For children in imperfect families (that’s all of us!): Encouragement from leaders

Photodisc/Thinkstock via

Photodisc/Thinkstock via

Naturally, every family is imperfect. But as we teach children that “families are forever” and “honor thy father and mother,” some children may need to hear a more nuanced message. Here are some messages of encouragement from our leaders that we can incorporate as we teach children true doctrine about families.

Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, from from “Parents in Training,” New Era, August 2016, 17.

  • “No matter what kind of home you come from now, you can choose what kind of parent you will be in the future.”
  • “Please don’t expect your family to be perfect — because it will not be. It doesn’t help anyone to dwell on faults and imperfections. Instead, focus on what your family does well. . . . As you strive to become a constant source of goodness, you’ll likely influence your family for the better.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve, from “Fathers,” April 2016 General Conference.

  • “To children whose family situation is troubled, we say, you yourself are no less for that. Challenges are at times an indication of the Lord’s trust in you. He can help you, directly and through others, to deal with what you face. You can become the generation, perhaps the first in your family, where the divine patterns that God has ordained for families truly take shape and bless all the generations after you.”
  • “Wherever you rank your own father [or mother] on the scale of good-better-best (and I predict that ranking will go higher as you grow older and wiser), make up your mind to honor him and your mother by your own life. Your righteousness is the greatest honor any [parent] can receive.”

Also see other related posts:

Honoring parents – even if parents make poor choices?

Father’s Day – sensitive, but where else will they learn?


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Primary and new manual “Teaching in the Savior’s Way”

Like you, I thrill at the announcement of the new manual “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.” As stated on the cover, this manual is for “every gospel teacher — every parent, every formally called teacher, . . . and every follower of Christ.” That sounds like you, me and everyone!

I’m particularly delighted that now there will be a regular time for teacher training and development each month. This has been difficult to arrange in the past, but now it’s built-in. Page 3 of the manual states that these monthly meetings can happen during Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society, whenever best fits the needs of your Primary. It may take some creativity to figure out how to spring your teachers and leaders loose to attend these meetings (combine classes, get monthly substitutes. To see how others have made this work, see “Springing Primary workers for special presentations and teacher council meetings.”

Prayerfully consider whether Primary teachers and leaders should hold teacher council meetings together with other auxiliaries or separately, to discuss the special needs of children; page 3 of the manual leaves it up to you. The ward council (of which the Primary president is a valuable member) oversees teacher council meetings, perhaps with the Sunday School presidency or any ward council member leading the discussion.

The manual underscores this valuable guideline about the relationship between the home and Primary: “Parents are the most important gospel teachers for their children—they have both the main responsibility and the greatest power to influence their children (see Deuteronomy 6:6–7). As you teach children at church, prayerfully seek ways to support their parents in their essential role. For example, you could talk to parents about the needs and interests of their children, you could share with them what their children are learning in your class, and you could find out how you might support parents’ efforts as you teach.” “Teaching in the Savior’s Way,” page 25.

For ways to connect home and Primary, see “Bridging the Connection Between Home and Primary: a monthly newsletter” and “Bridging Home and Church Through a Child’s Simple Question.”

Also see the Ensign article from “Teaching in the Savior’s Way, titled “Behold Your Little Ones: Learning to Teach Children.”

“The goal of every gospel teacher,” says the manual’s cover, “is to teach the pure doctrine of the gospel, by the Spirit, in order to help God’s children build their faith in the Savior and become more like Him.”

God bless us all – young and old – on the journey.


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A Golden Opportunity to Review!, colored by Cara Lu, age 7

from, colored by Cora Lu, age 7

You’ve put up your visual aids one by one, and conveyed to little minds a memorable gospel truth. Now it’s time to take down those visual aids and either set up for the next wave of Primary children coming in the next hour, or pack them away in your Sunday bag.

Take this time as a valuable opportunity to review your lesson as you take down the visual aids! Talk through each visual aid and remind them of its meaning. It’s a basic educational principle that reviewing helps cement the message. You’ll have the children’s attention with the action at the front of the room, and you won’t have to be in a rush to break down after your lesson is over. Better for them, better for you!



