“How Church Programs Help Build Our Family,” Ensign, Feb. 1976, 39
“These are turbulent times.”
Parents don’t have to look far to realize the significance of President Spencer W. Kimball’s urgent counsel to strengthen our homes. (See “Home: The Place to Save Society,” Ensign, Jan. 1975, pp. 3–10.) We can see danger in our neighborhood stores, newspapers, television, and even in many of our schools.
But we are also surrounded by innumerable opportunities for uplifting and edifying experiences. Our challenge as busy parents is much more than preparing our children to resist evil; we are also responsible for helping them actively seek for the “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” activities.
Last fall, at the beginning of a new Church year, we decided to make our home a center for learning in the context of the gospel, where we would use the rich resources provided by the Church to actively explore and expand our world, friendships, understandings, and talents. In that gospel context, we would try to share blessings with others by extending influences for good from our home back into the world.
Here are a few ideas that worked extremely well for us. Admittedly, they required an enormous initial investment of time and effort, but the benefits are many: more productive use of time and energy, better correlated family affairs, and more cooperation and individual initiative on the part of each family member.
Since the Lord sent us here for the purpose of growing and becoming like him, we wanted to help our children grow individually as well as with the entire family. We wanted everyone to recognize his growth and feel the joy in accomplishment, to naturally stimulate more growth. But growth is a subtle and often complex process—difficult to discern, direct, or measure. So we asked for help.
Our first idea was shaped, in part, by nine years of living near Hill Cumorah. We decided to bury a family treasure in our back yard! The idea was simple. At the beginning of the year we would assemble a descriptive summary of our current activities and interests. This “treasure” would be buried, then unearthed a year later to see what growth we had experienced over that period of time.
It was relatively easy. Mother wrote a brief narrative, highlighting the characteristics and accomplishments of the five children, ranging from two months to eight years. We tape-recorded an interview with the older children, reviewing age, height, weight, activities at church and school, friends, hobbies, and a variety of other subjects, to identify ranges of interest and levels of understanding. The recording also included a sample of each child singing, two of them playing the piano, and the soft gurgling of the baby. The children enjoyed selecting and producing their best drawings, which were added to a variety of photographs.
To complete the treasure, we added a brief summary of objectives for the coming year. As a final precaution, copies of the contents were made for safekeeping above ground—just in case. While the treasure was being assembled, the children helped select a site and dig a hole. Then the treasure was sealed in a sturdy, waterproof container and buried.
The buried treasure will probably become a family tradition, because it provides a relatively simple way to create mileposts for noting growth, and a basis for setting priorities for future progress.
But the yearly buried treasure alone wouldn’t sustain progress. We needed a convenient and practical way to guide short-term growth, and the resources and ideas developed through the priesthood correlation program of the Church have served our family well. Here are some that we have used:
The family home evening program has become our basic tool for making the home a center for learning. The manual has made it easy and enjoyable to relate daily activities to gospel precepts. We found this advice from an earlier manual to be most helpful:
“It is important to tailor your home evenings to your family needs, not only in the subjects that you choose but in the way you prepare and present them. Do those things suggested that will really appeal to your children and skip those things that will not. The home evenings are written to help families, not to bind them to some program that does not meet their needs. Indeed, sometimes the most successful home evenings are the original personal ones the family develops by itself.” (Family Home Evening Manual, 1971, p. 8.)
Following this counsel, we scheduled the lessons from the manual (and some homemade ones) a year in advance to provide a balance and perspective and to ensure effective timing. For example, lessons on the Savior were scheduled for Christmas and Easter, repentance for New Year’s, and genealogy and temples at the time we planned a trip to one of the temples. To inspire more service to others, lessons and stories about Lincoln, Washington, and Church leaders were scheduled for February. Lessons to stimulate a gospel-centered awareness of subjects like the earth and skies, plants and animals, our wonderful bodies, technology, and arts were targeted for the summer to take advantage of warmer weather and longer days.
This schedule did not result in a mechanical pattern; instead, we allowed for flexibility to whatever needs and opportunities that might arise.
