There’s a quote I love that President Hinckley shared in conference once: “The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise.” When it comes to teaching the children we love, the same holds true. Most lessons will not be memorable. They will likely not remember your carefully prepared visual aids. They may not be able to recall your specific counsel if you ask them the next week or the next day, or even five minutes after you give it. What they will remember is how they felt during your lessons and what they observed in your example. They will remember the consistency with which you tried to bring the spirit into your home or church meetings.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on memorable lessons. It just means that sometimes the most memorable moments are the ones that happen when you least expect it. It also means that there are a few simple things you can do to create memories as you’re teaching, at family night or at church.
Be (a little) Goofy
I will never forget the time when my dad announced that we’d have our lesson in the backyard. This, in itself, was unusual. Normally we gathered in the living room, Mom played the piano, and then we’d all sit or lay around the room half listening.
But this night, Dad decided to preach from the diving board of our backyard pool. We took seats on lawn chairs and the low brick wall that went around the pool. Then my dad proceeded to read and comment on an article he’d found on LDS.org. He had printed it out before and was holding the papers. When he reached the end of the article, he offered a bit more commentary before promptly diving straight into the pool–clothes, papers, and all. We were shocked. None of us had seen this coming. And while we don’t remember now what the specific message of the lesson was, this family night is legendary in our family. I will never forget the sight of those papers floating on the top of the water after Dad dove in. Definitely a memorable family night.
If you don’t have access to a diving board and a backyard pool, that’s okay. The point is to be creative in how you approach your teaching moments and don’t be afraid to try something unusual. While you want to do your best to maintain the Spirit, a little goofiness now and then can go a long way. For a primary class this might include a silly story that illustrates a point from the scriptures or a song that helps everyone get the wiggles out. Not every teaching moment has to involve a serious formal lesson.
Another way to make your teaching more memorable is with repetition, and that’s exactly what traditions are–something you repeat every week or month or year. Often traditions spring up naturally around holidays or family events, but you can also cultivate them by deliberately repeating lessons, activities, or stories you want to emphasize. You might decide to include a missionary moment at the beginning of your lesson each week or you could incorporate a favorite treat once a month that everyone will look forward to.
When my youngest brother was little, we sang, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” every single Monday for probably a solid year. My oldest brother, James, would toss my youngest brother, Tom, up in the air at the end of every line. They were thirteen or fourteen years apart and it was a fun way to include them both and give us all something to look forward to at family night each week.
Your traditions don’t have to be elaborate. They could be as simple as a family motto you repeat just before you say evening prayers or a class song you sing each week. Having traditions helps children to feel like they belong to something special. It encourages inclusion and unity in a group or family. Used effectively, traditions will reinforce the lessons you want your children to learn and create memories that will last a lifetime.
For more on specific fall traditions, check out this article: 5 Fun Fall Family Ideas. It was written for people in Utah, but the ideas could work anywhere.
Break the Routine
One of the things I’m learning more and more is that we value our experiences over our possessions. That’s why I’m so grateful that my own parents sacrificed the time and money to take us traveling and on field trips when I was a child. At least once a year we drove from Washington or California to visit our extended family in Utah. We also explored our local areas by visiting museums, zoos, regional parks, and beaches. I love those memories, and they’ve taught me the importance of valuing quality time over fancy possessions.
You don’t have to travel far to create a memorable moment with your children. The point is to do something different. You could try a new sport as a family—something none of you have ever played before. Or you could invite the children in your primary class to meet for a picnic at a park on a weekday.
One of my favorite vacations was the trip we took to Disneyland after we filled up our family Bean Jar. The bean jar was our motivation to read our scriptures every morning as a family. Each time we did, we added another bean to the jar. Unfortunately this was a really big jar with really small beans, but eventually we did fill up the jar and go on the trip. I’m just not sure it happened in that order.
Creating memorable teaching moments with your children doesn’t have to be hard. By incorporating a little bit of goofiness, starting some new traditions, or breaking up your routine, your lessons can take on a life of their own and become family and class memories that will highlight your commitment to the gospel. More than any specific thoughts or ideas, my memories of gospel lessons from my childhood simply reinforce the fact that my parents and teachers did their best. I remember that my parents were committed to the gospel and that they made family night a priority. I remember primary teachers that shared their testimonies as they taught both in their words and in their actions. I’m grateful that my memories helped to build my personal foundation in the gospel, and I know that the memories you create with the children in your life will do the same for them.