Nontraditional families and Mother’s Day/Father’s Day


I hope that every child has a mother and a father who love them. But in case you know children who might need a more nuanced message, I was heartened by Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s words in April 2016 General Conference. He spoke to children who may struggle to honor parents who are less than honorable. Elder Christofferson said, “To all the rising generation, we say, wherever you rank your own father . . . make up your mind to honor him and your mother by your own life. Your righteousness is the greatest honor any father can receive” (April 2016 General Conference, emphasis added). Notice that he didn’t say “honor your parents means to do what they say.” That can be great advice for parents who give righteous instruction. But for those children in less than ideal circumstances, I appreciate Elder Christofferson’s teaching that we can honor parents by BRINGING honor to them.

How to teach this to children? Try these lesson ideas:

God bless every child, no matter what kind of family they have.


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5th Sunday in May Sharing Time Lesson – Restoration of Priesthood AND Relief Society

You’re in luck! Five Sundays in May means you have an extra week to teach a supplemental lesson! The May Sharing Time theme is “The Church of Jesus Christ Has Been Restored.” The First Presidency, in the preface to Daughters In My Kingdom, said “We testify that the Lord has restored the fullness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith and that Relief Society is an important part of that restoration” (page ix).

Consider this wonderful 5th Sunday lesson:  Women and Service in the Kingdom: A Sharing Time or family night lesson for girls AND boys.” As children learn about Joseph Smith and the First Vision, boys as well as girls will be thrilled to also learn about Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow and the motto of Relief Society: “Charity Never Faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Rejoice in the restoration!


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Music in Nursery: Teaching the Gospel

I peeked into nursery recently to make sure my twin toddlers weren’t still sobbing with separation anxiety.  And to my great surprise they weren’t sobbing.  In fact, they weren’t even whimpering.  Instead, they were mesmerized by the Primary music leaders who visit nursery each week. The music leaders had gathered the children to sit on a cozy blanket laid out on the floor and were singing Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam with great animation.  They had given each child a bracelet tied with ribbons (called wrist ribbons or a rhythm ring) so the kids could punctuate their “sun-BEAM” with ribbon flourishes.  The children were enthralled.  They were happy.  They were learning the gospel!

I teach music classes outside of church for young children ages 0-3 years.  I love music and know what an amazing teaching tool it is.  But in my professional classes I don’t get to teach about Jesus or the plan of salvation.  The songs I sing and the ASL (American Sign Language) I teach are about animals, colors, feelings, actions, vehicles, balls, and more.  All super fun and enriching stuff. But not the best stuff, not the gospel.

Nursery is the perfect place to teach about Jesus, the plan of salvation and other basic gospel principles through music. And toddlers are definitely not too young to understand.  If they can do actions and sign language to “Wheels on the Bus,” they can do the actions and signs for “I am Like a Star Shining Brightly (Children’s Songbook, 163).  Music is the ideal way to teach this age group!  Want something to sink in and grab their attention? Sing about it.  Take advantage of this perfect opportunity to teach the gospel to these young children through music.  It’s 1) memorable 2) fun and 3) teaches the gospel.  Boom!  That’s Triple Threat Teaching!

So what made music time so successful for my twin toddlers this particular Sunday?  Here’s a few of the ideas our Primary music leaders are implementing now with great success when they visit nursery each week:

  1. Plan a set of songs and sing them for 6-8 weeks to provide repetition and familiarity.  If the nursery kids transition to Primary knowing 10 songs that would be amazing!
  2. Create some physical structure and boundaries by laying out a blanket for the kids to sit on during music time.  That way they know where you want them.
  3. Incorporate movement and visual interest by using inexpensive props such as shakers, scarves, rhythm rings, song sticks or others.

More blog favorites about nursery music: Hands-on Singing: “Song Sticks” and Using Music Effectively in Nursery


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“I Was a Stranger” and how this initiative can apply to Primary

I think God knew what he was doing when He included Primary girls in the audience when the new initiative “I Was a Stranger” was announced at the General Women’s Meeting. I think God knows that Primary has something important to contribute to this good work. Not only that, but the Sharing Time theme for the very next month is “Jesus Christ Is My Savior and Redeemer,” with Week 2 being “Jesus Christ is the perfect example for me.” And what did Jesus do? He served others with love.

You may have already noticed our blog post April Sharing Time project or family activity: Serving as Jesus Served, with ideas for pint-sized service projects. If you already saw it, check it out again — enhanced today with new ideas directly related to the new #IWasAStranger initiative. For example, one ward Relief Society in my area recently did a service project for refugees through a local community organization. They put together bags of items children could play with or might need during the refugee screening process. Primary children could help collect the items or decorate the bags.

