It's about time we tackled one of the most troubling and ethically complex parenting challenges we are likely to face. It's one that Imperfect and Normal Families want to ignore, but we absolutely cannot. And unlike some insignificant one-time choices (like what college our kids will attend, for example), this issue must be faced on a weekly basis, so our strategy must be carefully considered. Of course, I’m talking about this troubling question:
“What do I do with the craft projects my preschooler makes while in the church nursery?”
This is serious business. The projects my daughter creates on Sundays are key elements of a carefully crafted education and discipleship program. That pipe-cleaner Jonah glued to the construction paper whale is not just a time-filler. It is an intentional tool designed to further reinforce the theological implications of evangelism, unmerited grace, and obedience to the voice of God. That’s quite a stretch for a three year old, but I guess it’s my job to help her to make the connection.
I have to be honest: I would care about these creations a lot more if my daughter were actually aware of the fact that she had made something. In most cases, the complexity of the craft suggests that her teacher did most of the work. This is affirmed by the blank stares she gives me when I ask her to tell me about her scale model of Solomon’s Temple made from Popsicle sticks. She typically gives me a look that says, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
As a parent who has had five kids go through the church nursery, I have developed a few guidelines regarding what to do with the crafts that get sent home. Pay close attention, for this is useful and practical parenting wisdom you're not going to find anywhere else.
1. Don’t ever make the rookie mistake of picking up some other kid’s artwork.
Lined up there on the hallway floor, they may all look exactly the same, but you never know if the parents of that other kid think their child is the next Jackson Pollack and want to save his work forever. These parents are a bit naive, but they don't know that (yet). Give them a wide berth.
2. You MUST take the art project home.
Even if you have no plans to keep it, you can never throw the project away on the actual church property. If someone on the children’s ministry staff sees you do that, they’re going to assume that you are a terrible parent who regularly watches the Paranormal Activity movies with your kids. Your name is likely to show up on a prayer request card with the phrase “PRAYING FOR THEIR SALVATION” written in bold.
3. If the project contains glitter, you are allowed to make an exception to rule #2.
With glitter, the appropriate response is to break into your child’s teacher’s car in the parking lot and shake it all over their upholstery. That is consistent with standard “eye for an eye” doctrine. Note: If you are a preschool volunteer and you regularly involve glitter in your craft projects, please know that your kids' parents are seriously considering changing churches. I'm not kidding.
4. If you dispose of it the minute you get home, do it very carefully.
One technique is for parent #1 to put it in the garage trash can while parent #2 creates a diversion. (Hey kids, we're having gummy bears for lunch!) Be sure to hide it in the bottom of the trash where your child won’t see it later. Trust me, this will save you a bundle in therapy costs when she is a teenager.
5. Forget numbers 1 through 4 (trash) and consider putting the art on display (treasure).
All this brings me back to the original purpose of the preschool art project: My bet is that the take-home craft is a reinforcement tool for what your child learned in church on Sunday. And you should take advantage of that.
If the project does make it inside the house, I recommend that you go all out and put it on the refrigerator. If you do this already, my bet is that you only have one child. I’m not suggesting that you will love your later children any less, but only that the more kids you have, the more you will want to de-clutter your life.
Sure, your daughter doesn’t remember every detail of the story she heard in Sunday School. But she DID hear it. And she made an awesome craft to prove it. So why don’t you leave it on the fridge all week as a reminder of what she heard?
Then, throughout the week, you, her amazing parent, will have dozens of opportunities to remind her of what she learned. You can re-tell the story at bedtime. You can give her simple life-lessons that come from the truth of what she heard. You can even make up goofy songs to help her remember the details.
What we must all ultimately realize is that the church is there to help you to point your children towards God. By design, the preschool class can “tee it up” for you on Sundays so you can drive it home with them seven days a week. Take home projects and those little discussion sheets are there for a reason. They are provided as a resource for us all as we disciple our kids.
So what do you say we start using them? We should take advantage of every opportunity we have to teach our kids how awesome our God truly is. Imperfect and Normal Families like ours need all the help we can get!
(By the way, glitter rule #3 above is still in effect. Nursery workers of the world, you have been warned.)