Youth activities should be planned with gospel purposes in mind. During these activities, you should be alert for opportunities to help young people strengthen their testimonies, develop talents and leadership skills, give service, and develop friendships with others who are committed to gospel principles. The following suggestions may be helpful for leaders, teachers, and parents.
During youth activities, your example is your most powerful teaching tool. You teach young people through your actions, your casual conversation about others, your solutions to problems, the language you use, and the way you extend yourself to others.
For example, a group of young women learned a lesson from their leaders when their girls’ camp provided some surprising circumstances. They thought they would be attending a camp that provided cabins and electricity, and they had packed accordingly. When they arrived, however, only tents were available—with no electricity or other facilities. It would have been easy to complain, but the Young Women leaders set an example by choosing to laugh about the circumstances and do their best with what they had. Many years later, one of the young women recalled that camp as an important time for her. She said: “I will never forget sitting under a bush with some of the other girls and one of our leaders. All of us were laughing and trying to figure out how we would manage for the next three days. When I saw my leaders making the best of a difficult situation, I learned a great lesson about cheerfully adapting and helping others.”
You should not try to make activities into formal classes. However, there are often ways to build gospel teaching into activities.
For example, when an Aaronic Priesthood adviser heard President Ezra Taft Benson encourage families to read daily from the Book of Mormon, he was impressed with the promises given. He was especially touched by the promise that families would be blessed with the Spirit of the Lord in their homes if they would follow this counsel (see Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 3–4; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 4–6). The Aaronic Priesthood adviser recalled: “I thought, ‘If that promise applies to families, would it also apply to my Scout troop?’ I determined that we would begin having daily scripture reading time at Scout camp. Each morning before we began the day, we would gather together and read a chapter from the Book of Mormon. I testify that President Benson’s blessing was realized in our troop. From the day we began to read together, we never had a serious episode of difficulty among the boys. I hope that they came to understand the power of following the counsel of the prophet.”
That same leader also determined that he would never let a campfire service go by without bearing his testimony and encouraging each boy to serve a mission. Many years later, some of the young men he served thanked him for his campfire counsel and told him that it had influenced their decisions.
Often during activities, you will have unplanned opportunities to teach gospel principles (see also “Teaching Moments in Family Life,” pages 140–41). For example, when a group returned from a hike one afternoon, they noticed that two young women were missing. The leader immediately called the others together. They knelt in prayer and then made a plan to search for the missing girls. What could have been a serious problem was resolved when the young women were found within a few minutes. The leader again called everyone together, and they offered a heartfelt prayer of gratitude. After the prayer, the leader expressed her love for each of the young women and bore her testimony about the reality of Heavenly Father and His willingness to answer their prayers.
Activities can create experiences in which you and those you teach apply gospel principles. Whenever appropriate, take time after an activity to talk with the young people about the gospel principles they have applied. You can be guided by the following questions: What? So what? Now what?
What? Ask the young people to describe what happened during the activity and to talk about the people and the places involved. You might ask questions such as “What was the best part of the day?” or “What was the funniest thing that happened?” or “What was hard for you?”
So what? Ask participants to think about the activity in terms of gospel principles. You could ask questions such as “Why did we do what we did?” or “How did the activity help someone?” or “What did you learn from this activity?” or “What was difficult or easy for you?”
Now what? Ask the young people to think about how the activity might affect them in the future. This is important because it helps them feel committed to apply what they have learned. You could ask, “Will you do anything differently in the future because of what you learned today? If so, what?” Or you could ask them to finish the sentence “In the future, I will …”
You may want to use these questions as the basis for discussion in one or more of the following ways:
Guide an informal conversation on the way home from an event. A group of young men and women were on their way home from a service project in which they had spent time with children at a local children’s hospital. Even though many of the young people had been nervous at first, everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon. As they rode back to the meetinghouse, they began telling each other about the children they had worked with. They related funny things, good things, and sad things. One of the advisers was driving the car. She listened, asking questions once in a while and encouraging each person to say something about what had happened. Then she said, “Do you think our visit made a difference for any of those children?” There was a little hesitation, and then someone said, “I think so.” This prompted further discussion. The adviser continued to listen as the young people talked about why they were glad they had come and what they wanted to do in the future. This brief conversation helped everyone better understand the meaning of the afternoon’s experience.
Plan a few minutes at the close of an activity to talk about what happened and the lessons that can be drawn from it. This can be done at the end of a youth conference, camping experience, or temple excursion. You can do this just before you invite the youth to bear their testimonies.
Talk about the activity the next time you meet for a lesson. Remind the youth of what they felt and what they learned from the activity.
Before the youth plan their next activity, invite them to talk about the most recent activity. If there is much time between the past activity and the conversation about it, you may need to spend a little more time on the “What” questions listed on this page so that everyone can remember the event clearly.
Use activities as examples when you teach lessons. During lessons, you or assigned young people could talk about past activities that relate to the gospel principles being discussed.
Invite young people to write about activities. You may want to invite the youth to write in their journals about an activity or to write letters to missionaries in which they tell about a service project and what they learned from it.
Remember that activities should nurture faith and build bonds of love. Among the greatest gifts you can give young people are experiences in which they discover that the gospel applies in their lives.
For guidelines and policies for planning activities, see the “Activities” section of the Church Handbook of Instructions.