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THREE SIMPLE TOOLS

THREE SIMPLE TOOLS

You are tired of hearing about homeschooling. You have been bombarded with homeschool moms and online curriculum companies giving you a lot of unsolicited advice and sales pitches when you are just trying to survive and comprehend what is going on in this crazy world. But please consider this short article I have written for you. I know this information will change the way you teach your children and how you consider education hereafter.

If you have found yourself educating your children at home for a few weeks or for longer you may be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated; overwhelmed with all the options available and frustrated with the uphill battles to get your kids to finish their schoolwork. In this post I hope to offer some relief and encouragement in regards to home education. This information may be new to you, or it may not, but if anything it will be a good reminder: The key to successful education is simplification

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”

Alma 37:6

I am going to outline three essential tools that Charlotte Mason used in her schools and how to use them. I will include recent research articles that support these methods, just to prove to you how timeless these methods are. Along with these methods, I want to stress the importance of keeping lessons short, elementary students should not be spending more than 10-20 minutes per subject, and then by high school it should be around 30-45 minutes per subject. When lessons are short and powerful kids will focus and retain more. 

GOOD BOOKS

What if you could schedule a private tutor session for your child with a great writer, mathematician, or scientist? What would it be worth to you to have your child taught by and interact with some of the greatest minds in history? Books do this. They are compilations of the words and works that these passionate people wanted to share with the world. Some may be famous, like Albert Einstein or James John Audubon. Others may not, like Jean Henri Fabre or Paul Erdos. But when a person is passionate about a subject and has lived the experiences they have written about, you can tell a difference. There is a certain feeling that comes alive when you read the words of someone who is describing an experience they are wanting to share with the world. While you read their words you can see what the author is describing in your mind’s eye, and the passion is contagious. This is what Charlotte Mason called a living book. It is written with descriptive language, conveying rich ideas and igniting your imagination. “Living ideas capture the imagination by planting a seed that germinates in the mind, causing one to continue to wonder and ponder it, and to pursue further knowledge about the subject.” (“How to Recognize a Living Book”, Living Books Library) These are the books we should be giving to our children. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding if it is a “living book:”

  • Is the book written by one author? Or is it written by a group of people who are compiling facts?
  • Did they live the experiences they are writing about? Or, is this person passionate about the subject ?
  • Is the text literary and engaging? In other words, is the author a good writer?

A More Beautiful Question

Next, you should be asking thought-provoking questions and leading good discussions about these books. A good question has the ability to open up the mind in ways nothing else can. It literally turns on curiosity and a desire to discover truth. Here are a few of our favorite questions to ask:

  1. How is X like Y? Or how is X different from Y?
  2. Who is the most ________ (courageous, forgiving, kind, responsible, etc.) in this story?
  3. What does this story or person remind you of?
  4. What does the person in the story desire most? or, what are they most afraid of?
  5. Which person reminds you of yourself?
  6. What if ________ didn’t happen? Or, how would the story have been different if the character didn’t make the choice they did?
  7. What is something you don’t want to forget from this story?
  8. Do you see any patterns in the story? 

RECITATION

One of the greatest orators of our time was a man who received less education than most Americans today. In fact, this man never attended school, yet he was intelligent and eloquent. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and never received a formal education. His master’s wife taught him how to read, and after that he devoured every book he could get his hands on. The first book he ever purchased was The Columbian Orator. Douglass studied and memorized classic speeches from that book in order to find his own voice. He went on to write a classic book, an autobiography of his life, and many people did not believe he actually wrote it because they believed it to be too eloquent for a man of so little education.

When a person commits something to memory it becomes a part of vocabulary and a part of their mind. Eventually, the words you memorize influence the way you think. Douglass’s beautiful writing and perfect grammar came from memorizing eloquent speeches. You can read more about recitation in this post.

Interestingly, young children do not need direct grammar instruction in the elementary grades to learn how to speak and write correctly. They do not need sentence diagramming, worksheets, or anything that resembles a worksheet. Research actually shows that these methods do not work. (see Note and Resources at end of post)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: children already know how to use good grammar. Yes, you read that right. Have you ever heard a normal, six year old child say “it give me to?” What about “zoo is panther the favorite my animal at?” That is because children learn correct grammar by listening to, speaking, and reading correct grammar. 

So, how can you help elementary children learn correct grammar on an even deeper level? Copywork. 

Copywork goes hand-in-hand with recitation and is one of those things that people may overlook because of the simpleness of it. Copywork is writing well-written sentences into a notebook. While you are reading good books, you will find that some sentences or paragraphs speak to your individual child. Have them copy those sentences down into a notebook. This is how it works:

  1. You write the sentence down on the left side of the open notebook. 
  2. The child then copies down that sentence on the other side. 
  3. Make sure you point out–or have them point out–the capitalized letters and punctuation.
  4. After they have copied down a few pages of sentences over the course of a week or so, start asking them if they notice any patterns in capitalization and punctuation. Where do you use capital letters? Where do you put periods? Etc. 
  5. Sources for copywork include: scriptures and poems you are memorizing, song lyrics, sentences from school books, and quotes.

NARRATION

In the 1960’s Sonya Carson was a single mom with a third grade education. She worked two to three jobs while trying to raise her two boys, Ben and Curtis. After Ben brought home an unsatisfactory report card she decided to make a change. She could see their potential, and knew they were capable of much more than what they were doing. So she instituted a new rule: her boys were limited to two TV shows per week, and they were required to read two books and write a report about each one. Ben’s report cards started to improve, and after high school he attended Yale and became a world-renowned brain surgeon. 

Know and Tell

Narration is simply telling what you know, but the act of narration is difficult and produces powerful results. After Ben and Curtis read their books they were required to tell their mother what they learned from the book, which is narration. There was no multiple choice test or fill-in-the-blanks, and they were not required to write about any certain theme from the book. They simply wrote about what they learned from the book. 

Each person is unique and what they gain from a book depends on their experience, maturity, and past knowledge. What your child gained from a book may be much more personalized, and therefore influential, for them than what you gained from the book. Narration is the tool we use to see what they are learning and retaining from their lessons. The process of summarizing and synthesizing information gained from a book or experience is difficult because it requires the brain to transfer information from one side to the other.

Children ages 6-9 should be orally narrating to you after each school lesson; telling you what they remember from the story or any ideas that struck them. It may be incoherent and incorrect at first, but just like the body’s muscles it will get stronger with practice. Resist the urge to correct and criticize.

Written Narration

After age 10, children should start writing down their narrations. However, they should be writing about what they thought was important and interesting, not what you thought was important. By late middle school and high school you should start giving them writing prompts and teaching the different forms of essays. The questions listed in the “Good Books” section are great prompts to use.

The important thing to remember is that before a child can write well, they need to learn how to speak well; and before they can speak well they need to learn how to think well. Narration lays the foundation for good writing because it teaches children how to think and speak well.

Narration is another seemingly small and simple thing that bring to pass great things.

All three of these methods are simple to implement and free to use. You can use them for two weeks while you wait for school to open up again, during the summer break and weekends, or as your main tools to educate your child at home. Whatever your situationI hope this helps you feel prepared, confident, and ready to nurture life-long learners.

NOTE: Once children reach ten years old they should start writing their own essays and this will require a year of direct grammar instruction. However, not all grammar instruction is created equal. Recent research has shown that traditional grammar instruction does not work. This includes sentence diagramming, worksheets, fill-in-the-blanks, and ultimately learning grammar in isolation from real writing.

RESOURCES

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TEN PRINCIPLES

TEN PRINCIPLES

OF EDUCATION

01

LOVE | Relationships are sacred, and love is the foundation of teaching and learning. When our children are attached, they will emulate our behavior and listen when we talk to them. A secure attachment encourages children to take risks and become independent. When children feel accepted as they are, they can rest in our love, and therefore play and grow.

