Okay, so I’ll introduce myself real quick. I was asked yesterday if I wanted to join in on the fun here at this blog and I decided to accept and join as a guest blogger. I wasn’t planning on posting so soon but then what I wanted to write about just came to me all the sudden and I decided to just get started. I’ll just be posting from time to time. My name is Sarah JAYNE (a two-part first name like Mary Ann or Cindy Lou) –not to be confused with the Sarah who already posted, she’s an original member of the family. I just married in– but for the sake of not getting confused, I’ll sign off all my posts as “SJ.” I am honored to have been asked if I wanted to join in on the blog to write alongside so many talented and smart ladies. They all have such awesome things to say! I only hope I can contribute something worthwhile.
I guess that wasn’t much of an introduction. Here’s a better one: I’m a mid-twenties momma of 2. My husband is the brother/son of all these other ladies on the blog. I have a son and a daughter and they are ages 2 and 18 months (I feel like it’s necessary here to say my son will be 3 in four months or else everyone will immediately think “what the heck? how is that possible?”). I love crafting –I know, sooooo typical Mormon stay-at-home mom– I also love chocolate and shoes. I would describe myself as a very girly girl who’s a little rough around the edges (I blame the roughness on growing up with only brothers). So if my roughness comes out every once in a while by means of a potty joke or saying words like “crap” and “sucks” and you are offended, I’m sorry! It was the influence of the boys!
Enough about me! I know, blah blah blah me me me (really, all I wanted was a chance to talk about myself, clearly). Let’s get down to business! My post today is about having Family Home Evening with toddlers. I’ve come up with a list of things that, through trial and error, we have learned work when trying to do Family Home Evening with very small children.
***side note: this post is directed to an audience of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka LDS, aka “Mormons”). If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Family Home Evening and want to learn what it is all about go here. Visit mormon.org to find out more about the LDS church in general. Stay tuned to the very end where I will talk about adopting FHE into your life even if you aren’t religious and modifying it to fit your family***
Having FHE with Children Under 3:
1. KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET! I write that in all caps because of it’s importance. We all know little ones don’t have a very long attention span but those that are 2 and under are really a challenge with keeping their attention. Open with a prayer. I suggest never skipping out on the song because kids this age respond more to songs and pictures/videos than anything else. Even if the adults are the only ones singing and you feel super silly, keep at it! They are listening and learning (sometimes haha. But even still, they will know it is part of the routine and will come to love it). Also, try to keep it songs from the Children’s Songbook (especially the ones you know are being sung in Nursery) because they are made specifically with children in mind, meaning little to no big, hard-to-understand words or concepts. (I suggest downloading the Gospel Library App. You can play the songs straight from your phone and just sing along). Then do a quick lesson, no longer than a minute or two (maybe a little longer if you are reading a book or watching a video from the lds.org website or the Gospel Library App or MormonChannel App as part of the lesson), do an activity if applicable, and then close with prayer and have a treat! The entire process should take about 10-15 minutes max. Don’t worry, you can make it longer when they get older. For now, 10-15 minutes is all those little fidgety bodies can handle.
2. Keep it simple. This one is also important. I look for ideas a lot on pinterest and there are many sites out there with ideas for Family Home Evening lessons/topics for “toddlers” but then when I read them they seem much more appropriate for preschool age than the younger toddlers. This is great for future reference, but right now my kids have a very limited ability to understand some of the concepts I see suggested for “toddlers.” At the bottom I’ll post some links to some of the best helps I’ve found for FHE with toddlers and lesson ideas for the littlest of littles. Don’t try to teach really complex or elaborate concepts at this age. We stick to simple concepts like love, family, saying sorry, sharing/being nice, Jesus/Heavenly Father love us, how to pray, etc. For really young ones, just simply looking at a bunch of pictures of Christ. Pointing and saying “this is Jesus” each time is enough. We implement videos, songs, and picture books as often as possible because they keep their attention better.
3. Find something to help with consistency and make it special. Let me explain. We have a blanket we now call our “Family Home Evening blanket” and whenever our 2-year-old sees it he lays it down on the floor and yells “WE DO HAPPY FAMMY HOME EVE-ING!!!!!” (he doesn’t get that the “happy” part isn’t necessary. Thanks to the “A Happy Family” song in the Children’s Songbook he thinks that “family” is always preceded by “happy.” I love that because it certainly should be) Whenever we do FHE we lay that blanket out on the living room floor and sit together on it, picnic-style, for the duration of the process, minus the treat if it’s messy (then we move to the table for that part). Now that blanket is a beloved part of our FHE and it helps set the mood and signal to the kids that it’s time to do FHE. Even our 18-month-old will see it and immediately go find a spot on it and sit right down. Little ones just LOVE routine and consistency. They thrive on it. Which brings me to the next part.
