“Great Home Evenings: A Tale of Two Families,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 58–61
The Ensign asked two families to prepare lessons from the Family Home Evening Resource Book for three months and then tell us of their experiences. Bonnie and Sam Smith live in Kennewick, Washington, and have five children: Shamra, 11; Kayla, 10; Layna, 8; Aaron, 7; and Hanna, 5. Bonnie, a former elementary school teacher, is a stay-at-home mom. Sam owns his own business working with programmable logic controls.
Joy and Norman Naime live in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada, and have four children: Gregory, 20; Sasha, 17; Gavin, 16; and Gideon, 14. Norman was born and raised in Barbados in the West Indies. He and his brother and their families were among the first Latter-day Saints baptized in that country and became the backbone of the Church there for more than a decade. Joy, from New York City, helps her husband in their family business, a clothing manufacturing company that specializes in natural fibers.
Despite these families living nearly a continent apart, having children in different stages, and coming from diverse backgrounds, they share a similar commitment to teaching gospel principles during family home evenings and using the Family Home Evening Resource Book.
Ensign: As you prepared family home evening lessons, what was your response to the Family Home Evening Resource Book?
Sam Smith: We have been using the resource book for nearly 17 years. We first used it while presenting single adult family home evenings. After we married, we began holding family home evening as newlyweds, then with our children as they came along. We’ve prepared lessons for toddlers, grade-schoolers, and visiting grandparents. We’ve invited nonmember friends to join us. The resource book is comprehensive and yet flexible for any type of family gathering.
Bonnie Smith: Still, after so many years we’d literally worn out our manual and become casual about planning ahead for family home evening. Recently we opened the manual and read again the section “Making Home Evenings Successful” (161). Just having a chart with everyone’s name on it got us organized again. When everyone has an assignment, everyone prepares. Things go much smoother.
Norman Naime: I tend to dislike using any lesson book, but we began making greater use of the “Ideas” section (171) of the manual. Somehow the topics in that section just seemed more interesting for our family of teenagers. If I’m given an objective, I like to formulate lessons drawing upon our life’s resources and experiences. As we have discussed issues with our children and broadened their cultural understanding, we have seen their amazement at our ability to understand and empathize with them as they face their trials.
Joy Naime: I’m relieved to have this manual. The lessons are well organized, adaptable, and offer visual, audio, and activity suggestions. When I’m rushed, it’s comforting to know that the manual is there to guide me through.
Ensign: What was most useful in the book?
Joy: Most useful is the book’s structured, organized approach. Sometimes when work is overwhelming, the house is a mess, and a million things need to be done, it is comforting to turn to the resource book and find a beautiful, well-organized lesson just perfectly suited to our family’s needs for that evening.
Sam: The brief outlines under “Preparation” at the first of each lesson provide useful guidelines that stimulate lesson preparation and help us meet the needs and interests of our young family. This format also allows us to substitute personal stories and examples of our own, thus accomplishing greater teaching moments for our entire family.
Bonnie: I like the attention-getting introductions at the beginning of many lessons and the challenges and follow-up ideas at the end of the lessons. The variety of activities really gets the family involved. I also appreciated the section on building strong families. It helped me understand some normal childhood stages.
Ensign: What lesson do you think had the most impact on your family?
Norman: The lesson “Journals” (199) in the “Ideas” section led to a discussion of the importance of writing a life history. We pointed out that if my great-grandmother, a Titanic survivor, had kept a journal, we would have understood much more about her trials as the liner went down. Verbal tradition has it that she was thrown overboard and that rescuers pulled her into a boat by her long, flowing hair. So traumatic were her experiences that she didn’t speak about them for many years. Most of her experiences were lost to us because they were never written down.
Sasha, the most sensitive of our children, was concerned about whether the temple work had been done for her great-great-grandmother. She wanted to do it! These lessons sometimes result in unexpected blessings.
Bonnie: As Lesson 12: “Jesus is My Example” (48) suggested, we had each of our children try to perform a simple task in the dark. Each had difficulty doing even a part of the task. Then, when we turned the lights on, each performed the task successfully. We discussed how Jesus is like the light. If we choose the right and follow Him, we will be successful in finding our way back to heaven and in being happy there. It really impressed the children.
Joy: “Our Cultural Heritage” (265) in the “Family Activities” section turned out to be both important and memorable. Despite regular conversations and references to my husband’s ancestral culture, following the format of the lesson helped us grow in our appreciation of his heritage. We examined Middle-Eastern design motifs, noting that everything was nonrepresentational. The children drew their own versions of the motifs and also Arabic calligraphy, which they later colored. We also enjoyed the liveliness of the music and the tastiness of the cuisine. We served a heritage dinner of tabbouleh salad and kibbe. Our daughter Sasha noted, “Learning about other cultures helps you to know more about the world, about life itself.”
Sam: I think Lesson 4: “Studying the Scriptures Together” has helped the family become more familiar with the scriptures. We used the family home evening videocassette supplement during this lesson, then played “Where is it?”—a scripture game based on locating stories from the standard works. It was really fun and pleasantly surprising to see how many of the scripture stories our small children knew. We have increased our knowledge of the scriptures by playing “Where is it?” many times since then.
Ensign: Did you see carryover from the lessons in the day-to-day lives of family members?
Sam: Lesson 15: “Learning to Recognize the Spirit” (64) had an interesting carryover. Using a toy horse and props from her doll house, Hanna and Layna related the story about a runaway horse from the childhood of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The other children were riveted as the story was told. Later, Shamra had a desire to share the story again with the same props used during family home evening. When I went with some members of the priests quorum to administer the sacrament to shut-ins in our ward, I invited Shamra to come along and present the story. The shut-ins really enjoyed the story, and it helped our daughter’s testimony grow. She still frequently requests the opportunity to visit the elderly in our ward.
Joy: The topic of “Marriage” (205) led to a discussion on dating. We have two teenagers who had been pressing for dating privileges despite being underage by Church standards. Of course, most of their desire was peer generated rather than personal. When the concept of “Intelligent Dating” (206) was discussed, including the proper reasons for dating, the fun and friendships that result from dating by Church standards, and the pain, humiliation, and loss suffered by many of their friends not living Church standards, they gained some comfort and a larger perspective. Since our discussion in family home evening, there has been much less dissent on this practice. The teenagers are grateful for their standards, and instead of being overly envious of their peers, they feel regret for the pain some of these peers are bringing upon themselves.
Bonnie: We made the chart on page 50, “What Would the Lord Have Me Do?” and had the children make smiley-face stickers for the chart. For the next few weeks we really thought about what we did, wrote down good decisions we had made, and put smiley faces next to them. A month later one of the children came to me with a decision she’d made: “Mom, I was going to do this, but I remembered I shouldn’t. I want to put it on the chart.” I thought, This has really carried over!
A lesson isn’t so much to tell children what to do as to help them apply in real ways what they’ve learned. The resource book gives ideas of how to do that. This brought greater love and peace to our family as we tried harder to do what Jesus would want us to do.
Norman: Sometimes there are principles that, although taught to children from virtual infancy, become absorbed only after discussion in a family home evening. The lesson on “Authority” (175) was one such principle. The children did a role play about respecting a teacher’s authority. Joy shared how she had coped with another person’s misuse of authority when she was a teenager, then added other stories of how putting her confidence in authority also kept her out of trouble.
After the necessity for authority was discussed at length, the children seemed less hostile toward authority figures from school and sports teams about whom they had complained previously.
Ensign: Did you experience any special highlights?
Bonnie: We gave the lesson “The Commandments—Gifts from a Loving Father” (7). To illustrate the importance of following rules, we had Shamra draw pictures of places in the house for a treasure hunt. For example, she drew the clothes dryer, so we went to the dryer and found a picture of the couch, the next clue. At the end of the treasure hunt we talked about how following rules helped us find the treasure. A week later we had a follow-up lesson activity making a chart with “Commandments I Am Thankful For” at the top. We wrote and drew commandments each child was grateful for, put them on the chart, and hung it up in the kitchen.
About two weeks later on Fast Sunday, Layna, who was only six at the time, walked up to the pulpit and bore her testimony. She said she was thankful for the commandments and loved her family. I thought, Oh, this lesson must have gotten through! I was touched to hear her express her tender feelings like that without any prompting.
Joy: For us, the spiritual experiences come when, days or weeks later, the children bring up a point of doctrine or a moral discussed during one of our family home evenings long after we reason they must have forgotten about it. At those moments, the thought comes: We must be doing something right as parents with our family home evening program!
Norman: In a lesson on keeping scrapbooks, the children had great fun reliving special moments in their lives. They shared testimonies about our visit to the Washington D.C. Temple, where we were sealed together. The photographs and travel highlights from that trip brought tears of joy and appreciation.
Sam: Lesson 15 on “Learning to Recognize the Spirit” (64) was one that stands out for many reasons. We invited the children’s grandparents to join us that evening. During the discussion, the adults shared personal stories of how the Holy Ghost directed their lives at critical times. Our children were able to hear firsthand spiritual experiences they had not heard before from their parents and grandparents. We felt the Holy Ghost reinforcing the truths taught by the lesson and will always remember it.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
How can we create a balance of lessons that bring gospel learning, testimony building, and fun into our family home evenings?
Are there sections of the resource book we have not used much that might be appropriate to our current family needs?
What kind of help do our children want or need as they prepare lessons from the Family Home Evening Resource Book?