Family Place Mats

Teach your children about family relationships by using family place mats. They’re colorful, long-wearing, and easily washed with warm water.

To make them you’ll need heavy, brightly colored poster paper, a roll of transparent contact paper, and a couple of fine-point, felt-tipped pens in contrasting colors. These supplies are available at local office-supply centers or variety stores.

Each piece of poster paper may be cut into three 11-by-17-inch mats. On these mat pieces, draw figures to represent each member of the immediate family—mom, dad, and children. Draw a line to represent a ribbon or rope connecting each family member (see illustration), then write each person’s name under the figure representing him. Border designs, flowers, or other ideas may be used for decoration. Make sure you leave the middle space clear so the plate doesn’t cover up any family member.

Next, measure the contact paper. Each piece should be at least one and a half inches larger on all sides than the mat. You’ll need two pieces this size for each mat. Strip backing from one piece of contact paper, lay it flat on the table, sticky side up, and carefully place the mat in the center of the paper. Press the mat firmly into place. Strip another piece of contact paper and carefully place it, sticky side down, on top of the mat. In putting this piece on, it’s best to lay contact paper at the top edge and then carefully let it fall downward, pressing out air bubbles as it falls toward the bottom of the mat. Press the mat firmly all over and trim the edges evenly all around so that the contact paper makes a one-inch border.

Make one mat for each child in the family. Next, make one for mom and dad where they appear as children with their brothers and sisters. And for those special occasions when the grandparents come to dinner, have special mats showing them as children with their brothers and sisters. Janet R. Balmforth, Provo, Utah

Cocoa, Crackers, and Journals

When we tried to get our younger children to establish the habit of journal keeping, we were met with complaints of “I can’t remember anything,” and “I can’t write.” We solved the problem by switching to the scribe method.

At a regular time each week (Sunday afternoon for us), each child takes a turn sitting in the “journal chair” and dictating events of the week to father or mother. With gentle reminding and with encouragement from animal crackers and cocoa, young memories are refreshed and pleasant experiences are recorded. (We keep the animal crackers in a jar marked “For journal use only”—to inspire mid-week entries.)

If there’s an empty space on a page, the child will often fill it with illustrations and writing that show his efforts at drawing, printing, and spelling.

As the journal becomes progressively thicker, the child’s commitment to it becomes stronger. When I asked my ten-year-old what one possession she would save if the house caught fire, she promptly answered, “My journal.” Fae Swinyard, Orem, Utah

Looseleaf Letters

Writing to a missionary son was a great way to summarize the weekly activities of our family, though it often crowded out my own journal keeping. Furthermore, his letters to us were getting smudged and misplaced as our nine children all took turns reading them.

Then a bookstore owner gave me the idea of using journal paper. Our son now sends us his letters on paper that fits in the standard looseleaf missionary diary. We have purchased a binder and have put it in a convenient place so that at any time we can read over the letters he has sent. We write our letters to him on the same kind of paper. When he returns, we will have a good record of the family for the past two years, all ready to file in another binder. Carolyn W. Winegar, Sandy, Utah

Name That Hymn

With the consolidated schedule, the opportunity to learn and practice hymns is limited. To help us solve this musical dilemma, for the last few years our family has enjoyed an educational game called “Name That Hymn,” adapted from a popular T.V. game show. I play one chord first, and the children try to guess the title of the hymn. If they do not know it, I play two chords, and so on until they raise their hands. When someone finally identifies it, we sing the hymn together.

When we first started learning the hymns this way the children could recognize only about a dozen of their favorites. Now they can identify over a hundred hymns after hearing only one or two chords. Even our two-year-old boy plays and sings along. Besides the beautiful sounds of hymns ringing in our home, we have found peaceful joy in singing praises to the Lord. Dale S. Richards, Medina, New York

There’s Plenty to Do

With seven children under twelve years of age, my sister-in-law, Karma Lewis, is very busy. After several occasions when her children wailed “There’s nothing to do” and then rejected her suggestions, Karma posted a list of about thirty activities on the refrigerator. The older children read it themselves, and Karma reads it to the younger ones.

The items are listed simply, in one or two words, so the child is not limited and must use his imagination in deciding what to do. For instance, “puppets” may send one child in the direction of the box of hand puppets, while another may go to the craft supplies and make finger puppets from paper.

Other items included are bikes, skates, puzzles, paste, playhouse, color books, tent, play dough, ball, and gym equipment. The only rule is that the child must think of something to do. If he makes it clear down the list and still has nothing to do, he must accept the last item on the list: take a nap. It seems no child ever gets that far down the list. Paula J. Lewis, San Bernardino, California

No-Fat Gravy

Use ice cubes to collect unwanted fat from the roasting pan before you thicken the liquid for gravy. The fat will solidify around the ice cubes, making it easy to spoon from the pan. None of the broth is wasted. Janice K. Aubrey, Provo, Utah

No Room for Problems

When Elder Marvin J. Ashton discussed “No Time for Contention” in his April 1978 conference address, he emphasized that “in place of arguments and friction between family members, ours is to build, listen, and reason together” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 8). In the weeks that followed, the idea remained strongly with my husband and me that the way to overcome contention and unhappiness in family life would be to focus on positive activities and attitudes, not on problems. As we pondered the idea and sought to translate it into our daily life, we began to receive answers to our prayers that made us increasingly aware of how important this principle is.

For example, when we prayed about teaching our six-year-old son Myron to do the right things, the answer seemed completely unrelated to the immediate problem. It was, “Get him a dog.” We couldn’t understand the reason for such an answer, but since we felt good about it, we got a puppy. As Myron worked at training “Cuddles” and caring for him, he grew to love the puppy and learned to sacrifice for him.

Another time, we prayed about discipline problems—and were prompted to make music more important in our home. Since I am a musician, I decided to give all the children piano lessons. I also wrote a book of songs for our family, and with my husband’s encouragement we sing these songs as well as hymns before dinner, before studying the scriptures, while doing the dishes, or while riding in the car. We have found that singing together and developing our talents together has brought us closer as a family.

These kinds of experiences have been uplifting and rewarding, and have encouraged us to look for other rewarding approaches to solving family problems. Truly, it is in the home that we find some of our greatest happiness in living the principles of the gospel. Suzanne H. Hill, Provo, Utah

[illustration] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

[photo] Photography by Marilyn E. Péo