Filed under Activity, Lesson, Special Needs, Teacher Support

Teaching kids about refugees: Activity Days book club or geography study

Church News photo by Michelle Mullis

Church News photo by Michelle Mullis

Catch these great ideas from the Church News article by Rachel Sterzer, “Teaching Kids About Refugees: Every One of Us is a Child of God.”

  • Book Club for Activity Days. Michelle Mullis of Ogden, Utah “had been teaching her 11-year-old daughter Anna and other children in a book club about Corrie ten Boom and the role she played in helping Jewish refugees in Holland during World War II.” The book is called The Hiding Place. That book club inspiration, plus the announcement of the “I Was A Stranger” initiative by Sister Linda K. Burton, led the children to collect items for hygiene kits for the Utah Refugee Center. Would your girls like to read a compelling book for an Activity Days book club?
  • Geography study. What countries do the refugees in your area come from? Or how much do your children know about Syria, with 13.5 million refugees, including 6 million children (as of Feb 2016), making Syria the largest displacement crisis globally? (see UN report) The Church News article continues: “Once you have found a community or a country that resonates with you, you can take that deeper dive and look at the cultural aspects of the country and the people from there.” “Study their food, traditions, and the way they celebrate holidays or their religious differences. Helping children become informed propels them forward in service, Sister Mullins said. After looking at photos of the refugee camps and seeing how some refugees live, ‘the kids were ready to do whatever they could to help.'”

For service ideas, see “I Was A Stranger” and how this initiative can apply to Primary. Add your service ideas for kids to the comments section!

Children may also enjoy these videos:

  • Invite a Refugee to Dinner” about families from Bhutan and USA who shopped together for ingredients and cooked together (4 minutes).
  • Dutch Potato Project” about former enemies in WW2 sacrificing for fellow Saints, despite deep distrust and war trauma (12 minutes). What was accomplished when they gave up their potatoes? What is YOUR potato?
  • Ye Have Done It Unto Me” from Bible videos (3 minutes). Notice the people’s surprised response, “When saw we thee a stranger?” You may be doing more than you realize.

Would your girls enjoy studying refugees, then taking action, small or large? Imagine the power of girls whose eyes are opened and hearts stirred as they come to ponder Sister Burton’s question, “What if their story were my story?” Even children are needed in this tremendously important lifesaving work, serving as Jesus Christ served.


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October Sharing Time or Family Night: Taking Prayer to the Next Level

The October sharing time theme suggests that you take weeks 3&4 to discuss “Heavenly Father hears and answers my prayers.” Your children might enjoy this charming story: “A child’s prayer can save a (duck’s) life.”  While one can never spend too much time discussing God’s answers to prayers, your children may be ready for the next step: adding repentance or fasting to prayer.

Instead of four steps of prayer (address Heavenly Father by name, thank Him, ask Him, and close in Jesus’ name), consider the FIVE steps of prayer (add repentance as a vibrant, daily part of prayer). Here’s a downloadable handout. (See also “Personal Prayer Lesson Plan – with visuals for children, especially those with Special Needs.”)

Or your children may be ready to be introduced to Fasting for Beginners, adding fasting to prayer as reverent communication between God and me.


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Fasting for Beginners – teaching children about fasting

“Savior in the Desert” from

For children, the idea of delayed gratification, or sacrifice now for blessings later, can be a little hard to grasp. It may be hard to think beyond rumbling bellies to larger purposes. Parents and Primary leaders can teach about fasting as guided by the Spirit. No child should be forced to fast, and they should be old enough to understand (starting after baptism in many families, i.e. Senior Primary). Here are some ideas:

