We’re not sure how it happened. We tried formal family home evenings. Some went well, and some didn’t. At the same time we were reading scriptures and stories to our children most nights. They loved it and kept asking if it was “reading time” yet. We were amazed! Gradually, what had begun as family scripture reading, evolved into something much more. We were spending more and more time discussing what the scriptures meant and how to apply them in our lives. We talked about Joseph of Egypt’s integrity, and forgiveness; Daniel’s keeping the Word of Wisdom; Esther’s courage; Nephi’s faith; Alma the Younger’s repentance and humility; and of course, the example of love and perfection of the Savior. Abraham and Job made us ponder the purpose of trials in life. The Pearl of Great Price provided deeper perspectives into the Plan of Salvation. The Doctrine and Covenants showed us the way to the Celestial Kingdom. As we studied the lives of people in both ancient and modern times, we came to better understand the commandments; the joy of keeping them and the consequences of disobedience. Our love for the scriptures and for each other grew as we shared our experiences, insights, questions, and testimonies in a safe, informal, environment. Finally, we realized that we were having family home evenings not just once a week but five to seven times each week! We were simply using the scriptures as our manual.
Though we did not prepare formal lessons, we found, as parents, we had to prepare ourselves for the teaching moments which came during our nightly reading. Together my husband and I discussed each child’s needs, and found articles from Church magazines and other good sources to include in our reading time. Simply by reading the Church scripture assignments, we were able to keep ahead of our family scripture reading. This gave us time to think about principles and experiences we might want to share. My husband quickly skimmed ahead as he read and chose those passages of scripture which would have the most meaning to our children. Sometimes he’d summarize or skip sections, such as the numbering of Israel. Occasionally, when my husband would substitute one of our children’s names for a name in a scripture, the children would protest, “It doesn’t say that Dad!”, then we would discuss how the scriptures really do apply to each of us.
When we had younger children, we all sat in the living room as my husband read to us, but as our older children became teens, we struggled with finding time to all be together. Finally, we found that there was a time when they wanted their parents’ company - when they had to clean up the kitchen. No one wanted to be alone washing dishes, so we moved our reading into the kitchen. An added benefit was the lack of fussing during clean-up time.
My husband did the reading since he had a clear reading voice, could skim ahead, and put a lot of enthusiasm into the stories. I related the scriptures to our lives by asking questions and sharing experiences. We encouraged each child to express their thoughts and really listened to them. Our older children shared things they had learned in seminary, our younger children what they had learned in primary, and we all related our experiences and concerns. Together, we found solutions from the principles found in the scriptures.
As parents, we had to keep focused on teaching our children the principles of the gospel, instead of just “getting through the scriptures” or “getting through a lesson”. We also had to be careful to choose good literature, such as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, to read to our children so the Spirit could be in our home.
During the years our children were home, we did many things together. We played, worked, and planned together, but our “reading” time stands out as a special time we had together as a family. What made it work year after year, was the children. They were the ones that insisted that we have “the reading”. Each night we read and discussed the scriptures first, then when interest started to wane, my husband would read the remainder of our time from a fun book. He always managed to stop at some exciting moment which kept the kids begging for him to start “the reading” the next day. Often, we thought it was too late, not enough time, or we were tired, but the children would insist, so we made the time to be together again. Now, I am glad we did. Though it seemed so simple and informal, this “reading time” was a time when principles were learned, testimonies built, and our family was strengthened.