With the new emphasis on gospel teaching at home, many parents are intimidated by the thought of transplanting a 50 minute Sunday School lesson into their living room. As the mother of eight children, I have had a successful (and unsuccessful) lesson or two with kids of all ages. Here’s what I have learned to do (and not to do) whether you want to teach your children about Lehi’s Dream or the principle of honesty.
1. For Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Call it a “Lesson”
Call it a game, a chat, a story, or a snack…but do NOT call it a lesson! Games get a “yay!” Stories pique interest. Snacks call to children’s never-ending appetites. But lessons result in eye-rolls as kids get visions of having to sit still for an hour straight and flashbacks of every boring lecture about the Old Testament they have ever had.
So…wording is extremely important here! Say the right word and you will get an amazing response! I promise.
2. Time is of the Essence
This can be tricky when you have a large span of ages. Believe me, I know. We had ages 2 through 17 living at home and it was complicated (aka chaotic) when we had all the kids in the same room at the same time and we tried to do some “gospel-teaching.”
So make sure you know what a typical attention span is for your younger kids’ ages. If you want to exceed that time to have a discussion with the older ones, then just make sure you have an activity or snack to keep the little ones busy so the chat can keep going when their “paying attention timer” is up. Another way to overcome this issue is described in the next suggestion.
3. One-on-One is a Winner
Honestly, the best teaching moments my husband and I have ever had came when we were one-on-one with a child. There is no rule that says in order to teach the gospel you have to gather the whole family into one room and preach to them for an hour. You can do it on a long car ride with one child. You can do it over an ice cream sundae during a parent-child “date night.” You can do it as you tuck a little one in for bed.
If you feel like a group setting is intimidating, start by building a relationship with each child individually and bringing up gospel subjects in casual conversation. When the time comes for a whole-family lesson to occur, you will most likely have this child’s support because you have done the groundwork in helping them to develop their spirituality.
3. Actions Speak Louder than Words
Doing is always better than sitting. If it’s a scripture story, act it out. If it’s a lesson on service, go do some. If it’s a lesson on missionary prep, iron some shirts and shine some shoes. If it’s a lesson on self-reliance, go work in your garden. You will find that all ages respond better when a lesson is centered around experience rather than just education.
4. Play Games, All Sorts
No, you don’t have to run to Deseret Book and grab “Book of Mormon Bingo” or “Mormonopoly” or something. It’s not necessarily the game that matters, it’s just that a game provides a background for gospel conversation. Now, you probably want to make it a simple game (think “Uno” or dominoes) if you are wanting to discuss anything in depth. But essentially, it’s kind of a “bait-and-switch” tactic: “Hey, kids! Want to play a game?” And, voila! You have them at least all in the same room around the same table, conversing (this scenario can be hard to come by in a technology-centered world, especially with teens). You simply guide the conversation where it needs to go and it’s amazing how much the kids will open up in an informal setting.
5. Technology is Your Friend
We often think of technology as an enemy to family time. However, it can definitely be one of your greatest tools. A video or song can really set the tone and invite the Spirit. Any one of the Mormon Messages can be a great attention-grabber. The Third Hour YouTube Channel also has some great conference recaps and inspirational videos to help in this endeavor. Since these videos always have some kind of gospel theme, you automatically have a jumping off point from which to start a conversation (code name for lesson).
6. Hands-On Help
Especially with little ones, and even with fidgety teenagers, when you give them something to do with their hands while you are telling a story or teaching a principle, things tend to go much more smoothly. Here’s a list of things I have used to keep hands busy, mouths closed, and ears on what is being said:
- Gospel-oriented coloring pages (free from LDS Family Fun website)
- Playdough (here’s a great homemade recipe that does not ruin carpet)—think, “Hey, kids! Who can shape the Tower of Babel?”
- Legos (ditto on the Tower of Babel suggestion)
- For older kids: Book of Mormon crossword puzzles or advanced coloring pages
7. Mealtime Can Be Learning Time
I might have a somewhat tainted view on the benefits of revolving lessons around food since I have 7 boys, but, honestly, most kids do amazingly well when there are snacks involved. I strategically do a lot of my teaching during lunch, dinner, or over dessert, and every one of my kids is usually all ears! There’s something about having a mouthful that makes listening so much easier! It was my husband who first pointed out that FHE refreshments should come out during the lesson, not after. And it works, people!
8. Get Out!
Sometimes a change of scenery is needed to grab our kids attention and pry them away from electronics so they can focus on the topic at hand. Whether you head to a park, go on a drive in the country, or take a walk on the beach, there is no reason you can’t have a great talk about the gospel while doing so.
9. Invite Reinforcements
There’s something about having guests in the home that tends to put children on their best behavior. We have invited neighbors, friends, primary teachers, grandparents, and cousins to our home for family night and it really helps the kids feel like we are doing something special (and if kids really outnumber the parents in your family, a few extra adults present does make that ratio a little more balanced). This has even had great results when we invited family to attend via Skype or Facetime because they were miles away. Give it a try and you’ll see!
10. Learn How to Teach from an Expert
As parents, you have a special God-given stewardship over your children. This means you have a right to receive direct revelation on how to best teach them. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, the best thing to do is go to your Father in Heaven and ask for help. You may get the inspiration to do something completely out of the box, but try it anyway! You are not alone in this endeavor. He is the Master Parent and He will guide you every step of the way. And that’s a lesson that, as His children, we need to take to heart.