Sunday musings 09-07-08

[I’m still titling this post “Sunday musings” even though it’s painfully obvious that it’s not Sunday, and we’re just two days away from yet another Sunday. See, we had Stake Conference this past weekend, and having church at 9:00am instead of 1:00pm totally threw me off my groove. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to dedicate some serious time to the blog, so here we are. I really admire those who are not only able to post on their blogs on a regular basis, but live lives that are rife with blog-worthy opportunities.]

I find that I’m more excitable than others on various things.† For instance, I’m not afraid to call “The Dark Knight” one of the best films I’ve seen in the last decade, while others I’ve talked to who have seen it say, “Yeah, it was pretty good,” with a sort of indifferent inflection in their voice.† I’m also that way when it comes to new Church materials or programs — specifically the new FamilySearch program and the new nursery manual, entitled “Behold Your Little Ones.”

On the new FamilySearch I won’t say too much more, other than I think it’s a phenomenal synthesis of previously disparate information systems that completely revolutionizes the way in which Church members will do family history research and submit names to the temple for vicarious ordinances.† It’s still in the process of rollout across the Church’s temple districts worldwide, so you may not have heard much about it yet.† But if you have, do check it out.† It’s a real triumph for the Church’s IT department, which hasn’t ever really hit one out of the park until now.

About the nursery manual — is it pretty safe to say that nursery is one of the most privately (or publicly) derided callings in the Church today?† I have yet to live in a ward where a call to serve there was held in even moderately favorable esteem by the congregation at large.† A sister who had just been released from the nursery after 2-1/2 years of service was re-introduced to her ward Relief Society as having escaped from “Primary prison.” It was an offhand remark greeted with more than a few chuckles, knowing smiles, and nodding heads.† How in the world did nursery become perceived as the armpit of the Church?

It certainly hasn’t helped that there’s been little standardization of nursery facilities, equipment, and (most importantly) teaching materials and lesson structure across wards.† Nursery toys are often old, broken, and dirty, a cesspool of germs caked on by years of use, abuse, and neglect.† New equipment is generally last on the list of priorities on a ward budget, particularly in years where funds are tight and leaders are looking for areas to cut costs.† Snacks are typically outsourced to parents, who sometimes have the nerve to send their children to nursery with bags of marshmallows to share instead of healthier (yet inexpensive) fare like raisins, diced cheese, and crackers.† Music and activities are a mixed bag as well.† Often it’s just easier to let the kids play for two hours while you sit in the corner and think of all the things you’d rather be doing and hoping the time will quickly move along.

That’s why “Behold Your Little Ones” comes like a bolt from the blue.† Here’s an introductory video about the manual, produced by the Church:

Sister Cheryl Lant, General Primary President, is quite tactful when she says Nursery has become “a babysitting time.”† Hasn’t it, though?† Look at how the very first sentence of “Behold Your Little Ones” completely and utterly smashes that misconception:

The purpose of the nursery class is to help children learn the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and live it.

Wow.† YES. I have read that sentence more than a dozen times in the past few weeks, and every time I do it sends shivers down my spine and thrills me to the very core.† That is a true statement, and it sets the tone for everything we must be doing with those young children.† We are not there to simply while away the time as the children entertain themselves with crusty old toys and stale refined sugar.† We are there to teach them the gospel according to their needs and circumstances.† Yes, children that young learn primarily through doing, and unstructured play is a necessary part of that.† But their spirits can also be touched and their minds impressed with simple truths.† Look at the simplicity of these lessons — things we adults often take for granted but which deserve to be taught and reinforced at an early age.

1. I Am a Child of God
2. Heavenly Father Has a Plan for Me
3. I Can Pray to Heavenly Father
4. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ Love Me
5. Jesus Christ Showed Us How to Love Others
6. The Holy Ghost Helps Me
7. Jesus Christ Created the World for Me
8. Sunday Is a Day to Remember Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ
9. I Have a Body like Heavenly Fatherís
10. I Will Take Care of My Body

What about the physical environment?

The nursery class should provide a loving, safe, organized learning experience for the children. The room should be clean, cheerful, and inviting and located near a restroom if possible. Toys should be clean, safe, and in good condition. Climbing equipment should not be used.

And snacks?

Provide a healthy snack that is easy to manage. Ask parents if there are any foods they do not want their children to eat. Help the children wash their hands and ask a blessing on the food before they eat. Money for snacks should come from the Primary budget.

No more outsourcing the Primary treats and hoping the kids bring something other than Gushers or Fruit-by-the-Foot.

How about lessons, music, and activities?

The purpose of the lessons in this manual is to help nursery-age children learn basic doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray for guidance and seek the influence of the Spirit as you prepare to teach these lessons. You can teach them in any order, and you can teach the same lesson in consecutive weeks. You can also teach the same lesson twice during one nursery class, depending on the needs and interests of the children.

Use only Church-produced resources in the nursery class. In addition to the activities in this manual, you can use games, pictures, songs, stories, and other activities from Church magazines.

Use the scriptures as you teach the children. When a lesson suggests that you tell a story from the scriptures, open the scriptures and point to the place where the story is found. This helps the children understand that what you are teaching comes from the scriptures. Teach them to appreciate and reverence the scriptures. If you do not have your own copy of the scriptures, ask your bishop or branch president how you can obtain a copy.

As you teach these lessons, be sensitive to the home and family situations of the children. When a lesson refers to the childrenís parents or families, consider the feelings of any children who are being raised by a single parent, by grandparents, or by other family members.