02

CHILDREN ARE BORN PERSONS | Children are born with previous experience and spiritual maturity. They are not born “blank slate,” and they have tendencies for both good and evil because of the light of Christ and the natural man. Parents need to trust the natural process of development and maturation and respect children as people.

03

SELF-EDUCATION | Agency plays a necessary role in the Plan of Salvation, and therefore it it essential to learning and growth. The most important way that children exercise their agency is through play. The educational value of play cannot be overstated. We cannot force children to internalize and retain information. They learn what they need, when they need it, and the Holy Ghost plays a central role in that  process.

04

THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER | The Holy Ghost is the true teacher of all knowledge; the gospel, math, science, and the arts. As parents and teachers we cannot make a child remember and comprehend information we deem as important. So what are the parents’ responsibilities and how do we teach? Charlotte Mason said we have three tools at our disposal: atmosphere, discipline, and living ideas.

05

ATMOSPHERE | Children learn by watching others and engaging in meaningful experiences. Our children learn values and mature behavior by watching us, and practice those skills with people of all ages. Children learn best from real-life experiences, not from artificial environments that are specially prepared.

06

DISCIPLINE | We are constantly forming either good or bad habits in ourselves and our children.  We influence our child’s behavior by how we respond to it (conditioning). The idea of habits extends to more than just outward behavior; it encompasses how we think and respond to certain situations

07

LIVING IDEAS | Curiosity, imagination, and passion come from living ideas. Deep learning comes from interacting with great minds and ideas through high-quality books. Parents are in control of what is brought into their home and the experiences/things their children interact with. Rich, nourishing material is followed by ample amount of unscheduled time to digest and comprehend what was experienced. 

08

NARRATE | Real learning happens when children synthesize the information they learn. This happens by the child taking in ideas and information, digesting it, and telling back in their own words what they learned. This process is simple but powerful. True learning and comprehension happens when the brain is asked to synthesize information and tell back in a way that makes sense.

09

 QUESTION | A thought-provoking question is the epitome of the Savior’s way of teaching. A great question immediately opens the mind and ignites the learning process to discover truth. Not all questions are created equal, however. If it is not worded correctly or the intent is loaded, it can just as quickly shut down the thinking process. 

10

APPLY | What use is knowledge if we don’t know how to apply it? Children naturally experiment and apply their knowledge to new situations, from coloring to building with Legos. More than ever our children need to learn how to discover truth and patterns in all subjects, and then gain the wisdom to apply it in many different situations.

WONDERS simple
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LOVE: PART 2

PART 2

LOVE

Relationships are Sacred

In my first article about love, I discussed the importance of attachment and how nurturing the connection between you and your children is essential to teaching. For some of us, nurturing comes naturally. For others (like me) it is not innate and requires more intentional work. As parents and teachers, we can borrow a lesson from medical doctors by taking the Hippocratic oath: “Primum non nocere,” or “First, do no harm.” In other words, when we discipline children our priority should be to do no harm to the relationship. 

As I have studied the Savior’s methods of teaching, I have noticed that he does not chastise or revile; he prioritizes the person and the relationship first and foremost. As an example, let’s look at how the Savior reacts when the Pharisees brought him a woman caught in adultery (John 8). Jesus did not say to her “Well, you really screwed up” or “You knew what the consequences were when you made the choice.” He simply said, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” He did not condemn her. He did not give her a long sermon about the law of chastity. 

When our children make the wrong choice we should not be the first person waiting to cast stones and condemn. We should be down at their level, looking them in the eyes and showing them our unconditional love, followed quickly by encouraging them to go and be a better person than they were before. There are laws and commandments that must be obeyed, but when those laws are broken we can come alongside our child in their guilt, shame, and sorrow and show that they are loved. They need to know that their worth is not tied to their choices, and that we have faith in their ability to be better.

Revile Not

Another relationship lesson we can learn from Christ is not to revile against our children. To revile is to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner. This is the biggest challenge for me as a parent; For a long time, I had a child that would explode over what I felt were insignificant things. He would say that he hates me and that I’m “the stupidest mommy ever.” Even though I taught him correct behavior and showed an increase of love afterwards, he still continued to verbally abuse me. When all the behavioral techniques failed me, I became frustrated, gave up, and started to punish and revile against him. Not surprisingly, it did not solve the problem, it only made things worse than before. Only when I ignored the behavior and focused on him as a person did things start to improve. I put forth an even greater effort to strengthen our relationship and allowed him some grace as his immature brain is developing. I believe there is a misconception among parents that if our children, in their frustration and anger, say disrespectful things, it is our duty to fight back and punish them for it immediately. However, the Savior has given us an example to ignore the reviling, and Peter clearly states that we are to follow it: 

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”
1 Peter 2:21-23

Connection Before Correction

When someone is angry and frustrated, they are not teachable. Likewise, it is pointless to argue, force apologies, or teach a moral when a child is emotionally upset. When we revile against our children we are actually robbing them of an opportunity to comprehend their mistake, feel remorse, and a desire to make amends. Many times they actually know what they are doing is wrong, but lack the reasoning capabilities to act on what they know to be right; the prefrontal cortex doesn’t start developing until around age eight.

Therefore, when we start to lecture and attempt to teach right at that moment, they will most likely justify their behavior, blame others, and make it less likely to feel remorse. If we want to be more Christ-like parents, we need to maintain a calm, loving countenance, even when our children are falling apart around us. I’ve found that in these moments, I just can’t say anything, otherwise I start rising to their emotions and everything falls into chaos. I simply get down at their level and try to think loving thoughts, and if they let me, I embrace them. At this point they usually break down and start crying.

Later, when a child has calmed down and feels connected, I say something like, “You were really upset with me earlier when you couldn’t have another cookie, and you said words that were not kind.” Sometimes they apologize on their own, and sometimes they just acknowledge that they were really upset. Either way, the relationship is intact and the child feels loved, despite making a mistake. I will usually take note of these incidences and center a family home evening lesson around it, like “speaking kind words” or “honoring parents.” In this way, I am ensuring that correct principles are taught, but at a time when the child is calm and ready to learn. I will discuss teaching and roleplay in a later article.

This kind of parenting is difficult. It goes against the natural man who wants to punish, seek revenge, and mend wounded pride. Some days I feel like I ran a marathon from all the energy I expend trying to maintain self-control. And although I still occasionally slip into previous bad habits, I have made great improvements by simply changing what I believe about what Christlike parenting looks like. I realized that a lot of my previous “parenting” was actually just me releasing steam. It wasn’t intentional, problem-solving, or loving. I parented based on what made me feel good after my feelings were hurt and my pride was wounded. We will all fall short of following Christ’s example perfectly, but I know from experience that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Each moment that you choose to follow Christ and love your children is a small victory that helps motivate you to do it again.

As parents we were first commanded to love our children, and then teach them.  We were never commanded to judge our children’s actions and punish them accordingly. That responsibility is left to only one person: Jesus Christ. 

Nurture a Tender Heart

Why is reviling, condemnation, and punishment so damaging? The scriptures are full of examples of people with “hard hearts” that refuse to listen, and have lost empathy, compassion, and remorse. Although there are many variables that contribute to this attitude, I believe that the quality of close relationships play a large part in whether a person develops a hard heart. 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld concludes from his many years of counseling children and parents that hardened hearts come from peer attachment. When a child becomes oriented to their peers, they must protect their vulnerable hearts from the conditional love (or lack of love at all) of their peers. Children shield or harden their hearts, making them resistant to adult guidance, vulnerability, and an interest in things around them. You can read more about peer orientation in his book, Hold on to Your Kids

To maintain a tender heart, all people must encounter futility, which is acknowledging that we cannot change something. This means that parents need to have high expectations for our children; we need to set limits and maintain structure in our homes so children can encounter futility and develop self-regulation. However, this can backfire on us if we are not there to show an outpouring of love when our children realize their desires are futile. To feel deep disappointment is very vulnerable, even more so when they visibly show their feelings through tears. When we come alongside our child during their time of vulnerability and show them they are accepted and loved as they are, we are keeping their hearts soft. When children feel safe to show vulnerability they are more able to accept responsibility for their mistakes, ask questions, love deeply, and show an interest in learning.

