When the Preschool Minister at my church asked me to teach toddlers during our second teaching hour, I was cautiously optimistic about this new opportunity. I had been teaching pre-kindergarteners for several years and was excited about the change. Of course, adding to the excitement was the fact that I would be teaching one of my grandchildren! Here are some things I’ve learned during the past year:
There will be crying. And, I’m not talking just about the parents. Seriously, if you can get through a session without at least one child crying, write a book because you obviously have made a monumental discovery. One- and two-year-olds will cry. That’s one important way in which they communicate their feelings, needs, and wants. Compassionately comfort the child, even when she may seem inconsolable. In doing so, you are conveying the message that church can be a happy place and teachers can be trusted.
Cleanliness matters. I will admit, I grow wearing of disinfecting every toy and wiping up drool from the floor. However, part of our job is to protect one- and two-year olds. We can’t completely prevent the spreading of germs, but we can minimize children’s exposure to contagions. Besides, if your entire class gets sick, they’ll miss coming to church to learn about Jesus.
Curriculum materials are your friend. Some parents just want to know that their child’s physical needs will be met in a safe and secure environment at church. While that is important and something we must provide, we can exceed parents’ expectations by following a proven teaching plan. When we use and adapt a proven teaching plan, we can make sure learning is taking place. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up to babysit. I volunteer every week because I want even the youngest child to know that Jesus loves him.
Not everyone will understand your intentions. We know from various studies that toddlers are capable of learning more than we think. When you bring sand or water into a classroom of children who just learned to walk last week, you may be viewed as a crazy person. However, we know that toddlers are tactile learners. They need opportunities to touch a variety of objects and materials, as you talk to them about Jesus’ experiences on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Toddlers will go off script. This past weekend, a certain one-year-old girl decided I was her best friend. She followed me around the room and let me know she was ready for a snack. After I fed her more than one mother-approved snack food, I read what was on the check-in form: ONE SNACK. Oops. I told Mom that her first-born enjoyed one, prolonged snack. Toddlers also will go off script by pooping seconds before her parents arrive, or by deciding blocks are for chewing and markers are for body art. Even though Toddlers don’t always follow your well-thought-out teaching plan, they can hear you convey God’s truth while they’re playing.
I’ve been teaching preschoolers and children at church for three decades, and I’m still learning. I am more convinced now than ever before that teaching toddlers the Bible is of utmost importance. In fact the tedious preparation, the smelly poop, and the incessant crying are definitely worth it.
Landry Holmes is the Manager of Lifeway Kids Ministry Publishing. A graduate of Howard Payne University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Landry served on church staffs before joining Lifeway Kids. He is a church leader, writer, workshop facilitator, and publisher. Landry also teaches children at his church in Middle Tennessee. He and his wife Janetta are the parents of two adult sons and two daughters-in-law, and the grandparents of four adorable grandchildren