“Primary, 1982: A Conversation with the General Primary Presidency,” Ensign, Jan. 1982, 45
Ensign: You’ve served as the General Primary Presidency for almost two years now. What are some of the things you’ve learned in that time?
Sister Dwan J. Young (president): I’ve learned that children all over the world are more the same than they are different. Their needs, desires, and eagerness to learn are the same. And everywhere I go, I’m impressed with their capabilities and potential.
Sister Virginia B. Cannon (first counselor): The leaders we meet also have this same kind of eagerness. Some are new in the Church and lack training and background—but they’re anxious and willing to know how they can help the children.
Sister Michaelene P. Grassli (second counselor): I’ve also been impressed by the concern the leaders have for the children, who are subjected to greater outside influences than ever before. Primary has a history of concerned and dedicated leaders and teachers.
Ensign: The consolidated meeting schedule is only a month older than your presidency. How has it affected Primary the past two years?
Sister Young: For one thing, it gives us an extended time to teach children—nearly two hours. So children have more opportunities to do things. There’s more time to give talks, to sing, to dramatize and demonstrate things they’ve learned in class. We have a new time block called “Sharing Time,” during which the children can give class presentations to the rest of the Primary and verbalize what they’ve been learning. For example, if they had a role play in one of their lessons, they could present it again for the other children. Or they could dramatize one of the stories. The teacher could ask questions and the class could respond, showing other children what they’ve learned. We hope that at least half of the Sharing Times are used for class presentations. When children reteach what they’ve learned, it solidifies classroom teaching.
Sister Cannon: Of course, in addition to these extemporaneous presentations, we still have formal opening exercises when the children give talks they’ve prepared at home.
Sister Grassli: Because of the consolidated meeting schedule, Primary was moved from a weekday to Sunday. With that change, things that happen in the classroom now are of a more spiritual nature.
Sister Young: When Primary went to Sunday, lessons were deleted from Primary’s curriculum to be replaced by Sunday School lessons—lessons that were more appropriate for Sunday. This was done before we were called as the presidency. In January of 1982, we start with the new Primary lessons prepared specifically for Sunday.
Ensign: But you still have occasional weekday activities—
Sister Young: Yes. The entire Primary has an activity day four times a year. We are excited about this because the nonmembers and children who normally don’t come on Sundays can be easily included in these activities. These weekday activities could be anything from physical fitness fairs to service projects. There are many possibilities—within the limits established by general and local leaders, of course.
In 1981 one of the activity days was “Primary Internationale.” It was a sensation! For several months before the event, children learned about other cultures during Sharing Time. Then during the weekday experience they were able to do dances, sing songs, taste foods, and dress in costumes from other cultures. They used drums and other instruments for music. It was wonderful!
Ensign: Why did you choose an international theme?
Sister Young: To help the children realize that there are children just like themselves all over the world learning the gospel and loving to play games and sing songs. They learned a song about children all over the world kneeling in prayer at the end of the day and saying “thank you” in different languages.
Ensign: Are there any concerns with the new meeting schedule that the Primary is still trying to work out?
Sister Cannon: Yes. One of the greatest is that some children don’t come to Primary now that it’s on Sunday. Some nonmember and inactive children used to come with their friends. And leaders and teachers used to gather up children and bring them. But now it is more difficult to do this because they’re bringing their own families for a three to four hour period. We have no idea just how many nonmembers we’ve lost. We know we’ve lost a number of our inactive children.
Ensign: How are you dealing with the matter?
Sister Cannon: We have suggested that these children be invited to participate in the weekday activities. We also suggest that leaders give them appropriate assignments and parts in programs, because that’s a good way to help them come and have their parents involved.
Sister Grassli: The sacrament meeting presentation last year was “Families Can Be Together Forever.” Some Primary children from inactive families brought their parents. I saw some wonderful looks and some hearts touched in my own ward. I think it started some parents thinking.
Sister Young: One stake in Texas asked single adults and older couples to give rides to church and then watch after children whose parents didn’t mind if they came but didn’t want to bring them. It has been successful. All the children needed was transportation and care while at sacrament meeting.
Ensign: After two years on the consolidated meeting schedule, are Primary teachers feeling more comfortable about having to miss Relief Society classes, priesthood meetings, and Sunday School?
Sister Grassli: Most are. We’ve seen teachers discover for themselves that when they serve in Primary they not only receive blessings from service, but they are also blessed personally with spiritual growth. When you teach something, you learn it more thoroughly than when you hear it in a class. We now know that Primary teachers needn’t feel they’re missing spiritual growth because of missing another meeting.
Sister Cannon: Teaching Primary is such a vitally important service that if teachers catch the feeling of what they’re doing, it helps them not be so concerned about what they might be missing.
Sister Young: In essence, we hear Primary workers say, “Is my calling to teach children really important? If it is, then I will be committed to it.” This feeling needs to be communicated to them when they are issued a call. They need to be aware of the blessings—not just the obligations.
Ensign: But what about those who understand the vision and want to serve—and yet still feel isolated from others in the ward?
Sister Young: There are several opportunities every month for them to be with other members in the ward. First is the ward Primary preparation meeting, with a social time afterwards. Second, we encourage the sisters to go to the Relief Society homemaking lessons which are held at other times than on Sunday, and we encourage the brethren to attend their quorum socials and service projects. Third, we encourage the women to do their compassionate service—because all sisters, regardless of ward calling, work in Relief Society assisting with compassionate service. Fourth, all workers should have home teachers and/or Relief Society visiting teachers visit them monthly. And fifth, they may serve as visiting teachers or home teachers themselves. If they do these things, they’re getting frequent contact with other ward members.
Another thing we’re doing is to encourage scripture reading. We give Primary workers the same scripture assignments given in Sunday School so they are studying what the other adults are studying. And if they read them, they will be up to date on what is happening there.
Ensign: You mentioned having men teach Primary. How is that working out?
Sister Young: All you need to do is watch the faces of the children! There’s certainly no question about how they respond to them. It’s a great blessing.
I’ve seen men in the nursery, leading the music, teaching classes. In fact, my son in Mesa, Arizona, has been called to teach Primary along with another young father. The first thing he did was call me and say, “What do I do? How do I teach nineteen eight-year-olds?” Laughing, I told him to read The How Book for Teaching Children (stock no. PBIC0223). They’ve since divided the ward, so his class isn’t that large anymore.
We have found that in some cases it’s a bit of an adjustment for women leaders to feel comfortable with men in Primary. And I think some men are having a little adjustment working in what has been previously considered a woman’s assignment. These brethren need to understand that we expect them to attend the preparation meetings to get their in-service training, just like the sisters. And we expect them to fill all the requirements of the position, including being willing to attend and participate in the quarterly daytime activity days.
Ensign: Is it true that Primary teachers should serve for only one year?
Sister Young: No! We hope they participate in Primary over an extended period of time. We have suggested a minimum of one year for continuity, so a child would have the same teacher the whole year. But unfortunately, some have thought that was the maximum and are releasing the whole Primary after a year because of a misunderstanding! Of course bishops need to be sensitive to the situations of teachers and make calls appropriately. But we hope our workers can remain in Primary for several years and feel a satisfaction from the work. After you have taught a year, your effectiveness should more than double the second year.
Sister Cannon: Many times people feel that only mothers and fathers who have Primary children should be serving in Primary, but some of the most effective teachers are the more mature women and men. We’ve had a lot of grandparents serving, and the children really respond well to them.
Sister Grassli: And not just in the nursery, either. A bishop from Oregon told us that they selected with spiritual confirmation a seventy-five-year-old woman in the ward to serve as Primary president. She was thrilled with the call! And she selected two other mature women to be her counselors. The Primary in that ward, according to the bishop, has “just taken off!”
These mature women have the time to devote to planning, the wisdom to know how to deal with others in effective ways, the experience to know what really matters in the lives of children. This bishop couldn’t stop talking about it.
Ensign: In some wards, sacrament meeting comes after Primary. After having such a wonderful time in Primary, some children, especially younger ones, have a hard time settling down during sacrament meeting. Any suggestions?
Sister Young: That’s why there are ten minutes between Primary and sacrament meeting—to help children make the transition! Parents should give them a chance to move around. They may want to take them outside for a minute to get a breath of air. If it’s getting close to mealtime, they could give them a little sandwich or some juice and take them to the rest room if necessary. The parents should help them understand that Primary is over now and it’s time for another special time.
Ensign: Is the problem just reversed in wards with the other schedule? Do teachers find it hard to deal with restless children when sacrament meeting is first?
Sister Young: Once again—that’s why there are ten minutes between these meetings! Even so, I think Primary is geared to deal with restless children. If children need to sit on the floor or stand up or move a little, teachers can give them a rest exercise.
Sister Cannon: We’ve told teachers in our instructions that when they sense restlessness, they should have an activity or a change of pace planned to deal with it.
Ensign: How can Primary and parents work together best as a team?
Sister Young: We encourage the teachers—in fact it’s written right into some of the lessons—to assign the children to discuss with their parents what they’re learning. And we hope parents will initiate the discussion if their children don’t. Children are more attentive and better prepared to answer their parents if they’re asked regularly.
Sister Cannon: One of the quarterly activity days we spoke of earlier could be a “back-to-Primary” night, where the classes could show parents what they are learning and doing.
Also, family home evenings can be strengthened by the Primary’s added emphasis on the scriptures. All children from about seven or eight up should bring scriptures to class on Sunday. The scriptures can be a great talking point for parents. I think we’re going to see children become really knowledgeable in the scriptures by the time they use them at home, during Primary, and then later in Sunday School and seminary.
