Through many trials of my own as a church nursery director, I found solutions for some of my nursery issues and insecurities. For those brave [and gracious] enough to run a church nursery, you may find yourself not knowing where to go for guidance and ideas, just as I did not know where to go. Since I now know how difficult nursery director material was to come by, I have written this article filled with some advice you may want or need. I truly hope the following pages can help you in your nursery directorship. While I am definitely not an expert on running a nursery, I surely have gained some experience in the past year of being church nursery director.
Recruit Nursery Volunteers: One of the scariest things that I had to do when I took over the nursery was asking for more nursery volunteers. I probably called more than half of the women in my church, asking them if they would consider volunteering once a month in the nursery. Even though I made it clear that there was a big need for more help and that their help would be a huge blessing, I got turned down probably 75% of the time. But I kept on asking – and praying – and the needs were always [yes always] met!
Have confidence and be pleasant when asking someone to volunteer in the nursery. Often I didn’t feel like making the recruiting calls, but still the calls had to get made. One of the ways I attempted to be pleasant-sounding on the phone was by smiling. Even though the ladies I spoke to could not see my smiles over the phone, I hoped that my smile helped my voice pleasantly match in the way my words came across.
Remind Nursery Volunteers of Their Upcoming Shift: When calling scheduled nursery volunteers to remind them of their upcoming shift, call at least 2 days ahead of the date. If a nursery worker is scheduled for a Sunday morning, instead of calling Saturday night, call Thursday or Friday instead. If you call Friday, they will probably get the message on Friday, and if they won’t be able to be there, they still have Saturday to let you know and to allow either of you to find a replacement volunteer. After having too many volunteers call me Saturday night saying they forgot all about their shift and they wouldn’t be at church the next day, I realized I needed to remind them more than one day ahead of their scheduled shift.
Find Replacement Volunteers: The nursery director prior to me told me that the rule was that if any one regularly-scheduled volunteer couldn’t make it to her scheduled shift, that she was to find her own replacement. Although this is an excellent-sounding idea for a nursery director to hear, not always will this demand of yours work with your volunteers.
As always there will be certain people you know you can count on and certain people you know you can’t count on. Since there usually are both types of people volunteering in a nursery, you may soon find out which ones you can count on to find a sub and which ones you can’t count on to find a sub. I say that because quite often [I found] that a volunteer who needed a sub would forget all about finding a replacement once she got off the phone with me.Because of some volunteers not taking their responsibilities as seriously as nursery business actually is, I [sometimes] chose to handle finding the replacements myself.
Sure finding a replacement for a scheduled nursery worker was more work for me, but I could guarantee myself that it would get done – and probably a lot faster than almost any one volunteer could do it! I had a lot more practice at it than they did, as well as more names and phone numbers of people who might be willing to sub. Whether you choose to find the replacement yourself or make the volunteer find one, just make sure that it gets done and you’re not short-handed.
Arrive Early to the Nursery: If you arrive in the nursery at the same time that parents with children are arriving, you will find yourself doing nothing more than running around in all directions for the next 20 minutes, or until there’s a drop-off lull. Make sure to arrive at the nursery 10 – 15 minutes before nursery opens. During your extra minutes you can clean and tidy up in any way that may be needed, as well as prepare the pagers and sign-in stickers, and locate lost pens. If you have a few parents who like to try to drop off their child before the nursery actually opens, keep the nursery entrance door closed until the exact time nursery opens. Those parents will get the idea after a few times of the door being closed when they get there.
Turn on the Music: My church’s nursery was sometimes way too quiet (that is when there were no screaming babies!). Because of the silence, I decided to bring in some relaxing music. I found a CD Player and some baby CDs to play during nursery. Now when parents drop their children off at the nursery, or when workers are rocking with a quiet, maybe sleeping baby, the room no longer seems icy or too quiet – it feels peaceful, which is good for the children and good for you.
Have a Back-up Plan: A good idea for making sure enough volunteers end up in the nursery is to have a back-up plan. Ask a few regular attending friends at church to check in on the nursery each time there’s a service, just to ensure you’re not stuck in there with no one at all to help. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a mother to stay with her child until another worker shows up. Technically, it’s not allowed for there to be only one worker. At least two adults must be present while nursery is under way.
If Volunteers Don’t Show Up: If for any reason none or not enough of your workers show up, page some of the regular nursery attenders’ moms to help you out. When the mom(s) show up because you paged them, ask them to stay with the nursery children while you go into the service to grab emergency volunteers. Who are emergency volunteers? They are anyone that you see in the service that you think may be willing to help you and the nursery out in a time of need.
Unless absolutely necessary, do not allow yourself to stay in the nursery! The previous nursery director told me that advice, and it has been great to abide by! By organizing, cleaning, and being in the nursery at each beginning and each end of every nursery shift, you will have done enough nursery service! You need to find others to serve as well. Grab some emergency volunteers to bring to the nursery, let the moms go back to the service, make sure all needs are met, and walk out of the room.
Smile! Smile! Smile!: When you feel like you’re going to scream, smile instead! When you feel that everyone is dropping off their small crying infant and your workers haven’t yet arrived, smile. Do what you can and smile while you do it. You’ll be nervous, but if you can manage to act calm, even though you feel anything but, the children will calm down easier themselves. Help will arrive somehow; you just have to be calm enough to figure out a way to get it to come.