4. Be consistent. This one is, hands down, the hardest part. Until recently, we were very spotty about FHE. We did it here and there, every once in a while. I kept making the excuse that my kids were too young to “get it” and that it would be pointless at their age, but I was so so very wrong (and I think even then I knew that deep down). Now they love doing Family Home Evening and have come to expect it, and I think that’s the important part: making it a habit. They know that every several days we do FHE and they look forward to it –and Eli even asks about it almost every day. I think, besides the treat at the end, what he loves most is being together as a family and just spending time together. Even if he doesn’t “get it” about the lessons all the time, he “gets it” that it’s just something we do, as a family, every week. And that’s all he really needs to “get” for now. By the way, if you’re at all like me, planning the lessons, or at least, lesson topics, for the month ahead of time really helps with the consistency part. I figure out what lessons I want to teach and which Mondays (in case there is a lesson that goes well with an upcoming holiday like a lesson on love the week of Valentine’s Day) and it helps me to remember to actually do FHE. Especially if I’ve gone all the way and planned it all out down to the songs we will sing. It makes it easier if you go and plan a bunch when you have time one day because then on Monday all there is left to do is doing it.
I know it’s hard with toddlers, and I will be the first one to admit that during some of the FHEs we’ve held in the past I just wanted to go ahead and shoot myself in the foot because it would be easier to endure than the hectic-ness of what was happening. ***side note: we often have 2 little girls (that I watch in my home) over during FHE. So we usually actually have FOUR kids ages 4 and under to keep control of and try to get something through to. Sometimes it gets kind of insane hahaha. But it’s not always like that, even with the 2 extra*** I can definitely say though, that it is worth the difficulty and I’ve already recognized things my 2-year-old has learned that I didn’t know he learned because I didn’t think he was paying attention or getting anything at all out of it. And even if the whole thing seems like a huge disaster and it feels like nothing was achieved, pat yourself on the back anyway because YOU DID IT and they probably most definitely got more out of it than you realized. And then go get seconds of that FHE treat once the kids are in bed because you deserve it!
In case you haven’t gotten it yet, the point of all this is that you do it! It doesn’t matter if one child is crying and the other keeps walking away and they keep trying to crumple up the pictures and they aren’t even looking or they are fighting or whatever. I’m telling you right now, you aren’t doing it wrong. It’s totally normal to have days like that. And even if they are all like that for you (I hope not) it is still worth it because you will get your family into a habit that will benefit them later on when they are able to pay more attention.
Some things to get you all pumped and motivated and ready to go:
“It was Enos who said, ‘The words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart’ (Enos 1:3). There is no question who Enos’s prime gospel teacher was.”
-Tad R. Callister, General Conference address, October 2014
“Some of you have heard me tell how overwhelmed my husband, Mel, and I felt as the parents of four young children. As we faced the challenges of parenting and keeping up with the demands of life, we were desperate for help. We prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer that came was clear: ‘It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.'”
-Linda S. Reeves, General Conference address, April 2014
Some of my favorite FHEs we’ve done:
Song: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (Children’s Songbook 275)
Lesson: Jesus Has a Body Like Me. Get a picture of Jesus out and print out some different clip art pictures or cut out magazine clippings of different body parts. Let each child take turns picking up a body part, saying what it is, and then talk about how Jesus has that body part too (point to his picture so they can see).
Song: “A Happy Family” (Children’s Songbook 198)
Lesson: Get out, print out, or pull up on the computer/tablet/phone some pictures of immediate and extended family members. Talk about who they are and teach their names or what to call them if it is extended family they don’t know very well. Talk about how we love our family.
Some websites and resources I’ve found very helpful:
The Gospel Library App
The Mormon Channel App
~~~If You like the Idea of FHE but aren’t the religious type~~~
If you like the idea of having a designated family night once a week but aren’t religious, that’s ok! I encourage any and all families to try to implement a designated family night once a week. Instead of lessons of the religious nature, just focus on basic life lessons, life skills, or good values you want to instill in your children –like honesty, integrity, kindness, or common courtesies. Whatever you do, keep it very simple if they are toddlers. Find a fun song to sing, read a book, watch a short video, or do an activity that teaches the concept you want to teach. Then play, have fun together, go out and do something fun as a family, and end it with a treat. Giving it a designated name (like Family Night) and day of the week makes it easier to do it consistently and makes it more fun for your kids. They’ll love it, I promise.
If you have anything else to add or any other tips for having FHE with toddlers (or disagree with me about one of my points), or ideas for lessons/topics please comment below and share it so others may benefit! We could all use more ideas!