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Education is an Atmosphere


“The child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 247)

At a homeschool retreat I attended last year, one of the speakers was asked to explain the reasoning behind his and his wife’s decision to homeschool. He said “I believe in the principle of marination.” Seeing that he had effectively confused the audience, he continued; “According to the principle of marination, a person or thing will passively absorb the flavor of whatever it is surrounded by. I want my children to absorb the flavor—habits, beliefs and mannerisms—of my wife, not public school.” 

The very first teaching tool that Charlotte Mason lists in her philosophy of education is Atmosphere. My theory is that Charlotte listed these tools in sequential order: atmosphere, discipline, then life. The atmosphere is the foundational tool as it encompasses learning from relationships with people and real-life experiences. All people start learning from their environment the moment they are born. 

Be Thou An Example

“First, we must control our behavior. Next, we must control the environment of our home. If we have done this, the children will control themselves.”
 (Louise Latham, The Power of Positive Parenting)

As the parent, you set the tone of your home. You are in control of your own behavior which is a significant factor in whether your home is peaceful and positive or contentious and negative. You teach your children more through your example than from lectures. Children’s brains are equipped with mirror neurons which help them internalize and imitate the behavior they see, especially people they are securely attached to (See Hold on to Your Kids). The most important part of your child’s education is training their character, or heart. This is done through your example and the atmosphere of your home. Theodore Roosevelt once said “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

Too many early childhood programs are focused on academics when they should be focusing on the foundation for academics. A young child’s brain is primed for establishing 1) relationships, 2) five senses, 3) language and 4) morals. The atmosphere of your home has the capacity to develop and nurture all four of those areas. Creating a positive, beautiful, and sensory-rich environment should be the first order of business when establishing a center of learning in your home.

Instead of basing your evaluation on negative interactions in your home, base your valuations on the amount of positive interactions. There will always be negative interactions in groups of imperfect people, but when there are  positive interactions they will counteract the negative. So look for the good and celebrate it.


The language you speak is powerful, and it will shape how your child views the world and themselves. The quality of speech important, specifically when it is positive and encouraging. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for self-regulation (or “the will”), is very sensitive to stress. Negative interactions and stressful situations suppress the growth of the prefrontal cortex. Positive, supportive interactions nurtures growth. Although young children are not capable of mature behavior, their brain needs nurturing right now if it will ever function at optimum level when they are older. Instead of barking negative directives–“don’t, stop, go away”–use positive ones. Tell children what they can do; “Here, you can hold the cup while I pour the milk” and, “The sand needs to stay outside.”  If children only hear that they can’t, they will eventually believe it. 

When your child does something desirable, prioritize telling them they are a good attribute; you are a helper, you are so kind, you are a hard worker. When they do something undesirable, speak about their behavior; “that was not a kind thing to do.” “Leaving your books on the ground is not responsible.” In this way you are creating a narrative that they are inherently good, and their behavior is not in line with who they are or should be. Research proves this to be true. Additionally, When your child makes an improvement, even if it’s small, praise their effort, and be specific. E.g. “You must be really proud of yourself for _______.”  If you absolutely need to criticize or “reproof betimes with sharpness” ( D&C 121:43) make sure you start with praise; it’s much better to use “and” instead of “but.” For example, “you are getting so good at writing your letters in the lines, and your handwriting will be even better when you form your e’s just like I showed you.” Or, “I love you and I can’t let you hurt your brother.”


Studies have shown that children learn better social skills in mixed-age classrooms, and even more from their parents. ( Urie Bronfenbrenner,Two Worlds Of Childhood) This is an indisputable fact, yet most parents still believe that children need to learn social skills from peers, and public schools still separate children by birth year instead of mixing ages.

The reality is this: when older children teach the younger ones , like magic, they feel the need to be more responsible and engage in more mature behavior. They intuitively know how to teach younger children because they have been in the situation not too long before. Younger children look up to the older children and want to join in their activities and conversations. 

Children learn mature social skills from watching their parents. They learn about genuine friendship from family relationships; how to be loyal, selfless, loving, forgiving, and kind. Children learn from the example set by parents and older siblings and they get opportunities to practice those skills in daily life. These unique opportunities are only available in family life, and this is why: when a person of any age is securely attached to other people (like parental and sibling relationships), they feel safe to disagree, to assert their rights and opinions, and to stand up when they feel their rights are not respected. They learn how to apply these social skills to multiple situations and a range of ages.