In the scriptures, many words are used to describe people with hard hearts, such as: 

  • Offended
  • Contentious
  • Prideful
  • Angry
  • Resentful
  • Apathetic
  • Blaming
  • Indulging

The opposite of these words could be used to describe a soft, or tender, heart: 

  • Forgiving
  • Humble
  • Peacemaker
  • Happy
  • Empathetic
  • Responsible
  • Grateful
  • Curious/Interested

We want our children to maintain their tender hearts that are so characteristic of childhood, but how do we do it?

We need to maintain a delicate balance between expectations and love. In other words; imposing limits, setting high expectations, and letting our children shed tears and being there to comfort them when things don’t go their way. When we blame and resent our children we have a hard heart (read Leadership and Self-deception for a wonderful explanation of this). When we try to discipline with negative feelings we push our children into blaming and resenting us as well. Our feelings toward our children make all the difference when we talk to them.

As an example, when I’m feeling negative feelings toward my son I am actually excited when he asks for cookies after dinner because he has chosen not to eat dinner and I am justified when I get to tell him no. My tone is not kind and I see his tears as an annoyance and not as a person who is genuinely disappointed. Compare this to feeling charitable toward my son: I might say something like “I really want you to have a cookie, but you need to eat your dinner. Would you like me to help you finish? Or sit with you while you eat?” In both cases I am imposing a limit, but it’s how I’m imposing the limit that makes all the difference.

“Imposed sanctions, artificial consequences, and the withdrawal of privileges–are self-defeating. Punishment creates an adversarial relationship and incurs emotional hardening.” 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold On to Your Kids

Crime and Punishment

Whenever a person loves someone or something, they open their hearts to become attached and love deeply, becoming vulnerable. Children are especially good at opening their hearts and loving completely. Popular discipline tactics recommended by professionals for many years involve taking advantage of this vulnerability; the most common are time-outs and grounding.

These may not seem like a terrible way to correct behavior, but the long-term result can actually be damaging. When a child is punished by being separated from a parent, despite the child seeking for connection, the child is hurt, feels rejected, and must find a way to cope with the pain. The result is indifference. If a child is grounded from riding his bike, playing soccer, etc. they learn to not feel so deeply for these things as a way to cope with the hurt and vulnerability, not to mention the resentment they feel for the parent that is choosing to take away these beloved items. The more a person is forced to feel indifference, the more hardened their heart and the less vulnerable they become. 

A tender heart is needed for a person to be teachable. Christ admonished us to become like little children for many reasons, but one reason is that they have tender hearts. They are willing to make mistakes, take chances, and ask questions, even if the questions seem silly. Our job is to maintain their tender hearts by validating their emotions, making our love unconditional, relying on natural consequences, and holding back condemnation. Maintaining a tender heart does not mean giving in to demands, it does not mean we dissolving rules that might cause frustration, and it certainly does not mean letting our children grow up in ignorance. What it does mean is that we change the way we think about our role as parents,and trust the maturation process. Most importantly, we need to trust our children to make the right choice when they have been taught correct principles, and give them the space to make mistakes. 

IN SUMMARY, if we want to effectively teach our children, we need to:

  1. Develop charity and see them as people.
  2. Nurture secure attachments in order to gain authority.
  3. Not use coercion, bribery, or punishment to force obedience.

So the question arises, how do we discipline our children? As usual, Charlotte Mason has the answer. She famously stated in her Twenty Principles of Education that: “We are limited to three educational instruments–
the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit,  and the presentation of living ideas.”

In other words, we teach our children by our example and by them making mistakes  through real-life experiences (atmosphere); by shaping the child’s behavior and habits (discipline); and by introducing “living ideas” by reading the scriptures and other high-quality books. These three principles will be discussed in-depth in the next few articles. 

 

Photography and artwork by Randi Gardner. You can find her on Instagram, at @blooming.pen

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READING + WRITING: THE EARLY YEARS

CHARLOTTE MASON was ahead of her time in many of her philosophies and methods, and it shows in her method of teaching children to read. You can read her words for yourself in volume one of her Home Education series (see pages 199-222). She recommends an effective combination of sight-words and phonics that I  used with my own son, and am currently using with my second. I am  creating ebooks  that explain the different stages of reading/writing and how simple Charlotte Mason’s methods can be. I am so impressed with how effective and simple her methods are, and that they can be adapted to fit the needs, preferences, and personality of each child.  As a bonus, the only materials you need  throughout the years are good books, paper, and pencils.  

HOW TO TEACH DURING THE “EARLY YEARS”

When teaching during the early years (ages 0-6 years old), all lessons should be child-led. The child should show interest and desire in learning how to read and write, and they should not be coerced or bribed to start. Reading and writing develops just like other skills: some children start early, others start late. Some children master the skill in a week; for others it could take months, even years! You will most probably see pauses and regressions in their learning. However your child develops reading and writing skills, the key is patience and making your relationship the priority. Stop the lesson before the child’s interest wanes, this is a key to maintaining interest in the long-run. In Charlotte Mason’s opinion, the first six years of life should be a “quiet growing time,” and this program is meant to respect that idea.

You will find that this approach is simple and requires very little materials. I have made many educational purchases through the years and have found that all I really need are these five things:

BOOKS
PAPER
PENCILS
MANIPULATIVES
CHALKBOARD

Reading high-quality books from a young age ignites a passion for reading that no amount of rewards or coercion can replicate. If you want your child to desire the skill of reading, read them good books.

Plain, white printer paper will do. I have included large, lined paper for children to practice letters, but, honestly, they will practice on any paper they get their hands on.

Colored pencils from IKEA are my children’s absolute favorite writing tools. They are large, have rich color, and you can also add water with a paintbrush to make a watercolor effect on the drawings. As a bonus, they are very affordable.

Simple items from around the house will work for manipulatives: sticks from a nature walk, playdough, salt/sand tray, etc. The only manipulative that I am pleased with purchasing is a moveable Montessori alphabet. You could easily replace the moveable alphabet with Bananagram tiles, or create your own alphabet by printing letters on cardstock and laminating them.

A small child-sized chalkboard can be purchased from most craftstores. This is another purchase I recommend because the resistance of the chalk/chalkboard help strengthen hand muscles.

LESSONS

FINE MOTOR SKILLS

Children should be practicing their fine motor skills on a daily basis. Some activities could include: threading wooden beads on a shoelace, transfering water from bowl to bowl with eyedropper, playing with playdough, and using large tweezers/tongs to transfer objects (cotton balls, beans, pasta, etc) from one container to another.

SHAPES AND FORMS

Before you child ever sets pencil to paper, they should draw the letters in the air, and make it a point to write them in the correct order as they would on paper. Ask your child to make the letter in the air with their finger while saying the sound of the letter. They could also use a stick or pencil to write in the air, if they prefer that instead of a finger. You can also use other parts of the body to draw in the air, like nose or feet. Drawing in the air helps the brain visualize the direction and shape of the letter first, without being encumbered with underdeveloped fine motor skills. Saying the letter sound also helps strengthen the correlation between sight and sound.

Next, use manipulatives to form the shape of the letter, like sticks or pencils. Another activity you can do is to roll out playdough “snakes” and use them to form the letters.

DRAW ON CHALKBOARD

After the child has visualized the shape of the letter and formed it using manipulatives, the next step is to draw the letter on a chalkboard.

Using the chalkboard as a guide, the child should write the letter so that it covers the whole chalkboard, top to bottom. After writing the letter with chalk, erase it using a small sponge (a sponge from the dollar store cut into small squares). Alternatively, you can use a small tray with sand or salt and the child writes the letter in the sand using their finger.

