Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Primary

by Jennifer Barkdull and the Consultation Services team
25 August 2020

In this post, discover the answers to some of the most common questions about the Primary organization that come to the Consultation Services team.

1. Where can I find information about the history of Primary?

The Primary organization has a unique—and, to be honest, somewhat complicated—history, so it’s natural that we receive a lot of questions about it. The Church History Catalog contains many materials detailing the Primary’s origins and subsequent history, and we have included a list of resources below. However, since we receive so many questions about the Primary’s history, we also wanted to share information about how the Primary got started.

Like some other Church programs, Primary grew out of a local effort. Primary originated with Aurelia Spencer Rogers, who spoke with Eliza R. Snow about her belief that the children of the Church needed more structure in their lives. In response, Sister Snow asked Sister Rogers if she would be willing to spearhead an effort to help the children if her bishop gave approval. Accordingly, in 1878, Bishop John W. Hess, bishop of the Farmington Ward, agreed with Sister Rogers and organized the Farmington Ward Primary. He stated, “I hope parents will feel the importance of this movement—if any thing in this life should engage the attention of parents it should be the care of their children.”1 Sister Aurelia Spencer Rogers was called as the ward Primary president and later as the Davis Stake Primary president. She reported that the first meeting “was not quite a success”2—a sentiment that may come as a comfort to many Primary teachers of today.

Other wards and stakes soon followed suit. As they did, Eliza R. Snow, General Relief Society President, presided over the many newly appearing ward and stake Primary presidencies. In 1880, Louie B. Felt was called to be General Primary President; however, Sister Snow continued to act as presiding officer. This organizational structure may seem unusual to modern researchers, but we should remember that this was a new initiative operated primarily by individual wards and stakes, and it took time to create a homogenous program. Additionally, unlike today, Sister Felt had several other callings besides being the General Primary President. She was also a ward Primary president, Sunday School teacher, and member of her ward and stake Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA).

After Sister Snow passed away in 1887, Sister Felt and her longtime friend and counselor May Anderson worked together with the wards, stakes, and Primary board to develop a program that would be used throughout the Church. These early beginnings of trial, error, and education culminated in the Primary organization receiving approval from the First Presidency to publish its own magazine, the Children’s Friend (1902–1970), the predecessor of the current Friend magazine (1971–present).

The Primary organization continues to develop and grow to meet the needs of today’s children. In 2019 and 2020, many changes were made to Primary, including the ages of advancement,3 curriculum, and activity program.

You can find more information on the history of Primary in the following sources:

  • Gospel Topic: Primary
  • Church History Topic: Primary
  • Carol Cornwall Madsen and Susan Staker Oman, Sisters and Little Saints: One Hundred Years of Primary (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1979).
  • Susan Staker Oman, “Nurturing LDS Primaries: Louie Felt and May Anderson, 1880–1940,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 3 (Summer 1981), 262–75.

When reviewing early Primary documents, you will notice that religious education was not the focus. Primary was originally designed to teach manners, early childhood education, and activities. Religion classes and junior Sunday School were responsible for the religious education of children. It was not until 1929 that Primary became responsible for the religious education of children.

2. What were Primary bandlos?

Between 1929 and 1970, 9- to 11-year-old Primary children received a bandlo, a pointed piece of neckwear made of felt. It was used to display emblems and awards that showed the progress of each girl and boy in his or her respective classes. Children would use the same bandlo for their three years in a Primary program. The color of the felt and the emblems changed over the years.

The boys participated in Trail Builder activities, earning titles of:

  • Blazers (age 9).
  • Trekkers (age 10).
  • Guide Patrol (age 11).

The girls participated in Home Builder (later Lihoma, which stood for “Little Homemaker”) activities, earning titles of:

  • Larks (age 9), later Gaynotes.
  • Bluebirds (age 10), later Firelights.
  • Seagulls (age 11), later Merrihands.

3. When did Primary children start to advance into Young Men and Young Women at age 12?

In 1913, boys in Primary were given the opportunity to advance to the Young Men organization when they turned 12. Otherwise, they would remain in Primary until they were older. (Individual wards and stakes had varying rules for when boys who remained in Primary would advance to Young Men.) In 1925, all 12-year-old boys began automatically graduating from Primary into the Young Men organization.

Beginning in 1934, 12-year-old girls advanced from Primary into the Young Women organization.

In 2018 the age requirements for Primary graduation were changed.4 All Primary children who turn 12 during a given year may advance in January of that year.

4. When was the Children’s Songbook introduced?

The Children’s Songbook began as a project in 1984 under the direction of Primary General President Dwan Jacobsen Young. It was completed and published in 1989 under Primary General President Michaelene Packer Grassli.5 It took five years of preparation, with many people assisting to edit its songs.

The following is a short list of song collections that were published for the children of the Church:

5. Where can I find information about the history of achievement days?

Achievement days began as activity days for 10- and 11-year-old girls in 1980.6 These weekday activities were introduced in conjunction with the consolidation of other Church meetings into a single block on Sundays.

In 1994, achievement days began to include 8- and 9-year-old girls as well.7

In 2003, the Faith in God program for girls and boys replaced both the achievement days (for girls) and Gospel in Action (for both girls and boys) programs.8 However, the weekday activities for girls continued to be called achievement or activity days. Boys also continued participating in Cub Scouts.

In 2020, the programs for children and youth were completely redeveloped.9 In place of activity days and the Faith in God program, children now have Primary activity days based on the principles found in Personal Development: Children’s Guidebook. These activity days can be adapted to needs and abilities within each ward.