Sibling Rivalry

As a parent you may feel discouraged when you see negative social behavior in your children. But what you may  not realize is that this is an essential part of maturation, and it needs to happen when people are young and where they feel safe. They need to know they will be forgiven and loved when they make mistakes. They need to learn how to forgive people when they are wronged, how to assert their opinion in productive ways without being rejected, and how to respect  those who have different opinions. They need to learn how authority works and why it is important. It is much more difficult at school where relationships are mostly superficial and conditional.

You will not see your child exhibit the same behavior with peers because your child does not feel safe enough to be vulnerable and display their whole spectrum of emotions. For boys, emotions usually become physical as they express emotions more easily this way; wrestling, tackling, and hugging are the result of almost every emotion. Many times play fights will turn into real fights because one boy was too rough or the competition became too intense. The boys learn from their experience and alter their strength or change their tactics.  Children need to learn their limits while they are young, otherwise they will learn when they are older and the consequences are more serious.

I guarantee that you will see more negative behavior between siblings than with peers, but it is an essential part of maturation; avoiding sibling rivalry is only prolonging the inevitable. The truth is that the more vulnerable the relationship, the more hurt feelings. Maturation and development of social skills is messy, but essential, and the best environment for children to learn these valuable skills is at home with their family. They can practice those skills with peers, but the real work is done at home.

Teach Correct Principles

How can you allow your children the freedom they need to learn and grow, but still maintain a positive atmosphere? Teach correct  principles and let them govern themselves. Especially for children over eight years old. 

Taking a principle from human systems management, we can see how to make our home more positive while still maintaining a sense of agency;  Anytime you see sibling relationships in apparent chaos your “training” urges you to interfere to stabilize and shape things up. But if you can trust the workings of chaos, you will see that the dominant shape of your family can be maintained if you retain clarity about the purpose and direction of the members. If you succeed in maintaining focus, rather than hands on control, you also create the flexibility and responsiveness that every family craves. What parents are called upon to do in a chaotic world is to shape their families through concepts. Simple guiding principles, guiding visions, strong values, family beliefs – the few rules individuals can use to shape their own behavior. (paraphrased from Christlike Parenting by Glenn Latham, pg 159)

I recommend writing a family mission statement to help the members of your family prioritize the principles your family wants to be built on. (see “Apply” section for complete details).


“It is worthwhile to remember that space is the most precious and also the most pleasing thing in a house or room; and that even a small room becomes spacious if it is not crowded with useless objects.” (Charlotte Mason)

Charlotte Mason was a strong advocate of simplifying the atmosphere of the home to create beauty and order. When you are focused on buying more of the “best” homeschool items and spend most of your time and energy organizing and cleaning up these items, you lose sight of what matters most: relationships and experiences. When your children have too many toys and too many choices, their nervous system becomes overloaded and they don’t enjoy playing or engaging as deeply. Less is more when it comes to toys and homeschool items. Except books; you can never have enough “living books.”

 “So many choices and so much stimuli rob them of time and attention. Too much stuff deprives kids of leisure, and the ability to explore their world deeply… Imagine the sensory overload that can happen for a child when every surface, every drawer and closet is filled with stuff? So many choices and so much stimuli rob them of time and attention.” (Kim Jon Payne, Simplicity Parenting)

Simplify your home and schedule; ask yourself what is most important to you and your family. Figure out which items and activities bring your children the most joy, and get rid of the rest. Scrutinize everything you bring into your home and schedule to safeguard the unstructured time that is needed to ponder and reflect.

Is This Real-Life?

Unfortunately, too many children in America are bored at school, especially boys. (here and here) The creativity and effort they exert to get out of their lessons is  impressive. Instead of pulling out bribes and coercive techniques, we should be asking ourselves why school is not maintaining their interest. Why are children so disinterested in their lessons? 

To answer this we need to revisit Charlotte Mason’s foundational principle: children are born persons. Just like adults, children’s questions and desire to learn originate from real-life experiences. Artificial learning environments, assignments, and projects  are what is damaging our child’s desire to learn. They want to help solve real problems,  be engaged in meaningful work, and practice skills in real situations. Elaborate curriculum where everything is laid out for the child, all connections made, and all projects planned, is not real life. This is not teaching your child to be self-reliant. You are not teaching them to be life-long learners. It is not how humans naturally learn. 