Furthermore, knowing our lessons for a year in advance has let us plan many daily experiences and special trips to prepare for particular lessons. For example, we have hatched live chickens, watched ants build in a toy ant city, and explored our own backyard for the wonders of nature in preparation for a home evening discussion of God’s omniscience and creativity, and of our potential as his children.
To stimulate and support the individual growth of our children, we have borrowed and adopted the idea of goal selection from the Aaronic Priesthood-Young Women. Each week, usually on a Sunday, we spend a few minutes with each child, discussing what he or she has been doing during the past week and what he’d like to do during the coming week. Out of these discussions, simple goals are set. Putting them in writing and illustrating them for our nonreaders has increased follow-through. Here are samples of some that have been developed during the year:
Learn two new piano pieces
Learn 15 new words from the list in My Little Green Story Book
Get five happy faces on my work chart
Go one day without arguing
Tell a story in home evening about someone who testifies of Christ
Carry out my church assignment
Keep my room clean for three days
Sprout some wheat and report on the experiment
Early in the year, the two oldest children took the initiative and began coming to us with their plans for the week already worked out. We were thrilled with this and impressed with the scope and the realism of their objectives. We try to set an example by establishing goals for ourselves and letting the children know about some of the things we’re trying to accomplish.
Throughout the week, we make it a point to spend time with each child to help him carry out his plans and share his feelings of accomplishment. Incidentally, it is not uncommon for a member of the family, including parents, not to accomplish a plan. But these occasions are good times to discuss realistic planning or persistence in follow-through.
To help visualize progress and to honor accomplishment, we made an “apple tree” wall hanging for each member of the family. These are displayed in our family learning center under the caption, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Each time someone achieves a goal, he gets a little red apple; a golden apple is awarded if the deed involves service. When a specified number of apples is earned, a special certificate is presented, listing the child’s accomplishments; he also receives a treat or special activity of his choosing. We then begin anew with an empty tree with a bushel of apples at its base.
We also use other forms of recognition designed to build interest in the Church’s achievement programs. Some results of this recognition program are better rapport, better direction and counsel for growth, and a greater sense of cooperation in family duties. The increase in individual initiative has amply rewarded whatever extra effort may have been required.
A family yearbook of stories and photographs highlights our yearly activities and accomplishments. Family home evening summaries reinforce concepts and commitments. A review of daily experiences features the accomplishments of goal-setting. The yearbook also updates our family history (essentially a genealogical abridgment), noting growth achieved, emphasizing spiritual insights gained during the year, and presenting goals for the coming year. At the end of each year, this record becomes the core of our buried treasure for the following year.
We have found it essential to plan together, as husband and wife, to lead our family more effectively. Someone observed that managing our homes should receive the same careful attention we give to managing our businesses.
The first Sunday evening of the month has been an ideal time to plan our family business for the coming month. Once the children are in bed, we review forthcoming commitments, coordinate calendars, schedule followup items, review the progress and needs of the family and of individual children, and plan home evening assignments. Our agenda and notes are kept in a “correlation notebook.”
Shorter checkup sessions each week have helped plan more detailed items and made it possible to involve the children in making visual aids and presentations for home evenings.
It’s hard to imagine a more difficult or wonderful challenge than helping family members achieve their divine potential, and these ideas represent only one approach to this challenge: making better use of the resources provided by the Church and others. Our model is ideal for us but certainly not universal. We deeply feel that these words are true:
“If the desire is strong enough, the need exists, and worthiness is manifest, fathers may receive guidance for their family problems as well as in their work or business affairs; mothers can be assisted in caring for the family; children can be influenced in their dealings with their brothers and sisters, schoolmates, or in their studies.” (Family Home Evening Manual, 1972, p. 204.)
If you aren’t satisfied with your progress toward eternal goals, try putting this statement to the test! Be willing to pay the price of effort.
In all likelihood, a comprehensive approach for your family will not be revealed all at once. Ideas may come in bits and pieces at first, but the Holy Ghost will teach a plan of action ideally suited to you and your family. We are all entitled to receive specific help in applying the teachings of the prophets to our individual needs and thereby successfully meet the challenges of today.
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
“Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.” (3 Ne. 18:20–21.)