King Benjamin taught that we should “teach [our children] to walk in the ways of truth . . . to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15). Primary is the perfect place for our children to learn gospel truths and to practice loving and serving each other, but it can be hard for children to focus on the gospel when they’re distracted or not ready to learn. The key to making the most of their experience at church is to prepare, prepare, prepare. You can help your children get more out of Primary by preparing them physically, spiritually, and as a family.
1. Prepare physically for Primary.
Physical preparations for Primary might include making sure your children get a good night’s sleep on Saturday night. If they are still young enough to take naps, try to adjust their napping schedules on Sunday as much as possible so that they will not be tired or cranky during meetings. Plan plenty of time before church to get ready so the Spirit will stay with you and you won’t be rushing around the house hectically or arriving late for the meeting. Make sure your children have eaten so they are not distracted by hunger during Primary. You may even need to bring a snack with you to church to keep their energy from lagging by the third hour.
Another way to prepare physically is to teach your children how to listen and focus when it is time to be reverent. Practicing reverence at home helps children learn an essential gospel skill. No matter how wonderful or spiritually inspiring a gospel lesson might be, children won’t learn if they are distracted, fidgety, or unfocused. Keep in mind that age makes a big difference when it comes to reverence and that each child is different. Some children may be able to maintain reverence for several minutes at a time while others may need to work up from 30-second increments. If your children have trouble sitting still in Primary, try building reverent moments into your daily family routine so they have lots of opportunities to practice listening and being physically and mentally still.
2. Prepare spiritually for Primary.
Helping your children to spiritually prepare for Primary involves teaching them how to recognize the Spirit and invite it into their lives. We all experience spiritual feelings in different ways. At first, try talking with your children about how you feel the Spirit or help them remember spiritual moments you experienced together. This will help them recognize the Spirit when they feel it themselves. Provide them with opportunities to feel the Spirit at home so they can learn by the Spirit at church. Teach them how to speak about these spiritual experiences reverently, at appropriate times, so that they can better participate when it’s time for them to share their personal experiences in a talk in sharing time or as they are engaged in their Primary lessons. Help your children learn to pray for the Spirit each day and to make good choices so that they can keep the Spirit with them throughout the week.
You can also help your children prepare spiritually by honoring the Sabbath in your home. Recently our leaders have emphasized the importance of following Isaiah’s counsel to “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isaiah 58:13). While it might seem difficult to keep small children occupied with Sunday-appropriate activities for the entire day, children will begin to look forward to Sundays when you make them special. Planning quality time together can make Sunday a day your family cherishes, a time to make memories and strengthen your bonds with one another. You might want to begin a new tradition, like a special meal or a game you play together only on Sundays. While our leaders have given us some guidance about the kinds of activities that are appropriate for Sunday, it is ultimately up to you to decide as a family how you will honor the Sabbath.
3. Prepare as a family for Primary.
There are many ways to prepare for Primary that involve the whole family. You can and should begin with basic gospel habits such as family scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening. These habits will provide a gospel foundation for your children to draw from as they attend church so that what they learn there will reinforce the lessons you are teaching them at home. By the same token, you can use these family study times to reinforce the lessons your children are learning at Primary. Try planning family home evening lessons that go along with the weekly lessons they are studying in their classes or in sharing time. (Tiny Talks: Choose the Right is a great resource to help with this.)
Ask your children to share what they are learning in Primary. If they bring home handouts, artwork, or assignments from Primary, use these as a basis for your family scripture study the following week. As they get older, invite your children to teach simple lessons they have learned in Primary to the rest of the family during family home evening or family scripture study. Like reverence, learning to teach is another essential gospel skill that your children will need to draw upon later as missionaries and throughout their lives as they serve in the Church.
You can bring Primary home by creating visual reminders in your home, such as a poster that features the Primary theme for the year or for the month. Encourage your children to make connections throughout the week to the things they learned on Sunday. Play Primary songs in your home or in your car. Spend time together watching videos on lds.org or the Mormon Channel on YouTube. As you study and discuss the gospel together, create opportunities for your children to bear their testimonies in your home. Teach them how to share what they know and believe with others.
Just as you would help your children become better at a sport by taking them to the park to play or help them learn an instrument by reminding them to practice each day, you can also help your children learn the gospel skills they need to get the most out of Primary. When you prepare them physically and spiritually and make Primary a consistent part of your family culture, your children will learn to love and look forward to Primary. They will learn how to be reverent and in tune with the Spirit, which will ultimately allow them to learn precious gospel truths “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
Now more than ever, our children need a strong gospel foundation to help them face the world around them. They need us to show them how to find and walk in the ways of truth. They need us to teach them how to love and serve others. In short, they need Primary. And we need to do the best we can to prepare them for it.