Church is good for babies. They learn many things. Babies at our church are
expected to stay with parents until they are 18 months old and then, from 18 months to three years, they are in Nursery class. Nursery is a lot of play with a little lesson. This is where they learn the beginnings of sitting on tiny chairs, singing songs and listening to brief stories with lots of pictures. When they reach the age of three, they graduate to “real” Primary, where they have a 45-minute classroom lesson and a 45-minute “Sharing and Singing” time where they join the big kids in the big room.
I teach the three-going-on-four-year-old church babies called Sunbeams. A Sunbeam’s job is to learn the ropes of being a kind, attentive, and reverent class member. We start slow. Very slow.
Sunbeams are in Piaget’s preoperational stage of thinking. They are fully egocentric and of course they are the center of the universe. “Look, Mom – the moon is following me! They are also grounded in animism – that is they give life to inanimate objects. The bottom line is that they still can’t quite tell what is real and what is not at times. And they are trying SO HARD to control their impulses. That’s why I strive to make Sunbeams a friendly place – no scary stuff.
One of the first things we learn is the social magic of chairs in a semi-circle. If the semi-circle shape remains for five minutes, I consider it a success. They like to turn them upside down, stack them, and then place them in a straight line for running an obstacle course. With all this chair movement, however, one must never make the mistake of thinking they don’t know which is THEIR chair. They have an acute sense of chair ownership.
Learning the rules of social groups is a beginning skill for this age. Developmentally, they are ready to learn some manners like taking turns and how to follow simple directions. The also can engage in cooperative (I use the word loosely) play. They are, however, not ready to do any of these things for very long or with great consistency. It is as if one hour they are two years old and the next hour they are four or five years old. But that is the nature of child development – no straight lines.
Should you aspire to the ultimate church calling, I include the following:
Qualifications for being a Sunbeam Teacher:
- A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Lots of prayer and intention to carry out God’s will.
- A set of Sunbeam clothes – wrinkle and cookie residue resistant – free enough to allow lots of movement.
- Interesting but sturdy jewelry – preferably something that doesn’t break easily and fling beads all over the floor. Trust me on this one.
- The ability to get on the floor – and to get back up.
- Some kind of singing voice.
- Lots of songs in your memory repertoire.
- A flannel board and figures to tell lots of Bible and Book of Mormon stories.
- Vanilla wafers and small cups for their dispersal
- Versatility – the ability to change plans in a heartbeat.
- Preparation – Know the single most important concept to get across the children without looking in the lesson manual.
- Eye contact – you turn away and they go sideways – for sure.
- A Sunbeam Bag (with roller wheels) containing: Knotted Rope (for walking activities not for tying them up), Crayons, scissors, glue sticks, Hand sanitizer and wet wipes and a variety of paper for coloring or to make paper airplanes when times are desperate.
We encourage and praise their efforts to be civil and social. We also teach them about God and his Son, Jesus Christ. That is the easy part because Love is at the heart of all teachings and lessons – just as Jesus intended. Children respond to Love. Children are Love.
I Love my Sunbeams.