If You Chance to Meet a Frown

I teach nursery. It’s a nice place to be: snacks, dancing, and simple lessons focused on basic gospel principles. No one in the back is raising their hand and bringing up Adam-God. In fact, no one raises their hands at all.

I’ve been teaching in the Primary for only a short time: I taught Sunbeams from January-July this year at which point I was asked to be the nursery leader. Nursery is unique in that the new lesson manual does not have enough lessons to fill an entire year: it is expected that you’ll repeat lessons and go out of order. However, for my own ease of lesson-planning, I’ve been following them in order. This past Sunday I came to I Can Be Happy.

Immediately, due to the very similar coloring page/handout, I was reminded of the Sunbeam lesson I taught earlier this year: I Have Feelings. I sat down and re-read both lessons. If you are familiar with the Primary lessons, you’ll know that the Sunbeam manual used to be used for both Sunbeams and Nursery until the new Nursery manual was published in 2008. I was curious as to what the differences were in the lessons. The “I Have Feelings” lesson asks you to “Assure the kids that everyone feels happy, sad, angry, or frightened at times.” The “I Can Be Happy” lesson only mentions the feeling “happy.” It’s not just that everyone has feelings, but that there’s a “should” about being and looking happy. The introduction for the teacher states, ”

Our Heavenly Father wants us to be happy; the plan He created for us is often called the “great plan of happiness.” Although adversity is an important part of life, we can choose to have a positive outlook, and our cheerful attitude can help others be more optimistic as well.

I’ll fully admit that perhaps they simplified it to focus on happiness because nursery is for younger kids than sunbeams, but I felt like the curriculum was pushing the “Look happy! God doesn’t want you to be sad!” guilt and shame that I’ve heard in other lessons and talks in church. I didn’t want that. And, having a nursery-aged child myself, I know that learning that other emotions are ok is definitely at that age level. So I modified my lesson.

I always start with a scripture story. Since the manual didn’t provide one for me, I went with a church history story that I thought exemplified having many feelings and emotions.

Emma Smith from the Gospel Art Book

We all sat on the ground and I showed the kids a picture of Emma Smith. I told them that this was Emma Smith and she was married to Joseph Smith. Sometimes they were very happy together. And sometimes they were sad. There were times that Emma was scared or mad and that’s ok. We are all like Emma Smith in that we all feel happy, sad, angry, or scared. It’s not ok to hurt people because of our feelings, but we can have the feelings. It’s ok to cry or stomp our feet or jump up and down in excitement. We try to be soft with ourselves and the people around us.

For our “game”, we rolled a die I made beforehand with feelings, happy, sad, scared, angry, surprised, and shy, on each side and we acted out the emotion that each kid rolled. After that short game, I passed out this coloring sheet of faces with emotions and we colored them before our snack time.

It went well and the kids enjoyed it. I loved the opportunity to bring in a story about a woman for the kids to learn about. And I loved the message: we all have feelings and those feelings are valid.

Have you taught nursery or Primary? How have you modified lessons to include women or better suit the demographic you teach?


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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12 Responses

  1. Amber says:

    I find myself stumbling over my words as I type because I am so thrilled at how you approached this lesson.

    First, you modified it to include all emotions.

    Second, you taught at their level.

    Third, you brought a woman into the story–a famous Mormon woman no less–and told them she had many emotions.

    Fourth, you explained that emotions are okay and awesome to express, as long as we keep ourselves and our friends safe.

    I know you pointed these out as you wrote the lesson plan, but I wanted to break it down again because it was so very developmentally appropriate and a lesson I wish I had in Sunday school!

  2. Nicely done, TopHat!

    I’ve taught Sunbeams in three different wards and nursery once. What I love about teaching those ages is that the themes are so basic, so fundamental.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I echo Amber’s sentiments. The other thing that I think is rockstar about this lesson is that we often only talk about Emma in gentle, “feminine” terms. We don’t talk about her being angry or frustrated or even sad except at the deaths of her husband and children. This lesson makes her seem more real and approachable.

    • TopHat says:

      Thanks. I was afraid that it would seem like, of course I’d use a woman to demonstrate emotions. But yeah- women (and people in general) aren’t “allowed” to have the “bad” emotions, so recognizing that is important to.

  4. Kimberly says:

    I teach CTR 4. A few weeks ago we had the lesson “I can show love for my parents.” I read The Family Book, by Todd Parr. The kids loved it and I loved how it validated all kinds of families.

    • TopHat says:

      Nursery has a similar lesson, and I thought about bringing “All Families are Special” but I was worried that the other nursery leaders would say something about the little girl with two mommies.

  5. Janna says:

    “you explained that emotions are okay and awesome to express” – yes!

    I saw The Book of Mormon Musical several months ago, and was struck by one number titled, “Turn it Off,” which was about the Mormon tendency to stuff feelings down. I was cringing the entire time! It was so true…

  6. mellifera says:

    One of the nursery lessons (hubby & I just finished an 18-month tour of duty in the nursery) is “I have a body like my Heavenly Father.” We were not so prepared that week and didn’t realize that the coloring picture was a lone little boy until it was too late. One of the little girls saw it and said “It’s my brother!”

    The next week (we just did each lesson twice in a row) we found another picture elsewhere in the manual of a boy and a girl, photoshopped “I have a body like my Heavenly Parents” onto it, and let them color that instead. If any orthodox glares came our way (none did) we were ready to come back with “What are we trying to do, make the little girls wish they were little boys?”

    I couldn’t really tell if the kids noticed, but it sure me us teachers happier….

    • TopHat says:

      I did something similar for that lesson. I photoshopped the coloring page and there’s a link to a free copy here. My daughter loved hers. 🙂

  7. Hannah says:

    I wish you were my daughters nursery/sunbeam teacher. Truely x

  1. November 1, 2015

    […] If You Chance To Meet A Frown and What My Daughter Learns Adapting Nursery lessons to be more inclusive of girls… […]

  2. January 21, 2016

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