Transitioning from toddler groups
Toddler groups are great! Recent research suggests that 55% of all churches provide a toddler group, 52% of children in the UK go to a church based toddler group, and 98% of children, parents and carers enjoy being part of the group.
However, what happens when children grow too old for toddlers; not just leaving to go to school but increasingly leaving at two or three to go to nursery? Many churches report that they lose touch with those families. But what if we could carry on loving and investing in those families? What if we could continue supporting them as they parent for faith – whatever that looks like for them? The following may help you think about what that might look like in your church. Whether it’s huge or tiny, there’s things you can do to build on those fantastic early relationships.
Maximise the quality of your relationships now
We naturally move on in life and sometimes relationships that seemed important fade away as we make new friends and gain new interests. So if we can make our relationships with the parents and carers strong and useful now, they stand a better chance of lasting after toddler group. Things to think about:
- Do your parents and children feel loved, welcome and significant? How can you show them that?
- How can you make sure that if a parent needs to chat to someone they can, however long that takes? That might mean recruiting more helpers or having one or two pastoral people whose only role is to chat and love people.
- How can you encourage relationships to build naturally between church families and other families in the group?
- Is there other stuff your church does that parents and carers might want to be involved with, for example, a money course or a social event? How would they know about it and how easy would it be for them to join in?
- Can you identify any interests or needs in the group that you might be able help with? For example, cooking on a budget or providing holiday activities for those unable to go away over the summer?
Where are you now? Map their possibilities
Many years ago I bought my first satnav. And within ten miles, much to the amusement of my passengers, the satnav guided me to the end of the road and a locked gate. There was nowhere for me to go. My journey had ended. We can only continue a journey if after we reach the end of one road there’s another one (or more) to move onto. We need to think about the journey our families are on, and what we’re providing for them to continue their journey with us.
- Map out what you currently do that offers families another path to move onto once they have finished at toddler group. For example, if you run a Messy Church, that can be a natural next step. You may have regular all age services or festival events you could invite them to. There may be courses parents would be interested in.
- Ask yourself, where are the gaps? If a child leaves toddlers at two to go to nursery but your kids club only takes children from four, that effectively ends the path for them.
- Be aware of what other activities they might go to. If all the five year olds go to gym tots on Wednesdays, this might mean that they don’t come to your amazing monthly children’s choir even though they might like to.
- It might be helpful to discount Sunday activities from this, in which case the question is: what pathways are there for a family we first come into to contact with when their child is newborn to stay in touch with us until that child leaves school?
Plan ways for parents and carers to stay connected.
Depending on your church and your resources, you may have a map full of possibilities or you may be feeling discouraged or disappointed that you don’t have lots of activities and events for your families to move onto. But don’t be! Staying connected doesn’t need to mean a lot of work or providing a new activity. The following might help you work out your next steps:
- Ask your parents and carers how they would like to stay connected. They may surprise you! You may also find that some might like to stay involved in the toddler group as a leader or helper.
- Ask for permission to keep in touch via whatever ways you currently communicate. Don't send them the irrelevant toddler stuff but segment your emails so they get age appropriate invites to events and services. Invite them to join relevant Facebook pages or set one up for toddler alumni!
- Have a think about what you might want to offer for post-toddlers keeping in touch. This might be as simple as an annual reunion or a whole new group. Be realistic about what you can manage. It’s better to start small and add to something rather than be overstretched. Examples of things you could do include:
- One off or infrequent events, such as ‘tea and tissues’ after they drop off at the first day of school or nursery or an annual reunion
- Seasonal events: Christmas, Easter, harvest, Mothering Sunday, Father’s day, holiday clubs
- Regular but occasional events such as a get together every school holiday (think wellie walks / bike rides / meeting at the local park). Bring refreshments, organise a treasure hunt, hand out bubble wands.
- Courses or events that parents may be interested in, such as the CAP money course, Parenting for Faith, cooking on a budget or a clothes and toy exchange.
- Regular groups that are either already running or which you have the capacity to start, such as Messy Church, Saturday stay and play, family sports mornings.
Transition them well
It doesn’t matter what you have on offer, if people don’t know about it or are unsure if it’s for them, they aren’t likely to come along. Transitioning them well is key. Things to think about:
- Start the whole transition thing early. Begin talking about next steps well before the end is in sight so people have a chance to hear what you are saying and think about it with others. You could talk about post-toddler options during your talky bit each week or set it out in a flyer or newsletter
- Make sure they have the information they need: what the activity is, when it takes place, how much it costs, how they sign up, who is welcome.
- You could invite them to taster sessions during their last term at toddlers, or invite the leaders of the new activity to come along to toddlers to talk about what it is and answer any questions. You could also ensure toddler group leaders are at these ‘next’ events for the first couple of weeks to help people settle in.
- Do something special to mark the transition from toddler group to what’s next, maybe a ‘graduation’, or a party, or a getting ready for school pack. Celebrate that the children are growing up and ready for a different way to keep in touch!