Pagers & Signing In: The way my church’s nursery works is this: there are cubby holes below the check-in counter, so when I arrived each morning/evening, I would put one pager in each cubby hole. When a parent would arrive with a child, I would reach below and grab a pager, activate it in front of the parent so we both knew it was working, and then tell her the pager number for her to write on the child’s sticker.
Children Identity & Info: When dropping off a child, each parent/care giver fills out the child’s information on a sticker that the child will wear on her back. The sticker collects the following info on the child: child’s name, parent’s name(s), parent’s location during church, any allergies, special attachments (such as blanket or pacifier), and any feeding or nap times. The sticker has two sides: one side goes on the child’s back to identify her, and the other side goes on her bag. Both sides have the child’s name and pager number on it.
Communicate with Parents: Since parents usually want to drop off their child quickly, they often don’t fill in all the required information that the sticker asks for. That information is vital to nursery workers, though! So, go ahead and just ask the parent each time if there are any special instructions, if the child needs to be fed or put down for a nap at a certain time, and if the child has a cup or bottle. If he does have a cup, immediately take it out of the bag and label it. (I would use a piece of masking tape that I would write his name on and stick to the cup – it’s inexpensive and easy.) Once this drop-off process is done, take the child in your arms, and turn around in search of another child or a toy for a distraction on mom or dad leaving.
Separate Infants from Toddlers: If you have only one room for a large number of both infants and toddlers to be contained in, you may find that the toddlers inconsiderately trample over the infants in their way of moving about. If this is the case, you may wish to purchase a room divider, depending on the amount of children that regularly attend your nursery. The divider my church chose happened to be long enough to divide the entire room, and it had a little door on one side for the workers to go in and out of.
What to Have For Both Infants & Toddlers: You will need to have spare diapers of all sizes on hand, baby wipes, diaper rash cream, band-aids and ointment (for an occasional “owie”), a trash can, a changing station, an “I’ve been changed” sticker stash with a pen, facial tissues, a few different-sized bodysuits for in case of diaper accidents, cleaning supplies like dish soap, paper towels, & Lysol, dish cloths and towels, a sink, and several rocker/gliders for nursery volunteers.
What to Have Especially for Infants: You will want to have one or several of the following items: a baby swing, some sort of crib, an exersaucer, blankets for them to lay on, soft books, and teething toys.
What to Have Especially for Toddlers: You will want to have one or several of the following items: a small table and chairs, fun play stations (like a play kitchen), a plastic slide, a push toy, a rocking horse, a toy box filled with appropriate toys. In a cabinet you may wish to keep puzzles, crayons and coloring pages (I would print coloring pages out at home once a month for the nursery), a TV/VCR combo, videos, snacks, napkins, sippy cups, musical shakers (to shake during song time), and books.
Always Have Snacks On Hand: First off, you should give out snacks only to toddlers whose parents/care givers have okayed you to do so. And check for any allergies first. Some good snacks to have at all times are goldfish crackers, animal crackers, and graham crackers. I didn’t bother with paper plates – instead I bought paper napkins to act as plates. During snack time, one of the volunteers should gather all sippy cups to fill them with water (if they’re empty). Toddlers will be thirsty after they eat their snacks! And for in case a toddler was dropped off without a cup, have a stash of sippy cups under the sink. Paper cups just aren’t as easy to give a toddler.
The End of a Shift: Arrive back at the nursery before the parents/care givers arrive to pick their children up. Being there at the end of the nursery shift allows you to make sure the pagers are returned to the nursery, as well as all diaper bags and cups go home with the child. Plus, by being there to help the children reunite with their parents will allow the nursery volunteers a chance to clean up the toys. When the children have gone home, thank your nursery volunteers for their helpfulness and dismiss them. After the volunteers are gone, I usually finished up the cleaning, like wiping off counter tops & toddler tables and putting out the trash. But you may wish to ask your nursery volunteers to help clean up if you’d like their help.
Have an Assistant Nursery Director: Perhaps you are the type of person who never gets sick and never goes out of town. However, if you’re anything like I am, sometimes you just can’t make it to every church service. In that case, it would be a good idea to find someone you trust to be your assistant. Tell her what is expected of her and the kind of help you need her to be able to do, and then let her do it. My assistant nursery director ran the Wednesday evening nursery shifts, while I ran both the Sunday morning and evening shifts. Running Wednesday everning shift as well as both Sunday shifts was just too much for me. Plus, when my family was sick or when I would be out of town, I knew just who to call to take care of the nursery for me.
Although this is a lot of information to digest (at least it was a lot of info to write out!), there is definitely a lot more one needs to know to run a nursery. I recommend ordering the book Serving in the Church Nursery, by Julia A. Spohrer; it’s a quick read that calmed a lot of my fears, and it can really help you out if you have a lot of questions about the nursery-running business. Besides the book, I suggest you not forget to beg God for help with your service. If you ask Him, He will not forsake you! And I can tell you from experience that running a church nursery is definitely not something you will want to do alone!