Many people who are not LDS (Mormon) have adopted the Mormon tradition of holding a weekly family night. In today’s busy world, parents easily see the benefit of spending a quiet evening at home sharing their values with their children and enjoying some relaxing activities with them. Following are the steps you can take to begin your own family home evening that is designed to match your personal religious or moral values.
Organizing the Program
In order to make the program work, you have to set aside a specific time. Mormons hold their family nights on Monday evening and make a point of allowing nothing to interfere-no sports, no school activities, no telephone. Children know their homework must be done before or after the event. Unless it is held consistently, it tends to fade away over time.
Having chosen a time, figure out how to keep the program from becoming too much work for any one person. Mormons generally have a Family Home Evening Board that lists the names of each family member. Younger children are sometimes paired with someone older. On a hook under each name is a tag listing that person’s responsibility for the coming family night. These are rotated weekly, so each person learns how to do each part. If your children aren’t accustomed to teaching, the parents will probably want to teach the first few lessons.
Gather your family to help you select topics for the lessons. These can be a mixture of spiritual and practical. For instance, one week, the family might learn about repentance. The next, they might work on a way to make chores less of a source of contention. The third week, they might learn basic first aid. Mixing things up a bit adds variety and ensures the children get lessons that interest them, while the parents make certain their children learn important family and spiritual principles.
The earliest lessons should be planned carefully so the children will learn to look forward to the family nights. Later, more sensitive topics can be dropped into the schedule periodically, but if the children come to expect each gathering to become a lecture on what they’re doing wrong, they’ll quickly rebel.
Decide how the lesson topics will be organized. The teacher for the week can select the lesson from the list, or the lessons can be placed into a schedule, allowing the entire night to focus on a theme.
Family Night Structure
You can, of course, organize your evening any way you choose. Mormon families frequently follow this pattern:
- Opening prayer and song. The song is led by a member of the family, after being taught how by someone who knows. (This introduces a useful skill.)
- Family business if needed.
- Lesson. This should be fairly short, depending on the ages of your children. For very small children, a fifteen minute lesson is plenty. For older children, a half hour or more can allow for more in-depth discussion or activities that teach the skill or principle.
- Fun and games. These can be related to the lesson or just be something the family enjoys. Generally, you want to choose something that requires interaction, rather than a movie. Board games and party games can create interesting memories. Try to stay home and to not include people who aren’t related to you. There is plenty of time to spend with friends; family night is just for family.
- Treat. This is generally considered a very important part of the evening. Plan something the family doesn’t have every day to make it special.
- Closing prayer.
The evening often begins with a nice family dinner, to set the tone and lengthen the time of interaction.
Planning a Lesson:
As you plan your lesson, don’t think like a school teacher. This lesson needs to be interesting for children or teens. Use pictures, lots of questions, and some hands-on activities to allow everyone to participate and to keep their attention. For instance, if you were planning a lesson on obedience to the commandments, you might choose the story of Noah’s Ark to illustrate the blessings of obedience and the dangers of disobedience. As the Savior’s own teaching demonstrates, stories are a good way to hold the attention of students and help them to understand a message.
If you have small children, you might tell the story with a flannel board or a Noah’s ark toy. Older children might want to act out Noah calling the people to repentance while others try to offer excuses for not obeying. Teens might be interested in a discussion of the reasons teens often ignore really good advice. Bringing the story into the everyday lives of your children is always a good idea. Teach them to think of the scriptures as offering lessons for today’s world.
If you have very young children and teenagers, you may want to provide a coloring page for the littler ones to do while the older children and adults discuss the issues involved. They are likely to listen, and should be encouraged to participate, but this can help with their behavior until they’re used to the lessons.
The lesson should be given in comfortable surroundings-no desk necessary. Everyone can sit on the floor or in the living room, comfortably. Toddlers can play while the older family members learn, although a small portion of the lesson should be aimed at the toddlers. Expect children to behave, but don’t be too formal. If you spend all your time scolding, the children won’t have fun and neither the bonding nor the learning will happen. If children seem restless, get them up and moving or switch to a new way of teaching. For instance, children can pretend to be animals climbing onto the ark for a moment when you reach that part of the above-mentioned lesson.
Whenever possible, have at least one activity related to the lesson, so the children get hands-on experience in the topic. A lesson on service can be followed up by a service project that day or later in the week. A lesson on Noah’s Ark might include animal cookies and a puppet show. Doing something makes the lesson more memorable and ensures the family remembers the message longer.
The most important reason to hold a family night is to strengthen the family. Although your church can teach your children about God, they learn it best when they also learn it at home from their parents. The world is a challenging place for young people, and they need to hear the messages again and again. They need to know exactly where their parents stand on the issues. They might roll their eyes now, but someday, they’ll remember.
Summary for Family Night Planning:
- Choose a time and stick with it.
- Plan the topics in advance.
- Assign roles.
- Teach the skills needed to carry out the roles.
- Plan a lesson that is fun and interactive.
- Include songs, prayers, games, and treats in your plans.
- Don’t be afraid to share your values.
- Have fun, and lots of it.
- Make memories.