5 Ways Improve Primary

When sacrament meeting ends, what’s the first thing most adults do? Begin chatting. Sure; adults attend church for spiritual enrichment, but they also want to do more than sit and listen. We crave socialization, interaction, and even activity. Kids feel this twice as much.

By the time sacrament ends, kids are all over sitting still, reverence, and listening to over-their-heads content. So, why are adults consistently ushering them from sacrament immediately to Primary, holding up reverence reminder signs, and encouraging them to sit silently? No wonder so many kids must be pushed into class, heels dragging. I’m internally dragging my heels on my way to Sunday School and I’m in my 40s.

So, how do we make Primary more kid-friendly, engaging, and *gasp* fun?

Here are 5 ways to improve LDS Primary:

  1. Emphasize Fun.

In an article about kid’s ministry at Better Bible Teachers, the author, Nathan Johnson, doesn’t mince words:

Your primary goal on Sunday morning is to teach God’s Word and to see the lives of kids changed. That is wonderful. But keep this in mind. The kids are not showing up to be spiritually fed. Think about it this way…When you were in third grade did you walk into church thinking about how great the message was going to be? No! You were concerned with the amount of fun you were going to have and if your friends were going to be there.

Better Bible Teachers

I’ll never forget the day I walked into Primary at a small LDS church in Banbury, London and found a class in the hallway bowling. I’m certain they had a spiritual goal in my mind, but more importantly, they focused on engagement, activity, and variety. The Spirit can be fun too!

2. Emphasize Relationships. When my husband and I taught Sunbeams years ago, we quickly learned that kids were over it by the time they arrived in our classroom. They wanted to talk to friends they didn’t see all week, move, and talk. We didn’t feel comfortable incorporating much movement beyond coloring pages, but we did implement  “tell us one great thing about your week” at the beginning of class. This allowed each child to take a turn sharing something special about their week with the class. They loved having the floor, talking about themselves, and getting to know each other! Sure, this took teaching time, but it also helped them feel valued and part of a community. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for emphasizing relationships in Primary:

  • Give kids 5 minutes to “visit’ each Sunday before formal activities begin
  • Take a 5 minute break between activities
  • Use group activities
  • Make each 5th Sunday “Donut You Know” in Primary. Bring donuts and match kids up with a new friend or two. Have them draw a donut with a “get to know you” question and encourage groups to answer.
  • Match up senior primary kids with a junior primary buddy. Make this about relationships, rather than behavior.

3. Get Moving. Visit any elementary classroom and you’ll soon discover that students are regularly moving. This includes getting the wiggles out with GoNoodle videos, hands-on learning activities, sitting in groups on the floor, and utilizing learning games. Primary already does this through action-oriented singing time, but movement should be incorporated into every activity.

Ways to get moving:

  • Skits
  • Plays
  • Games
  • Puppet shows
  • Songs with movement
  • Wiggle breaks
  • Puzzles
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Outdoor activities
  • Walks in nature

4. Build a Kid-Friendly Curriculum. The LDS church has all of the tools needed to build an awesome kid-friendly curriculum that is fun, active, engaging, and even teaches a spiritual lesson or two. Kids need variety, creativity, and clever repetition of ideas. To improve curriculum, the LDS Church:

  • Pay educators to build a kid-centered curriculum
  • Invest significant funds into the resources needed to truly engage kids at church
  • Regularly evaluate and update curriculum and resources
  • Train leaders and teachers in effective teaching strategies

5. Support Primary Leaders and Teachers. Primary should not be an afterthought or last to be staffed with volunteers. If we want to create a positive, engaging church experience for our kids, me must:

  • Prioritize staffing Primary
  • Complete thorough background checks
  • Regularly train teachers
  • Invest in clean, bright, well-maintained spaces for kids
  • Provide generous funding without so many restrictions and need for Priesthood approval
  • Have resources readily available each Sunday in classrooms and regularly clean and replace them

Do I think many people are striving for this on an individual and branch/ward level? Absolutely! Do I think there aren’t kids who enjoy and look forward to Primary each week? Absolutely not! But to truly make lasting changes, we need a fundamental shift in the way the LDS Church as an organization frames Primary, funds Primary, and supports primary.

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15 Responses

  1. Em says:

    Amen. And really, we just need to invest in better age-appropriate training all around. Our ward had a “teaching, no greater call” meeting that the ward prioritized by providing substitutes and shuffling things once a month so various leaders could attend. Which was GREAT. Except it wasn’t taught by someone who had any experience in education, the material was the extremely broad “teaching, no greater call” manual, and instructors of all age groups met together. What makes a great teenager sunday school teacher is not the same as a great sunbeam teacher. Or a great adult teacher. And honestly as someone who teaches for a living it is kind of insulting that the basic assumption is that anybody with any job is fully qualified to teach other people how to teach, even if in their ordinary lives they do not work in education. Because anyone can do any calling! Sure. I guess. But really it tends to be the blind leading the blind and talking in generalities. I don’t have experience with elementary ed. I’d love to learn how to do that from an expert if I am asked to teach primary!

  2. Ziff says:

    Great suggestions, Mindy! Like you, the last time I taught primary, I felt like it was worthwhile to spend a part of the class time having the kids tell about a thing they did that week. And I particularly appreciate your point about making staffing primary a priority. It seems like it’s so often the last organization to have a shot at getting people.

    Another random idea: What if the adult and teen classes ended five minutes before primary? That way, the parents and older siblings could be there, ready to pick the kids up the minute primary ends. When I was a teacher, and even more so when I worked in the nursery, I missed socializing with other adults because I always had to stay for whichever the last kid to be picked up was, and that was typically 5-10 minutes after church ended, by which time most people had left.

    And Em, I totally love your idea of learning from people with expertise in early childhood education where we can!

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I audited a class called “Ministry to Children” at a Christian university in South Carolina about 17 years ago (long story). We had guest teachers come who were in charge of HUGE children’s ministries (like primary, but at other churches with 1000 kids each week), and it was amazing how much work and thought and science went into running their programs effectively.

      Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I was the most awesome primary teacher ever for 5 years straight after that, and I owed so much of it to that college level course about how to be an awesome primary teacher. 😄 We fall sooooo short of what we could be doing if we just looked outside the box a little more. You have great ideas! Maybe you should look into a career running a Children’s Ministry somewhere, you know.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if they called people with actual research and child development experience to the general Primary Presidency?

  4. Kell says:

    Brand new primary teacher here and WOW am I struggling! These are great suggestions that I will definitely consider while I’m planning my next lesson.

    Husband and I just now are getting back to teaching regularly and I have absolutely no idea how to work with children. We follow the lesson plan (kinda) but the activities feel really boring. We’re always looking for new wiggle games and teaching games but the provided activities in the manual seem a little stiff, typically just a question/response activity.

    I should add that I literally have no understanding of children. I grew up the youngest kid in my family, cousins and neighborhood. I think kids are cute but terrifying. help!

  1. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  2. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  3. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  4. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  5. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  6. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  7. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  8. June 24, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.” […]

  9. July 17, 2021

    […] Make room for socializing, laughter, and silliness, movement, and games. As I mentioned in 5 Ways Improve Primary – The Exponent (the-exponent.com), kids are looking for community, connection, and fun. Spiritual enrichment is intertwined with […]

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