Call for guest posts: #TeachingPrimaryCFM

Pity the poor Primary teachers.

I mean, the new schedule is good for them in many ways: they only have to keep kids’ attention for 20 minutes, and, at two hours total, the kids will be a lot less exhausted from sitting still.

But, at the same time, the church has introduced a new Primary manual. As in, one. This manual is supposed to be the basis of lessons for 3-year-olds and for 11-year-olds. Now, in theory, that’s not a bad idea. The same concepts can be pitched at different levels.

But in practice? Well, as friend of the blog Mette Harrison points out, it’s not quite so simple. 


And it’s not quite so simple for one main reason: most of us aren’t trained in early (and, for that matter, mid-) childhood pedagogy. Sure, many of us have kids, and have muddled through raising them. But if you’re anything like me, you don’t actually know what developmental milestones occur when, what skills and abilities kids should have at what age, how to manage a classroom at various ages, and all of the other stuff that goes into teaching.[fn1]

The thing is, there are best practices, and pedagogical techniques, that would improve our Primary teaching and our lesson design. Whole courses of study exist to prepare people for teaching young children![fn2]

For a whole bunch of valid reasons, the church can’t solely call professional teachers of young children to teach Primary. But I’m hoping that BCC can provide some resources that will help our amateur teachers be more confident and effective in teaching.

There’s just one problem: like me, few, if any, of our bloggers have degrees in anything related to early childhood teaching.


I’m sure some of you do. And I’d love to get your expertise. I’d love to have a professor of elementary education write a guest post about teaching four-year-olds. A special education teacher write about how to teach a class that includes special needs students. A preschool teacher write about engaging 3-year-olds. A dance teacher write about integrating movement as part of an academic lesson. A music teacher write about how you can teach a song to 3-year-olds and 11-year-olds at the same time without losing either group. Somebody write about classroom management for various ages.

Or, frankly, whatever else could benefit teachers as they attempt to teach.

Look, I know we’re supposed to use the Spirit to guide us, and let’s assume that Primary teachers do that. I’m more interested in a toolbox that Primary teachers can go to as they prepare to teach our children.[fn3] What I envision is different from the #BCCSundaySchool2019 posts. Instead of helping with content, I’d love to get some help with technique.

If you have the expertise and interest, I’d love to have you ping me, ideally at this form, but if you don’t trust Google Forms, you’re welcome to reach out to me on Twitter or by email. Or even in the comments, as long as I can get in touch with you.

Thanks for your help! I’m excited to learn about #TeachingPrimaryCFM![fn4]

[fn1] I mean, I teach professionally. But, like most law professors, I don’t have formal pedagogical training. And I teach graduate students, who are generally self-motivated and old enough to sit still and listen (or, at least, pretend convincingly).

[fn2] My wife, for instance, has a Masters in dance education from NYU; her focus was on teaching academic subjects to elementary school-aged children through dance. So I know the training exists.

[fn3] Yes, I understand the critical importance of teaching the Gospel by the Spirit. And I think most Primary teachers do. The thing is, while the Spirit will help us communicate to our students, it doesn’t substitute for understanding what we’re doing, or for preparation. We don’t, for example, assume that somebody who can’t read music or play a musical instrument will be able to play the organ in Sacrament meeting by the Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit will help her play to her full capacity, but we want our organists to have studied music (formally or informally), to have learned the mechanics of playing, and to have practiced. Teaching, like music, is a skill, and teachers should have a similar chance to learn the techniques of teaching.

[fn4] The “CFM” is for “Come, Follow Me,” the title of the new manual.


  1. I have a friend that I met through my ASD son, as she was his special ed teacher at school. She ended up quitting to co-pastor her husband’s church. She is in charge of the children’s program, and the first thing they list on their website in the kids’ section is a weekly bouncy house in the gym. Just sayin’.

  2. Suzanne Lucas says:

    Most primary teachers have children, though (in my experience), and are fairly well versed with developmental differences. Teaching out of the same manual isn’t a problem, but my primary class has 3 kids that don’t speak a language that I speak, so that is a far bigger challenge.

