Back in the (Primary) saddle again

In September I became a Primary teacher again, after a four-year exile in Sunday school and Relief Society. I am happy to be back in Primary because I find it a more pleasant way to spend two of the required three hours at church. (If I could spend all three hours in Primary, I probably would. But I suspect there’s a law of diminishing returns that takes effect at some point.)

I teach nine-year-olds turning ten, which is a pretty good age, and most of them are ten by now. I have eight kids, five of whom are pretty chill. Practically angels, really. Two are lively but manageable. One is…an original. I have never met another child like him, and I don’t expect to in the future.

I was less than excited to learn I’d be teaching Doctrine and Covenants again. It’s my least favorite of the standard works, and it’s nearly impossible to work the scriptures into the lessons in any way that makes sense. But teaching church history isn’t bad. I will now go on record as saying that the Doctrine and Covenants manuals are not terrible. They have lots of good stories, many of them about women and girls. I mostly tell stories in class and let the kids draw their own conclusions. Because heaven knows they won’t let me have the floor long enough to give them my conclusions.

So I mostly use the manual as a jumping off point. I have to start thinking about my lessons well in advance because I don’t have a lot of imagination, and I’m no good under pressure, and it takes a long time for me to figure out how I can keep the kids engaged instead of building forts with the extra chairs or climbing out the window. (I used to think we were fortunate to have a window in our classroom, but lately my feelings have been mixed.) I have searched the internet, largely in vain, for new ideas. I haven’t figured out yet if I’m not quite Mormon or not quite female because Pinterest makes me want to shoot myself. In the past I’ve used, which I know gets a lot of hate, but it sometimes has usable stuff.

Unfortunately, for most of the Doctrine and Covenants lessons, all Sugardoodle has to offer is PowerPoint presentations. My initial response to this was “what the hell kind of kids are these people teaching?” Actually, a Primary colleague in my ward has had great success with them; her kids love them. She gets out the laptop, and the kids take turns clicking the mouse or whatever, and they’re totally into it. All I can say to this is…huh. (I’ve no doubt that if I brought out a laptop in my class, that would be the last thing that laptop ever did.)

So anyway, I’m looking ahead a couple weeks at the lesson called “The Salt Lake Temple is Constructed and Dedicated,” and I think to myself, okay, that’s not bad. We had a good lesson on building the Nauvoo Temple. Maybe we can spend most of the time playing with Legos. I don’t know, man, I’m just thinking off the top of my head. Then I read the purpose of the lesson, which is “to help the children have the desire to live the law of chastity and be worthy to be married in the temple.” And I think…well. That escalated quickly.

Apparently the manual anticipated my reaction because there is a note to the teacher quoting Howard W. Hunter saying, “Children need to be taught about morality at an earlier age than ever before.” Fair enough, but does the teacher really need to be me? I mean, leave aside the issue of using “morality” as a euphemism for chastity. That’s a whole other blog. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or maybe I’m overly cynical, but I feel like Primary maybe isn’t the most appropriate venue for teaching children about chastity. I mean, I’ve tried to think of a way to broach the subject that doesn’t feel downright creepy to me, and I’m coming up empty. Also, there’s a soberness to the issue that just isn’t in keeping with the culture of my classroom, which is best characterized as barely-contained chaos.

I mean, I’m not keen on getting into the concept of “temple worthiness” in the first place. I think this is the closest we Mormons come to telling kids they’d better be good or they’re going to hell. (“Get married in the temple or you’ll never see your family again.”) But that’s a whole other blog post. What really gives me the heebies is the idea of explaining to ten-year-olds why they need to be chaste. I mean, I know the media and pornography and blah blah, but…I’ve had ten-year-olds. Four of them, in fact. And all four were different. I know they need to understand about sex and boundaries and values, but I feel like these topics are best handled sensitively in more intimate, familial settings, customizing the message for the individual child. Or, you know, in a big public school classroom. No one pays me enough to talk about sex in even the most oblique terms in Primary. (That’s just an expression, by the way. You couldn’t ever pay me enough to do it.)