DRAW LETTERS ON PAPER

Each written lesson starts with gray letters for the child to trace over to get a feel for how the letter is formed. As with writing in the air, your child should say the sound of the letter when they write it the first few times. The lined paper is to practice previous letters learned by writing the suggested words. The parent should carefully write the word first, so the child can see the letter formation and have an example to follow.
The goal is for children to develop beautiful handwriting, but this takes time as the muscles grow strong. Instead of criticizing or giving suggestions, simple ask your child which letters they think look best. Ask why they think those letters look better than the others and what they are going to work on next lesson. This is a great opportunity for your child to examine their own work and learn how to improve on their own.

RECOGNIZE LETTERS

Now that the child knows letters by sight, you can start playing games with letters to help recognition. Children naturally do this while looking at books and seeing writing around the house. You can intentionally do this by using the 3-period lesson introduced by Maria Montessori.

“This is _____.” Point to the letter and say the name and sound it makes. Ask your child to repeat. Do this a couple of times.

“Point to _____.” Ask your child to find the letter L, for example, in a group of moveable letters. If they point to the wrong one simply say “that is __, you’re looking for___”

“What letter is this?” The last, and consequently the most difficult, step is to point to a letter and ask the child to tell you it’s name and sound. If they don’t know just tell them the sound, and have them repeat (i.e. start at step one).

A game that is a favorite with my kids is alphabet bingo. The Peaceful Press has FREE bingo boards here.

In the Downloads section you can download a workbook I created for my four year old son as he learns the  sounds of the upper-case letters and the correct way to write them. I also wanted open-ended drawing activities to help his writing skills. You can teach your child  just fine using the method I describe above, no workbook necessary. I just wanted something simple, beautiful, and functional for him to use while I help my older son with his studies, and I decided to share it with you all  in case you don’t want to spend time creating your own.

Once your child has finished this stage and is eager for more, I recommend advancing to Italics Handwriting by Penny Gardner, and supplementing handwriting lessons with Creative Form Drawing. I have seen a big improvement–and enjoyment–in my son’s handwriting by including form drawing as part of his handwriting lessons. He uses the form drawing lessons to decorate the pages of his copywork book.

You should use the same lesson structure as outlined at the beginning of this workbook to learn the sounds and form of the lower-case letters. As your child learns a lower-case letter, make sure you match the lower-case to the upper-case letter. To practice these skills, you can play matching/memory games with lower- and upper-case letters.

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PRINCIPLE ONE: LOVE

PART 1

LOVE

CHARITY: THE PURE LOVE OF CHRIST

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
THOMAS S. MONSON

A few months ago I stood in my kitchen scrubbing the floor late at night (because that’s when all my deep thinking happens) and I was in tears.  I had just realized that my love for my children is conditional; when they are cute and loving I can’t get enough of them, but when they are obnoxious and frustrated I send them away until they can “behave” and “calm down.” When their behavior is not meeting my expectations, I feel that loving warmth quickly replaced by feelings of resentment, irritation, and sometimes anger. What it comes down to is this: I put more value on my child’s behavior than on them as people.

I confessed this realization and consequent discouragement to my husband. I asked him how I can love my kids for who they are and not for their achievements and behavior. To me, that is what makes a person who they are, so how can I love them despite that?! My husband simply said, “You can’t. That kind of love is a gift.” After pondering that for a while, I have come to believe that as parents we have been endowed with the beginnings of love, but we do not automatically love our children unconditionally. Heavenly Father created us with the instincts to protect and care for our children, but ultimately the pure love of Christ is a gift. A gift that is given to those who truly desire it above all else. A gift that is essential to the finest of the fine arts: teaching.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;”
Moroni 7:46

Without charity, the power to discipline and teach our children is ineffective. If we think we can parent our children solely based on instinctual love we will fail. It is essential that we receive charity in order to teach effectively, and the only way to gain charity is to desire it more than anything else, prove that desire by sacrifice, and earnestly pray for it.

SACRIFICE DEVELOPS LOVE

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. “
JOHN 15:13

We may not be required to sacrifice our physical life for our children, but when we become parents we are metaphorically laying down our lives for our children. Becoming a parent is not inviting children to be a part of your life, where they get what is left of you after you are done living “the dream.” Your life, at least a short phase of it, is now dedicated to nurturing a human soul who needs every aspect of you: physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Many people resist this change and expect their relationship with their child to remain secure and healthy, but this view is wishful thinking. We simply cannot have it all. Parenting requires serious sacrifice because love is ultimately developed by sacrifice. 

Not all sacrifice is created equal, though: it can create resentment or joy, depending on your reasons for sacrificing. In one research study, the researchers found that when people sacrificed because they felt pressured or feared negative consequences, they felt resentment toward the person they sacrificed for. But when people chose to sacrifice because they wanted to, they felt an increase in love and connection in their close relationships.

The key to sacrifice is desire: the more you   want to  love someone, the more you sacrifice for them. Conversely, the more you sacrifice the more you love. As an example, let’s say your toddler needs to feel connected to you, but you really just want to zone out and browse Instagram. If you put your phone down and play with your son, you are strengthening your love for him. If you choose to turn on the TV for your son so you can be alone with your phone, who are you strengthening love for? Yourself? Your friends? It’s definitely not your son.”

 If you are continually sacrificing your children’s needs for your wants, you will only strengthen love for yourself and make it more difficult to develop unconditional love for your children. When a child seeks connection it is not a want or a bad habit; connection is a need, especially for young children. If you want your children to feel connected to you, you need to be sacrificing for them. 

The parent-child relationship is not a one-way street;  we cannot expect our children to continue to sacrifice for us and prioritize their relationship with us when we do not do the same for them. Secure attachments with our children should be our number one priority as parents.

I WILL GIVE YOU REST

“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28-30

It is an eternal truth that when we feel loved we can rest, and therefore learn and grow.   When a child feels that their parent loves them for who they are and not based on their performance, they are able to “rest” in their parents’ love. In her book, Rest, Play, Grow, Deborah Macnamara explains that only when children feel connected and safe will they be able to play, and therefore grow. If they feel that their parent’s love is conditional, or that their parent values other things more than them, all the child’s focus will be on reestablishing that connection. This can come out in the form of negative, clingy behavior, as well as the inability to focus and learn.

It’s a humbling thought to realize that parenthood provides the perfect opportunities to become more like Christ: by sacrificing for our children, developing an unconditional love for them, and providing a relationship where they can rest and feel loved for who they are. 

I believe that one reason Jesus Christ invited all people to become like little children is because of their natural instinct to attach to their parents. They instinctively attach themselves to someone whom they feel is experienced and knowledgeable because they need safety and connection. When they are securely attached they seek to emulate and learn from whomever they are attached to. The child trusts that their parents have their best interest at heart and therefore they obey their parents’ requests and guidance.

When there is a loss in connection (whether that is physical or emotional), it is rarely the child’s fault. As the mature adult in the relationship, it is our responsibility to maintain a healthy connection with our child if we expect to parent them. Today, our generation faces more obstacles to the parent-child attachment than any generation before us; both parents working outside the home, children starting school younger and attending more hours each day, smartphones (biggest culprits), and television. All of these things disconnect parents from their children both physically and psychologically. When that connection is weakened or broken, we lose the authority to parent.  

AUTHORITY + ATTACHMENT

“The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental;”
CHARLOTTE MASON

When a child attaches to a parent, they do so in stages, starting at birth and ending in late childhood. Children develop their attachment to you all the way through middle school. Although their needs change and lessen as they mature, their attachment needs are just as important in adolescence as they were in toddlerhood.

