First comes the riddle: “Know how to swallow an elephant? One bite at a time, but it tastes even better with ketchup.” Next, a construction-paper elephant is tacked to the bulletin board and our home evening begins. Our song, “Forgiveness,” found in Sing with Me, is followed by an opening prayer.
Holding effective family home evenings can sometimes seem as difficult as swallowing an elephant, but we think we have discovered a way for home evening to be a lot of fun for every member of our family. And this has been no easy task—our seven children range in age from twenty years to six months.
When my teenagers began to be more interested in television and their friends than in family home evening, and they looked pitifully bored all during the lesson, my husband and I decided we had to do something. Even he and I were starting to dread these evenings. I reasoned that Heavenly Father wants us to hold home evening; that he knows the needs and problems of teenagers, children, and adults; and therefore that there must be a way to hold their interest and teach them at the same time.
I began to pray for inspiration. As soon as I thought of something I considered innovative, I tried it out on my family. We had a few good moments, but the evenings were still mostly dull. I began to look around for ideas. Ward preparation meetings proved to be extremely helpful; at one of them I learned that important lessons need not take a long time to teach, that in fact they could be learned in a minute or less.
I picked up other ideas at the numerous firesides I attended with my husband, who was a high councilor assigned to work with the young adults. I heard many speakers, and I took mental notes of those qualities that appealed to youth and those that didn’t. I also discovered, as many others have, that involvement is the main key to getting both young and old interested.
I had always felt that variety is the spice of life, and I wondered if our children might be more receptive to our home evenings if we used more variety in the presentation of the lessons, songs, and everything else we did. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Our family consists of teenagers, a ten-year-old, a toddler, an infant, and mom and dad, so I knew that whatever we did would have to appeal to all ages. I made a list of some of the things we wanted our children to know before they reached maturity, and then my husband and I set some goals.
Our first assignment was to visit the local LDS bookstore to get an idea of the instructional materials available. In doing so, we realized that our resources would in no way allow us to purchase the wealth of information and helps we saw. So we decided to first make an inventory of what we already had in our home and in our ward library. Next we would use our imaginations; we would pick up ideas from the family home evening manuals, seminary lessons, magazine articles, and meetings we attended, and adapt these ideas to our family’s needs. We would then purchase a few of the basic materials, including tape-recorded talks by General Authorities, stories, ideas for family activities, and helps for small children. We found that even these things added up in cost, so a friend and I decided we’d each purchase some materials and then exchange books and ideas. Finally, we invested in plenty of paper, pencils, and a bulletin board.
After a year of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try …” we are now holding interesting, effective home evenings. At first we incurred some other problems which we soon remedied. Two of our children attend early-morning seminary and leave home at 7:30 A.M. every weekday. These same children are also involved in school sports and, except on Fridays, do not get home before 7 P.M. By the time they eat, help with chores, and get their homework and clothes ready for school the next day, they are tired. And by that time our younger children also want to go to bed.
The consolidated meeting schedule had just been put in effect, and we had a lot of extra time on Sunday afternoons and evenings. We felt we needed to keep our children at home as much as possible during this time so that we could involve them in activities that would teach them to keep the Sabbath day holy. Therefore, Sunday evening seemed to be the best time to hold a full family home evening. Of course, we still spend time together as a family on Monday evenings, but the time is spent in recreation. We reserve the lesson for Sunday when we are less pressured by time and circumstances.
At first our children objected, saying they had had enough church for one day. But with our insistence, they decided to give it a try. We agreed on 5 P.M. and decided that, except for extreme circumstances, everyone was to be at home and ready by 4:45 P.M. This gave us time enough after Sunday meetings, which ended at 12:30 P.M., and Sunday dinner to relax a little and prepare.
The next problem we encountered was telephone interruptions. We solved this by reminding our callers that we were holding home evening. We also encouraged our children to tell their friends that they would be unavailable for a while in the evening for anything except emergencies. After several weeks nearly all interruptions stopped.
Our children feel that we haven’t really had home evening unless we play games, so we needed to find games that keep us in tune with the Sabbath day and teach gospel principles. This isn’t as hard as it seemed because we have learned to make a game out of nearly everything we do.
For lesson material, we discovered numerous topics we wanted to cover, but we didn’t want to spend too much time on any one subject. Most cassette talks are too long unless we divide a tape and listen to part of it one week and another part the next week. Also, we decided that our family needed to know more about the scriptures, so we agreed to spend about five minutes listening to a Book of Mormon tape and answering questions. Sometimes we find it necessary to replay the tape so that everyone has a fair chance to answer all the questions. If we learn one concept, we feel that is enough at the time. But usually we learn more.
When we use the lessons in the family home evening manual, we condense the material into one or two main ideas and use several scriptures and a short story to illustrate. A good short flannel-board story helps to keep the younger ones interested. And we have found that when it is well presented, everyone else enjoys it. To introduce a new lesson or review a previous one we occasionally use a skit. We then tack the main idea, which has been typed on a piece of paper, to the bulletin board where all can see it during the week. Usually the paper is glued to a piece of construction paper with a specific shape, that of an elephant, for example, since this creates a special effect.
Articles and short stories in Church magazines appeal to our family, and we like to share one during each home evening. We also like to read novels together. We find that when we read a chapter each week we eagerly anticipate the next chapter the following week. The younger children are given a connect-the-dot puzzle or a gospel-related picture to color while the article or chapter is read.
For music we usually choose songs from Sing with Me. Each song has an important message; and because the words and music are simple, our young children participate enthusiastically. The rest of us also enjoy these songs. We sing rounds and fun songs occasionally, but try to use only those with an important message like “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” We also use familiar hymns.
To summarize, we keep everything we do short and simple. We try to be well prepared so that we can move quickly from one activity to another without unnecessary lulls. And we try to add a lot of variety to keep the interest high. We find that we are learning a little about a lot of things and really enjoying it.
After reading “Home Evening: Fun for All Ages,” you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a husband/wife study period.
1. What ideas in this article could you use to introduce more variety into your home evenings to make them more enjoyable for everyone?
2. Where can you go for new ideas for lessons, music, games, and other activities?
3. What can you do to solve problems of time and prevent interruptions during your family home evenings?
4. Other than the ideas mentioned in this article, what can you do to simplify and enliven the various aspects of your home evenings?