General Conference weekends are my favorite. If I had my way I would sit, listen, work on an applique, and be spiritually fed. However with 9 children that has rarely been the case and the last few years have been more and more chaotic. As you can see I still have the cast which only adds another dimension of bedlam.
My approach to General Conference has always been more relaxed. I haven't printed off conference packets or made traditional foods. If the children are quietly building lego creations, sewing, or coloring I'm happy. I do make sure that conference can be heard in every room of the house, unfortunately the tv, internet, and radio bandwidths aren't always synchronized so one room might be 10 seconds ahead of the next. It wasn't a perfect system, but it worked.
In April conference 2012 Brick was drawing on the chalk board wall and heard the speaker recite the words:
"Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?Now is the time to show.We ask it fearlessly:Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who? (“Who’s on the Lord’s Side?” Hymns, no. 260)With those words being sung by nearly 2,000 people but seeming to be a question posed just to me, I wanted to stand and say, “I am!” (Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church", General Conference April 2012)
I was in the studio listening when suddenly Brick said, "I am! I am!" It melted my heart and taught me once again that no matter what is happening, something is soaking in.
Last October I came across this visiting teaching handout about conferencee that said, "conference should be just as good as a movie (if not better)" and it stuck with me. When we go to a movie it's a big deal, everyone is excited and can hardly wait. When it's conference time there is lack luster enthusiasm and primarily because we don't have to get dressed and go to church (with the little people, the big girls love conference, but they are mature). So I decided I was going to make conference better than a movie.
So last October, I printed conference packets which no one used. I brought treats: a huge jar of treats! At the end of every talk of they could come and tell me something the speaker had said or the theme of the talk they could get a treat. I felt a little bit like a cheerleader saying, "Conference is awesome!", but the incentives seemed to help with more listening and participation even if there was sugar overload.
This time around I was going to be more prepared, create something meaningful, or at least try to have us all be in the same room at the same time. It wasn't perfect and by the Sunday afternoon session there was some brawling happening, but all and all it might have been our most successful conference weekend.
Part of the success is due to the fact that the children are getting older and able to sit quietly for longer periods of time. The "incentives" helped as well. This year we approached our incentives a little differently (and yes incentive based learning is acceptable. President Snow talks about it chapter 5 of "Teachings of the presidents" I got some cheap little disposable toys, rockets, airplanes, etc paired them with an apostle and after each session the younger children were able to open the respective speakers bag and find their prize.
I didn't spend very much money and the prizes broke quickly, but the children were excited all the same. The bird whittles were in President Packer's bag because he carves wooden birds. The cars were for Elder Ballard because he was a car salesman. The flash lights (President Eyring) were the favorite and the boys found themselves in dark closets playing some imaginary game that involved shooting and death. Not the intended purpose, but there are just somethings I have no control over.
The binoculars were surprisingly one of the favorites (Elder Bednar: continually seeks learning). I had to laugh then Loaf came running into the room crying because she couldn't find her "I spy". These incentives didn't necessarily help with the overall reverence, but they did help the children get to know the Apostles and First Presidency a little better allowing them to relate on a more personal level.
We still had edible incentives as well, but in much smaller amounts. If the children could tell me a theme from the speaker they could chose a treat. It was cute to see Dash pop his head up and tell me a word or two in the middle of the talk so he could be sure and get his treat. This ended up being very successful and I loved hearing what the children got from each talk.
We don't normally have soda so this was a fun lunchtime treat. (the printable can be found here) I loved the quote she used:
"Decide now to make general conference a priority in your life. Decide to listen carefully and follow the teachings that are given. Listen to or read the talks more than once to better understand and follow the counsel. By doing these things, the gates of hell will not prevail against you, the powers of darkness will be dispersed from before you, and the heavens will shake for your good." (Elder Paul V. Johnson, "The Blessings of General Conference", General Conference, October 2005)
I printed off some conference packets for the boys and at the last minute decided to add some mazes, a favorite. The packets were hardly used and every single maze was completed. I might just print off mazes next year, although Tank did towards the end color a bit and Rock took a few notes.
Now you might be remembering how I said I take a relaxed approach to General Conference, I have always wanted the words and the spirit to be the main focus of the weekend. I found this time around that my hurried preparations and strategic incentive timing helped make the weekend more pleasant for everyone. There was still contention, but there were moments of bliss and peace and for the most part everyone gathered around a listened to the prophet's voice.
If I could do things differently, I would start sooner in my preparations. I didn't get very much sleep the couple of nights preceding conference, but it was worth the effort. It's amazing what you can find on pinterest that will spark an idea. Our conference is awesome chart was truly awesome.
I found the idea from General conference chart by Jen Lund and General conference chart 2 by Tiff Keetch. I made some modifications to suit our family and my personal tastes so I will post more about this next week and include the downloads I created for our family if you are interested in making your own "conference is awesome" chart. (edited: Conference is awesome chart and conference is awesome folder)
In between sessions the babies had a great time adding different family members to the podium. Whitney was the favorite speaker. I'm sure she is quite content not having to speak in general conference.
I learned a great deal, I was inspired and prayers were answered. My spiritual tank is overflowing and I think conference will be something all the children look forward to, because it is better than a movie.
On a side note I recently started reading Middle-aged Mormon Man's blog and I giggled at some of his commentary:
"To those of you who have hated President Packer for the past 40 years, I would like to introduce you to Elder David Bednar. "
"Unflinching! Elder L. Tom Perry throwin' it down! (Words I have never typed before.)"