Parents everywhere are competing for the attention of their children with an avalanche of information on television, the Internet and cell phones, sometimes making it even more difficult to teach values, morals and traditions in the home.
Working as a support to parents, the Primary organization of The Church of Jesus Christ has become a significant resource for Latter-day Saint parents worldwide.
Children between the ages of 18 months to 12 years gather each Sunday, either immediately before or after the regular Sunday worship service.
“Children need to feel love,” explains Cheryl C. Lant, general president of the Primary organization. “The Primary meeting time reinforces their sense of self-worth by letting them know they are loved by their parents, by their Primary teachers and by God,” she says.
“Primary is certainly about teaching values, but it is also about teaching children that they are valued.”
As children continue in Primary and their knowledge and abilities increase, they assume broader responsibilities in their family and the Church. They learn to prepare their own short talks to the children and their adult teachers. Such experiences, coupled with participation in the suggested weekly family home evening program in their own homes, provide a strong foundation for children in self-confidence, personal relationships and knowledge of the principles of their own faith.
“Our children do not grow to full physical stature suddenly,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, an apostle of the Church. “Their spiritual growth takes place over time.”
During the last few months of the year, children worldwide deliver a presentation to the entire congregation, highlighting the scriptural, anecdotal and musical lessons learned during the weekly Primary meetings. Children are given speaking parts, share personal experiences and sing a collection of theme-based songs or play musical instruments.
The yearly program presentation also provides examples of ways lessons and music can be adapted for children with special needs. In one congregation in a U.S. city recently, 4-year old James, whose autism results in very limited vocabulary, learned his part in American Sign Language with the help of his mother. The resourceful mother taught all of the Primary children to sign a hymn as an additional part of the presentation, making James’ limitation much more familiar to the group.
Teaching children in the home or in the Primary organization requires flexibility, Lant suggests. “Primary is not about the printed details of a program — you adapt to the needs and circumstances of your area — it is about the children. You may meet under an acacia tree on the plains of Africa or in a room as small as a closet, but wherever or however you meet, the children will feel the love.”
Lant described a recent Primary presentation held with a small group of Church members in Alaska. “I joined the Sunday meeting by phone,” she said, “because that’s the way they were holding the meeting. Each family, who was located in a remote area accessible only by small airplanes, would link into the phone connection to begin the meeting. After the opening prayer, the Primary began their presentation. The children had each prepared their parts and had been practicing the songs at home. Using speaker phones, they took turns delivering their speeches and then sang the songs together. It was a unique presentation, but the families felt connected.”