“I Was A Stranger” (available in multiple languages) has suggestions of how folks can get involved (scroll to the bottom of the webpage and look for “Getting Involved”). Some ideas are as simple and child-friendly as this:

  • Make a new friend
  • Do something you enjoy with someone new
  • Invite someone to your family night

We hope you’ll prayerfully read that website, and see what you feel inspired to teach your Primary about service, perhaps even about refugees in age-appropriate ways. Remind the children about times when they were strangers and how much they appreciated people helping them feel at home.

And now a question for you: Have you read any children’s books that taught the concepts addressed in I Was A Stranger? Any child-friendly service projects in your area?

Yours in this great work,







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Adapting the Same Lesson for Junior and Senior Primary

I was recently asked an excellent question: “I just got called as the Primary 2nd counselor and I’m super excited, but a little overwhelmed about Sharing Time. I’m not sure how to tailor the lessons to the younger vs. older kids. They seem VERY different, but the lesson outline is the same. Do you have any suggestions?”

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Plan activities that are picture-based for Junior Primary and word-based for Senior Primary. For example, “Follow the Prophet Tic Tac Toe” has a tic tac toe game board with pictures for Junior Primary and keywords for Senior Primary.
  2. While children of all ages can benefit from movement and application, this is even more important in Junior Primary. See Teaching to a Child’s Whole Body – resources for reaching children of all learning styles.
  3. Plan activities that are a little more challenging for Senior Primary. For example,  “Women and Service in the Kingdom: a Sharing Time or family night lesson for girls AND boys” has a puzzle activity for Junior Primary and a matching game for Senior Primary.
  4. Use the teachers in Junior Primary; use the kids in Senior Primary. You can ask the Senior Primary kids hard questions directly. But don’t be afraid to ask the same questions in Junior Primary; just let the teachers give the answers if it goes over the little kids’ heads. It’s good for the kids to be exposed to concepts even if they can’t quite grasp them yet. This has the added benefit of making the teachers feel involved and engaged. For example, in this lesson about families in the scriptures, I would explain that just like families in the scriptures, Heavenly Father has a plan for each child and each family today. I would ask Senior Primary children what that means. In Junior Primary I would ask the same question, but I wouldn’t expect the children to give useful answers. (The default answer for any question appears to be “Jesus,” which is a fine answer to many questions, but not all.) Inviting the teachers to give answers saves me from giving a solid lecture. It also helps to make the teachers feel like they’re in their own gospel learning class.  Teachers can also be useful when you need reinforcements. For example, go ahead and use that song that perfectly illustrates a gospel message, even if the little kids don’t know it yet. Ask the teachers to stand and join you in singing it. Any child who knows it can stand and sing too! Teachers can also read scriptures for you in Junior Primary so you’re not doing all the talking.
  5. Older kids can get into the scriptures themselves! It’s enormously satisfying to see the children begin to become familiar with the scriptures and to feel the power of God’s word. How to do it? See “Raising the bar and addressing the boredom challenge” and “Getting Children to Open – not just bring – Their Scriptures.” While this is particularly valuable in Senior Primary, don’t underestimate the readers in Junior Primary!  
 What works for you in adapting lessons for Junior and Senior Primary? Add your comments below!

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April Sharing Time project or family activity: Serving as Jesus Served

I love the April Sharing Time theme: “Jesus Christ Is My Savior and Redeemer,” with Week 2 being “Jesus Christ is the perfect example for me.” And what did Jesus do when he was on the earth? He served others with love. Children can follow Jesus’ perfect example and serve too!

Of course, singing “When We’re Helping We’re Happy” (Children’s Songbook, 198) is optional but memorable! and “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” (CS 78), particularly verse 2: “I’m trying to love my neighbor, I’m learning to serve my friends. . . ”

There may be service projects happening in your ward to which Primary children can contribute. If the Relief Society or youth are collecting items for the needy or visiting nursing homes or hospitals, Primary children can make cards to go with them. The service coordinators can tell the children about the project, explaining in age-appropriate ways about homelessness, cancer, hunger or refugees.

For example, one ward Relief Society in my area recently did a service project for refugees through a local community organization. The sisters put together bags of items children could play with or might need during the refugee screening process. Primary children could help collect the items or decorate the bags.

A song related to the “#IWasAStranger” service initiative is “We Are Different,” (CS 263). I suggest swinging it to a rhythmic calypso beat!

Perhaps you’d like to ask the moms of the missionaries serving from your ward to talk about their son or daughter on a mission, and have the children make cards or letters for the missionaries. Bring lots of colored paper and stickers and markers. Perhaps the pianist can play soft background music while the children create.

Here are more ideas:

You’re never too young to experience the wonderful feeling that comes from serving as Jesus served.


