About the time our oldest child turned one, I started to worry a little about family home evening. I hadn’t enjoyed it much myself as a child, but my husband and I felt it was important—after all, there is quite a promise that goes with holding family home evening.
Now, after three years and two more children, we all look forward to Monday night. There seems to be a special love and happiness in our home afterwards. And we have learned through trial and error that there is one basic rule to follow to ensure continued success. Simply stated, it is this:
Make family home evening a time for the whole family by letting each member actively participate as much as possible.
It sounds simple, but failure to follow this rule is the biggest problem many families have.
Often, in young families especially, it falls to mom and dad to give the lesson. This can too easily turn into a lecture—a kind of mini church meeting, solemn and formal. We have found, however, that Monday is the best night of the week for our family. By giving even our very young children specific responsibilities and opportunities to participate, family home evening is not a burden but a much-anticipated chance to learn and laugh together.
The effort and time are well worth it. Here are some ideas that have worked for us—but that can be adapted to any family.
Our family consists of my husband, Scott; Heather, 4 1/2; Jeffrey, 3; Preston, 1 1/2; and myself.
The biggest help we have for keeping “the rule” is a family home evening chart. On it we list all the assignments for our family home evening. (We happen to have eight assignments right now.) We have two individual name markers for each member of the family; every week these markers are rotated to a different assignment. Scott makes the assignments for the next week after each family home evening. Now, instead of quarreling over who will be responsible for which activity, the two older children realize that each has an important assignment for the next Monday night, and everyone feels needed.
A second benefit of this chart is that lessons are better prepared because Scott and I can see whose turn it is to teach and we have a whole week to think and prepare. When it is her turn, Heather will spend the entire week preparing a lesson.
There is a side benefit from this chart also: it can be a great missionary tool. Because our chart is posted in the dining room, many of our nonmember neighbors have seen it, and it has led to some good gospel discussions. We have had one family join us for a family home evening because they were so interested. Following is a list of our assignments and how each family member is involved in them.
Long before a child can sing he seems to want to “lead” the music. He learns early that when we sing in church, someone stands in front and leads. In our family everyone gets a turn to “lead,” and while Preston still just waves his arm around, Heather and Jeffrey are starting to show some rhythm.
The song leader also chooses the song. We have been known to sing “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” for three weeks running, in the dead of winter, or “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in July. But we sing with gusto, nevertheless.
We are fortunate to have a piano, so we do most of our singing with accompaniment. Sometimes our accompanist isn’t playing the same song we are singing, but when the accompanist is only 1 1/2, we aren’t too demanding! With Jeffrey leading, Heather singing, Scott’s distinctive tenor, and my weak soprano, we put on quite a show—but it’s definitely a family show.
As soon as a child learns to talk, he can pray with some help. We let Heather and Jeffrey pray without help. These prayers are usually very short, and some strange things get blessed, but there is still a special spirit about their prayers.
We added this category after Heather was asked to give a talk in Primary and was too scared to do it. It gives the children a chance to practice preparing and presenting brief talks, but Scott and I take our turn because the power of example is great. We help the youngsters prepare their talks by encouraging them to choose a topic and some ideas to go with it. Then we practice with them. We also make picture cue-cards for them but we encourage them not to use the cue-cards unless they really need to. We have had talks about the beautiful world, what Jesus has done for us, and car safety. Our efforts have been rewarding. A few weeks ago we forgot to help Heather prepare a talk for Primary. When it was time for the talk she stood up and gave a beautiful impromptu talk. Also, the children have not been afraid to give a talk in front of neighbors who come for family home evening.
This is another category which we added mainly for the children, but in which we all take turns. The children learn performing and listening skills, and it is our youngest’s favorite assignment. He sits with his nose about level with the piano keyboard, his hands barely reaching the keys, and plays some untitled number, grinning from ear to ear. He loves the applause. Jeffrey received a toy harmonica for Christmas and loves to play his musical numbers on it. He has immortalized our street through a number entitled “Robin Road.” It doesn’t take expensive instruments to enjoy musical numbers in family home evening.
Lessons don’t have to be given by mom or dad. If someone will take the time to help, a three-year-old can prepare and give a lesson. We practice for days, with lots of visual aids to help, and both Heather and Jeffrey enjoy presenting a lesson. All week I hear “I get to give the lesson for family home evening.”
Even when Scott or I give the lesson, the children are involved. They can tell the stories from the manual, and also help me make the visual aids. Flannel-board stories work very well with our family. I trace the characters, toys, animals, or whatever is needed for the story from a book, and give these figures to the children to color and cut out. We have green-haired daddies, purple dogs missing tails, and pink suns, but when story time comes and the children see their figures being used, they feel important. They also listen more attentively. Heather has some real art talent, so we have even let her draw her own pictures and figures to go with lessons. She told a story last week with fifteen hand-drawn illustrations. You can be sure she enjoyed that lesson.
When we don’t have a lesson, we have a family activity. One week, for instance, we built a dog house.
We always play a short game after the lesson. Our game person chooses the game and is in charge. Right now our games are very simple; their object is simply to give the whole family a chance to laugh and play together and to provide a happy ending to the evening.
Almost every Monday afternoon two chairs are dragged to the kitchen counter and three little cooks line up to help make the treat. The assigned treat person is in charge. He chooses what to make, dumps the majority of the ingredients into the bowl, decides who gets the spatula and who gets the egg beaters, and listens for the oven timer while the product is baking. Then he gets the first “official” taste. Ultimately, he is the one to serve the treat at family home evening. These treats are simple, but the children are always proud of their cooking.
We try to take equal turns at every assignment. None of the assignments are just for the kids or just for the parents—and we feel these ideas can be adapted to any family size and any age group.
We must honestly admit that we still have some bad nights. The children may be tired or the parents grumpy. We still forget to plan ahead occasionally, and we have even muddled through a lesson not really prepared for the children. But these bad times are not as frequent as they once were. We also can identify why we had the problem and know how to avoid it the next week.
As we see our children growing in gospel knowledge, learning social skills, and developing their talents, and as we grow in love as a family, we realize the rewards of family home evening. It does take time and planning, but it certainly pays off.