How do adults learn? They encounter a problem or a question that piques their interest, they read about it, then share what they’ve learned with others. If they find a solution to a problem they engage in a project to improve or invent something new.

Creating an atmosphere of learning in your home involves you, the parent, being an active, self-reliant learner. It involves you creating a scaffold for your children to grow within (weekly schedule, or time table), and, as you slowly remove the scaffold, allowing them the freedom to follow their interests, choose books to read, and organize their own projects based on real-life problems. Learning is not something that is done to us; it is something we are constantly doing every moment of our lives. The most important change you can make in the atmosphere of your home is to be an example of life-long learning.

  1. Be curious and ask questions.
  2. Seek answers from books, people, and your own experiments.
  3. Narrate and record what you learn.
  4. Finally, apply what you’ve learned to real-life situations. 

“When we say that ‘education is an atmosphere,’ we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child-environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.”

Charlotte Mason



Teaching in the Savior’s Way | pg 15-16

A Philosophy of Education | Chapter 6

Your Refined Heavenly Home | David R. Callister

What Lack I Yet? | Larry R. Lawrence

What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be? | Lynn G Robbins

Good, Better, Best | Dallin H. Oaks

Be Thou an Example | Thomas S. Monson

Tongues of Angels | Jeffery R. Holland

Reproving Betimes with Sharpness | Millett and Newell

Simplicity Parenting | Chapters 1-3


  • Which Christlike attributes do I need to develop? Is there anything I need to do to be a better example?
  • Which features of my home help create an environment where children can learn? What changes might I need to make?
  • What can members of my family do to make sure that everyone feels loved in our learning environment? 
  • What opportunities do I have to teach from real life? What can I do to ensure that I am always ready to take advantage of such moments?


  • Simplify your home and schedule. Read this post on how to simplify your toys and playroom.
  • Write a family mission statement.
  • Create spaces in your home where children can learn and play. Read the home tours below for inspiration:
    Smith Home
    Gardner Home



  1. Gather family members together and decide your core values. There are a couple ways to do this:
    • Brainstorm words you want to describe the family; e.g. kind, helpful, fun, righteous, silly.
    • Ask  each member what they want from the family, or to describe their idea of a perfect home; e.g. “I want to always feel loved” or “I want a family that can laugh and have fun.”
    • Who are your children’s heroes from scriptures or history? Pick some attributes that you admire.
    • Read Moroni 7:45 and pick charitable characteristics you want your family to have.
  2. Write down the words or phrases that your family comes up with. Pick a few that are the most important to your family.
  3. Charlotte Mason has said that children need to know four things: who they are (I am), what they expected to do (I ought), what they are capable of (I can), and what they will choose to do (I will). Use this as a guide to write your family mission statement. Remember to keep it simple and powerful.
  4. Here is an example of my family mission statement:

“We are children of Heavenly Parents who love us. We were made to be curious and have joy! We ought to be kind and love one another. We ought to keep the commandments of God. We can do all things through Christ, and we can choose to be happy no matter what our circumstances may be. We will choose to follow Christ. we will look for the good in ourselves and in others. We will seek learning by study and also by faith.”

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How to Simplify Your Playroom


Why Simplify?

“Education is an Atmosphere. By saying Education is an atmosphere, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’ especially adapted and prepared; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to a ‘child’s’ level.” 

Being a mother during the twenty-first century has many blessings, but some major difficulties as well. One is that we live in a culture that is obsessed with buying and consuming. We feel that our children need fancy toys for them to be intelligent, develop imagination and be happy. But more and more we find our children unhappy and bored amidst boxes of toys.

Why? A major reason so many children are suffering is that too many toys and too much complexity can actually be harmful to a child’s development. This usually comes out in the form of anxiety and hyperactivity. It can even harm your child’s ability to play. I personally noticed my children complain of boredom and were unable to play for long periods of time when we had too many toys available to them. They fought more often over toys that are battery-operated and finite. Sibling rivalry and inattention is a huge indicator that you need to simplify your environment. I have seen the following benefits of simplifying toys down to the bare minimum: happier, more content children; less sibling rivalry, and hours of imaginative play. I haven’t heard  “I’m bored” since I simplified our toys and playroom.  You can read more about the research on play and toys here. Before you can fully embrace simple toys you must understand the underlying principles behind them–relationships and self-education.


