Teaching Children to Keep the Sabbath
October 1989

“Teaching Children to Keep the Sabbath,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 44

Handbook for Families

Teaching Children to Keep the Sabbath

Preparation is a key word in keeping the Sabbath day holy. While it may be possible for an individual to have a joyful, restful Sabbath without preparing ahead, today’s busy families may not be able to have the kind of Sabbath the Lord has prescribed if they wait until Sunday morning to prepare everything. They need to prepare some things the day before.

For most families, Sabbath preparation includes such activities as cleaning and ironing Sunday clothes, finding matching socks, finding and polishing shoes, and locating individual scriptures ahead of time. It includes shopping for groceries, filling the car with fuel, and doing other necessities before Sunday. By doing our shopping the other six days of the week, we not only prepare ourselves for the Sabbath, but we also help others who might otherwise have to work on Sunday.

Unfortunately, unless there is effective coordination, many of the burdens of preparing for the Sabbath fall upon Mother. “If I go into Sunday without a clean house, without cupboards stocked, without gas in the car,” one mother sighed, “I can forget any hope of a joyful, refreshing Sabbath.

“On the other hand, when my husband and I have prepared on Saturday for the kind of Sabbath we want, I have actually welcomed the Sabbath and felt it to be truly a day of rest.”

Fathers who assume responsibility for Sabbath preparation instead of leaving it to their wives bless the lives of their families immeasurably. One father observed, “My family is much less hassled on Sundays when I remember to lead out ahead of time, before the routine things of life crowd out the peace I want us to share that day. So my wife and I have agreed to finish the projects, chores, and work earlier than we used to so we can start our Sunday preparations sooner.”

Single parents need not face a more difficult time than couples do in preparing their families for the Sabbath. Coordinating and delegating assignments works just as well for single parents as it does for couples.

Another pattern parents will find useful is to follow the Lord’s counsel to prepare Sunday food “with singleness of heart.” (D&C 59:13.) Some families simplify the work involved in preparing Sunday meals by preparing part of their dinner ahead of time; others serve only simple meals on Sunday. A meal can be further simplified, too, if Father and children help in its preparation, setting, and cleanup.

Appropriate Sunday Activities

In our day the Lord has not given us many rules about the Sabbath. He has told us that on Sunday we are to “go to the house of prayer and offer up [our] sacraments” and that we are to “rest from [our] labors.” (D&C 59:9–10.)

We all need to resolve to truly rest from the labors and earthly distractions of the rest of the week. This means resolving together as a family not to shop on Sundays and avoiding any commercial activities, reserving this day for the Lord.

As long ago as Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Lord wisely counseled that we are to bless and hallow the Sabbath day. He made it clear that not only are we not to work on this day, but we are not to expect even the stranger to work. (See Ex. 20:9–11.) Clearly, when we patronize any business on the Sabbath, we are part of the cause for a person having to work.

It should go without saying that we ourselves not work on Sundays unless it is required. This extends to employed teenagers who sometimes assume that Sunday work schedules are unavoidable. We should urge our children not to consider work that requires them to work regularly on Sundays.

Of course, some services are required at all times, including Sundays. If we have such a job, we may need to help our children understand why our service is required on Sunday. We can also show them that even if we can’t always attend church, we can take time during the day to study the gospel with our families. We can have family prayer and personal prayer; above all, we can dedicate ourselves to having a Christlike attitude throughout the day, sharing the gospel and extending love whenever we have the opportunity.

When we or our children are faced with the decision of whether or not an activity is appropriate for the Sabbath, we might ask ourselves: Is it honoring the Lord? Is it doing good? Is it spiritually uplifting? Would Jesus approve of it?

Following such guidelines can turn the Sabbath into a delight.

Appropriate Sunday Dress

Sunday is the Lord’s day—the day we put aside the cares and concerns of the world to honor and worship him. We do that by literally setting work aside to attend worship services and to orient our lives in more Christlike directions. Part of setting the world aside involves putting aside the casual, workaday clothes we wear during the week and putting on our “Sunday best.” Doing so is a sign of respect and love for the Savior.

For some, “Sunday best” is simply the cleanest, best-repaired clothes they have. Others are able to wear something nicer. The important thing is that the clothes are neat, clean, and conducive to the spirit of the Sabbath; extravagant, showy clothes can detract almost as much as dirty or immodest clothes can.

Parents need to teach their children that Sabbath observance extends beyond Sunday meetings to the entire day. Sometimes, we come home from our meetings and change into clothes we would wear at the beach or to work in the garden. Of course, we need not continue wearing a suit and tie following Sunday meetings, but the clothes we wear ought to help us retain the spirit we enjoyed in the meetings.