Since most of the pre-pubescent crowd is not preoccupied with romantic relationships, a lot of the law-of-chastity talk in Primary revolves around stuff like avoiding pornography and dressing modestly. Well, I’m not going to talk pornography with other people’s kids. I feel like that’s their parents’ job, and no, I don’t worry about whether or not their parents are doing that job. I don’t know these kids well enough to know what their readiness level is for this topic, and absent that knowledge, it doesn’t seem safe to bring it up. I’m also not on for giving ten-year-old girls a complex about their bodies and how they need to prepare to be sexual gatekeepers because first of all, Gross, and secondly, eff that crap.

It’s not like the lesson itself is entirely about the law of chastity. It’s mainly about temple worthiness, but the law of chastity gets its very own section–and the stated purpose of the lesson is to teach the importance of the law of chastity, which I just think is weird. So don’t take this as me asking for advice because I’m a grown-ass Primary teacher and I do what I want, but I am curious as to what others think about this. Am I just a prude? Am I out of step with the times? (Don’t bother telling me I underestimate ten-year-olds. I’m sure the ten-year-olds you know are very mature and love PowerPoint presentations, but we can’t all live on your planet.) I know that hundreds of Primary teachers teach this lesson like it’s no biggie, because it’s not like you have to go into details or anything. Just talk about having pure thoughts and not having babies out of wedlock, I guess. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of weird. Is it kind of weird, or am I kind of weird?






  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    “Just talk about having pure thoughts and not having babies out of wedlock, I guess. ”
    As a single, childless, male, that’s as far into it that I’d want to get with 9/10 year olds.

    “Is it kind of weird, or am I kind of weird?
    The dot-points in the intro are pretty much following the temple recommend interview questions, so I can see why they have mentioned chastity, but I’m not sure when the best time to start talking about the sexual relations component of it. There has to be a point, but when that is, I don’t know. I can’t remember the sex side ever being mentioned when I was in primary, though that was quite a while ago.

    I am glad it says “Tell them that if they have any specific questions about the law of chastity, they should ask their parents or another adult they trust.” in the lesson manual though.

  2. It’s absolutely, most definitely weird. When I was teaching the 10-11 year old class we had a lesson on commandments. The law of chastity was one I was supposed to teach as part of the lesson. It was a class with 9 boys and one very quiet girl who wasn’t there that day. I basically told them that the law of chastity meant they needed to be kind to and respect the girls they knew. It absolutely was not my place to be introducing children to the concept of sex.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s def kind of weird…

  4. Deborah Christensen says:

    Given the age you’re teaching I would focus on “we need to treat our bodies the way how Heavenly Father wants us to for the temple. This means eating vegetables and fruit, not using drugs/smoking, showering, and exercising.” This way you’ve introduced the idea that we need to treat our bodies well. The sexual aspect can come latter. Remember that just because it’s in the manual doesn’t mean you need to teach it.

  5. In Primary I like to teach chastity as an extension of loyalty. As you said, I think pornography and modesty are best left to parents (pretty much 100%–those topics are minefields in a group setting). When I taught the 10 Commandments I had the younger kids learn “Be Loyal” rather than Thou shalt not commit adultery. I think that’s the really essential part of the commandment anyway.

  6. As the mother of a current ten year old, I say they absolutely need to be taught about pornography and chastity. Also, I 100% do not want my daughter’s primary teacher, who I love and respect, to be the one who does that. And as far as I’m concerned, euphamisms are at best worthless at this age.

  7. If you keep things focused on the practical realities that ten-year-olds face, it becomes just another lively “choose the right” discussion. Not a discussion of sexual chastity or modesty or future temple worthiness (that’s not my job), but rather: “What can you do when a friend wants to show you a picture on their phone that you know is wrong?”

  8. I teach primary to a similar age class. Similarly, I use the manual as a “jumping off point”. I’ve got those kids eating out of the palm of my hands. They are quiet and even the high functioning autistic kid is usually on the edge of her seat taking in my every word. My secret? I give them the (mostly) unbleached, uncorrelated, true history. For example, the ten-year-olds were oh so keen to hear about Joseph Smith using a smuggled pistol to great effect in his last moments. For the Salt Lake Temple lesson, I’m not even going to bring up sex in any form. For sure I’ll mention covenants and temple ordinances, but not for long or I’ll have a mutiny on my hands. Then I’ll talk about the Utah War, motivations of the saints and of the federal gov’t, architecture, etc. The bell will ring and the kids will march begrudgingly to sharing time faster than you can say “Mountain Meadows Massacre”.