Another consequence of complex, commercialized toys is that many children do not develop motor skills that are needed for real-life, and as adults they are unable to understand scientific laws because they have not experienced these laws in concrete terms. One of Charlotte Mason’s most famous quotes is “Education is the science of relations.” When children play they are forming relationships with the laws of nature, themselves and others. As proof that open-ended play is cardiovascular surgeons are reporting that their students are having difficulties understanding how a heart works because they never used a pump, and others cannot sew up arteries because those fine motor skills were not developed as children. Some of the best toys we have are funnels, measuring cups, and buckets for the children to play with in the sand and water. They learn about physics by playing with cups and tubes in the tub, and funnels and scoops in the sandbox.


“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”

Consumer driven play is quite the paradox: too many choices, and at the same time not enough choices. The truth is that children develop creativity and fine motor skills when they need to create their own toys, like wrapping a wooden block with fabric to create a toy couch. Joy is sparked when a child solves a problem with their own solutions. Open-ended toys have endless possibilities and choices, whereas finite toys–like character figurines and battery-operated trucks– do all the work for the child. What our children really need is to be active agents in their play and education. They need open-ended toys to exercise their imagination and solve problems.

How to Detox Your Playroom

  1. Gather all the toys from around your house and put them in a pile.
  2. Throw away toys that are broken.
  3. Donate toys that are battery-operated and are finite (meaning they can only be played with in one way). If you aren’t ready for this yet, put them away in the garage and watch your children blossom and grow with open-ended toys.
  4. Over the next month watch and take notes:
    • Which toys do your children play with the most often?
    • Which ones hold their attention longest?
    • Which toys require creativity and thinking out-of-the-box?


“Everything in the nursery should be ‘neat’––that is, pleasing and suitable…Nothing vulgar in the way of print, picture-book, or toy should be admitted––nothing to vitiate a child’s taste or introduce a strain of commonness into his nature.” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 pg. 131)

When choosing furniture pieces for the playroom, choose ones that will serve double-duty as both organizers and toys. For example, IKEA Kallax can store blocks and baskets, but it can also be a dollhouse, cages for veterinary clinic, or parking garage for trucks. A low shelf can store toys, but it can also be used to play store as shelves or checkout counter.

All toys should have a home that is easy to access, easy to see, and easy to move. Large, tall, opaque bins are usually the worst choice. I have found that open baskets, clear bins, or wire baskets promote less mess because the child doesn’t have to dump everything out to discover what’s inside. A really good option is to display toys on a shelf. When toys are displayed the child can simply pick up a toy without dumping out the whole bin. 

That being said, play is meant to be messy. Children learn from creating, destroying, and re-creating. I’ve found my children will not play as deeply if they are afraid to make a mess. Keep your playroom separate from other living spaces, if possible, just so they can feel free to create and work on their creations over multiple days. I put my three boys in one bedroom just so we had a room dedicated solely to play.

Which Toys Are Best?

“In choosing toys for the children, how important it is to bear certain points in mind; one special thing to consider is, to give when possible something out of which the child can make other things, or can do something more with.” -Parent’s Review Vol. 17 no. 5 pg. 366

In general, the best toys:

  • Grow with your child. Blocks are just as enjoyable for a two year as a ten year old. 
  • Are not gender specific. All children love playing with animals and a toy kitchen.
  • Are high-quality. Children are rough on toys, and higher-quality toys are less expensive in the long run.
  • Open-ended. Play scarves can be made into a dress, cape, ocean, or tablecloth.

 The best toys fit into these four categories. I recommend having a good variety of toys from each category, based on what your family dynamics and your individual children’s interests. You do not need everything on the list–take inventory of what you have and fill in the gaps based on your family’s needs.


  • Play dough or clay
  • Sandbox
  • Water table
  • Tools for sand/water play
  • Threading beads
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Push-toy ( like cart or wagon)
  • Swing
  • Bicycle
  • Shape-sorting toy (for infants and toddlers)

Engineering/Practical Life

    • Blocks (wooden blocks, magnatiles, Legos)
    •  Square craft boards to use with blocks
    • Rope
    • Real child-sized tools (hammer, pliers, screwdriver)
    • Sewing box (embroidery thread, needles, fabric, buttons, pins, scissors)
    • Child-Sized Cooking Tools (rolling pin, measuring cups, spoons, bowl, apron, spatula)
    • Pocketknife


    • Play scarves and fabric
    • Kitchen + food
    • Cash register
    • Schleich Animals
    • Vehicles 
    • Dolls
    • Tent
    • Bags, boxes, trunk


    • Dice (lots of game ideas online, Greedy is a family favorite)
    • Balls
    • Cards (Uno, Matching, Old Maid, etc)
    • Board games
    • Matching games
    • Wooden puzzles for different ages
    • Pattern blocks


A few of our favorite brands for toys are IKEA, Hape, Melissa and Doug, Schleich, Haba, and Treasures From Jennifer (Etsy). Always check Facebook and Craigslist to find the items used before buying new.

