“A Look at Primary on Its 105th Birthday: A Conversation with Dwan J. Young, General Primary President,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 76–77
Ensign: Primary has recently celebrated its 105th anniversary. What kinds of things did children around the world do to commemorate it?
Sister Young: We wanted to help the children appreciate Primary’s history and understand the purposes of Primary. When the Church was new here in the Salt Lake Valley and the Saints were struggling to set up their communities, one of the first things they did was organize to teach their children. The first Primary was held 25 August 1878 under the direction of Aurelia S. Rogers.
To get a feeling for some of the things children were doing back then, some wards had heritage arts festivals this summer, which included demonstrations of arts and crafts from the past, such as candle-making and bread-making. Some played pioneer games or had a pioneer parade. Some displayed Primary memorabilia from the past—or highlighted former Primary leaders in their areas. These and similar projects have turned the hearts of children today to children of yesterday.
Some Primaries planted trees or shrubs at their meetinghouses or in their communities. In other wards, the children wrote down their testimonies and their projections of what they anticipated doing in the Church in the next few years. Then they buried the papers in containers—to be unearthed and reread in later years.
Ensign: Have the purposes of the Primary changed at all over the years?
Sister Young: No. Primary has always taught the principles of the gospel and, through activities during the week, given children an opportunity to implement those gospel principles.
From the beginning, the leaders realized that the main responsibility for teaching lies with the parents. That has never changed, either. Primary, today as in the past, is only reinforcing and supplementing what is taught in the home.
Ensign: What can parents do to help Primary become the great resource it has the potential of being?
Sister Young: They can ask the children what they’re doing in Primary. They can initiate discussions. They can communicate with the teacher and the music director to find out what the children are learning—and then fortify those things in family home evenings and in other family settings. Every December there is an article in the Ensign listing what the boys and girls are learning in their Primary classes. I think all parents should refer to that. (See Tom Rose, “What Our Children Are Learning in Church,” in the December issue.)
Of course, the best things parents can do is live the gospel and set the example for their children.
Ensign: Many children don’t belong to “traditional” families with a father and a mother. Others come from homes where parents are not members of the Church or aren’t active. What is Primary doing to meet their needs?
Sister Young: Every child has an adult guardian—a mother or father, a grandmother or grandfather, or someone else. Our curriculum is geared very carefully to encourage the child to go back home and talk about what he or she has learned. So no matter who that child is living with, hopefully there will be discussions, reinforcement, and an exchange of feelings about what is happening to him or her.
We also have many things in Primary that bring families together—whether they’re active members of the Church or not—such as daddy/daughter and mother/son activities. We hope quarterly activity days occasionally include service projects and other activities for the whole family. Cub Scouting is intended to be a family experience. We’re trying through various ways to bring families close together—whatever their makeup may be—so that a relationship is there. Then teaching in the home is more likely to take place.
Ensign: How can Primary help prepare children for problems they might face in the world?
Sister Young: Here again, I think parents have to assume the main responsibility. They must be in tune with what is happening in the world today and how it is affecting their children. We need to be aware of what our children are watching on TV, read what they’re reading, and go to school to check up on what they’re being taught there. We all need to be very knowledgeable about what’s happening in the lives of our children—and committed enough to do something about it.
As Primary leaders and teachers, we need to become involved in the lives of those children as we fulfill our callings. As we live the principles of the gospel and testify of the truthfulness of what we’re teaching, lives can be changed. And that is happening in Primary. We have many great leaders and teachers.
Ensign: What is Primary doing to encourage Church activity among children?
Sister Young: Our quarterly activity days have encouraged children to come. But I think the main thing we’re doing is identifying which children aren’t coming regularly and making contact to help parents see what we offer at Primary. Some parents just don’t realize what the new meeting times are, or that Primary is on Sunday instead of a weekday now. Many say, “If you could just provide transportation for my children, of course they can come.”
A new filmstrip called Come with Me to Primary (originally called Primary Is for Children) will be released toward the end of 1983. It’s a training tool that shows what a model Primary looks like. In addition to being used to train Primary leaders, it can be used as a missionary and activation resource to familiarize parents with what is offered in Primary and to encourage them to let their children attend.
We have had incredible reactivation experiences just by identifying the families and making contact with them. In many cases, whole families have come because of it.
Ensign: How about handicapped children?
Sister Young: There is great interest in teaching those children. And we have many options available. Where there is a large number of handicapped children in a region or a stake, or where there is a school for the handicapped, we suggest that local Primaries work through priesthood leaders to organize a Special Primary. The Church has also prepared materials to help with different situations on a ward level. For example, if there are several handicapped children within a ward, a teacher or teachers may be called for those children. Sometimes we’ll have one teacher per child. Or, depending on the handicap, we may give special helps so that the child can stay in his or her regular class. And we have helps on how to adapt lessons and how to help the rest of the children in the class.
Ensign: What are wards doing to help Primary teachers feel a part of their priesthood quorums or Relief Societies?
Sister Young: They are involving Primary teachers in such things as welfare and compassionate service assignments, visiting teaching and home teaching, stake priesthood meetings and ward homemaking meetings. Most Relief Society and priesthood leaders are sensitive to the fact that some of their members have other assignments, and they’re communicating with them through newsletters or some other means. I think it’s improving.
The best thing that’s happening is that the teachers themselves are finding great joy and satisfaction in teaching! So they’re happy to be in Primary! They find that as they teach basic gospel principles, they are enjoying great spiritual growth. It’s true that you learn by doing.
And I must add that we’ve seen much good come from the wide use of men in Primary. Many are serving now as teachers, nursery leaders, music leaders, in-service leaders. And speaking of positive influence from priesthood leaders, what a great opportunity it is for the children to receive a message from a member of the bishopric as he comes in to the Primary.
Ensign: Sister Young, what do you learn about Primary as you visit various wards, stakes, and missions?
Sister Young: The teaching of children through the world is improving. In countries where people didn’t realize children could learn at an early age, they have a new understanding of children. As our materials are being translated in these areas, children all over the world are really beginning to be taught the gospel.
I had a wonderful experience meeting with a new convert who has been called to be a Primary teacher in a brand new branch in Fiji. She had only three children to teach but she was filled with excitement and with the Spirit. As the Church grows, as missionaries go out and areas are opened up, more and more children around the world are taught. And the strength of the Church is growing. The gospel is reaching individual children in far corners of the earth where it has never been before. And that is thrilling to me.