  • Start by teaching about the how and why of fasting. Check out this Friend article explaining fasting in kid-friendly terms: What Are Fast Offerings? 
  • Emphasize the purpose: helping the poor and seeking special blessings for those in need. Children love to help! They might love to know that their faith and prayers and fasting efforts, however small, might actually help someone. When the ward or family has a special fast in behalf of someone who needs extra help, include children in that effort. Even children who are too young to fast can pray for the person during that fast.
  • Fasting is a principle of problem solving. Note that the footnote for the word “fasting” in Mark 9:29 is “problem solving.” Perhaps the child himself is struggling with something that “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). You may want to join with a child in fasting about a big problem they face or a big question for which they answers.
  • Consider a Primary fast. There may be special needs in your Primary for a particular child or leader. Consider fasting and praying together as a Primary.
  • Even Jesus fasted before he did hard things. Matthew 4:1–4 tells about Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights before He began His ministry.
  • Hunger pangs are just a reminder to pray for the purpose of the fast. Teach children that prayer and fasting go together. Begin and end your fast with prayer. And whenever you feel hungry, it’s just a reminder to pray for what you’re fasting about. And being a little hungry once a month helps build compassion for the poor who are hungry all the time.
  • It’s OK to start easy, by missing just one meal. Or some families ask children just to fast from sweets for 24 hours as a modified fast. Going without dessert can be a big effort for a little kid! And if a child wants to give up sooner, praise them for trying and help them end their fast early with prayer.
  • You won’t starve, and fasting is actually good for your body. Reassure the children that they might be hungry, but they won’t starve to death. Some studies show that periodic fasting actually boosts health.
  • Let children take a turn giving the fast offering envelope. The savings from the two skipped meals is given to the bishop to help the poor and needy in your ward or anywhere in the world if there are extra funds. Talk children through how the parents make that calculation, and let them submit the family’s fast offering envelope, if appropriate.  If a child already knows of someone who is struggling with unemployment or illness in your ward, you can help them understand how fast offerings might be used to help that person.
  • Bear your testimony of fasting. Share how fasting helps you draw closer to God, or tell about times when fasting has blessed you or someone you know. Testify of the Lord’s desire to bless us, and how pleased He is when we make this sacrifice on behalf of others, or to seek His guidance in problem solving in our own lives.

What ideas have worked for you when you were first learning to fast, or teaching children about fasting? Add your thoughts below!



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The Power of Music and Sign Language in the home, community and Primary classes

Today’s guest author is Pamela, aka Grammy Pammy, whose motto is Make your influence felt in a positive way. She writes:

Our two oldest grandsons were diagnosed with autism when they were very young.  Aunts, uncles and grandparents rallied to support by learning enough American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with the one diagnosed as non-verbal.  Years later, he speaks as well as anyone—when he has something to say.

With ASL still fresh in my mind, I was asked to help with the nursery in our ward.  I wondered if their fidgety little hands would better focus on singing if they were signing some of the words as we sang. I taught the nursery children a few signs to use during Singing Time.  Eureka!   They became more focused on singing.  Doing signs helped them remember the words to the songs and helped them keep their hands to themselves.

One of the nursery teachers had an older son who needed to do a service project. She and her family went to a local nursing home and entertained the residents, many of whom were hard of hearing. Doing the signs helped the elderly folks connect to the music and feel the joy of being engaged. It was a wonderful event for the singers and listeners alike.


For related posts, see “Why Sign Language?”

“Music in Nursery: Teaching the Gospel” and


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September Sharing Time Lesson: Preparing (emotionally) for a mission and for life!

2016 September theme “The Gospel Will Be Preached in All the World.” Week 3: “I can prepare now to serve a mission.”

When we think of children preparing for a mission, we often think of learning to study the scriptures, save money, keep the commandments, and invite friends to church. These are important and valuable skills.

But”The Hardest Part of Missionary Work” isn’t missionary work, reads a June 2016 New Era article by Wendy Ulrich. One missionary said, “for me the hardest part is what goes on in my head—like feeling discouraged or getting frustrated with companions or not liking talking to strangers—just dealing with all the ups and downs, the rejection, the change.” The article continues, “You should also get experience with the emotional, social, and other skills you’ll need as a missionary. You can start practicing now.”

