My children think the Friend is for them,” she said, smiling. “But I know better. It’s for me.”
And she brought out a box full of the last three years’ issues. The older they were, the more worn they looked.
“Before the children ever see the Friend, I read it. I go over the stories, see what the activities are.” She thumbed through the December 1977 issue. “The advent calendar, for instance—I guess I could have cut it out and made it myself. But I wanted my children to have the fun of making it, not just seeing it, and they’re still too young to handle a cutting knife. So I’m saving it for a few years from now.
“But the directions for making golf club covers they printed—my husband is a golfer, and so my seven-year-old and I made him four of these for Christmas last year. She could never have read the directions well enough to do it alone. But because I had read them, she was able to make her own gift for her daddy. And she loved it.”
Does that mother sound like anyone you know? You, for instance? Or your wife? Parents all over the Church have learned that the Friend is most valuable to children when Mother and Father read it, too.
“My oldest daughter can read most of the stories herself now,” one father said. “But every now and then she still brings me the Friend and says, ‘Read me to sleep, Daddy.’ You see, that’s one of the special things we do with our children. Each one has his or her ‘very own night’ with us. And I’ve made it a habit to read each one a story from the Friend at the end of that night.”
“It means they’re grown up when they can read their own magazine themselves,” another father said. “Dougie got his confidence up just a few weeks ago and said, ‘You don’t have to read that story to the little kids. I already did.’ They had been playing house or something like that, and Dougie was being Daddy.”
Some families build whole family home evenings around something in the Friend. The May 1977 issue had a center spread on Be Kind to Animals Month. “It made for a great lesson on how to treat animals properly,” one couple reported. “We practiced petting gently on a stuffed dog, and using a small pillow all of the children practiced picking up a small animal carefully. We still don’t have a dog or cat of our own—but I know the neighborhood animals are grateful that we had that lesson!”
There probably isn’t a parent in the world who hasn’t at some time or another heard the plaintive cry, “There’s nothing to do!” And there are probably not very many parents who haven’t said, “You have a whole closet full of toys.” The truth is, of course, that the child doesn’t want toys—he wants time. From his parents. And the Friend is full of things that parents can do with children.
In July 1977 there were three recipes for young cooks—and a son or daughter could say, “Mommy helped me make lunch today.” In December 1977 there were instructions for Christmas tree ornaments children could be taught to make—and a son or daughter could proudly tell visitors, “Daddy and I made that snowman on a swing.”
Store-bought trains can be fun to play with—but not half as much fun as the train made out of shoeboxes that the child made himself (September 1977). The little hands that might be cutting up a tablecloth or drawing with crayons on the wall might be better employed making a mosaic of a fish out of seeds and beans (November 1977) or cutting out and building a colonial village (July 1976).
And children learn from the Friend. If you don’t think so, try finding all the items in a “hidden pictures” page—and then have your ten-year-old find them. Who will do it faster? They learn facts—what causes an eclipse of the sun; who the real Alice of Alice in Wonderland was; about the “cows” that “cowboy ants” take care of. They learn about other cultures—Chinese, in “An Eagle for the Emperor” (November 1977); Brazilian, in “Bicicleta” (October 1977); American Indian, in “The Provider” (July 1977).
Gospel stories appear frequently, and practically every story provides inherent teaching about how good people behave. Safety rules, how fun it is to share, honesty, showing love even to people who aren’t nice, obedience, helping parents: the lessons are learned painlessly, bit by bit, in delightful stories that the children love to read or hear for their own sake.
Those lessons in how to live the Lord’s way, however, are most effective when parents use those stories. Instead of just saying, “You’re supposed to share with your brother, Jeff!” why not say, “Remember how Randy didn’t share his ball, and so he didn’t have any fun with it at all? It’s more fun to play when two people are playing, remember?” That way the story goes on teaching, as it’s applied to the child’s daily life.
But a parent can’t use a magazine he doesn’t read! You know that, if you read the Friend already—and if you don’t, when you read an issue you may discover, as many others have, that you end up reading the Friend for fun, not just as a way to better teach your children.
“I’ve got to admit,” a mother said sheepishly, “that I do all the puzzles very lightly in pencil and then erase them.” And just because a story is “for children” doesn’t mean an adult can’t read and enjoy it! The best children’s stories are just as pleasurable for adults as they are for children—and the Friend has some of the best children’s stories being published today.
Those of us who were raised on Barnabee Bumbleberry and other delightful features of the Children’s Friend may have grown up; but we have children of our own now. The Friend today is even better prepared to delight them, teach them, entertain them.
But the Friend is most fun for a child when he or she shares the experience with Mother and Father.
And Mother and Father may well find themselves sneaking peeks at the latest issue themselves. “So I can help my children enjoy it,” they say, and it’s true. But they also look at the “hidden pictures” page for a long time, counting items on their fingers as they do.
They don’t call it the Children’s Friend anymore. And part of the reason is that it’s everybody’s Friend.