7 Ways to Create a Welcoming Environment for Children and Their Parents

Hospitality: noun, plural hospitalities.
1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
2.the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/hospitality)

Congratulations! You have been chosen to assist children and their families in faith development! This article will focus on three groups of people who will potentially be showing up for your discipleship programming with children. This might include Sunday School, Children’s Church, Midweek Programs, Nursery, or Small Groups. Hospitality is a) for visitors b) for those who are infrequent and c) for everyone else, including the parents who are dropping off their children for a length of time. Hospitality is for everyone.

Leaving a child in an unknown environment with new adult faces is not only intimidating for the child, but also for the parents. It is an uneasy feeling to walk away from your child without knowing the adult in charge or what will be happening in the classroom while you are absent from him or her. For these reasons, it is important to begin building relationships and bridges for the families even before they enter the classroom.

You are creating sacred space for eternal learning to take place. This is a high and holy privilege. It is important to begin extending grace to children and their families in order to put them at ease about entering a new experience. Even if the child is familiar with you or your setting, it is still just as important to create an environment that feels safe and loving. This action provides the fertile ground for faith development to take place.

7 ways to create a hospitable learning environment:

1. Meet parents at the door.

Take the time to speak to them while they sign in their child. If they are first-time visitors, let them know you want to know their child by suggesting that they complete a first-time visitor’s card. The card will provide information about food allergies, medical needs, and follow-up contact information.

2. Smile.

Greet children and parents with warmth. Parents are leaving with you their most precious treasures. Receive them with joy!

3. Introduce yourself to the parents and children.

First-time visitors feel more comfortable when they can get to know the teacher or leader. Tell them how long you’re been teaching or leading. Likewise, learn the child’s name and take them immediately to someone else and introduce them to him or her. You are creating community with other students perhaps even while the parents are still watching. This helps create trust with parents.

4. Have an activity ready to get everyone involved as soon as they enter.

Encourage other children to invite them to join the activity. This task can be something as simple as manipulating modeling clay at the table or playing a group game. An activity shows parents that you are prepared and that their child will be included during the lesson time.

5. Be sure your classroom is child friendly.

If possible, decorate the space with updated photos or artwork by children. (Psst! Outdated classrooms create a sense that learning may be dull or boring and it is not engaging to the child or the parents).

6. Be a good steward of your time.

Start and end on time. Being prompt shows parents that what you are doing is important and that you are trustworthy.

7. Go the extra mile.

When you encounter the child outside of the Sunday-school time, be sure to acknowledge the child/children and call them by name. You represent     the love of God in those moments. Also, send them a note when they miss a week, when they are sick or on their Birthday. It’s amazing what a card in the mail will do for building relationships.

A welcoming posture makes children want to come back and hopefully they will bring their family with them! Walt Disney said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” (source)

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Rebecca Rutherford is the Associate Pastor at Spanish Fort United Methodist Church in Spanish Fort, Alabama. Prior to ministry she taught High School Social Studies and has always had a love of teaching. As an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, she has previously served as an Adult Discipleship Minister, Children’s Minister and Youth Minster in Kentucky, Florida and Georgia. Besides discipleship and teaching, some of her other passions are in strategic development, leading, training and equipping others to do the ministry of the church. She has also been involved in camping ministry and developed her own curriculum for leading camps and children’s ministry. She is a lover of the water and is thankful to live near it again with her husband Toby and daughters Hannah and Payton.

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