Wooden Unit Blocks | Amazon

Picture Shelves (for animals) | IKEA

Kallax | IKEA

Play Scarves | Etsy

Mesh Produce Bags | Amazon

Baskets (for toys) | IKEA

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Our School Space

The physical space around you either invites the Spirit or detracts from it. When your home invites the Spirit it becomes “a house of learning.”  I’ve made it my goal to surround my family with things that are beautiful and functional, but most importantly invites the Spirit. 

Over the years of being homeschooled myself and now teaching my own children, I have found these things to be essential for a schoolroom: large chalkboard, map or globe, clock, oversized table, and bookshelves. I’ve also noticed it helps to have plenty of natural light and wall space, as well as the room being close to the main living area. In the past I had a school room in the basement as well as a room off the garage, both were unused because they were too far away from where most of our living happened.

In our current home, the only room that fit all my criteria was the dining room–which seems to be a common theme among homeschool families. As soon as we were moved in, I made a chalkboard, bought a vintage rolling map from Craigslist, and asked my husband to create shelves. Since our schoolroom is in the central place where we spend most of our time eating and pondering, my boys look at our large map, chalkboard, or artwork all day long. I love that the atmosphere they live in is full of beauty and rich ideas.

There is definitely some conflict of interest since our school space is right in the middle of our living space; we need to clear the table when it’s time to eat, wipe the table when it’s time to do school, etc. To remedy this, I made it as simple as possible to clean up by giving each boy a magazine holder to store all their notebooks and school books. They put each book back in the holder when they’re done, and when it’s time to clean up for a meal they only need to put one thing away. Wire baskets also work great for this purpose.


We store all the school materials we are currently using on the shelves in our living room, only about 5 feet away from the table.  I don’t want our main living area to look like a kindergarten classroom covered with plastic and brightly-colored posters. Instead, I use containers that are both functional and beautiful, like baskets and wooden trays. I put threading beads, pattern blocks, simple puzzles, and origami on the wooden trays so my kids can easily put them back when they’re done. I’ve also found it extremely helpful to use an art material organizer, like the white one above. It is just an old utensil organizer from Pampered Chef, but it is one of the most useful organizers I own. Ikea has a wonderful toolbox where I keep my second grader’s handicraft and art supplies. I also use wooden trays to keep activities and crafts for my younger boys. It helps to keep all the supplies for the craft/activity in one place, otherwise the activity never happens.


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The Teacher’s Role


“Such a doctrine as the Herbartian [traditional education], that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge;” 

Charlotte Mason

The Truth of All Things

When Charlotte Mason was a young woman, she took a trip to Italy to be inspired by the art and history that is so abundant there.  She stood in the Spanish Chapel connected to the Santa Maria Novella and gazed at a fresco that had completely captured her attention. The fresco depicts God and his angels in heaven with inspirational men on earth below. There is a division between them, and in that division lies the Holy Spirit; the connection between God and man. Ms. Mason noticed that the Holy Spirit was bestowing knowledge from God to the seven figures representing the natural sciences: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, art, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic. While she studied this fresco, she had an amazing epiphany; an epiphany that would later be considered her greatest contribution to philosophy and education. This is what she says of her revelation that day:

“The Florentine mind… believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.” ( v. 2, p. 271)

Heavenly Father has promised us that “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”  He uses the same term in Doctrine & Covenants: 

“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;”

He expounds on “all things” by saying, 

“Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (Moroni 10:5 also John 14:26)

Astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics, the liberal arts, geography, history, politics, history, current news, and international affairs are considered “doctrine of the kingdom.” Heavenly Father commanded us to teach one another these things, and promised that the Holy Ghost will help us understand them and know they are true.