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Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday music, lessons and activities–Greatest hits!

bulbs in snow

photo courtesy of Susan Porter

I love this time of year!  It’s always a celebration when you realize that you’ve survived another winter and that spring actually will indeed come again, despite your wavering faith during the endless weeks of frigid temperatures.  Easter is a beautiful way to celebrate hope, new life, re-birth, resurrection, new beginnings!

This is a perfect time of year to teach the children about what this big word RESURRECTION actually means.  Some of our blog favorites:

  1. Preparing for Easter
  2. Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday:Sharing time ideas with family activity. This is a fun hands-on activity you can download and print for Sharing Time.
  3. The Last Week: The Atonement and Resurrection–Easter sharing time idea or family activity. Do you think your Primary families would enjoy receiving a list of scriptures about the Savior’s last week?  This list of scriptures is organized by date to use for yourself or share with your Primary families.
  4. Making Music Time Fun and Interactive! Particularly check out #4 “Easter Basket” and #5 “Flannel Board Story” for great Easter-themed music time ideas.

Learning about the Savior is a great way to celebrate the true meaning of Easter and balance the focus on Easter egg hunts and baskets filled with candy. However you choose to celebrate, let’s teach our children to remember our Savior and what his life, death, and resurrection means for each of us individually. I am grateful He is risen!



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Getting Children to Open – not just bring – Their Scriptures

It’s great to reward the children for bringing their scriptures to Primary  — stickers on a chart or tokens in a jar, or a competition between classes, with a monthly class prize of a grab bag (stickers, erasers, etc…). But if you USE the scriptures EVERY WEEK, soon children will get the idea that if they don’t bring their scriptures, they’re missing out. Conversely, if you reward the children for bringing their scriptures but never open them, the children will get the mistaken impression that the only thing that matters is if you have the scriptures; it really doesn’t matter if you ever actually read them. There are far too many cobwebs on bookshelves in homes that bear witness of this empty concept. Here are a few ideas for using those scriptures children bring!

  • Read from the actual book of scriptures, even in Junior Primary. I use a technique to help even the youngest children get into the scriptures. I have a hot pink bookmark that I park in the scriptures and let the children find it, then we read that scripture. Read more about it here: Actively Getting Children into the Scriptures in Primary. I try to have children read at least one actual scripture from the book during every Sharing Time.

Two exciting things happened that told me this idea was working. Once while teaching Primary I said, “I have my hot pink bookmark hidden where this scripture is found.” A child said, “Oh, I love this game!” Then one autumn day young Logan looked out the window of the chapel and said, “Look! That bush is the color of Marci’s hot pink bookmark!” And it was!

Using actual scriptures gives children the visual cue to PAY ATTENTION to these special words. Reading God’s word from a poster is fine — but when they read it from the actual scriptures, children understand that these words are God’s words. I want them to learn the difference between made-up stories and God’s word. In fact, I want them to learn the difference between God’s word and a story about God’s word. All are fine – but using the scriptures themselves as a visual aid helps the children understand “good, better, best” when it comes to words – with God’s own word having unexplainable power. Having the children look for the hot pink bookmark in the scriptures also gets the children actively involved, more than just having me reading aloud from the scriptures.

  • Pass out scripture wordstrips as children enter the room.  In Senior Primary, I check to see who has scriptures as they enter the room. I give the children with scriptures one of the wordstrips, and ask the teacher to help them find it while the children are gathering. That way children are ready when it’s time to use those verses in the Sharing Time lesson. Occasionally we’ll take the time to pass out books of scripture from the library and have every child find a verse with the teacher’s help. But when you don’t have the time, passing out the wordstrips as children enter gives them time to find the verse. It also rewards those scripture-toting children with the chance to participate. (Hint: far more children bring copies of the Book of Mormon than the whole set of scriptures, so I try to use more scriptures from that book when possible.)
  • Post the scriptures I’m going to use on the board so that other children can follow along if they like. This is particularly good for soon-to-turn-twelve-year-olds and other children who are ready to take on a little more challenge. Often these children start to act up out of boredom — but you can engage them with the scriptures instead. Making it optional but available gives every child a chance to engage with the lesson at their own level.

Read more about Primary as pre-seminary here: Scriptures in Primary: Raising the Bar and Addressing the Boredom Challenge


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Recipe for Success: Dealing with Distractions and Helping Kids Focus

You’ve probably been there: kids spinning in different directions, sometimes all talking at once. They’ll chatter about what they had for breakfast, or their birthday coming up (in only 11 months!), or whatever. Trying to get them all to focus on your lesson can be challenging.  

Today’s Guest Author Kyoko was born and grew up in Japan, moved to California when she married, and now has a sweet college-aged daughter. She has served in Primary for many years and loves everything about Primary (the hard work and the joy)! Kyoko shares the following terrific ideas to get kids focused.