  9. It’s definitely inappropriate. I sometimes feel my wife and I spend more time deprogramming the false doctrine taught in Primary than the false doctrine taught in Young Men. (No false doctrine is taught in Young Women because my wife is an instructor there. I’m sure the parents of the other YW feel they must deprogram their kids from my wife’s liberal teachings.)

  10. I’m a primary president. We are currently short teachers for two classes. Want to come to my ward?
    I can’t speak to the weirdness. I think it is ok for kids to hear about the “law of chastity” but yet how do you explain it without talking about sex. I am always careful that there might be children in primary who have been sexually abused, so I never want to make an abuse victim feel bad.
    I had no problem talking about adultery in primary. I just explained it that when you’re married you don’t date somebody else.
    I can tell you what I would do if I were teaching the lesson.
    I would absolutely have them build temples . Whether I would go back to Michael’s craft store five times so I could buy craft supplies with coupons, or buy a years supply of soap and then spray paint the little boxes gray, or just bring a huge stash of Lego, we would build temples.
    Rather than focus on sexual boundaries of chastity, I would teach the importance of marriage, being faithful, and how to choose a good marriage partner, and how to have a good marriage. No kid is too young to talk about how to treat a spouse with kindness, to look for a spouse who wants the same things as you do, and that if you’re married you shouldn’t date other people or have a crush on somebody else. I would then talk about how to be a good parent. I would expect the children to be able to share a lot of their ideas, and then each time they gave their thoughts on the subject, I would expand on that or rephrase to teach them important gospel principles and lifelong skills.
    As for worthiness, I would just talk about about baptismal covenant being a desire to follow the Lord, and going to the temple is similar that only people who choose to go and want to covenant to follow the Lord go to the temple.

  11. This is why they will have to pry my Sunbeams calling out of my cold, dead hands. “I am thankful for fish” is exactly the level of doctrine I can wholeheartedly bear testimony to. Plus, I haven’t seen anything about the law of chastity in the manual I tend to not follow anyway.

  12. it's a series of tubes says:

    I taught this lesson to my Valiant 8 class yesterday. As I prepped for the lesson, it took me about three seconds to decide to boot out all the law of chastity material. We focused on the history and sacrifices of building the temple, and how God wants ALL of his children to come and partake of the blessings of the temple. I considered, but ultimately didn’t, show the classic excerpt from The Mountain of the Lord where the army views the plowed-over temple lot… “A field? In the middle of the city? What’ll these MORMONS think of next?”

  13. Brazil girl says:

    I taught this lesson about 8 years ago to a class of 10, 11, and 12 year olds-one boy and six+ girls, and most of the kids I knew well enough to feel comfortable teaching it. We were friends 27th their parents. I was pretty blunt about it. During the week leading up to the lesson, I emailed all the parents, let them know what the lesson was about, and essentially told them what I would say and offered to let their kid skip if they didn’t want them to hear anything from me. I operated under the assumption that all of them at the point in their lives had already leaned what it meant to have sex. In my email I suggested the same thing, and I think I implied that if the parents hadn’t yet had a conversation on the topic that the week leading up to the lesson might be a good time to have it.

    In the lesson, I basically gave the definition of the law of chastity that I had taught on my mission, that sexual relations were to be only between husband and wife. Because Elizabeth Smart’s situation was fresh in my mind, I also stressed (and spent more time on) the idea of virtue not being something that could be taken away but rather in the instance of choosing to disobey the law of chastity, that through the atonement virtue could be restored. I also stressed that in the case of sexual abuse or assault, no virtue had been taken away and that they should never feel shame in that type of situation. We talked about how the atonement could help them get through a bad experience such as abuse. I then let them know to approach a trusted parent /adult if they had any additional questions.

    I essentially taught the basic doctrine, didn’t go into uncomfortable details, and then moved on. “The world” isn’t whispering into their ears about these topics, and in my opinion, neither should we. Of course parents need to be the ones having more in depth discussions, which I did not have. But you can bet that those tween-age kids are hearing about sex from all manner of sources and it’s not likely to always jive with our doctrinal views.

%d bloggers like this: