Sorry to everyone who read this post when it was published in very early draft form. That’s what happens when you mess around with publishing on your phone. Here it is in full splendor.
Family Home Evening (FHE) is a major, definable task of Mormon parenting, yet there are so many excuses for not doing it. When kids are young, it seems almost pointless since they can hardly pay attention anyway, but you know you need to get into the habit or it will be harder to start later. Then there’s the whole planning ahead thing: I don’t know about you, but I can barely keep up with sweeping my floor and cleaning the highchair, much less plan a meaningful, spiritual FHE.
So I’ve hacked FHE at our house. We pretty much rotate between the following FHE ideas which can be put together with only 5 minutes of planning right after dinner and take only about 15 minutes to execute when you add a song and prayer.
- Nursery manual – For the days when we feel really tired, there’s always the church’s new nursery manual, Behold Your Little Ones, available for free online. If you taught nursery before this new manual came out, you don’t know what you’re missing. Basically, each lesson has 7-12 smaller segments around a general theme, including a picture, songs, scriptures, and a coloring activity. We’ll pick two or three of these segments and use them for FHE. In fact, you could use one nursery lesson to supply an entire month of themed FHEs. Given that there are 30 lessons (including Easter and Christmas), you are now equipped for the next two and a half years of FHEs. You’re welcome.
- Scripture stories – Use the church’s illustrated scriptures for children to tell a favorite scripture story and bear testimony briefly about a principle illustrated in the story. The same system could work with other scripture storybooks or even just the gospel art kit. Or pull out the Friend magazine, pick a story, read it, and testify of the principle. Children need the introduction to these basic characters before they can learn more, so just do it! If you’re ambitious or spontaneous, you could act the stories out, but for me that requires too much planning.
- Song practice – When I was a kid in primary, it used to drive me crazy that half the kids didn’t sing. I have a personal vendetta to combat the image that singing in primary is not cool (especially since I have boys–girls seem more likely to sing) or that learning the songs is hard. For me, singing is a required part of worship, one I expect my children to participate in. Once in a while for FHE, we’ll work on learning a primary song. If you aren’t musically gifted (we aren’t), the mp3s are available free online. We usually listen through the first verse and chorus once, then play it again with Mom and Dad singing along, then two more times with all of us singing. One verse is pretty much all Monkey can handle at a time, but I’m sure we’ll work up to more.
- Mural – What preschooler doesn’t love scribbling on a ginormous paper with crayons? Use this to your advantage to maintain attention for a few minutes. Tape some mural paper to your kitchen floor and illustrate something from the scriptures on it. For example, we talked about the creation by drawing the numbers 1 through 7 on the paper, then filling each with an illustration of what was created that day. Next I want to try parables, as it seems those would illustrate very easily. You could also do the standard plan of salvation chart, draw the steps to get to the temple, illustrate the Articles of Faith, or pretty much any scripture story or primary song. Bonus: you can hang the poster in their room for added reinforcement over the next few weeks.
- Color the scriptures – Another personal idea of mine is that young children ought to be taught from the actual scriptures as much as possible, to see you using the physical book in your life. This will drive the idea into their heads that there’s something important about those books. Buy some cheap missionary copies of the Book of Mormon and Bible. Pick a story or verse to read (or summarize, but try to read at least one actual verse) to the kids, talk about what it means, then have them color that scripture. Younger kids might just highlight and scribble, but 4-5 year olds could draw pictures to represent the meaning of the verse. If you do this regularly, you’ll have a lovely keepsake of your children’s early learning about the scriptures. We haven’t actually tried this one with Monkey yet, but I have fond memories of doing it with my family growing up. We still love to look at those old “illustrated” scriptures.
And there you have it. Yes, you could put more thought into planning FHE, but I think it’s more important to just do it. The most important moments are the ones you can’t plan for.