Parents also need to know that the Articles of Faith have a greater role in Primary now than in the past. Studying the Articles of Faith, memorizing them, and understanding the concepts they deal with will be a part of every age group’s lessons—and won’t be limited to the last two years. Even the four-year-olds learn “We believe in God the Eternal Father.”
Ensign: In January 1982, the Church begins a new curriculum year. What are the advantages of starting in January instead of September as in the past?
Sister Young: This was an all-Church move—not just Primary. But we’re excited about it because now the children will all start together and move by class each year. There won’t be any time when boys and girls will be going in and out of classes on their birthdays—except when they turn twelve and move out of Primary. And even then they’re still all together in Sunday School class for the whole year.
Ensign: Why the change to graduating the girls on their twelfth birthday?
Sister Young: That was a priesthood decision—one we believe that the Lord has directed. There are some advantages: the girls are mature—they’re ready to move into the Young Women’s program when they’re twelve. And they have watched the boys graduate on their birthdays and have wondered if they could have the same opportunity. Now each girl is recognized individually when she turns twelve. Before, they were recognized as a group. I think the change is a good one.
Sister Cannon: When the announcement was first made, many of these girls were in the middle of trying to fulfill graduation requirements, so there was a little confusion at first trying to adjust to the new policy. But it’s all taken into account now with the new curriculum.
And speaking of graduation from Primary, there are no graduation requirements with the new curriculum. Instead, we have what is called “Gospel in Action.” With the help of parents and teachers, the children set their own goals in four areas: personal, family, church, and community. When they complete one experience in each area, they get a Gospel in Action award. We hope most children will earn it early in their Blazer or Merrie Miss class—when they’re ten and eleven years old. Earning the award is just the beginning: during their last year of Primary they will be working to meet other goals in the four areas, such as writing in journals, studying the scriptures individually, and serving others. We hope these goals will open up many ways they can put the gospel into action in their lives.
Ensign: What is the relationship between Primary and priesthood leaders?
Sister Young: Under priesthood direction the Primary General Board provides a program to teach children eighteen months to twelve years of age the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the local level, Primary leaders—with priesthood leaders to advise—implement the approved program. This program includes religious instruction on Sunday and selected activities during the week.
Ensign: As you look at the worldwide Primary, what do you consider your greatest challenge?
Sister Young: To help leaders in developing areas understand what Primary is and what is expected of them. Since the Church is growing so rapidly, we’re having difficulty finding ways to train them. Many are new in the Church, they’ve never seen a Primary, they don’t know what Primary is supposed to be like. A word on a page isn’t sufficient for them to get the vision.
We’re thrilled with all the new technology that can help us. We’re looking forward to being able to prepare workshops on videotape and show them to Primary leaders around the world by satellite. We have already prepared one videotape—on how to make Sharing Time effective. We could prepare others showing how to teach children to sing, how to teach a lesson, how to discipline, how to get involvement from children. Transmitting these ideas by satellite may be the answer to our training problem!
Ensign: How have you changed personally since your calls to the presidency?
Sister Grassli: I have grown—I can’t help it when I associate with the caliber of people that I do on a daily basis. Not only that, but I have been blessed to be able to do some things I hadn’t been able to do before. The Lord’s work will be done. And since he doesn’t have perfect people filling these assignments, he blesses them to do what they have to do. And I’m grateful for that.
Sister Cannon: As we look at the tasks that come before us, we often think they’re insurmountable. But the way is always provided.
Sister Young: My dependence on Father in Heaven has become most intense. As that has occurred, the answers to prayer have come. I have always had a strong testimony of prayer, but I’ve never had such direct, sometimes almost instantaneous answers than I’ve had recently.
Ensign: If you could talk to the parents of every Primary child, what would you say to them?
Sister Grassli: I would try to help them see that Primary can help children develop a good self-image. It gives them opportunities to express themselves, to learn principles that give them confidence, to learn who they are. Primary helps children learn that they are their Heavenly Father’s children, that he loves them—that no matter what else happens in their lives, they still belong to a loving Heavenly Father.
Sister Cannon: I think of the strength that comes to children who have both their church experience and their families telling them the same things, reinforcing one another. There are times in children’s lives when they listen to teachers more than to parents, and vice versa. When there is a consistency, when both are working together to teach the principles, we are going to build strong children. We know there are a few who will not follow the path, but even some of them are going to rise above whatever handicaps they’ve had in learning the gospel and be strong.
Sister Young: We pray for leaders and teachers and parents who will take the time to find out what each child needs and where he is in the development of his testimony—and then fill those needs. It takes time, energy, and commitment. Each child is going to have to have his own testimony. Each child may be the only one in his school class who is living the way he should. He is going to have to be valiant, to be different, to have the courage and strength to choose the right.