Attachment starts at birth when a baby needs to be physically close to their parent; around two years old they want to be like their parent, to imitate them; also around that age they seek for a sense of belonging (“my mommy!”); at around age four they want to know they have significance, that they are valuable to you; around age five they seek attachment through feelings of love and affection (hugs, holding hands,“I love you,” etc); and around the time a child starts school they want to attach by being known through sharing secrets, desires, thoughts, and ambitions. (see Hold on to Your Kids, pages 20-24)

Here are a few ways you can connect on a daily basis with your child:

  1. When your child is trying to tell you something, stop what you are doing, and make eye contact, and always ask follow up questions. This can be hard, but do your best!
  2. Ask them to teach you about something they love. Video games, books, sports, etc.
  3. Wrestle or steamroll them. 
  4. Play hide and seek.
  5. Tell them stories about when they were little; funny things they said or did.
  6. Leave notes on their pillow or in their lunch.
  7. Ask them what they are doing and if you can do it with them.
  8. Give your child a hug, and let them decide when to break. 
  9. Give eskimo or butterfly kisses.
  10. One-on-one time every week. Even if it’s just running errands with you.
  11. Ask them to hold your hand while you walk together.
  12. Whisper a secret in their ear (usually just jokes or silly words)
  13. Tell them funny quotes from books you’ve read together.
  14. Ask them to tell you a joke.
  15. Write words on their back with your finger.
  16. Cuddle with them before bed.
  17. Write messages with your finger on their back (my four year old LOVES this)
  18. If you notice your connection is suffering, take your child on a date night, or maybe even a whole weekend if needed.

Psychologists are just starting to uncover the vital role that attachments play in human behavior and development; self-regulation, aggression, maturation, and learning. In this article I will only focus on how attachment affects learning and discipline because those are what most affect teaching, but if you read the books recommended in the “Resource” section you will gain a solid understanding of how attachment affects all facets of human development.

Through a secure attachment, a dependent, inexperienced person gives authority to someone more experienced. In this case, a child gives authority to their parents. Despite common belief, authority is not imposed on children by parents, it is given to the parents by their children. Authority has always worked this way. In fact, the Lord describes unrighteous authority in Doctrine and Covenants as,

“when we undertake…to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”
D&C 121:37

Parenting is an authority given to us by Heavenly Father and our children, but we can lose that authority when we try to make our children obey just because we have authority. Charlotte Mason confirms this truth about authority in her volumes on education: “But we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority.” (Volume 3, pg 11-12)

There are many ways parents and teachers exercise control, dominion or compulsion in children. 
I was surprised to read Charlotte Mason’s list of ways that we exercise unrighteous  control over children. In her  Twenty Educational Principles she states:   “…these principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether  by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.” 

So, how do we maintain righteous authority? Once again,  turn to Doctrine & Covenants section 122 to find the answer:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of priesthood [or parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeignedBy kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

There is so much truth to unpack in those verses. Read them again and see what you can find. Here is what I learned:

  • Our parental power comes from unconditional love.
  • Our authority comes from our child’s dependence on us; they need our knowledge, experience, safety, and connection. When they do not feel connected, safe, or loved, there is a void which will be filled by someone else, and amen to the authority of that parent. This is when parents and teachers feel they need to resort to bribery, punishment, and coercion to get children to obey. 
  • Heavenly Father does not hold children under the age of eight accountable for their actions and neither should we. This is a stage that should be dedicated to teaching and connecting. Correct your child when he/she makes a mistake, teach them good habits, and connect with them so they know that you love and cherish them more than anything else.
  • Discipline does not mean punishment; it means to lead, to teach, to guide, to invite (my new favorite parenting word.) Discipline is teaching your children about choices and consequences, and not shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions. Many parents feel that shielding their children from consequences is kind, but they are doing their child a great disservice. Children should learn from their mistakes when they are young and their mistakes are still insignificant.

HEART BEFORE MIND

 “It is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”
JOHANN PESTALOZZI

The Master Teacher

Jesus Christ is known as the Master Teacher because he loved people unconditionally and they knew that their worth was not tied to their righteousness or performance. One major teaching method that Jesus is known for was teaching by example. Scientists now know why teaching by example is so powerful: a little something called “mirror neurons.” The human brain contains neurons that light up areas of the brain that essentially imitate the behavior they see. When a child is attached to someone (hopefully the parent) they will mirror that person’s behavior. Our greatest teaching tool as parents is to form a secure attachment with our children and then be a good example of the behavior we want to see in them. I just love how science eventually catches up to eternal truths. 

In Hold on to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld states four essential qualities that “are primary in determining a child’s teachability: a natural curiosity, an integrative mind, an ability to benefit from correction, and a relationship with the teacher.” Learning is essentially the act of making mistakes, encountering problems, and then drawing the appropriate conclusions. Failure is essential in learning, and children need to feel that their worth is not tied to their performance. When parents punish by shaming their child or withdrawing love, the child feels vulnerable and afraid to make mistakes. It is essential to the learning process that your children know you love them no matter what. In order to learn, a person needs the humility to acknowledge they have made a mistake. When a person is afraid of punishment or shame they deny they made a mistake to protect themselves and do not seek guidance or help. Secure attachments allow a child to acknowledge failure and seek help from a parent, whether that failure was academic or moral. 

Pure Knowledge

Knowledge is information touched with emotion”
In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason

Last, but not least, before a child will whole-heartedly learn about a subject they must love it. The brain does not retain information very long if there is no meaning tied to it. We must ignite curiosity, love and enjoyment of every subject before we try to teach any information. Love is truly the foundation of all learning; a child must feel loved and connected to their teacher and their hearts must be stirred before their minds will remember.

“Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them. The way to children’s minds has always been through their hearts.” 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids

There is so much to say about this topic and so little time. Stay tuned for PART TWO of this article, where I will discuss what Christlike discipline looks like and  how we can implement it in our homes.

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MUSIC

WHY

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music,
for the patterns in music and all the arts are the key to learning” 

PLATO

It seems that everyone wants their children to love classical music and become geniuses. I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz word “the Mozart Effect” which came from a study in 1993 about the effects of Classical music. While Classical music doesn’t necessarily create smarter babies, it does have a lot of cognitive and emotional benefits.

Classical music been shown to have a positive effect on a variety of skills (source here) and engage the whole brain; both the linguistic left-side and the spatial right-side. Researchers also theorize that “the complexity of Classical music helps kids solve spatial problems more quickly” (source here). Not only does music engage the whole brain, but it also affects the whole soul. It nurtures the heart and develops creativity and imagination. 

“Some of the most important habits for a child to acquire, are (1) observation ; (2) concentration ; (3) imagination ; and (4) reasoning. … [and Music] trains simultaneously, as no other single subject does, ear, eye, and hand, it awakens and naturally develops the imagination, and insists upon concentration and reasoning.” (Holland)

HOW

“How do I introduce classical music to my one year old?”

This is the question my sister asked me one day, and my answer was quite simple: listen to it everyday and your children will learn to love it.

In this article I will  talk about how you can help your young children appreciate and love classical music. You can make it more meaningful and not just another thing you need to do for your kids. After all, listening to music should be enjoyable, not a chore. I grew up with my parents playing it when I woke up and I grew to love it from an early age. 

1. PLAY YOUR FAVORITES

As I told my sister, the best way to start is by simply listening to it. Pick out your favorite classical pieces and play those over and over. This isn’t music appreciation class where you have to learn an artist and pieces that your professor chooses, you as Mom get to choose what you listen to. Choose what you love and are used to. If you play an instrument, sit and play the music for them.

 Movie soundtracks totally count as classical music (in my opinion). Play your kids’ favorites: like Star Wars and Harry Potter. John Williams is always a good choice.

What if you don’t really have favorites? Then, tune into your local classical station. As you listen, jot down any that you really enjoyed, then go reserve it your local library or look it up on YouTube. We were listening to the classical station when my oldest was four and fell in love with a song I had never heard. I wrote down the title and soon found it on YouTube and it has become a family favorite.

2. PLAY WITH THE MUSIC

Some days, we have needed a break from whatever we were doing, or we needed something to do as we waited for Dad to come home. One of my kids’ favorite pastimes used to be listening to Symphony Number 9 by Dvorak. We would blast it throughout the house and run around incorporating it into some heroic story.

Other days, I have played Camille Saint-saens Carnival of the Animals and we would go through each song acting out the different animals for each number.