Many young adults have stress-relief mechanisms that they developed as children. These coping mechanisms may or may not be healthy or mission-appropriate. As children try new and hard things, they can practice conflict-resolution skills with family and friends and in Primary. At home, they can build healthy habits, including mission-appropriate bedtime and wake-up routines.

If a child’s preferred stress-coping mechanism involves video games or YouTube, they could use some other mission-appropriate methods. We don’t often think of it as mission preparation, but teaching children to be resilient, positive and resourceful IS preparing them with valuable skills for serving the Lord as missionaries. One family I know took a “no technology vacation” – for TWO WHOLE WEEKS!

One skill that children can start practicing is this: “how to motivate ourselves when we’re bored and calm ourselves down when we’re overstressed. If a situation is boring or not progressing, become curious about what’s wrong and how to fix it, make a game out of it, or figure out what you can learn. Notice when you’re overstressed and learn things you could still do on a mission to calm down (talk to someone, relax, write, sing, walk). Take a step back, break the problem down, involve others, take small steps, pray, and talk back to negative thoughts.”

For a Sharing Time lesson on this idea, you might want to invite the full-time missionaries as guest speakers, and ask them questions like these:

  1. How did you prepare for a mission when you were Primary age?
  2. How did you solve problems with your siblings? How do you solve problems with your companion now?
  3. How did you deal with being discouraged when you were Primary age? How do you deal with discouragement now?
  4. How did you calm yourself down when you were upset when you were Primary age? How do you calm yourself down now?
  5. Now that you’re a missionary, what advice would you give to your Primary-aged self?

As you teach children to prepare for a mission by learning to study the scriptures, save money, keep the commandments, and invite friends to church, also teach them to try new and hard things, practice conflict-resolution skills, and healthy physical and emotional self-care.

Also see Laura’s terrific Sharing Time lesson: “When I Serve A Mission, I Serve God”



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2016 Primary Sacrament Meeting Program: Invitations, program covers and more! by Tami Ray by Tami Ray

Back by popular demand, the 2016 Primary Program Invitation is here! Thanks to Laura H. for putting this together, and special shout out to Tami Ray and her blog for the beautiful artwork!

Primary Program Invite 2016 (customize & print back to back, 4 invites to a page)

Matching printed program cover: Primary Printed Program 2016

Try printing out enough copies of the invitation for the Primary children and missionaries to distribute. Check out  “Children inviting neighbors, coaches and schoolteachers to Primary sacrament meeting program” about the wonderful missionary tool it can be (including a baptism that started with an invitation just like this!).

One year, my ward set up a small reception of cookies and drinks after the program to celebrate the Primary children’s hard work, and so that visitors feel welcome and have a chance to chat comfortably and ask questions. This gave visitors a chance to casually stick around and congratulate the child that they came to see, and not feel like they were obligated to go to class after, or make a hasty exit. They could stay longer and talk with others in a relaxed setting. The missionaries also joined the reception so they could talk with the investigators they brought, as well as meet other visitors who attended the program. Then everyone attended third hour classes as usual, and some hardy investigators stuck around.

If you’re planning your presentation outline, see Kim’s easy-to-follow way of putting it together at “Primary Sacrament Meeting Program outline – click, print and go!” Kim assigned each class one of the monthly themes, then interviewing each child by pulling them out of singing time to get a quote to go with the theme. The outline comes together really easily in the kids’ words that way.

Also see “Inviting Audience Comments – Primary Sacrament Meeting Presentation

-Laura S.


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Overheard in Primary: What brings you joy?

The Sharing Time lesson was about the Plan of Salvation. The Primary leader explained that everyone was there in the grand council when Heavenly Father announced the Plan of Salvation. She read Job 38:4,7: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”


The teacher asked the children if there was a time when they had ever “shouted for joy?”

The girl with the braids from the CTR 6 class raised her hand excitedly and  answered, “The first time I tasted swiss chard!”

And she was serious.





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