Albert Einstein said, "Knowledge is experience-everything else
is just information."
Nowhere is this more true than with children-and especially
children in cradle roll. Creating experiences that increase
knowledge for children birth to 3 years old is one of the greatest
challenges facing the church teaching staff.
Dr. Burton L. White, director of Harvard University's Preschool
Project and author of The First Three Years of Life, writes, "In
their simple everyday activities, infants and toddlers form the
foundations for all of later development."
What a responsibility for teachers and parents. Meeting the
developmental needs of this age group will take prayerful study and
a lot of imagination. But with some basic principles, you can do
*Make the room appealing to a small child. Start by using your
imagination with the room you meet in. Stand at the door of your
meeting room. Imagine you're 2 years old. What would invite you in?
pique your curiosity?
Be sure the room is clean and safe. Then take a look at the
decorations. It's important to have decorations as lifelike as
possible. You want children to feel the "realness" of Jesus as they
handle the decorations.
Think about your quarterly theme as you decorate your room.
Let's say your theme is "Jesus as a Boy." Let your imagination go.
I've made a backdrop on one wall from a large, blue full-size
bedsheet. We created a Nazareth-style house from cut-up polyester
pants. Then we cut out a large tree and flowers and glued them on,
too. Poly-Fil clouds filled our sky.
In front of the backdrop, we placed a large, nontoxic plant.
Then we set a large doll dressed up like the boy Jesus in front of
Our children had a great time actually handling the things of
the Bible. They were able to feel Jesus and see where he lived.
Just by a simple decoration we were able to stimulate kids'
*Plan pre-session activities to capture kids' attention. When
children first arrive, lead them to pre-session centers that
introduce that day's Bible story. Here are center ideas:
- "I am special." Tape a sheet of poster board to the wall. Trace
each child's hand on the poster board. Then write each child's name
on his or her traced hand. Take an instant-print picture of each
child and pin that child's photo next to his or her traced
- "I go to church." Set up a toy church made from a box. Create a
parking lot with newsprint, marking off roads and parking areas at
the church. With toy cars, have the children role play their trip
to church. When it's time for the story, kids can drive their cars
to their seats and park them under their chairs.
- "Mary loved Jesus." Set up a rocking chair with a large felt
Mary mounted on wood standing next to it. Or tape a picture of Mary
to the back of the rocker. Use the rocker to rock the babies and
show them how Mary may've rocked Jesus when he was a baby.
*Make welcome time special. I sing a little welcome song and
shake each hand to welcome children. I've also mounted a large felt
church on wood. The doors are cut so they open to reveal a glued
mirror behind them. As I go around the room, I let each child look
in the mirror as I sing the welcome song to him or her.
Don't forget birthdays and visitors. You might have a pin or
sticker for each special occasion. We have a decorated chair for
the birthday child to sit in as the class sings the "Happy
Birthday" song. We also have a rocking horse for the visitor to sit
on while we welcome him or her. Don't forget that special hug that
says, "I love you and so does Jesus."
*Establish a signal. You'll need to capture kids' attention when
they're scattered around the room. Choose a signal to let kids know
that it's time to come together as a group. Use the same signal
every week, for at least a quarter. This age group is comfortable
Your signal could be the same song. Or you could use a unique
bell that children can ring. Let one of them ring the signal.
Praise the children as they move to group time.
*Involve children in prayer. Every child should be a part of
prayer. We use a special prayer rug-either a towel or a throw rug.
And we always use the same one. We say a prayer poem or sing a song
as we spread out the prayer rug. The children kneel with the
teachers on the rug. As I pray, I have the children repeat the
prayer line by line after me.
*Create a hands-on story. Whatever your story, provide props for
children to manipulate and experience fully. For our theme "Jesus
as a Boy," I talked about Jesus as a little boy. I had collected
things to use that'd help children experience what Jesus did as a
little boy. I had towels and homemade pillows. As I talked about
Jesus sleeping, the children lay down on the towels and pillows.
Then they rolled them up and put them back in place, just as Jesus
did when he was a child.
Scrolls made out of paper and wood helped children pretend they
were reading the Bible just as Jesus did. Homemade wooden hammers
helped them experience how little Jesus helped his daddy work. A
snack of fish sticks and bread helped them understand how Jesus
You can also fill a large plastic container with water and use
it as the Sea of Galilee. The children can float toy plastic boats
on the sea as you talk about Jesus and the disciples at sea.
A plastic swimming pool filled with sand can be the village of
Nazareth. Using cardboard houses, trees, and clothespin people, let
the children experience Nazareth by walking the people around the
village as you tell a story.
*Take time for the closing. Don't let time slip away from you so
that the closing is just whenever Mom or Dad shows up. Five minutes
before parents are to arrive, gather the children together and pray
with them. Sing a goodbye song waving goodbye to them as they
It takes a little longer for things you say to register with
this age group. Don't rush. Allow children time to have sensory
experiences with what you're sharing. In every class time, children
should be able to hear, feel, touch, taste, and smell the story of
These precious little ones can love God only through the people
they love. Love them, be patient with them, smile, and hug them
often. God will create in you his love to give to them. God
promises in James 1:5 that he'll give you the wisdom you need to
create unforgettable experiences that'll last a lifetime.
Jacquie Vanatta is an area children's ministry director in
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