3. GET A CD PLAYER

I know, CD players are so 2000’s, and everything is digital right? I completely agree: I put my CD’s right onto my computer or buy music digitally, but my kids like being in control of the music and I don’t want to give them my phone or an iPod for them to walk around with. 

I still have all my old CDs, so why not use them? I bought a CD player from Goodwill and gave it to my kids for their own musical enjoyment. They love listening to music when they can control when, where, and what they listen to. 

4. MAKE-UP STORIES

Kids love stories, who doesn’t? Take a moment and turn on a classical piece and start telling them a story based on the rhythm, tempo or dynamics of the piece. Have them take a turn to tell you what is happening. My kids have a favorite which they call the “Mudman Song” based on a character they made up from their outside play.

Another fun thing to do with classical music is to ask your kids to add a family narrative to the song you are listening to. A family favorite in Jessica’s household is the time her middle son rode down their steep driveway on his bike, and crashed/flew over the curb at the bottom. Her boys love adding Hall of the Mountain King as a “soundtrack” to that story.

Check out Classical Kids CDs; they introduce classical music to kids while telling a story. Peter and the Wolf is written for kids with a story included! I have yet to meet a kid that did not enjoy listening to Beethoven’s Wig, which is classical songs with fun lyrics added to them. They usually contain the composer’s name and facts about him or her.

5. PLAY MUSIC DURING CHORES OR PLAYTIME

I once had a Professor tell me that he used to experiment with his kids while they did chores. He would play Beethoven and noticed they were slower to clean, so he would put on Mozart on another day and hoped it would be more upbeat and motivating. This was all for fun, but I loved the idea of playing classical music while kids did chores. Choose upbeat music and blast it through the house while they work.

6. PLAY AS WHITE NOISE

One of the best things about classical music (as long as it’s not Opera) is that there are no words. I play it on low from a speaker while the kids do their Homework. Occasionally while they work, I’ll say things like “Oh I love Mozart” or “Listen to those violins play so high” or “Wow, those trumpets are getting excited about something”. It’s not much, but it sneaks in a little music appreciation without making them be forced to listen.

7. PLAY IT EVERY DAY

It really is the perfect background music. For kids (or me) who can be sensitive to too much sound while doing school or playing, classical music is great for that. Classical music has so much variety: whether you want a piece that is peaceful or energizing, spooky or happy; there is a song for you. The most important thing is just to play it!

8. BABY STEPS

My parents played it often in our house but never expected me to listen, or even learn, the styles or composers. They just played it because they liked it. I learned to appreciate it because I heard it so often. The more your kids hear it, the more they will love it.  Remember, start with composers and songs you love. If you don’t love classical music, start small by playing it for short periods until you can play it longer, and try different styles and composers to find a style you like.

As Beethoven once said: “Music can change the world”

So let’s start changing the world by changing our children’s world, one composer at a time.

 

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HOW TO START

GATHER YOUR FAMILY

Every morning before my husband leaves for work, my little family gathers together at the table to cultivate beauty and discover truth. In Doctrine & Covenants the Lord as instructed that we “…should gather together, and stand in holy places;” (101:22) and he also promised that when we gather in His name, He will be there in the midst of us. (6:32). 

I started gathering my family together when my oldest was four years old. It started small and simple: with a scripture, song, and poem. It has slowly grown to include more subjects, like Spanish, art and music appreciation. One thing that has kept us going through the years is our “floor and ceiling” (term attributed Brooke Snow) where some days we do all the subjects and its amazing (the ceiling), but some days all we can get through is one verse of scripture and a prayer (the floor). The important thing is consistency; these small, seemingly simple things compound over time and create a powerful change.

Gathering together as a family can happen anytime during the day. It can include as few as or as many subjects as you want. It can be any length of time that fits the needs of your family. Just make it a priority to do some meaningful learning together every day.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you gather your family together:

  • SIMPLIFY
    Keep subjects between 5-10 minutes for young children, and increase with age. Resist the urge to lecture and over-explain, especially the scriptures. Your job is to provide the “feast” of ideas, it’s the Spirit’s job to teach. You do not need to supplement the scriptures with worksheets, coloring pages, or games. These take precious time away from your spiritual preparation and can detract from the simple truths being taught. Kids benefit from free, wholesome, and open-ended learning; like drawing their own picture of the story, acting it out, or a simple object lesson with things you have around the house.
  • ENGAGE THE WHOLE SOUL
    This is a time for the whole soul to be fed on a daily basis. Incorporate subjects that develop the moral imagination and can be enjoyed by all ages: art, music, nature study, and poetry. You do not have to do every subject every day, however. We have one day of the week dedicated to music and art appreciation, Shakespeare, and nature study.
  • CREATE RITUAL
    Family relationships are held together by the “glue” of ritual. Rituals are more than routines; they have a spiritual and emotional significance that bind us together. Lighting candles, cuddling on the couch with a read-aloud, drinking hot chocolate, or saying a family cheer are all ways to start or end your Gather time.
  • LEARN BY HEART
    Recite scriptures and poetry when you gather. Learn by heart phrases that will change how you think and who you are. Younger children are encouraged by watching their parents and older siblings memorize, and the phrases we have learned as a family have been used regularly to uplift, comfort and guide each other.

The one thing that has really made a difference in whether my family gathers together or not is my preparation. At the beginning of each term, I need to print and gather all the materials and store them in a basket near the table. I have the found the easiest way to organize our subjects are with a binder and dividers for each day; I simply place the subject guides behind the day it is scheduled. To help you prepare for this year, we have created a 2020 calendar and weekly schedule to help you gather your family. I know from experience that gathering the family together is one of those small and simple things that bring about great things.

 

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LEARNING BY HEART

WHY

Learning by heart is also known as “recitation” in Charlotte Mason’s method. Recitation is more than memorizing: memorizing is committing information to memory, but not necessarily comprehending it. The difference between memorizing a poem and reciting a poem lies in the technique and emotion used to portray the meaning behind the words. And to be able to portray the author’s thoughts you must comprehend the meaning, not just memorize words.

Literature is full of examples of recitation: in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne could not stand listening to someone read unless they read it with emotion. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables brought her audience to tears when she recited poetry. Recitation is an important step towards eloquently reading-aloud, public speaking, acting, and even singing.

The Greeks used the term “furnishing the mind” to describe committing something to memory. I love the imagery of our mind being “furnished” with beautiful and useful words: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden” and “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow.” Our children’s minds will be furnished with words–desirable or not– and we are the interior designers. When you recite phrases over and over again they become a part of your vocabulary. Your vocabulary is the material that you use to build your thoughts and ideas, and your thoughts influence who you will become. 

While we were reading the New Testament this past year, I took note of each time the Savior quoted scripture. It was fascinating to see how often he quoted past prophets, and I visualized Mary reading the scriptures and helping her son learn by heart the passages that she felt he would need someday. 

“Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change” (Richard G. Scott,“The Power of Scripture,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, 6).

When we recite something, we must repeat it over and over in our minds before it is committed to memory. We ponder the words and their meaning, and as we grow older and gain experience we learn even more from it. When scriptures are committed to heart they grow with us, continually supplying us with nourishment at each stage of development. Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy said,

“I have discovered that many times you don’t fully understand a scripture until you memorize it. And sometimes I have memorized a passage because it seemed important and valuable to me—then afterwards I discovered deeper meanings that I hadn’t even known were there” (Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study [1997], 114).

I truly believe that for us to gain the full power of the scriptures, we need to ponder the author’s purpose, read them aloud over and over, and eventually commit them to memory. We cannot survive on just skimming the scriptures; we need to learn them by heart.

“For our lives to become the music of hope for the world, our learning must be heart deep; it must reach our very core. We must be able not only to access information but to understand; we must acquire not only knowledge but wisdom.” (Susan W. Tanner, Learning by Heart, BYU Speech, August 2004)  

WHAT
  • Scriptures
  • Poetry
  • The Family: A Proclamation to the World
  • The Living Christ
  • Famous Speeches
  • Inspirational Quotes from Prophets and Great Leaders
 
HOW

“The child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thought.” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 223)

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. Before I read poetry to my boys during our family gather time, I quickly read it to myself and think about what the author’s purpose was, the overall mood, where to pause, where to slow down/speed up. I’ve noticed a huge difference in my sons’ interest in poetry since I started reciting it and not simply reading it.