Also be sensitive to the feelings of any children in your nursery who have physical disabilities. Focus on the things the children can do, not what they cannot do.

Now, lest anyone think that “Behold Your Little Ones” is meant only for nursery classes, the Church also recommends that families with young children purchase and use this manual in the home.† We put it to the test last week, as I taught Lesson 1, “I Am a Child of God,” for our Family Home Evening time.† The lessons in the manual are exceptionally brief, no more than 5-10 minutes in duration.† Our formal home evening time didn’t last very long at all — but it was one of the best we’ve ever had.

In the last General Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk directed to the young mothers of the Church.† In it, he asked what the Church could do to help young mothers carry the often heavy load they are called to bear.† He did not mention this manual, though we learn it is the culmination of four years’ worth of effort.† I believe this resource is one of the best things the Church could have done for young mothers — for young families — and especially the overlooked and almost criminally regarded nursery program.

Last week I had the opportunity to substitute-teach our ward Gospel Doctrine class.† Before beginning the lesson, I held up this manual and said, without hyperbole, “This is ‘Preach My Gospel’ for the young children of the Church.”

See what I mean by getting more worked up about things than most other people?† But I mean it with all my heart.† This book is terrific.

3 Responses to “Sunday musings 09-07-08”

  1. Oh, I missed that! (the Gospel Doctrine announcement)

    I’m also very excited about this. I hope nursery leaders take it seriously, though, instead of just going forward as normal. It’s funny (and sad) how wide a spectrum of nurseries there are. I’m still (mostly) grateful for the ones that are “babysitting”–after all, it’s really nice to be able to attend our meetings instead of endlessly walking the halls–but it’s always so rewarding to find that our children have truly been taught. I will always remember having Jonathan just start singing “Families Can Be Together Forever” one day–a song I had never thought to sing to him myself. And yet he knew the entire first verse, almost word for word. That definitely helped me realize the effort being put into nursery, and I was so grateful! :)

  2. Well, let’s see how I can shed some light on this……
    At last, the Nursery leaders have an approved resource to actually teach the young’uns. Before, it’s been up to the creativity of the leaders to come up with activities and games to conduct a meaningful class. It’s almost like the rest of the auxilaries; new leaders are called, no real guidance is given and it’s up to the new leader to find their own way. From your mother’s ample experience in the Primary, it seems that the Relief Society either ignores or makes some attempts at inclusion for the sisters in the Primary, depending on the RS President then in place. It isn’t standard by any means. Oh, and our current Stake President tells us that he would like nothing better than to be called to the nursery. He would then be dealing with children being childish, rather than adults behaving likewise……..;)

  3. I should have noted that there was a nursery manual prior to “Behold Your Little Ones.” It was the Primary 1 manual, which is still used to teach the Sunbeam class (3-4 year olds), and contained a brief section on adapting the lessons for nursery. This section also contained a purpose statement, which read as follows:

    The purpose of the nursery class is to provide a loving, safe, organized place where young children can increase their understanding of and love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, have positive experiences in a Church setting, and grow in feelings of self-worth.

    While the new manual contains many of the same phrases and suggestions as the old one, I think we can all agree that the new stand-alone manual is better than the previous “adaptation approach” that left too much to individual interpretation, and provided an easy out for nursery leaders who felt their children were too unmanageable to teach or simply didn’t want to bother.

    One of my biggest concerns as a quorum president was making sure our brethren didn’t feel socially abandoned by the quorum when they were called to serve in the Primary. Having served as a Primary teacher for a few months previous to my call, I became keenly aware of the isolation many adults in the Church feel when they spend two-thirds of their Sunday meetings interacting with children, not other adults. I cannot say I did a perfect job at it, but I did my best to ensure that a quorum attendance roll and announcements made the rounds in junior and senior Primary, and asked our instructors to prepare handouts of their lessons for the sake of those in the auxiliaries who wanted to know what we were talking about in our quorum meetings.

    I agree that our local priesthood and Relief Society leaders need to continually reach out to those within their organizations whose calls to serve in Primary, Young Men, and Young Women prevent them from participating with their peers on Sundays. However, this does not remove the responsibility from individuals to ensure they do not isolate themselves from the group. As Primary secretary, Cassia remained deeply involved herself in Relief Society enrichment meetings and activities, and hounded after leaders to make sure they provided extra copies of announcements, attendance rolls, and sign-up sheets for those sisters serving in the Primary and Young Women.

    A call to serve in the Primary is not a punishment, and I think local leaders should seize on the momentum generated by “Behold Your Little Ones” to place renewed effort on training, standardization, and social integration of those whose obligation to serve pulls them (temporarily, I might add) from their ranks. I think we would all do well to review Elder Eyring’s counsel on this issue, given in an April 2000 General Conference talk:

    Now, a word to those who have issued those calls in the Church. When you did, you conveyed the trust of the Lord. But He placed a trust with you as well. Just as those members were called to watch over and strengthen others, you were placed under the same obligation to watch over and strengthen them. If you issued the call and gave no training or did not watch to see that the training was enough, you failed them and the Lord. Even with that training, the path will become difficult for them. You know that, and so you must watch and listen to see when they need strengthening. You will give just enough help to strengthen their faith that the Lord is watching over them and over the people they serve and that they may turn with confidence to Him. To do that well, you must do a lot of praying yourself, for guidance and for them.

    It’s a magnificent talk, one of my favorites. Elder Ballard’s “O Be Wise” is an excellent follow-up to it.

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