It may take some time to fully comprehend the magnitude of this principle because it is completely counter to what our culture. Charlotte Mason observed, “Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example.” (v. 2, p. 270-271)

The Holy Ghost

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (Charlotte Mason)

You may believe that as your child’s teacher, any information they encounter, any skill they master, or any knowledge they solidify is because you gave it to them, corrected them, and tested them. The fundamental belief in traditional education is that whether the child succeeds or not is determined by the teacher. In other words, we consider ourselves the “Showman of the Universe,” as Charlotte Mason so appropriately expressed. 

When I started teaching my oldest child I viewed myself as the sole presenter of knowledge. I was exhausted trying to execute elaborate lectures and activities, and discouraged when my son was not interested or engaged in what I was teaching. Then I read about Charlotte Mason’s revelation of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment of realization, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders; I realized my role was not to know all things and implant it into my child. I am a fellow student, and my role is a mentor and guide. My children and I are learning from the true showman of the universe: the Holy Spirit.

In her article, On Questions and Questioning, Emily Kiser explains that “The result [of this principle] is a different perspective of the student and teacher relationship than what we have commonly experienced in our own educational settings. She [Charlotte Mason] placed confidence in the inborn desire and ability of the learner, and this altered the teacher’s role as a consequence. Instead of instructor and instructed as we have known, she believed it is not the teacher’s place to impart knowledge, impose knowledge, or impress knowledge upon the student from without. Rather, the teacher is the humble guide or presenter of ideas to the naturally inquisitive appetite of the learner. The student grapples with the living book and the student tells what he knows. Both teacher and student are persons equal in power to self-educate.”

A personal experience helped me understand this principle more fully and cement it in my mind. After a particularly frustrating incident with my son, I sat pondering how I could make him realize what he did was wrong. How I could help him understand the disconnect between his actions and what I taught him? Maybe a better lecture or asking more questions? Then it hit me: helping my son feel guilt and see the disconnect was not my responsibility. The Spirit knows my child better than I do. He knows how my son learns best and when his heart is open to learning. My responsibility is to present doctrine through stories and my example. The Spirit is the only being capable of reminding my son of truth and changing his heart when he is unreachable for me. But that truth needs to be placed in my son’s mind before he can be reminded of it. This is the role of the parent and teacher: to present the great ideas through books, experiences, and example. Jesus gave us two simple commandments, and both are vital to teaching children: love one another and feed my sheep.

Meeting Mountains

“Great things are done when men and mountain meet: This is not done by jostling in the street.” (William Blake)

When you feed your children ideas,  remember that “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” Blake said it more eloquently though; we need to do away with jostling our children while they try to grapple with mountains. We simply need to introduce our children to great ideas and let them climb. I know from experience that children have the power to do so, if we will only give them the chance. 

 Ms. Mason expounded on this by saying “We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perceptive faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on… this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it.” (v. 1,  p. 172)

Lesson preparation can be as simple as this: “The teacher’s part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils’ mental activity.” (v. 6, p. 180-181) Once you have planned a basic idea of subjects, you need to refrain from too much talking, explaining, and questioning. When you quietly close the book after reading the Spirit can now start teaching. As ideas flow through your child’s mind they will most likely start talking. Listen intently to what they say and you will get a glimpse into what they are being taught.

In the Same Hour

The teacher’s role is similar to the students in that they need to be listening to what the Spirit teaches. Elder Bednar said in a training to CES teachers that the Spirit is always with you; instead of asking yourself “how can I invite the Spirit?”, he suggests asking  “how am I driving the Spirit away?”

One major way that we make it difficult to hear promptings is by overscheduling each school day. Scripted, detailed curriculum and rigid schedules make it difficult to hear the promptings of the Spirit because you are so focused on checking off boxes that you ignore promptings that deviate from “the plan.” You are so focused on mastering the learning objectives that your child is not free to learn what he personally needs at that moment. It is very difficult to plan for experiences that have not happened yet. When you are in the teaching moment and listen to your child you will know which questions to ask and what to invite them to do. Planning lessons months in advance or using a curriculum created by someone who doesn’t know your children will only result in teaching moments that feel stiff and artificial. 

Russel M Nelson said in a General Conference address, we need “women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly… do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?”

When we receive revelation it is usually in the moment that we need it. Like Nephi retrieving the plates, you will have an overall goal in mind, but you don’t know exactly how it will play until you are in the moment. When you are in the place and time you will be given the details. The Lord promised you that “the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:12) Another experience we can learn from is when Nephi built the boat; he was not given the complete blueprint at the beginning; the plans were given “time to time” and not after the manner of men, but after the manner of God. When educating your children in partnership with God you will not be given the complete blueprints at the beginning of the year; you have an overall goal and the details will be given on a day-today basis. 

