray at snack and at the start of the lesson. Both of these songs end with the children folding their arms.
11. I'm liking the prayer wheel I made a few weeks ago.
Some of the older kids have gotten eager to say prayer which is great! But the fights over whose turn it is were taking away from the Spirit. So now it is totally fair.
12. Have a fun way to select songs for music time.
We have a fish board. It's a big blue poster board that has laminated fish shapes attached to it with velcro. Each fish has a song title written on the back.
Usually I'll start music time with letting each kid choose a fish from the board. Then one at a time I choose a child who's sitting reverently to bring me their fish so we can sing it.
13. Make pick-up time smoother and less chaotic with a name chart.
Our nursery room consists of two sections, each with it's own door out to the hallway. At the end of church, while we're doing music time, we pull the room divider part way to encourage the children to stay in only one section.
Hanging on the outside of the door where we are, there is a big poster that has every child's name attached to it. When a parent is ready to pick up their child they take off the name and slide it under the door. Then we know to gather that kid, their shoes/hair bows/ties, left over snack, and coloring page. Then one leader escorts the child to the empty section of the room and out the door to their parent, out of sight of the other jealous children.
What's your best tip for a successful Nursery?