“The teacher reads with the intention that the children shall know, and therefore, with distinctness, force, and careful enunciation; it is a mere matter of sympathy, though of course it is the author and not himself, whom the teacher is careful to produce.” (Vol. 6, p. 244)

Aside from our Gather time, a portion of my son’s reading lesson is dedicated to reciting a short poem. He can choose the poem and he can choose how to recite it. He does not have to memorize (although he usually does in the process). I work hard not to correct or tell him how I think he should do it. When he has learned it to his satisfaction, he will recite it to me and I will record it on my phone. He loves listening to himself and critiques his own work. He usually chooses short, silly poems, but I have faith that as I read beautiful poetry aloud everyday he will be exposed to poems that speak to his soul, and as he matures he will eventually choose more meaningful poems to learn by heart. 

If you’re like me and did not grow up listening to or reading poetry, the following resources can help you get started. In the beginning, I found it helpful to listen/watch YouTube videos of professionals reciting famous poems.
I did experienced some resistance from my young boys when we started reciting scriptures, but I had an idea that has made all the difference: recite with an accent! Some of our favorites are: robot, baby, cowboy, and British. I don’t always pull out the accent, but on those days when no one wants to recite it never fails to bring joy and excitement to young children.

I discovered an effective method of memorizing and reviewing scriptures from simplycharlottemason.com. I have included written instructions on how to use it, and you can also see an example in my Instagram Highlights. Another option a reader brought to my attention is Scripture Box, an online scripture and poetry rotation system.

Click on the links below to download scripture cards and poetry to start reciting with your family.

ADDITIONAL READING/LISTENING

Your Morning Basket episode 2
with Andrew Pudewa

Learning by Heart
BYU Speech given by Susan W. Tanner

Recitation: The Children’s Art
Arthur Burrell

Poetry
The Well-Educated Heart

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INTRODUCTION

WHY  YOU SHOULD CONSIDER

HOME EDUCATION

I experienced a very unusual childhood being educated at home, at least compared to most children in America. I spent very little time doing “lessons”  each day while the majority of my time was spent outside on our farm, reading, and working on my own projects. My mom received a lot of unsolicited advice regarding her children’s education: that we wouldn’t be independent adults, we wouldn’t be able to handle the rigor of college classes, and we would be so socially awkward that we wouldn’t be able to serve missions or function in society.

My mom felt the call to educate her children at home, but sometimes people’s opinions made her second guess her choice. Fortunately for us, none of those things happened. It turns out my family is not the only ones who have escaped the “side-effects” of home education; in fact, I cannot find a single study that shows people educated at home are statistically more likely to have any of those problems. Studies actually show the opposite: people who are educated at home turn out to be more mature, score higher on tests, and have less behavioral problems than their public school peers. I have met my fair share of weird homeschooled children, believe me. These people were quirky in their humor and hobbies, and maybe a little shy but were perfectly able to carry on a conversation and read social cues. I would rather my children do what they love and be themselves than sacrifice who they are to be accepted by their peers. It is important to not confuse social skills with conformity.

What Does Real Learning Look Like?

After substituting in the public schools and studying human development/family studies in college I have come to the conclusion that we live in a society that has only a limited view of what true education looks like, and we need to have more faith in the power and value of the Family.  For the vast majority of Americans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, education looks like this: children are required to attend school and they are in a class with 15-35 other children of their same age. In order for students to learn they: 

  • sit and listen to a teacher present a lesson about what he/she has read and feels is important for students to know,
  •  fill out a worksheet or are engaged in an hands-on activity that mimics real-life experience, or
  • read textbooks which are compilations of facts and secondary sources.

This system of education has only been around for 150 years, yet it has dominated the way we think about education in America since its founding. John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning public school teacher, has written multiple books on his experiences as a teacher in New York State. His books and other resources I recommend can be found in the “Resources” section of the website. I strongly encourage you to read at least one of these books to understand the history, politics, and ethics behind the public school system. I acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and there is a need for schools to educate children whose parents do not live up to their responsibilities and potential as teachers. Although I believe home-centered learning is superior to the public school system, not everyone has the opportunity to educate their children at home. The purpose of this article is not meant to shame parents for choosing any one form of education; the purpose is to inform parents about eternal principles of teaching and learning and help them see the educational value of a Christ-centered home.

“…no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of “school” to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents…we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.”
JOHN TAYLOR GATTO

Have Faith in the Family

The family has the potential to be “… the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.”  (David A. Bednar) Research studies support this truth: children do better with one teacher over many years (source), learn better social skills in mixed-age classrooms (source), and retain more information when they engage in real, meaningful life experiences. The family is not an earthly institution, but an eternal structure. The more I’ve learned about the Plan of Salvation and eternal principles of education, the more convinced I am of the value of the family unit to teach and train the children of God. In the beginning, God did not institute schools for children to learn; in the beginning there was a family and in the celestial kingdom there will be families.

“I think that by the end of the millennium, for those who occupy the celestial kingdom, the home will be the only media for teaching children. Teaching will be through the family.” 

ALVIN R. DYER

As members of The Restored Church of Jesus Christ, it is our duty to prepare ourselves and our families to be centers of learning for all subjects, not just religion. 

In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson revealed a new way of teaching the gospel to the church: Come, Follow Me. In this revealed method of teaching, most of the learning happens at home, with parents teaching their children and the church supporting that teaching once a week. It is my personal opinion that the prophet is doing this to prepare us for the Second Coming of the Savior and a higher law of education. In the past, home-education was sometimes not possible or practical. Parents worked long hours on the family farm or in factories. They did not have the knowledge or materials to educate their children. Today, however, is very different; mothers are more educated and better prepared to teach their children than ever before. Technology and libraries have made it possible to access almost any book in the world, not to mention the greatest music and art available for free right in our home. Technology has also freed women from time-consuming, labor-intensive housework so they have more time to learn with and teach their children.

“The Lord intended parents to be the primary teachers of their children. He is not concerned about credentials, degrees, curriculum and such–only about parents’ love for their children. He expects parents to sacrifice for their families. He expects learning and the search for truth in all areas to be a family quest and a lifetime pursuit. He expects excellence, integrity, and refinement. And He stands ready to pour out blessings and directions upon the family. With the heavens working with us, how can we fail?”

JOYCE KINMONT

The family was created with everything a child would need for development: mature, loving adults to mentor them, mixed-age peers to play with, and real-life experiences. School outside the home can supplement this teaching, but should not replace it. The Lord gave parents stewardship over His children and He has commanded them to teach and train them. Parents will be held accountable for the information their children learn and the habits they develop while they are under their stewardship, whether that is in school or at home. Teachers, administrators, and governments will not be held accountable before God for your child’s education.

FOUR MYTHS OF

TRADITIONAL EDUCATION

GOD HAS NO PLACE IN EDUCATION

“The idea that the religion of Christ is one thing and science is another is a mistaken idea, for there is no true religion without true science nor, consequently, no true science without true religion.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 14 pg. 117

Where is Wisdom?

Russell M. Nelson explained in his talk “Where is Wisdom?” that the scriptures contain more than just knowledge about spiritual matters. He shares the story of how many, many people died due to the ignorance of infection. Yet, in Leviticus chapter fifteen the Lord explains to Moses, in detail, how to properly care for someone who has a contagious disease.

“Thus, our loving Heavenly Father had clearly revealed principles of clean technique in the handling of infected patients more than three thousand years ago! These scriptures are in complete harmony with modern medical guidelines. But during those many millennia, how many mothers needlessly perished? How many children suffered because man’s quest for knowledge had failed to incorporate the word of the Lord?” 

