Jesus was a seed sower. He sowed seeds of kindness, welcomed strangers, valued children, fed the hungry, prayed, laughed, cried, noticed the lonely, had compassion on those hurting, managed a team of various personalities with their strengths and weaknesses.
Hmmm, this sounds familiar. These are just some of the hallmarks of toddler groups – the list could go on and on.
It is a privilege to run a toddler group and jolly hard work! I have had the pleasure of running Daniel’s Den (a toddler group based in Brent, North West London) for over 22 years and I know many who have been doing this for over 30 years.
Week by week, teams of volunteers serve families in their local communities, offering a safe place for people to come and feel an unconditional welcome and experience the love of Christ.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council More than Sundays report in 2009 found that 52 per cent of under-4s in England (and of course their adult carers) attend a church-led toddler group. That means thousands and thousands of children and families every week have the opportunity to experience all of the above and more.
Toddler groups come in all shapes and sizes – some tell Bible stories and sing Christian songs while others sing ‘The wheels on the bus’ and enjoy the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I don’t believe there is a one-size fits all and all groups need the love, support and prayers of their local church as they reach out to meet the needs of the local community. Encouragement is a vital commodity and it needs to be poured into these groups.
The missional opportunities afforded by toddler groups are immense.
A mum with no recourse to public funds was ‘dumped’ in a bed and breakfast with her 2-year-old, down the street from one of our groups. A phone call from an 82-year-old lady in Guildford brought this to our attention and within 24 hours bags of food, nappies, toiletries and kitchen equipment were donated by friends of Daniel’s Den. Tears of joy and thankfulness were shed by the mum, who’d been living on bread for two weeks. Within days she and her daughter were part of the Daniel’s Den family and they felt the love and acceptance. We were able to get her help and she now has her own little flat. She was so thankful to God for this connection and the lady in Guildford shed tears of joy as she commented she’d not known such a quick answer to her prayers.
A dad from the Czech Republic bought a CD we played in our group because his daughter loved it (Action Songs for Toddlers by Care for the Family) and on a trip back home they played it all the way there (a twelve-hour drive) and all the way back (another twelve hours). He remarked that he now knows all the words!
One mum recovering from post-natal depression said this: “She welcomed me and my son and at that moment I relaxed for the first time in ages! I was then offered a cup of tea by the lady on reception and she kindly held my son while I was made a drink. It was heaven! It’s often these little experiences of kindness and understanding that we truly need in today’s world.”
The small acts of kindness make a huge difference! Yet so often they go unnoticed, but toddler groups are the hidden treasure of the nation.
June is the National Month of Prayer for toddler groups, an initiative of 1277, the national network for church-based toddler groups. It is an opportunity for the local church to focus on praying for their group and groups in the area. This prayer support is vital, especially when backed up with practical support too.
The theme for this year is the parable of the mustard seed. Seeds need planting and the right conditions to grow. The challenge is: What seeds are we planting and how are we helping them grow? Is there anything inhibiting this growth?
Toddler groups, like seeds, hold so much potential. Let’s pray they continue to blossom and bloom across the nation, offering a safe place for families to be nourished and loved.