Keeping children’s interest requires preparation. Arriving in the room before the children is the first step. Setting up the room with pictures or music playing also sends the signal that something interesting is going to happen. Using variety in teaching is key; no one likes to listen to a monologue week after week.

Recipe for Success=Preparation.

  1. Arrive before the children
  2. Set up the room
  3. Use variety in teaching

But after you’ve laid the foundation with good preparation, when you need an instant focusing activity, try these ideas:

  • “Tell me that story when we’re walking to Sharing Time, OK?” This shows interest in the child and his/her life without letting them take over your lesson. Be sure to remember to ask them later, so they know you’re genuinely interested.
  • Freeze/unfreeze: Ask the children to freeze in place, whatever they’re doing. Then give the most important part of the lesson — the main point — in 1-2 minutes while they’re frozen.
  • Set the timer. “For 15 minutes, we’re doing this. Then we’ll move onto another activity.” The timer gives the children the idea that this part of the lesson will come to an end! And children often enjoy watching the countdown.
  • Ask them to take notes. Older children can take notes or draw the main points of the lesson, then share their ideas at the end. You can give them a clipboard with a sheet of paper so they can take their notes home, or a small notebook that you keep with you. Notetaking is a skill, so don’t give up if it takes a few weeks for them to figure out what you’re asking them to do. It doesn’t hurt to let them doodle for a few minutes, especially at first. Doing something often helps kids listen better, even if it’s not always apparent.
  • Substitute a child’s name. Lesson manuals often have stories about ordinary children that illustrate the points of the lesson. Instead of Bobby or Susie, insert the name of children in your class. This doesn’t work for stories about actual people — scriptural characters or modern-day prophets — but it works beautifully for the case studies or examples often found in lesson manuals. Make sure you keep track so every child’s name will eventually be used.

    Pick a helper. I put a chair right next to me and ask a certain child if he/she wants to be my helper today. Every kids love to be spotlighted. I pick somebody who is not that happy to be there, or a child who is looking straight at me (that means ready he/she is ready)! You have to see the big smile of the child when you pick them. They look so proud of themselves!

  • Draw. I draw pictures on the chalkboard instead of showing printed pictures sometimes when I start feeling like I’m losing them. Kids laugh at my drawing sometimes but I laugh too! Then I challenge them to draw while I tell stories from scriptures. They love to participate.
  • Vary your voice. When I read scriptures, I read like a story book by changing tones, speed etc. They seem to pay more attention. has many resources to liven up your lessons, including related music, videos, and gospel art. To download from YouTube to your computer, so you’re not relying on the chapel’s wireless connection, put the letters “ss” before the link.


More Blog Favorites: For more ideas, see the “Lovable Rascals” skit and “Your Preparation Leads to a Child’s Reverence: Two Guided Meditations.” Hold onto your funny bone while you see lessons go haywire! Drawing and note-taking particularly appeal to kinesthetic learners: see “Teaching to a Child’s Whole Body.”   Also see “Potatoes every night: Variety in Teaching.”


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Heavenly Father Speaks to Us through His Prophets (March Sharing Time or Family Night Lesson)

March 2016 Sharing Time theme is about prophets. Here’s a roundup of some of our “greatest hits” about Following the Prophet to help you get started on your planning your Sharing Time.

Follow the Prophet Tic Tac Toe: A fun activity to reinforce the main idea is always a good bet — providing repetition but also a change of pace, helping learners of all styles practice and remember the lesson.

Lessons from Our Prophet includes a lively activity with the prophet’s words inside balloons, ready for popping.

Follow the Prophet – but how, exactly? includes a Pictionary-style game with the prophet’s counsel.

Some of these lesson plans use quotes from President Monson. If you’d like to use more recent quotes, substitute these quotes from the October 2015 General Conference: “Keep the Commandments” by Thomas S. Monson.

  • “God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible.”
  • “Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to say: Thou shalt not lie; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and so on. He understands that when we keep the commandments, our lives will be happier, more fulfilling, and less complicated.”
  • “With his . . .  lies, the adversary will lead you down a slippery slope to your destruction if you allow him to do so. He cunningly calls: Just this once won’t matter; everyone is doing it; don’t be old-fashioned; times have changed; it can’t hurt anyone; your life is yours to live. How vital it is that we exercise constant vigilance in order to avoid giving in to such lies and temptations.” Explain adversary = Satan, who tries to get us to make bad choices. Vigilance = watching carefully. Discuss the situations in which children may hear these words from friends, and what Pres. Monson might encourage them to say in response.
  • “Our greatest happiness in this life will come as we follow God’s commandments and obey His laws!”
  • “If any of you has stumbled in his journey, I assure you that there is a way back. The process is called repentance. The sooner you do so, the sooner you will be able to experience . . . peace and . . . quietness.”

Follow the prophet – he knows the way!


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