    What change I’d really like to see is the Church spending less money on videos for the English speaking crowd and more stuff in other languages. That would help me a LOT. (My class is officially German-speaking, but I have zero native German speakers, including me! 4 kids speak German as a second language, 2 only speak French and 1 only speaks Spanish. If my only Spanish kid is there the same week as a native Spanish speaker he can translate a little, but usually he’s busy hanging off the ceiling because 6 year old boy.)

  3. The church used to have a wonderful manual that had brief descriptions of developmental stages, ages, and strategies; I think it was called “The How Book,” but I’m not positive. Like the Teaching No Greater Call manual, it was filled with really helpful ideas and instruction. I wish that these content-rich materials had not gone away.

  4. Suzanne, it’s true that a lot of primary teachers have children, and have some amount of experience with children as a result. I’m not sure, though, that having children is the equivalent of understanding developmental appropriateness and pedagogical tools. I mean, I have kids. I have played piano since I was five (which is a lot of years at this point), and majored in music for a year in college. And I’ve occasionally tried to give my kids piano lessons. I think I’m a pretty good dad, but I’m kind of a terrible piano teacher, in spite of knowing my children and knowing the piano. I don’t have the pedagogical training to teach children.

    Moreover, a primary class isn’t just the teacher’s own children; it’s a bunch of children, all of whom have different attention spans, interests, and learning styles and preferences. Professional teachers deal with this kind of diversity all the time, while parents don’t necessarily.

    That said, providing resources in languages other than English strikes me as a critical step that the church could take.

    And Jennifer, thanks! It would be great if the church had this kind of information easily accessible. I’m hoping that a series on BCC would be the next-best (or, maybe, the first-best) thing!

    And of course bouncy houses are a good thing, Lauren! And if you figure out how to get them in your ward, lmk!

  5. My thought: At the very least, let’s separate the primary teachers from the youth and gospel doctrine teachers at teacher council meetings and seek out instruction from certified teachers in the ward. I’ve been in many a teacher council where the instructor was a well-meaning member of the Sunday School presidency who had no clue what to say about teaching Sunbeams or 9 year olds. Even in a discussion format, real and useful expertise wasn’t highlighted.

  6. That’s a great idea, Karen. Thanks!

  7. I started teaching in primary when each class had their own manual and name – Stars, Targeteers, Merrie Miss etc. In those manuals there was an introduction that talked about age appropriate development for that class and ideas for teaching and it was quite helpful. One thing it said was to expect a child could only sit still for as many minutes as they were old. Three years old three minutes max and then you’d better change what you were doing. So, tell a story, sing a song, tell the story again differently, color a picture that relates to the story and so on to fill the class time. The repetition was another eye opener for me. In junior primary it was pretty successful. I might tell it the first time though with pictures, the next time we did it I’d let the children have the pictures – maybe they’d tell the part of the story relating to their picture, maybe they’d put them in order on the floor, different ways depending on them. The final time through maybe it was a game about the story. Pick a picture and tell about it or maybe play a match game and if you got a match answer a question about the story. Those manuals definitely emphasized variety in the repetition and also just plain variety so keep young children engaged. I’m sure all of that can be done with the new manuals it’s just a matter of having some tricks and tools to apply to the topics. If I were teaching now I’d be hitting up the library to see what pictures and flannel board scripture stories they had that I could use over the course of the year.

  8. I have to agree that being a parent does not automatically confer expertise in child development. Although parenting and teaching may come intuitively to a very small number of people, for most, children don’t come with manuals, and the current crop of parenting books and magazines aren’t much help, and as soon as you figure out how to interact with your child, he or she changes.

    One thing that did help over the years: a friend introduced me to a series by Louise Bates Ames. Her books rely on extensive observation of children to explain that children tend to follow basic developmental frameworks, and she explains it all in an accessible, if rather dated manner. So, she has books like Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful or Your Nine Year Old: Thoughtful and Mysterious. The books explain what happens at any given age or stage of development and what parents and teachers can do. Hopefully a guest author or authors can suggest a more modern equivalent than Ames, but for those of us to whom parenting or teaching is not intuitive, it helps to have someone explain what is happening.

