Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
Primary is the organization of the church for children ages 3-12. Children from 18 months to age 3 can attend the nursery if their parents choose.
The Primary program is overseen by a presidency of three women, consisting of a president and her two counselors. Counselors might be considered similar to a vice-president. They advise the president and help her make decisions for the program. In addition, each counselor has certain areas of the program for which she is responsible.
The children are divided into two groups: The CTR group and the Valiant group. CTR stands for Choose the Right. These children are 7 and under on January 1. They are preparing to be baptized when they are eight years old and their lessons focus on teaching them basic gospel principles.
The youngest children, known as the Sunbeam-4 class, are the children who are three on January 1. They use the same manual they used when they were in the nursery. This manual teaches very basic gospel principles about Heavenly Father and Jesus, families, appreciation for nature and making good choices. These children are gradually introduced to the full program. Initially, they spend much of the Primary time in their own little classroom.
The other CTR children generally first go to Sharing Time. Here they meet with all the children in the CTR age group, or occasionally, in smaller congregations, with all the Primary children. They begin with opening exercises. A member of the presidency welcomes the children and announcements are made. The music leader conducts a song to help the children feel reverent. A child reads a scripture verse and another child gives the prayer. A third child gives a 2 ˝ minute talk on a gospel principle. This helps to prepare them for speaking opportunities when they are older and builds confidence. There is a fifteen-minute sharing time which is usually done by a member of the presidency. This lesson is on an aspect of the annual theme and is designed to involve the children in the learning through games, questions and stories. Once a month, one of the classes presents the sharing time. This class presentation allows the children to share what they have been learning in their class.
Following sharing time, the children have fifteen minutes of singing. Each year they present a program” to the congregation during Sacrament Meeting, which has many songs, so the children learn these songs throughout the year.
After this, the younger children go to their class and the older children come to the Primary room for the same program, adapted to their age. The lesson manuals for the CTR children alternate annually between a focus on the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Stories from other books of scripture are introduced in context. Each class session introduces a child appropriate gospel principle, with an emphasis on family values and on learning to make wise choices.
The older children are called Valients. Since LDS children are baptized when they are eight years old, these children have generally been baptized. They are being taught to be valiant in keeping the covenants (promises) they made when they were baptized. They learn about one book of scripture each year: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Church History (using the Doctrine and Covenants). The stories are taught within the context of a moral gospel principle and again, family values are emphasized.
The children give an annual program, mentioned earlier in this article, on the theme of the year. This program is completely performed by the children. They sing the songs they have been learning and children have small parts in which they tell about a gospel principle they have learned this year. This is usually done in the fall.
Boys ages eight and older participate in the Cub Scout program. The girls of the same age have a similar church-developed program called Achievement Days. All children ages eight and older may earn a religious award called “Gospel in Action.”
In addition, there is a quarterly activity day in which the children learn about the gospel, their world or service through hands-on activities.
The purpose of Primary is to help-not replace-the parents in teaching the children to learn and live the gospel. It was organized in Farmington, Utah by Aurelia Spencer Rogers, who was concerned because the younger children had too much unsupervised time. The fathers and older sons kept long hours on their farms, and the mothers and older daughters worked hard in the home. The boys, in particular, were becoming very unruly and mischievous. Some, she saw, were becoming hoodlums. With permission from church leaders, she organized a Primary Association for her ward (congregation), organized August 11, 1878. Two weeks later, the first meeting was held. Boys were specifically taught that day not to steal fruit from the orchards and girls were taught not to hang on wagons. In addition, they were given lessons on faith, manners, obedience, and other worthy principles.
The program is now world-wide. It has undergone many changes as the church has spread throughout the world and needs have changed. It has a tremendous influence on the children of the church, helping them to learn the gospel, serve others, make friends and become better family members.