A wealth of knowledge is at our fingertips, if only we would be wise enough to use them. We are doing our children (and ourselves!) a great disservice by not utilizing scriptures in our studies of all subjects.

Philosophers over the past two centuries have worked hard to get God out of our schools. John Dewey and Karl Marx were two of the most influential in this effort. John Dewey is the father of Secular Humanism, which is the belief that is taught in schools today; that there is no God and we do not need Him to become good people. Karl Marx was also an advocate of removing religious beliefs from public education. President Benson warned us of letting these men influence public education in a 1970 General Conference address:

The Tenth plank of Karl Marx’s Manifesto for destroying our kind of civilization advocated the establishment of “free education for all children in public schools”…It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.”

Knowing this, should it really come as a surprise to us that young adult retention in the church is at an all-time low? The retention rate for members of our grandparents and parents generations hovered between 62-75%. Now it is estimated that 25-46% of young adults stay active in the church after high school graduation (source). Twenty years ago Boyd K. Packer also warned us of this spiritual danger, and things have only gotten worse since then:

“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools (and its becoming almost generally true) it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.”  (Charge to the David O. McKay School of Education, December 1996)

When we separate God from all other subjects it makes it much easier to disregard His existence. And when we isolate eternal truths to religion only we are halting our own progression. Heavenly Father has knowledge of all truth and has promised “… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, ( John 14:26, emphasis added)

DIRECT-INSTRUCTION IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO TEACH

“[And] the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself … And because that [men] are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever … to act for themselves and not to be acted upon” 
2 NEPHI 2:14, 16

Agency is key to the Plan of Salvation; Heavenly Father gave his children agency to choose between right and wrong. He did this knowing that we would sometimes fail, but He knew that we cannot learn without making mistakes, and that forced compliance is not real knowledge. As Charlotte Mason said, “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”

Traditional education relies heavily on the teacher’s role to schedule, prepare, and impart knowledge to students. The student’s role is to show up, shut up, and listen up.  Compare this to the new Youth Program the Church has recently released: a simple framework is given and within that individuals are free to choose their own goals, deadlines, and assess their own progress. Parents are there to guide and assist when needed. 

Can you imagine how much more effective education would be if schools followed the example of this program? Home education can implement this easily and effectively, I have already started implementing this with my first grader and it is amazing to see him blossom when he takes responsibility for his own education. We want our children to be self-reliant, so we need to take them out of an environment where they are being acted upon and allow them  freedom to choose and act for themselves.

CHILDREN LEARN HEALTHY SOCIAL SKILLS FROM PEERS

“If socializing with peers leads to getting along and becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. In actual fact, the more children spend time with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civilized society. If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme-To orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs-the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and Street kids would be model citizens.” 
GORDON NEUFELD

This myth originated with John Dewey and his theory that children need to be removed from their homes where traditions of their parents were taught and be “socialized” in a central place with their peers. But like most philosophers his beliefs were based on theories, not facts. The changes made to public school based on Dewey’s theories has been a social experiment since it was instituted  in the beginning of the 20th century. We’ve been told that   “… by their fruits ye shall know them.”    So let’s briefly look at the fruits of Dewey’s theory that children should be socialized by their peers. In his book,   Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld presents evidence to prove that ever since the mid-twentieth century children have slowly become oriented to their peers, and the results have been disastrous. Since that time aggression and bullying have increased in schools, suicide rates have quadrupled, and crime has increased by leaps and bounds.

A child naturally attaches to someone that they are physically and emotionally close to. If there is a void (either physical presence or emotional) then children fill that attachment gap with peers. When a child is peer-oriented they can never get enough peer interaction. They would rather be spending time with friends (in person or online) than spending time with family. They start to behave like their peers, believe what they believe, and value those relationships above anything else.  Dr. Neufeld explains that children need to be attached to loving, mature adults in order to learn mature social skills. Children also need lots of self-directed play to develop their sense of self. Social interaction actually delays the development of personality and creative thinking, so social play is only needed in small doses.

Dr. Neufeld combines compelling evidence and professional experience to explain why children who are peer oriented are more likely to have low self-esteem, be difficult to teach and unable to learn, have behavioral problems, and commit suicide. Children were never meant to learn social skills from their peers, and there is ample evidence to prove it.

“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6)

What children really need is more time spent with mature adults, not less. If we want our children to develop compassion, responsibility, and integrity we must maintain healthy attachments to our children, and STOP pushing them away to spend more and more time with their peers. We are starting to see the “curse” of this mentality in today’s increasing social issues and crime rates.

TEACH ONLY WHAT IS NEEDED FOR REAL-LIFE

“The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined.”

DOUGLAS R. CALLISTER

Since John Dewey’s progressive educational reform, public school curriculum have focused on what can be experienced with the five-senses and being trained for practical work.  It sounded good in the beginning, except it has slowly warped into a system of information, worksheets, and testing. In the end it has ignored the emotional and spiritual aspects of the human soul; those things that cannot be seen, but are true. Faith, integrity, imagination, and compassion are just a few of those truths that cannot be experienced with the five senses. They need to be felt with spiritual senses, or in other words, the heart. 

The heart consists of the faculties that sense beauty, eternal truth, and Christlike attributes. One beautiful definition for imagination is “The thinking of the heart.”(Samuel Silas Curry, Imagination and Dramatic Instinct)  Marlene Peterson, the founder of The Well-Educated Heart, observed that there is a “sacred combination” when heart and mind are nurtured. History and scriptures are full of examples of both people who have nurtured their heart and mind, and those who have not.  The phrase “hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds.”(Ether 15:19) is quoted many times to describe people who were wicked and would not believe in God or Jesus Christ. Right now we see a period when education neglects the heart and, consequently, there is a decline in creativity, compassion, religious belief,  and an appreciation of beauty. 

“In the curriculum of most of our institutions of learning no place is given to that instruction which has for its end, the cultivation of the imagination, and the sentiments through the refining of the perceptions and quickening of the love of beauty.

‘Education,’ say some of our legislators, ‘must give a means of making a living, our public schools must train up practical citizens, boys and girls must be educated in the practical arts of life. The ornamental has no place in the schoolroom.’They utterly fail to grasp the nature of the imagination and its relation to everyday life.”
CHARLES ELLIOT NORTON, quoted in Imagination and Dramatic Instinct

The heart, or imagination, is nurtured through stories, nature, music, art, dance, and poetry. Yet those are the subjects that are becoming extinct in most classrooms and homes because they are not easy to test and do not stand up to the standard of “real-world skills.” As Dr Curry mentioned, we disregard the importance of the imagination in everyday life, like understanding  how another person is feeling (empathy) and believing in something you cannot see (faith).  

Before children start learning the mechanics and  information of a subject they should be falling in love with it; nature study before science, reading-aloud before grammar, and speaking before writing. Children understand and remember when they love something; when their curiosity and imagination have been sparked. This is the business of the heart, and it is vital to a deep understanding of all subjects.

 “It is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”

JOHANN PESTALOZZI

There are parts of our spirit and heart that are touched by the refined things of life: art, music, and poetry. Pure joy comes from creating something beautiful. We are children of a Heavenly King; the desire to create is in our nature. Education should nurture that divinity within us and prepare us to meet our Heavenly Father and someday become like Him; this is the reason we came to earth and this should be the purpose of education. 

 Teaching our children–like all other spiritual matters–is about progress, not perfection. We cannot consider ourselves as completing our duty as teachers by simply holding scripture study every day and family home evening once a week.  Teaching is much more than a checklist, it is a matter of becoming. We may not feel prompted to educate our children at home because there are many variables that affect our circumstances. Becoming a more Christlike teacher may be leading more meaningful discussions during Come, Follow Me. It might be adding poetry, art, and/or music to your family devotional. Maybe it means educating your children at home or changing the methods you use because your children are not thriving with traditional methods. Whatever circumstance we are in, we should all be striving to become more Christlike teachers and have the faith to utilize a more excellent way of learning in all subjects.

“But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.” Ether 12:11