  9. “a child could only sit still for as many minutes as they were old”
    Great suggestion. I’ll be 72 this year and not old enough for 2-hour church. But maybe the 10 minutes to move to another seat will help it work.

    My 9-year old grandson reports he liked 3-hour church better — last year his Primary lessons were not so “rushed”. I hadn’t thought of him as “thoughtful and mysterious”, but it seems I should have.

    Here’s hoping for continuing good suggestions and guest posts to help our Primary teachers.

  10. I have nearly 20 yrs experience teaching Primary at various levels, but nothing quite prepared me for my current calling as Primary President in a tiny, rural branch. I know, from experience, how to teach to different age levels, personalities, and abilities (though I admit I’ve never had a non-English speaker), but now I have to figure out how to teach all ages simultaneously. (I am currently – hopefully not for too much longer – the entirety of the Primary, and I’ve got 3 regular attenders at ages 2, 4, and 8.)
    My current situation is due to lack of dependable adults, and I have to say that the new schedule and manual are a godsend for me. I don’t feel restricted by a detailed lesson plan; rather, I feel more encouraged to adapt to our Primary’s needs. The shortened time also helps. The oldest gets bored very easily (thanks, digital age), and the younger ones obviously can’t sit still for long, so I have to change things up a lot. I have time for short and sweet, to the point lessons in between activities without running myself ragged trying to fill 2 hrs.
    Sorry this is so long, and I know my situation is unique, but I think it’s important to point out that no one resource will work for everyone. There’s always going to be someone or something that needs something completely different. Let’s do as much as we can in general, but don’t forget that divine inspiration is our best friend.

  11. Agreed on getting training from any professional teacher of young children, In our stake, we have a Married Student Ward. Their primary consists of a nursery and about 8 sunbeams. When I was in the stake primary, I was absolutely amazed at all the techniques they used to engage those 8 children during sharing time. We had them do a little training for an auxiliary training meeting and wished we’d just turned the whole time over to them. Things I remember: Give them things to hold and wave while they’re in their seats – pieces of cloth (like a bandana), stick figures, anything that relates to the story and/or can keep a rhythm. Turn the purpose into the lesson into one or 2 simple sentences and repeat that throughout – “What did we talk about today? ______!” Have them repeat it with you. Tap hands on lap in a rhythm along with anything important and simple, having them repeat. Change the seating. Start out in chairs, but then sit on the floor in a corner, then back in the chairs. Go find the wiggle songs in the Primary book and use them – every few minutes. Put “stations” around the room – can even be a picture on the wall. “Walk” from station to station as you teach the different points of the lesson. Most importantly, choose ONLY 1 concept you want them to understand and teach that 1 thing 10 different ways. Often we do it the other way around and they get nothing out of it, especially if they’re under age 7.
    The website actually has quite a few practical ideas and materials. Check out this section, including clicking on the “Primary” section in the sidebar.

  12. And, because I’ve been thinking about the Come Follow Me program and the purpose behind it for quite awhile, I’ve been trying to compile a summary of resources available from the Church, hoping to encourage people to dig in and see what’s there. The Church really has put out a wealth of materials for us to use at church and at home to expand the simple-seeming lessons.
    Anyone is welcome to take a look here (and share it as much as you want, if you think it’s useful)–TnzUqM6QG7oE3Xoe6I/edit?usp=sharing

  13. Thanks, jes!

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I was going to say I knew someone who could handle the dance lesson, but then your footnote 2 ruined my little joke…

  15. We had this problem as a primary presidency. Some people REALLY don’t get kids and expect them to be little adults. And if the 4 or 10 year-olds aren’t sitting perfectly still, listening to their monologue, they send the kids to the hall or berate the parents. I do think a sheet with developmental expectations would be a great addition to the manual.

