Half way through and what am I learning?
Half term has come and gone, we’ve had four Worship for Toddlers sessions and I’ve just had a week off to relax and reflect. So what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong?
1) God Has Officially got a Sense of Humour
A week before the first Worship for Toddlers group at our school my main prayer consisted of asking God to send someone, anyone, along. I made sure my wife was going to bring my son along just so I knew there’d be someone there! There was a bit of interest but nothing concrete. So I ramped up the advertising – getting posters and flyers in local playgroups and churches in the hope we’d get about 6. I’d be happy with 6 children and their parents – that would make it worth it.Then the day before our first session, we got a phone call in school; it was from a parent of a child who was due to start in our school in September. She was asking about the “Taster sessions for new reception children”. Eventually we realised she meant the Worship for Toddlers group. From the start I’d tried to be clear about what we were offering; what the Worship for Toddler group was all about (Worshipping God) and what it wasn’t (getting children used to coming to school). But it seemed the new starters thought was the latter, not the former.I went into full on panic mode. From worrying we might only get 5/6 children I was now thinking I might have to prepare for up to 40 toddlers! I almost started praying for children NOT to come!I’d planned the session to the nth degree – songs, games, puppet, story, prayers, refreshments, time to play…and was worried enough about timing, about getting through to the children, how the parents would react. Now I might be over-run. Gulp. In the end, 12 children came along for the first week and by week four we were up to 16, with a variety of mums and grand-parents – and even a dad! A good amount. I could feel God smiling.
2) Toddlers Really, Really Can’t Concentrate.
The sessions are lovely. Ok so the children looked suspiciously at me at first, one even refusing to get out of his pram, but by the end of the first week they were joining in with the actions and playing their instruments, and by week three one toddler was telling me off for not playing her favourite song. But boy did I get the story time wrong the first week. I’d chosen a short story – Jesus with the children – and thought I’d introduce it using a puppet. I’d also planned for a couple of things to say to challenge the adults. But it just didn’t work. The puppet was actually probably too engaging! The very little ones wanted to touch her and stroke her hair, whilst some of the older ones wanted to talk to her or me. They just couldn’t sit still long enough to listen to the story – and I’d pitched it too high anyway. In the end I rushed through it just to get it over with. If anyone got anything out of my ‘message’ it was in spite of me, not because of me on that first occasion!The following week I chose a theme and a key message and based everything around it. No long sessions of sitting listening; a book with pictures was enough and a short, snappy, easily understandable message. In the four weeks the themes have been God wants to be with you; We’re all part of God’s family; God made us; God knows us. Simples.
3) Timing Is Everything.
One hour is a long time with toddlers when each activity has to be short. But I’ve learned to be relaxed. Let them play, give them far longer to complete the craft activity than you think necessary, play games again and again, allow time for drinks and refreshment, sing the same song more than once…basically be relaxed with the timings.
4) Relationships Take Time.
The adults joined in very well the first week, but the children didn’t. The second week they weren’t much better – watching me suspiciously with a few joining in if they were sitting next to their parents. However, by week three the children who’d been there very week were more confident around me and more likely to join in. In fact, it was during this week that one of the grandparents told me her grand-daughter, who hadn’t joined in at all during the sessions, was singing all week one of the songs. A very encouraging moment. During week four this same girl actually spoke to me too. A breakthrough and realisation that building a relationship with little ones takes a lot longer but seeing them blossom and worship God more freely each week is just wonderful!
5) It’s Fun!
I have felt God’s pleasure in these sessions. My stress and worry beforehand goes out of the window as soon as Mr Cow starts playing or we start doing the actions to Big Family of God. God takes over then and He knows what he’s doing.