From my childhood I have understood the importance of family home evening—our family held councils long before the home evening program was implemented. So when our own children were just one and two years old, my husband and I were anxious to involve them in family home evening. But we didn’t quite know how to adapt the lessons for children as young as ours.
Our success began with a simple idea—which was actually our response to another problem. Since we lived in a two-bedroom apartment, when a new baby went from his bassinet to a crib he joined the other two children in their room. Suddenly the noise level seemed to triple. It wasn’t just in the bedroom, either. With too little space for play, their toys and noise were all over the apartment.
In desperation, we decided to have a simple family home evening lesson on the theme of speaking softly in our home. I made a very primitive drawing of a boy with his mouth wide open. Then we made up a story about a boy named Larry. He spoke too loudly in the house and awakened little Bobby, who began to cry. (We all took turns crying for little Bobby.) Then Larry said, “I’m sorry, Bobby.” And Larry promised to speak softly in the house and save his loud voice for outside.
Simple? Yes, but effective. As the week progressed, the children would pick up the drawing and retell the story, crying for Bobby and making Larry’s promise. And whenever the noise level reached its height, a quick reminder was most effective.
We have found some guidelines for our little crew: First, we keep the lesson very short (two or three minutes), with one simple theme. Second, we repeat the lesson. In fact, we usually have the same lesson for two or three weeks until the children can actually give us the lesson. Then we move on to another subject.
Our format for family home evening is something like this: We sing a Church-related song from Sing with Me, such as “A Happy Family” or “Quickly I Obey,” a lesson in itself. At first it seemed we were singing to them, but now our children know the words and feel comfortable singing out. Our song is followed by an opening prayer. Then we have our lesson. (Since we have a fireplace, the children have started their own tradition of sitting down on the hearth during our home evening. Having them sit gives a sense of structure to the evening, rather than having just a continuation of playtime.) Our lesson is followed by songs they choose and finger plays. Our closing song is again gospel-related. We close by kneeling in prayer.
The family home evening manual gives many good suggestions for topics. Our family loves to hear stories from the scriptures or lives of the prophets, but our best successes have come from looking into the special needs of our own family.
One month we talked about tithing. The children have banks and often collect our extra change. So on Monday night we got ten pennies for each child; they deposited nine of their pennies, and then we filled out a tithing envelope for the extra penny. (This was too advanced for our one-year-old, but he did put pennies in the bank with the others, and in time he’ll understand the rest.) They now explain that they give their tithing to the bishop and he gives it to Jesus’ helpers to help build temples and send out missionaries. And they really enjoy handing that money to the bishop and receiving a handshake.
On the Fourth of July we wanted to give them some idea of why we have a picnic and fireworks and fly flags. So we sang “Happy Birthday to You” and filled in the blank with the word America. (The patriotic songs were too hard.) They looked for flags all day long.
One week we tried something different. When I am out of reach or hearing, the children are very eager to answer our phone. But I feel it can be aggravating for a caller when a little one is enjoying playing on the line. So we had a lesson on proper phone etiquette. They each took turns answering the pretend phone, practicing the simple conversation and quickly getting mommy. A few days later my neighbor called just to test them, and the reply was perfect.
Two experiences this year have also shown us the value of family home evening. What we felt might be traumatic events for our young ones turned out to be valuable experiences without any lasting emotional problems.
Benjy fell and had to have caps put on his front teeth. Even the doctor was concerned about the trauma for such a young person. So we spent a few home evenings on the subject of reliance on our Heavenly Father. We wanted to reassure our three-year-old that even when mommy and daddy couldn’t be with him, Heavenly Father could be. Benjy went through this experience extremely well, and even the doctor was surprised. There was no need for dangerous drugs or anesthetics. His self-confidence and reliance on the Lord got him through.
Then Myla, our two-year-old, became lost in the shopping mall. After searching for her in all the nearby stores, we called on the mall security force for help; it was almost an hour before she was found. Our main concern, when it was all over, was the effect it would have on her. So we came home and held a special family home evening. There is a wonderful little finger play in one family home evening manual entitled “Ronald’s Kitty.” (Ronald loses his kitty and ends up praying. Heavenly Father helps him find it.) After the game we asked, “Who in our family was lost today?” Myla’s “me” let us know that this event was still strong in her mind. We then compared the two incidents. Having dealt with her own experience through “Ronald’s Kitty,” she had no terrible after effects—no fears or nightmares during the week.
For us, family home evening has become a simple and effective teaching time. If you have tiny children and are wondering how to involve them, begin this week with a simple lesson on one of your family’s needs. We can guarantee that family home evening will be one of the best experiences you and your little ones have ever shared.