    I would rather teach anything on this earth-physics, geometry to a group of Sunbeams that only takes 20 minutes than getting 50 minutes teaching them about the moon and stars. I couldn’t handle the disparity with the lesson material and the time allotment, it was like whoever wrote it never met a 3 year old. Or they just didn’t care that you got to make up a 50 minute circus act with no material. Bless those sunbeam teachers.

  16. I think this is such a good idea, and I’m looking forward to reading whatever the invitation draws in. I taught the Valiant 9 class last year, which I think is just about the best age ever. I stopped going to the monthly teacher council, which was ALWAYS the same discussion about the importance of teaching by the spirit – with gospel doctrine and youth Sunday School teachers. Not that that’s not important, but we all came in there with different challenges. The gospel doctrine teachers are asking themselves, How can I make this new and interesting to people who have heard it so many times before? The youth teachers are asking, How can I get my kids to see that this really does apply to them? And the primary teacher is asking, How can I get my students to sit at the table instead of under the table? I would love to see some age-specific suggestions!

  17. Kristin V Brown says:

    jes- I think we are all grateful for your resources.
    Just a reminder of how valuable chalk can be to a lesson and keeping the children involved and interested.
    Sometimes I would tell the story while drawing the story on the chalkboard. It helps to keep their attention.
    Older children can add their thoughts to lists. They will be quiet if they get to hold the piece of chalk and contribute to the chalk board.
    Write a scripture, repeat the scripture, ask a child which word to erase, repeat until the students have memorized the phrase or scripture and all the words have been erased.
    Learning how to use an old-fashioned piece of chalk can work wonders!

  18. McKenzie Robinson says:

    I’m a special education teacher with 10 years experience in both the school and district levels and now teach special education online. I have many years of primary experience- lots of which has been with kids with disabilities. I’d love to chat more with you about a possible guest post via email. Let me know if you’re interested!

  19. The concern expressed in this post is valid. I have six kids. Though hindsight clearly reveals that I could have done better, I think my heart was right in that I knew I wanted to be attuned to their various stages of development and individual needs, and teaching them accordingly. I was teaching 8 yr olds after my release as a bishop about the miraculous occurrences at the Kirtland Temple dedication. I was using all of my story telling skills in hopes of providing a relatable experience for about ten. After telling the kids about some at the dedication speaking in toungues, the appearance of an angel, and the visions and miracles that occurred, the kids were quiet, still, and ostensibly attentive. I thought I had ‘em. Then one boy raised his hand. I knew him to be a smart kid. I expected him to ask who the angel was. When I called on him, he very matter of factly asked, “Brother G, did you know I’m going to Disneyland next week?” ‘nuf said. Best wishes to all who are committed to learning how to improve Gospel teaching in our wards and families.

  20. We have to teach TWO Primary lessons every Sunday. Our Ward leadership decided to free up people for callings by having people like me and my husband teach the Senior Primary kids and then teach the Junior Primary kids every Sunday.

    We have to now prepare TWO lessons every week. And because we have a class of ten-year-olds (6 students) and a class of six-year-olds (8 students) there is NO OVERLAP in what we do between the classes

    Most of the six-year-olds can’t read. Most of them cannot write. Whereas the 10-year-olds need to be reading and writing and engaging in ways that the younger kids are not capable of doing.

    Only one 10-year-old brought a set of scriptures. The little table was not big enough for more than 3 students to write or color on.

    But more than anything, having to preparing and teaching two lessons every Sunday and teaching for the full second hour every week is a LOT. I don’t want to do it. My husband doesn’t want to do it. We have sent in our concerns but the Primary president was adamant that we try it this way for at least a month.

    I’ve taught primary for the last five years. It is a tough and thankless calling. The church doesn’t set Primary teachers up to win, and on a local level l am treated as expendable.

    PLEASE SEND HELP. And please share if any other ward is making their poor Primary teachers do double duty with the new schedule. What teacher would agree to teach kindergarten and fourth-graders? The primary president said, “Well the lesson material is the same.” But the manual is even devided between older children and younger so it really isn’t just giving the same lesson twice.

