For those parents who struggle with getting their kids to unplug long enough to learn from the amazing heritage we have as Church members, here are a couple of ideas to help spark your children’s interest in the pioneers:
1) Watch a movie.
Youth generally love anything on a colorful screen, so what better way to grab their attention than with a motion picture? A couple of films, in particular, stand out as engaging introductions to make interesting pioneer stories come alive:
- Ephraim’s Rescue looks at the conversion story of the courageous pioneer Ephraim Hanks. Hanks is best known for leading the party that rescued the Martin Handcart Company—a miraculous event on which the movie is based.
- 17 Miracles takes a peek into the journal entries of Levi Savage, a member of the Willie Handcart Company. The movie is based on historical events, and the mini-stories worked into the main plot will keep both you and your children engaged as familiar pioneer experiences come to life in your living room.
- Trek: The Movieis a brand new film which, while it doesn't focus on actual pioneer stories, does help teens see how the stories and faith of the pioneers can still influence us today. It follows the experience of a young man named Tom who is struggling with his faith while on a pioneer trek with his ward.
2) Participate in a Pioneer Trek.
Acting the part and dressing the part make you feel a part of the pioneer experience. Any stake or ward can go on a trek, no matter where you live. Immersing your children in the pioneer trek environment disconnects them from their familiar, comfortable world of technology and engages them in the joy and despair the pioneers felt on their difficult journey. Check out lds.org and LDS Living’s "How to Survive Your Trek Experience" for tips and guidelines for organizing a ward or stake trek or organize a mini trek experience suited for just your family.
3) Find journals and personal accounts.
Explore through personal accounts the lives of pioneers who traveled to the Salt Lake Valley. If you have pioneer ancestors, read their stories to your children. If you don’t have ancestors that crossed the plains, take advantage of other resources. Peruse the collection of journals and stories at www.boap.org or take a look at The Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database at history.lds.org for a variety of different stories from different age groups. Your children can look specifically at stories from pioneers their age at either of the sites listed above or in books like I Walked to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail by Susan Arrington Madsen.
4) Read a book.
For youth who still love a good novel, you might capture their interest by giving them one of these historically-based books to read:
- The Undaunted: The Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers starts in the coal mines in England and works its way to a little-known event in Utah pioneer history. Written by Gerald Lund, this book will hold readers’ attention with its combination of historical and fictional characters.
- Marcie Gallacher and Kerri Robinson’s A Banner is Unfurled is a compelling five-part fictionalized account of a real pioneer family. Watch them struggle to remain a family when some members embrace Latter-day Saint beliefs and journey westward, leaving behind, in a heart-rending decision, those members who resisted the strange new religion.
- The Standing on the Promises trilogy by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray traces through fiction the actual trials faced by well-known early African-American church members such as Elijah Abel, who was ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith and Jane Manning James, who traveled 800 miles on foot just to get to Nauvoo.
5) Visit a pioneer museum or historic site
Bring pioneers to life by taking your children to a museum full of artifacts that they can see and experience. Check out this incredible newcoast-to-coast guide of U.S. Church history and Restoration sites from history.lds.org. Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and Sons of the Utah Pioneers also have museums and historic buildings in California, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. For specific locations and hours, visit the sites for Daughters of the Utah Pioneers or Sons of the Utah Pioneers.