Nursery: This is where young toddlers from 18 months up to three years of age go during the first two meetings of church services (parents pick up their toddlers for the final combined meeting, called Sacrament meeting). Adult members are asked by the lay leadership of the congregation to help out in Nursery as their assignment. (In Mormon speak, the previous sentence would read as follows: "Adult members are called by the bishopric of the ward to serve in Nursery as their church calling.") Think of it as being asked by God to babysit for your neighbors. For the toddlers, Nursery is a one-and-a-half hour time of toys, snacks, and stories about Jesus (or about hungry caterpillars - it depends on which will make the majority of the kids stay quiet). Parents (ok, mostly mothers) of naughty Nursery children are summoned out of adult classes to come tend to the more serious problems.
Primary: At three years of age, little Mormons enter Primary. Boys and girls are kept together for Primary, but they are divided up by age groups, which are assigned various names. Like Nursery, Primary also stretches across the first two meeting times (about an hour and a half) of Sunday church services (which last three hours altogether). Part of Primary brings all Primary-aged children together for singing time and lessons from the Primary Presidency (adult women who are called by the bishopric to lead the organization because they are good with children - or because they deserve to be punished) about things like sharing your testimony (that is, your belief in the church). But children are also split up (for age-appropriate lessons) into groups according to their age, as outlined below. Each group has an adult teacher (male or female) who is called to sit with the group during combined Primary singing and sharing time and also much teach a lesson during small group time.
- Three-year-olds are called "Sunbeams." There's a terrific song that all Mormon children love to sing called "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam." When I was young, I'd shout out the syllable "beam" in the word "sunbeam" and jump in my seat on that syllable when singing the song. Others followed along. It was irreverent fun, and I was scolded for doing it. I did it anyway.
- The next groups are all called "C.T.R." groups, which stands for "Choose the Right." There are various divisions of C.T.R.s, so you move through a numbering system as a C.T.R. for four years (until the age of eight). It used to be that when you became a C.T.R. you received a cheap little adjustable ring that had a green shield on it with the initials "C.T.R." It was considered a real rite of passage and a special gift. Boys weren't normally allowed to wear jewerly where I grew up, so I was over the moon with excitement when I got mine, and I wore it like Liberace. Now many adults where bulky silver versions of the rings. Even old, conservative Mormon men wear these adult versions now. Times do change.
- At age eight, you become what is called a "Valiant." This is also the age at which a person may be baptized. Like C.T.R.s, Valiants remain Valiants for a few years (until the age of 12), progressing through a ranking system (Valiant A, Valiant B, etc.). The name "Valiant" confused me when I assumed it. I had only heard it as a name for a prince in a Disney film, and I thought that if I received a ring when I became a C.T.R., perhaps I would receive a principality upon becoming a Valiant. No such luck.