Felt Books: If you were a baby in the Church, you likely had a granny or mommy who put a felt book together for you. If you are new in a Church environment, you might have seen a parent holding one of these with their baby, or there may be one in the Beginner's Sabbath School room that you could borrow. The felt books are often do-it-yourself affairs where parents or grandparents buy a package containing felt pages and various items related, often, to Bible stories, that need first to be cut out and either glued or sewed into a book. They are usually set up with little pockets, peekaboo windows, etc. that engage most tots in quiet discovery mode for at least a few minutes. If they have the status of "special Sabbath toy" then there will be new excitement to play with them for several months during early childhood.
Soft Toys: For most children, stuffed animals on their own will not suffice, unless it is a familiar "stuffy" or "blankey", in which case it should be referred to in times of distress for comfort and calming. But for pleasurable and quiet, non-invasive activity with soft toys, it helps most if there is a 'play kit' that accompanies the figures. This should also be made of quiet material (cloth is desirable). Following along the lines of the felt book, above, it is wise to make the toy kit part of the "special Sabbath toys" so that there is some identification with its being reserved for the peaceful, connectedness they experience in the Sanctuary. Having a Bible stories theme will further emphasize the specialness of Sabbath. Some examples might be the simple but very imagination-stimulating Noah's Ark pouch to the left. My granddaughter, up to age 3+, played with a sort of Teddy Bear's Picnic kit that contained all the little dishes and teddy bears, a tree, etc. in a circular fabric bag. I put it up on the top of one of my cupboards and when she came to visit she would ask, "Is it Sabbath tomorrow?" It was a little bit difficult for me not to give in and just give it to her to play with when she asked, but she had a lot of toys here and over time recognized the bears as a "special Sabbath Toy".
The Bag: Children, even wee tots, look for opportunities to be responsible for their stuff, to be a "good helper". Parents and grandparents can encourage this growth by providing them with a bag of their choosing -- again, their "special Sabbath" bag-- to pack with their Sabbath toys and books. If it remains packed all week, so much the easier on Sabbath! In our Church I notice that different bag styles are favoured by different kids. Jakey is very proud of his hiker's backpack, for example, while Nicholas prefers a small wheeled bag that looks like a mini suitcase (maybe it is?) It is definitely helpful if the child can have a part in choosing the "special Sabbath bag". He/she is more apt to take ownership for it and the contents therein.
Other Suggestions:(1)Mom/Dad or Grandma/Grandpa should still bring another bag containing light healthy snacks (not junkfood that will wire them up, and not so much that they are eating through most of the service), diapers, wet ones, bottles, extra clothing, etc. Leave some room in the 'other' bag so that you scoop and stuff anything that didn't make it into their bag when the service is over and they are heading out. (2)Bring some extra 'share-able' toys. Explain to the child that "this is for a little girl or boy if they want to play with you quietly at Church" and get their feedback if they are 'of an age' to do that. Advance notice is always a good thing where toddlers and sharing toys is concerned. This also encourages sharing, which is a basic Christian principle of being unselfish and serving of others. (3)If you didn't bring any toys with you, you can either avail yourself of the parent room (if there is one) or borrow a soft toy or two from there until next week. You might also be offered a share-toy from another child or parent. Monitor your child's use and make sure the said-toy gets back to the offering child-parent at the end of the service. And if your child and you were in the parent room during the service, be sure to supervise your child's putting away of all things at the end (a HUGE issue with deaconesses and others who use this room).
Borderline and Definitely What Not to Bring: I'm not the Churchtime Toy Nazi here, but I will suggest that there are definitely toys and things that stimulate more aggressive and noisy play that should likely be disallowed into the "special Sabbath bag": noise-makers like sirens, jack-in-the-boxes, and musical toys, any toy weapons and police/military-type little cars, planes, etc., talking and squawking toys, etc. My granddaughter hauls a chorus line of Barbies with her almost everywhere-- I think they are a rather inapprorpriate toy for Church, so focused on superficiality of looks, and the commercially-influenced "ideal woman's body" (and preferred ethnicity, I would add). However, she plays quietly and innocently with them, arranging them in families in what space she can rig up in our line of chairs. She keeps their clothes on. They don't bungy-jump in Church. The little boys her age all have fleets of their favourite matchbox and dinky toy vehicles and play harmoniously and quietly together, or parallel to each other. Other toys that might garner the odd dirty look, especially if your child is a little too extraverted, are super-hero toys, the line of quasi-occult toys (Pokemon type stuff), fairytale toys and books (such as all the Disney toys with the fairytale themes like the Rapunzel kit), Bratz style dolls (really showing up as mini-adults with 'tude), and big, cumbersome toys that take up the whole row or create a child-magnet in an area that is made up of older folks who come to hear the sermon. I'm not saying that such toys are "evil" per se, just that they do tend to take the focus on Jesus and the splendid real men and women (and children) of faith in the Bible. Sometimes they are indeed evil, and it is difficult to appreciate why a parent would allow a wizard doll into a child's bag, for example. Gum, candy bars, chocolate cake, fried chicken, and soft drinks are not appropriate snacks and are guaranteed to attract unwelcome comments from people who invested in the pews or who don't like sticky hands on their backs or sugar-wired kids screaming and jumping around. Look to see what the other parents are feeding their kids for nibbles. Read an article on 'healthy snacks' on the Internet and begin practicing by feeding them to your child at home. And turn your own cell phone off when you come in.
The foregoing is just based on my personal experience, observation, research and opinion couched as helpful suggestions. I believe that our small, precious children are more vulnerable to alien influences that we often have any idea are taking place. There is ever the need to thoughtfully, compassionately, and prayerfully provide both the little ones-- and all other Church attendees-- with the safest, happiest, most reverential experience possible for them to base the rest of their spiritual journey on. Tall order, but we're up to it.
When Jesus told the disciples not to forbid the children to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers in all ages—to officers of the church, to ministers, helpers, and all Christians. Jesus is drawing the children, and He bids us, Suffer them to come; as if He would say, They will come if you do not hinder them. ~Ellen White "The Desire of Ages" p. 517.*thank you to German photographer Roli Seeger for the image of the baby -- found at Stock Xching.hu