Here's some tips for keeping your children present and engaged for conference so they understand that it is important and something to look forward to:
1) Make them sit in the tv room with you as you watch it
Even if they're quietly playing, their ears still work and you will be surprised with what they actually do listen to. Growing up, my parents always insisted we do this and even though we were allowed to quietly play, our ears were listening even though our hands were busy. It helped me learn at a young age, that Conference weekend was not a week off of church. Instead I learned that it was a very important event.
2) Have quiet activities/games already planned and set out for them
This way, there are no arguments or discussions as to what they are allowed to do during that time. Good examples of this are puzzles, coloring books, word searches, Eye-Spy books, quiet toys like paper dolls/cars/figures or even just a bunch of blank paper and art supplies.
3) Print out the plethora of conference activity packets that are available on the internet
Sugardoodle in particular is a great consolidated source to find so many fun ideas to keep the kids busy, but focused on conference. It is genius what people think of to help the kids stay interested in a bunch of boring adults talking for hours on end. My kids LOVE these packets every year and pay very close attention to most of conference so they can color in each man's tie or spot someone with glasses in the choir or color the conference center the exact colors it should be, etc. Most of all they absolutely LOVE the BINGO cards I find each year. Even my teenager will still play the BINGO. I think it's mostly because they get to eat Smarties or goldfish or Skittles or whatever the treat is that day for the BINGO markers.
4) Plan ahead of time and have fun, novel treats, snacks or meals for those days
Food can totally make a weekend or event special, and I'm not ashamed to say food definitely can make me look forward to meetings! Many people have special "conference" food that they make every time as a family tradition. It's a great time to start new traditions if you don't. I personally don't have anything set in stone food wise, but last time I made some monkey bread for breakfast so we could eat it during the first session and it was a big hit. I also make sure I have a few fun candies or snacks for the kids to play CONFERENCE BINGO with. Since I have family nearby as well, sometimes we get together in between sessions and have a potluck and then watch the last session together. Even if you don't have family nearby, invite a few other friends and families to join in with you. The more the merrier!
5) For the Sunday sessions, think about still dressing up like it's church
It really does help the entire family remember what day of the week is and act appropriately. I know it's tempting to stay curled up in your pajamas on the couch all day. For some, that is probably the allure of conference. So maybe just think about getting dressed by the afternoon session and slowly wean yourself into it if you have to.
6) Once your children get a little older, slowly start introducing them to taking notes
Some of the conference packets are great at helping with this because they leave a few blank lines under each picture of an authority and tell the kids to write down what their talk was about. As a kid, I watched my mom take pages of notes each session. When I got a little older, I would sit by her with a notebook of my own and copy some of what she would write so I could feel grown up too. By the time I was a teen, I was taking my very own notes and then copying them into my journal. And now that I'm a grown up, I still avidly take notes. It helps me stay focuses and I get SO MUCH more out of conference by doing this.
7) And last but certainly not least, insist everyone listens to the prophet
Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, insist they all stop whatever activities they are doing and give 100% of their attention to the prophet when he speaks. Hopefully by the time they are teenagers, they are listening to a few more talks as well, but this guarantees your whole family at least heard a few talks that you can talk about and discuss later as a family.
Just for fun, I will end this by showing some cute ideas I've seen or done. Some people are just so creative. Look at what Blue Skies Ahead made for each of her children with a simple waste basket! The children now have all of their fun activities in one place. Genius!
Here's just one of the many BINGO cards my kids have done through the years
And thanks to Sugardoodle, my youngest two had a blast coloring in the First Presidency last conference and making the pulpit as well. (my son thought it was hilarious that he gave the prophet pink shoes and I didn't - thus why he's standing behind the pulpit!)
Also thanks to Sugardoodle, the whole family helped color in the First Presidency & 12 apostles during one conference session. Again, my youngest loved this paperdoll chain and played it for weeks after. I still have it sitting on top of my computer desk so I can surprise her with it this weekend!