Before all of us became sequestered due to the pandemic, Sharon Moughtin-Mumby began an American “tour” to introduced her two publications through speaking engagements and workshops. I was sent copies of Diddy Disciples: Book 1 and Book 2 in advance to give an “American” review of these Church of England resources (published by SPCK). To be honest, I’ve been using these tomes along with my Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity as a platform for my laptop in order to raise my screen for all my Zoom gatherings.
Diddy Disciples has already made it across the pond and I had heard several educators post on social media that they were using it. I felt they had more to share in having used it than I who was no longer working in a church. Another reason for my delay in posting my “review” is that I’m not sure how much this “new” (published in 2017) collection of worship and storytelling resources for babies, toddlers, and young children is useful during this time of social distancing when many churches have put their in-person Church School’s and nursery care on hold. But Diddy Disciples does have a The Church at Home section of resources for families on their website.
What is Diddly Disciples?
Diddy Disciples began at St Peter’s, Walworth (south London) when the author felt it was impossible to take her three “wriggly” children (all 3 and under) to church on Sunday. She started a class at her church for babies and toddlers, which soon grew to over 30 young ones. The program was developed to be aimed at toddlers, but babies were also included. Translating this to what occurs in most American churches, I would picture this as the nursery. So instead of having a nursery (or child care) for those under 3, there would be a formation model geared for this youngest cohort. My hope that this would occur during the Liturgy of the Word, with even the littlest person welcomed back into the sanctuary for the time of Holy Communion.
Ages ago when I oversaw a Church School program we had a nursery for children under 3 years that adjoined a Preschool (3 and 4-year-olds) class. We would begin with everyone together with a simple worship service of song, simple Bible story, simple prayers, and ending with another song. Instruments and hand-motions were usually involved. It lasted no more than ten minutes; then we closed a divider and the babies and toddlers remained with our paid caretakers and the preschoolers had their own “class” consisting of a simple craft, more storytelling, and play. Joining parents in “big church” at the Peace was part of our routine as all children were in worship. Diddy Disciples would have been a great asset to my program if it had existed at that time!
The Diddy Disciples model is based on seven principles:
- Movement: This is a no-brainer – little ones need to move and are in constant motion anyways unless they are sleeping. So there is a focus on body language.
- Repetition: Again, this should be a given with little ones. Familiarity is comforting and promotes learning. Small children love to mimic what the adults are doing!
- Our voices: Song is used a lot, which is very age appropriate. As children learn to talk and expand their vocabulary, singing helps tremendously.
- Spirituality: Diddy Disciples recognizes that children have an innate spirituality. The program taps into the child’s imagination.
- Church: Children are full members of the worshiping community since they day of their baptism (and I would even say birth). Diddy Disciples’ intention is to build a service that reflects your main Sunday service as closely as possible through using bodies, song, movement, and symbols to encourage even the youngest children to join in in their own setting.
- Learning: A range of “creative response options” are offered to encourage the children to make connections between their Bible storytelling and the kinds of things they may be learning about at home or nursery school.
- Our emotions: It aims to build a people of God who are comfortable in bringing all sorts of feelings before God, ready to see even negative emotions transformed by God into something beautiful, holy and life-giving. This is done through biblical storytelling and sharing the emotions of the People of God.
I commend Gretchen Wolff Pritchard’s excellent review of Diddy Disciples on her The Sunday Paper blog. She offers a very thorough review of the materials through a developmental and most importantly theological lens. Gretchen even did a little research on the title – what is a “Diddy” anyways? Like her, I believe a better name of the program would be more respectful of the child.
This 2-book resource (trim-size according to English standards of 8.3″ x 1.3″ x 11.7″) of 250–300 pages each (together weighing 5 pounds) covers a year worth of sessions and information to run a Diddy Disciples program.
Book One (September to December) Units:
- Jesus’ Wonderful Love (Green Time) – six sessions of parables (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son, good shepherd, Good Samaritan, and light of the world)
- God the Maker (Green Time, Harvest) – 6 sessions focused on creation themes
- In November, We Remember! (Green Time or Kingdom Season) – 4 sessions on remembering those who have died
- Getting Ready for Baby Jesus (Advent and Christmas) – 5 sessions on the birth of Jesus
Book Two (January to August) Units:
- Jesus, Light of the World (Epiphany) – 4 sessions on the early life of Jesus (Matthew 2 and Luke 2)
- John the Baptist (the weeks before Lent) – 5 weeks focused on John and Jesus’ baptism and subsequent time in the desert
- The Journey to the Cross (Lent) – 6 weeks of Jesus’ actions, mostly the events of Holy Week
- Jesus is Alive! Alleluia! (Easter) – 9 weeks of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances up to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday
- Let Your Kingdom Come! (Green Time/Ordinary Time between July and November) – 6 sessions focused on parables and God’s Kingdom
- God’s Best Friend, Moses (Green Time/Ordinary Time between July and November) – 6 sessions focused on the key stories of Moses
The website has lots of free ideas and samples of sessions. Videos and other activities are shared for use during the Covid-time. So those who are trying to put together packets to send home for families might find some resources here for toddlers who are too young for the typical Church School curriculum you may be tapping into.
If I was overseeing a chapel program for children’s nursery school (which I also did ages ago), Diddle Disciples would have been the perfect resource. It closely follows the church seasons and thus the lectionary. Offering a time of song, biblical story, and prayer Diddy Disciples would have fit everything I needed for my 15 minutes to keep 60 three-, four-, and five-year-old children engaged in worship. This would be a great curricular resource for anyone who does a children’s chapel or preschool program in a congregation. I can also see it is used by parents or caregivers who wish to engage little ones in learning the stories of Jesus (and mostly the songs to go with them) as ONE of the means to introduce them to God. Ms. Moughtin-Mumby has compiled a terrific set of stories, songs, and response ideas to be tapped into by anyone who loves Jesus and the wee disciples they care for.
I’d love to hear from those who have used this! How are you engaging the preschoolers and toddlers in your congregations?