Molly, my 11-year-old neighbor, stopped to chat with me last week. Molly discussed her dog, school, and her older sister who has a more eventful social life than Molly. “Hillary got to paintball with the Young Women last night. She came home with red paint in her hair!”
“When do you turn 12?”
“Not until February. Kelsey and Brielee are already in Beehives. I’m the only one left in Primary. Activity days are no fun now with just 8 and 9-year-olds.”
I felt for Molly. George and I have been called to teach the 11-year-old Primary class in two different wards—I suspect many wards dump that calling onto new move-ins. The class starts out with a good-sized group of boys and girls, but month-by-month the roll decreases until one poor kid is left there alone—for several months if she has the only late-summer birthday.
If Church leaders are truly concerned about the number of young people they are losing, they should look at the Primary experience. A two-hour block of reverent Primary time following Sacrament Meeting is grueling—but kids can handle tedium— with the support of friends. Take away the friends and Primary can be torture for those left behind. Kids who are miserable in Primary will likely carry unpleasant associations with church into their adult lives—and make different choices about how to spend Sundays.
In my day girls moved into YW (then MIA) as a group at the beginning of the school year. Before the three-hour block, boys turning 12 attended Priesthood meeting on Sunday mornings but stayed in their same Sunday School class. Primary classes for 9, 10, and 11-year-olds were divided by gender, so I don’t know if boys quit attending weekday Primary when they turned 12 and had Scout meetings on Tuesday evenings.
For most kids, grade level rather than birthdays determines their closest friendships. Our two oldest children were born in October. Church classes separated them from their classmates each fall until friends with late winter and spring birthdays were advanced to their Church group.
In the slight chance the Primary General Board is interested, I have a suggestion for the problem of kids being placed in Church classes without their classmates: Move the kids according to their grade placement (except in special circumstances best determined at the ward level). When school starts in the fall, move all 6th graders as a group into YM/YW. Sixth-graders are generally in middle school and feel Primary is too babyish for them, anyway. If 18-year-old males who are not yet elders can attend Elders’ Quorum as potential elders, why can’t 11-year-old boys attend Deacon’s Quorum as potential deacons?
Yes, I know school starts at a different time of year in the southern hemisphere, but is there a valid reason for insisting that every Church class throughout the world be teaching the exact same lesson every Sunday?
If the point of children and youth programs is to prepare young Mormons to become committed adult Church members, doesn’t it make sense to tailor programs to meet the needs of the kids?