They may not seem important when compared with family home evening, scripture study, or family prayer. But for families that have discovered the influence they can have, family projects are as important as anything they do.
A project may have immediate and direct results, but it may also have valuable indirect results. Projects may have such direct results as a freshly painted house or fence, a completed four-generation pedigree chart, or a larger savings account for missions or college.
On the other hand, projects may have such indirect results as strengthening family relationships, clarifying family values and interests, generating valuable memories, or refining qualities of character.
“Doing family projects has helped both our younger and our older children in some needed ways,” one father reported. “Lessons and scripture-time at our house got quite stressful, to the point where we even gave up for a time. We had decided that the age-spread of our children made serious talk impossible. But then, during the last year, we have done a few projects together, requiring the older ones to work with and help the younger ones, and I think some new relationships have been forged. Working together on less serious things seems to have made it possible for us to have serious times together without so much tension.”
One of the family’s projects was planting a family garden as teams. Their six children paired off, an older child with a younger one. Together they were to plant, water, weed, and tend a section of the vegetable garden. At harvest, team members were allowed to sell their pumpkins and corn and could decide for themselves what they would do with their earnings.
“The pride they each took in their work,” the father added, “brought rewards beyond the amount they earned at the roadside stand at harvesttime. They had discovered an appreciation for each other that can only be learned by cooperative effort.”
One resourceful family turned to their dog for a family project. Once a year, the family bred their purebred West Highland White Terrier. The money the family earned from selling the litter of purebred puppies paid for all their Christmas gifts. Included in the discussion of weekly chores at family council was the assignment to care for and feed their pet.
Children need to experience the pride and confidence that come from seeing a job through. One family canned fruit together by getting up early to peel and slice the fruit before school. By helping with the project, the children gained an appreciation for the time and effort that went into the job. They also felt important and took great pride in their accomplishments. Some of the children packed the fruit in artistic ways and marked the lids of their jars with their initials.
Projects provide opportunities for children to develop such personal qualities as patience, cooperation, industry, perseverance, and creativity. One father built a greenhouse to give his children extra opportunities for meaningful work. It is even easier to engage children in a family project when the project is something they have a vested interest in—like a new tree house, a basketball standard, or a bedroom.
One of the most valuable benefits children can gain from family projects is the personal growth that comes from serving others. The children who helped their father construct a wheelchair ramp to the porch of a disabled neighbor’s house discovered a rare joy in their labor of love. They also developed some carpentry skills they went on to use in other projects.
That is often how it is with family projects—talents are discovered and developed that can bring a lifetime of personal growth and enjoyment. One family produced a family history pageant for a family reunion in which the parents and children learned a variety of skills: carpentry, sewing, and managing money properly. In another family, the mother formed an orchestra from among her own children and from others in the ward who were taking lessons on musical instruments. The experience was not only enjoyable for the children and their families, but it also encouraged the development of character traits like hard work, dependability, and an appreciation for good music rarely found in children so young.
Another source of family projects is hobbies. One young couple decided that, instead of buying a television set, they would buy a photographic enlarger. In their first apartment, they set up a darkroom in a bathroom to develop their own photographs. Their children adopted photography as a hobby as they grew up, and it is now a family avocation, with both personal and financial rewards.
Of course, a project can be valuable even if it involves only one of the children. Children’s interests differ, and what will excite one child may bore another. Sometimes it is best to tailor a number of projects to meet the different needs of family members—even if that need is just to have fun with Mom or Dad.
Family councils are an ideal time for discussing ways to meet a need. In a family council, several alternatives for projects can be presented, and everyone can be encouraged to share his or her ideas. This approach can help parents assess the actual interest of the children before proceeding with a project.
Once a project has been selected and agreed on by all involved, the project can be planned. A plan should indicate what each person will do and when it must be done. A parent or a child assigned to chair the project committee can delegate the assignments.
What an opportunity such projects offer for memories! Family projects can imprint upon the minds of rapidly growing children fond memories of a productive, active, enjoyable home and memories of “the way we do things” that can continue to be shared for generations.
Sit down together and make a list of possible family projects. This is a time for family ingenuity and individual style. The following list is suggested only as a beginning for your discussion:
Building and Fixing Things Together
Making shelves for a garage, a storeroom, or a bedroom
Building a dollhouse
Making a sandbox
Painting our (or another’s) house
Landscaping the yard
Installing a sprinkling system
Building a fence
Reshingling a roof
Production and Resource
Planting gardens or orchards
Preserving and storing food
Sewing or making things to sell
Selling baked goods
Researching family histories
Collecting or preserving old photographs
Attending musical or dramatic events
Raising or tending pets
Studying a subject like history, the arts, or science
Hobbies, Sports, and Crafts
Collecting dolls, stamps, coins, rocks, artwork, or antiques
Setting up family sports tournaments, such as in softball, tennis, golf, or bowling
Exercising regularly together
Taking hikes or camping out
Having family slumber parties
Playing table games like chess or checkers