“General Conference is a punishment for kids and a privilege for adults.”
That’s what my then 7-year-old son said to me six weeks before the October 2013 session of General Conference. This semi-annual event is seriously one of my very favorite things in the world, so I had already started counting down the days.
When he said that, I was appalled. Did my children really think of General Conference as a punishment? As I reflected on my early days of Church membership, I realized that I too had thought of General Conference has a ‘punishment’ of sorts. It was long, dull and difficult to understand – and I was 12! How had I forgotten that?
I decided then and there to do whatever I could to help my children develop a love of General Conference. So, of course, I consulted Pinterest. You can see my findings here. I haven’t tried everything I’ve pinned yet, but most of the ideas I have tried have been enormously successful.
The results have been incredible. At the conclusion of the October session, all of my children were eagerly asking when the next General Conference would take place. Instead of beginning our countdown six weeks ahead, they started counting down six months ahead!
The central feature of our General Conference celebration is a large table that showcases our two main activities – the baskets and the General Authority treat bags.
These activities are very simple – and they are the kids’ very favorite!
The General Authority treat bags help my children identify the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. They also help the children pay attention by motivating them to pay attention to the names and faces of each speaker.
To make these bags, I simply glue a picture of each speaker onto a plain brown paper bag. More crafty Mamas have used pencil pouches or even adorable and much more durable felt bags. Maybe someday I’ll come up with a more permanent solution. However, as a homeschool mom, I have a ton of brown paper bags for art projects so this was very convenient for me.
I fill each bag with treats, toys or small activities that the children can do. These new additions help keep the children active and interested so that they don’t become bored as the meeting goes on.
Our first attempt with these bags was somewhat distracting. With four kids searching for the speaker and then trying to share the contents of each bag, it can get noisy and chaotic – which is exactly what these activities are supposed to prevent. This session, I made a few important adjustments to our original plan.
- I now select one child to retrieve the bag at a time – and they retrieve the bag when the speaker is announced. The bag is brought to me and I wait to pass out its contents until the speaker actually stands.
- To ensure that everything is “fair” and quickly divided, I included only four identical items in each bag and, when necessary, I divided the items into four Ziploc baggies to ensure that they are quickly divided without arguing. A little advance planning ensures that everything is “fair” and argument-proof (well, as argument-proof as anything can get).
Eventually, I hope to fill the baskets with items that are actually relevant to the speakers (airplanes for President Uchtdorf, for example). I’m not that organized yet, though, so the contents of each bag are very random. Maybe next time, though.
Each child also receives a General Conference basket. I purchased small baskets at the Dollar Store to use. At the beginning of each morning and afternoon session, I supply each child with a basket full of various treats and quiet activities. At the end, I gather up the baskets and reload them with new and different items for the next session.
These baskets have proven very effective in keeping little hands busy and little mouths closed. The children eagerly await the discovery of what will be in each basket. Of course, they’ve usually watched me shop over the previous few weeks and have seen the items I’ve gathered.
Each basket usually includes at least one snack, coloring page, small toy (Legos, Rubiks Cubes, bouncy balls, small cars, etc) and craft activity. Obviously, the contents must be adjusted for age. My oldest child is 8 years old and receives word search puzzles instead of coloring pages.
Some of the activities we include in the baskets are taken from other Pinterest ideas. The young children especially enjoyed putting together Church-themed popsicle stick puzzles inspired by this post at Bits of Everything. They also enjoyed the paper dolls we found via the Family Ever After blog.
I’ve also tried a popular idea known as Conference Cash. I used some of our play money (from our homeschool supplies) and “paid” the children for their good behavior throughout the session. During songs or other breaks between speakers, the children were able to redeem their earnings for additional treats. This idea didn’t really work very well for us because most of our children are too young for this idea. They constantly wanted to count their money and get their treats. It ended up being a tremendous distraction, so we decided not to continue using Conference Cash. However, I do think we’ll try it again when the children are older.
I am amazed at what a difference a few Conference activities has made. The same child who claimed General Conference was a punishment actually complained when the first session of the next General Conference ended! The victory has definitely been worth the effort!
Do you have any General Conference ideas you’d like to share?