    My burden was not lifted by the two hour block. It was made worse. I now have to learn and navigate two different class dynamics. I’m supposed to love and prayer for and get to know 17 different children (three we’re absent Sunday).


  21. !!!

    Dear Amy’s ward leadership,
    ur doing it wrong


  22. But seriously, send me your bishop’s number. I’ll call him and explain that asking you and your husband to teach two disparate classes does a disservice both to you and to the children.

    And freeing people up for more callings? My ward in Chicago isn’t huge, but my bishop mentioned that the new schedule means there are far fewer callings to go around—he believes that a significant portion of members aren’t going to have formal callings at any given time. (Also, unless this is what you want to do, there’s no reason you should be asked to teach primary for five years straight!) So your ward can afford to call more teachers.

    And hopefully we at BCC can help you as you prepare your ONE LESSON PER WEEK.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    Amy, that is truly awful. Half the battle with teaching is the preparation, and to make you do two completely separate preparations each and every week is crazy. The ultimate leverage is yours, of course. I would send a message to both the PP and the Bishop that this experiment is not workable for X reasons, and your last day doing it will be Y. If they ignore your message and don’t fix it by Y, it’s their issue to figure out; not your problem anymore.

  24. Wow. Amy. I can only imagine trying to get a sub if you ever have to leave town. I agree with Sam Brunson, that the ward’s new problem is not enough callings. I am really surprised they are doing this.
    I think this is one reason more men should be serving in primary and nursery. If they ever get a chance to be in a Bishopric, they should have some experience at least.

  25. Amy, that is a truly weird decision on your ward leadership’s part. Four wards were recently merged into three where I live, and I was one of those people who were moved into a new and already fully-staffed ward. And I can vouch for the lack of callings. With the new two-hour block, we newbies are all sitting around in our new wards with nothing to do. Which isn’t necessarily a bad problem (and might sound really desirable to you right now!) but it does make you feel kind of invisible.

  26. Rick Harper says:

    All of this seems to be symptomatic of our culture of being deeply suspicious of expertise. I’ve seen the same thing with ward choir directors. We’re almost afraid that if someone actually knows what they’re doing – especially if they’ve had formal training – they won’t be using the spirit, they’ll be relying on the arm of flesh.

    We’ve so deeply internalized “When they are learned they think they are wise…” that we forget that “To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God”. Not just “okay” or “acceptable”, but “good”.

  27. Karen,

    In fact, the guidance issued with the schedule change on October 6, 2018 includes the following regarding the (now quarterly) teacher councils: “If desired, Primary teachers may meet separately from other teachers to counsel about the unique needs of teaching children.”

    Hopefully Sunday School presidencies and bishoprics will recognize the wisdom in this.

  28. OregonMum says:

    I too would love to see info on teaching kids (littles and older children) who have special needs. My own son (10) is on the spectrum and has his share of spectacular teachers, and teachers who literally quit their calling. Interestingly enough, one of his best teachers was a newlywed very young couple. He played for our college football team and would bench press the kids to get their wiggles out. I’ve been in nursery and primary for many years and have hardly ever received any training. Even on the Sundays where we were supposed to have “teacher council” they usually were cancelled. Without anyone telling us. We’d all be waiting around for the SS president or delegate to show up. No one would, so we’d head back to sharing time. In the last three years I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to go to ONE teacher council. So not a lot of investment from a leadership standpoint.

  29. MCSquared says:

    Those having the most trouble with the new curriculum will most likely be victims of past bad practice. Primary Teachers should look to the “lesson plan” only in their preparation and not as an itemized agenda to power through to toddlers on Sunday… Misusing the manual is not new.

    Teachers should be inspired to draw from the manual materials not dictated by the contents. Many times, I’ve gone into primary with an intent to teach a particular gospel principle only to end up being impressed to go into a different direction because of a spiritual need for one or more of the kids.

    We’ve transitioned teaching in Sunday School over the past five years to Come Follow Me. Now it’s time for Primary. Primary teachers need to learn how to trust more in the Holy Ghost in their classes and rely less on the lesson manual.

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