Jesus taught that “the sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), to enrich his life and to bless him. He further told us that it “is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (D&C 59:10.) As we rest and worship, we renew both our spirits and our bodies. This can be especially true of fast Sunday. Fasting together for a common purpose can unite a family in a way that few other activities can. Even younger children can be taught the importance of a faithful, prayerful fast.

Little children can also be taught the importance of sitting through meetings reverently. One couple tells how they help their children appreciate the Sunday services: “We encourage even our littlest ones to participate actively in the singing. We share a songbook—letting them hold it—and point to the words and notes as we go along. …

“Encouragement to participate in other ‘standard’ parts of sacrament meeting, such as sustainings and releasings, and especially partaking of the sacrament itself, is also helpful. …

“During the talks, … we whisper in a child’s ear brief comments about the speaker’s topic.” (Sharon and Wayne Dequer, Ensign, Aug. 1980, pp. 31–32.)

Another family brings pencils and paper with them to sacrament meeting. Their older children take notes on the talks and write down questions they want to discuss later.

One family meets around a specially prepared table every Sunday morning for Sunday devotional. “Either my husband or I introduce a theme for that Sunday,” the mother reports. “For instance, once our theme was the Word of Wisdom. The table display included a bowl of fresh fruit, a bottle of homecanned tomatoes, and a vase of dried wheat that the children and I had picked together. For other themes we sing songs, read stories and scriptures, and point out examples of the theme throughout the day.

“When we meet again by the table in the evening, the children summarize what they’ve learned about the theme. And they’re so excited about Sundays that they keep our Sunday theme suggestion box full of ideas for themes!” (Ensign, Jan. 1978, p. 7.)


Scripture study can be done many ways. Families can choose to begin at the beginning of a certain book of scripture, or they may want to pursue a certain topic, such as faith or the Atonement, reading from all the standard works.

“For some families, Sunday is scripture study time, then on weekdays they read them aloud. Some use Sunday to prepare the lesson for Monday. Others prefer to have lessons on Sunday and activities on Monday night. Families that spend both Sunday and Monday times together have reported increased spirituality, steadying them in the tide.

“The Baer family, for example, reads the scriptures each morning. This allows children to choose among many family-centered activities on Sunday. They can study the scriptures in more depth.” (Ensign, Sept. 1986, pp. 24–25; see same article for other family Sabbath activities.)

In addition to gospel study, families enjoy writing in their journals together, writing to relatives and missionaries, playing gospel-oriented games, or sharing uplifting music.

Serving and Caring for Others

In planning how we use our Sundays, it is appropriate to include service to others. A family in an urban ward is committed to spending at least part of every Sabbath day serving someone. Theirs is a ward with a broad economic diversity. Family members take turns every Friday afternoon calling the ward Relief Society president for the name of someone who might appreciate a compassionate visit. “We might bake something, take a ‘surprise box’ of groceries or toys for youngsters, or we sometimes just prepare a song or two to share,” the mother explains. “For us, it is an attempt to understand the feeling that comes from what James calls ‘pure religion’ as we try to ‘visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.’ It has been wonderful for us and, we hope, a little help to them.”

Neighbors or ward members who are housebound or in the hospital might enjoy a cheery visit from a family. One family took cookies to a rest home in their neighborhood to share with those who had no family nearby.

President Spencer W. Kimball has suggested that the Sabbath could be a day for “visiting relatives and friends, doing home teaching, working on genealogy records, taking a nap, writing letters to missionaries and servicemen or relatives, preparation for the following week’s church lessons, games with the small children, fasting for a purpose, writing devotional poetry, and other worthwhile activities of great variety.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, pp. 270–71.)

Taking a Positive Approach

In encouraging our children to keep the Sabbath holy, we need to make our encouragement positive. Instead of reminding children of what they cannot do, one family keeps a list on their bulletin board of activities they can do on this day. They consult this list whenever a child complains about what he or she can’t do. The earlier we can teach these precepts, the better. For older children, adjusting to a new way of spending the Sabbath may take a little time.

Above all, this day should be one on which our children feel our love for them and for our Father in Heaven. We do not have to fill every moment of the day with activities for our children. On the contrary, we all need some quiet, peaceful time alone to meditate, plan, and refresh ourselves.

The holiness of the Sabbath is in our hearts as much as in our actions. Henry Ward Beecher expressed this truth when he said: “A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week.” (In Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1971, p. 5.)

Keeping the Sabbath day holy is one of our surest means of putting off the things of the world and putting on the armor of God.

Photography by Steve Bunderson