Original article published HERE.
Contributed By Brian K. Ashton, Sunday School general presidency
“Although our family home evenings are still not perfect, along the way we’ve learned a few lessons that may help your family hold more effective family home evenings.” —Brian K. Ashton of the Sunday School general presidency
As a young family with seven children ranging in age from 3 to 16, we have had our ups and downs with family home evening.
For example, when we presided over the Texas Houston South Mission, Elder Stanley G. Ellis of the Seventy and his wife came to our home for family home evening during a mission tour. One of our younger children became so upset when he was not chosen to say the opening prayer that I had to carry him upstairs so that the others could hear the lesson. As I got to the top of the stairs, he escaped from my arms, ran toward a nearby wall, and, screaming at the top of his lungs, began to pound with both fists on a large painting.
Fortunately, with time and practice, our family home evenings have become more reverent and somewhat less animated. And although our family home evenings are still not perfect, along the way we’ve learned a few lessons that may help your family hold more effective family home evenings.
The Lord through His prophets has commanded that parents be the primary gospel teachers of our children (seeDeuteronomy 4:10; 6:7; Mosiah 4:14–15; Alma 39:13; D&C 68:25–28; 93:40–49; Moses 6:58). One of the ways modern-day prophets have commanded us to teach our children is through family home evening (see “100 Years of Family Home Evening,”Ensign and Liahona, Apr. 2015, 80).
Along with the instruction to hold family home evening came this promise: “If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them.”
1. Protect Monday nights
Once, in an effort to use our time most effectively, I scheduled one of our children’s basketball practices on Monday evenings after family home evening. This was the only day the practice facility was available, and I justified that I was also trying to use the practice as a missionary opportunity. While we still consistently held family home evening and the practices turned out to provide lots of missionary experiences, we found that having another activity on Monday night was disruptive to our family home evenings. The protective influence of the Spirit that we had felt previously was diminished, and our lives seemed much more chaotic. As we have reserved Monday evenings exclusively for family home evening, the time with our children has been far more productive, the Spirit has permeated our home more, and our lessons seem to be better received and make more of an impact.
2. Don’t forget to pray
Early in our marriage when we lived closer to family, we would sometimes get together with grandparents and cousins and have a swim party for family home evening. Occasionally, in the excitement of seeing everyone, we would jump in the pool and begin to play before we had a chance to have a lesson or even pray.
One time when this occurred, I had the impression that we needed to pray even though we had been in the pool for a little while. We asked everyone to be reverent while one of us offered a prayer. The change in the way we felt at that family home evening was palpable. We all had more fun, we were more unified, and the Spirit gave us some impromptu opportunities for golden teaching moments while we played. We learned from that experience to never forget to pray. Prayer always makes family home evening more successful and increases family unity.
3. Be creative
For a long time we struggled with the fact that our children’s attention spans were short. As we prayed about what to do, we found that there were lots of sources for lesson materials that were quite effective at capturing the attention of active children. We began to show Church-produced videos on topics that were relevant to our family’s needs, followed by well-thought-out questions and a robust family discussion. We discussed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet even though our children were still in Primary. We asked the children to read a general conference talk, and then we had one of them lead a discussion about the talk at family home evening. We learned to share far more personal experiences and testimonies. We would Skype or FaceTime with grandparents and have them teach the lesson. We invited the full-time and recently returned missionaries over to our home and had them share experiences from their missions. Our children would beg the missionaries to share “just one more” story. We even started to occasionally just hold a testimony meeting as our family home evening lesson.
4. Invite others to participate
We have found that family home evenings are often enhanced by inviting others to participate occasionally. Recently, some friends invited us to their family home evening. The mother gave a superb lesson on the characteristics of heroes. She ended the lesson by helping us see that Jesus is the greatest hero and that as we unselfishly serve others as all heroes do, we can be more like Christ. The Spirit taught us, and our children are likely to remember what they learned for a long time.
5. Have fun
Few things build family unity like a Spirit-filled lesson, a fun activity, and delicious treats. We love to play kickball and board games and go out for ice cream or yogurt after the lesson.
6. Work around challenges
For many years, it was hard to get our children to sit still and even remain in the room for some of our more serious, but necessary, lessons. We found that for some of these lessons, we had more success if we planned a fun activity and then taught the lesson in the car, including lots of family discussion, while we drove to the activity.
Occasionally we have felt prompted to teach a lesson while we ate dinner. We have also had success teaching a brief lesson, having an activity and treat, putting the little kids to bed, and then holding an “older kids” family home evening. And, of course, the more the lesson is activity based, the fewer disruptions we seem to have.
We continue to try new ideas. But the most important thing that we can do with family home evening is to hold it consistently. Melinda and I have been amazed at how much the Lord has blessed our efforts as we have consistently tried to teach our children through family home evening. What’s more, often when it seems like the children aren’t listening, later they’ll surprise us by mentioning something they learned. Most important, as we have been consistent in holding family home evening, we have received the blessings promised to us by modern-day prophets, including increased love at home, obedience, faith in the hearts of our children, and power to resist temptation.