This style of teaching requires a lot of faith, but I know from experience that it works and God is waiting to pour out His knowledge to you. Planning too far in advance or becoming a slave to curriculums is the result of fear, not faith. Fear that you won’t receive revelation, fear that you must educate your children on your own, fear that you will fail. To become a master teacher, you must let go of that fear and have faith in your ability and your children’s ability to receive inspiration. 

Masterly Inactivity

Our society is full of overly-anxious parents and teachers. Fear and anxiety permeate how we interact with children, and it is greatly affecting their ability to learn. Edwin Friedman first coined the term “non-anxious presence” to describe an important skill that parents and teachers need to develop. Long before Friedman coined the term, Charlotte Mason called it “masterly inactivity.”  She described it as “the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” ( v. 3,  p.28)

The underlying truth is that people (especially children) learn best when those around them are calm and collected. Christ was the perfect example of a non-anxious presence; when those around him were feeling strong emotions, such as fear, hatred, or anger he maintained a countenance of love and acceptance. He did not constantly correct people when they made mistakes; instead, he taught correct principles and let people govern themselves. More than anything else, parents need to learn to let their children act instead of always acting upon them. The consequences of an anxious parent are an anxious child who resents their parent and dreads school. Our job is not to stop them from making mistakes; our role is to teach, counsel, and comfort. 

At this point, you may be asking “how do I teach my children without bribing, coercing, testing, and lecturing?” Once again, Charlotte Mason has the answer: “We are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.” In other words, children learn from your example and real-life experiences, and you educate children by providing living ideas in the form of books and real objects.  I will cover those three instruments in the next sections of this series.

“When we are filled with the Holy Ghost and we let it guide us as we teach others, it spreads from us to our students like the fire spreads across a dry hillside.”

Theo McKean



What can I do to be more receptive to spiritual guidance each day?

How can I let the Spirit guide my teaching?

What can I do to make sure I heed the Spirit’s promptings as I am teaching?

What is preventing me from following promptings I receive?

How can I invite the Spirit into all subjects?

What am I doing to drive the Spirit away?


Pray to know the needs of children and write down your impressions.

Write down the main goals and principles for your family’s education.

Follow the guidance of the Spirit as you teach daily lessons.

Record the impressions you have and the questions your children ask.

additional information

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“One thing at any rate we know with certainty; that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it; to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality. Therefore, teaching, talk, and tale, however lucid or fascinating, affect nothing until self-activity be set up; that is, self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”

Charlotte Mason

Before I was a mother I had visions of  feeding  my children nutritious meals for their bodies and curating elaborate lesson plans for their minds. Little did I know that agency would shatter all my hopes and dreams: I couldn’t force my children to enjoy foods they weren’t craving and I couldn’t force them to internalize information they didn’t desire to know. I suspect I’m not the only parent who has occasionally felt that agency was more of a curse than a gift, but if we want to truly become a master teacher we need to understand and work with agency, not against it.

Everything we do is deeply rooted in the principle of agency, especially education.  Knowledge first comes from a desire to know, or a question posed by the mind itself. When your mind is open to learning, you have experienced something in your life that sparks a question. You desire an answer to that question. You seek learning by study and by faith, and when you find the answer you apply it and therefore remember. It has become knowledge. This is the only way people truly learn truth.

Bribery and coercion from a parent/teacher may seem effective, but they are only short-term solutions. They only create a desire for a reward or to avoid a negative consequence, they do not create a genuine desire for knowledge. The child is not truly utilizing their agency; they are not motivated by a desire to learn. Russell M. Nelson stated this of the important role that desire plays in education:  “I believe that in the pursuit of education, individual desire is more influential than institution.”   (Where is Wisdom? October 1992

REMEMBER: You cannot make your children do something against their will. You cannot make them want something they do not want. You cannot make them learn something they do not want to learn. 

Agency is not just a religious concept, it is a truth proven by modern research. When people feel they have control over a situation they are less stressed, and therefore happier. (see The Self-Driven Child). Developing our children’s sense of agency is not an educational frill  or some new-age idea. Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks. When they face problems they lose concentration and start doubting themselves. Children with a strong belief in their own agency work harder, focus better, are more interested in their studies, and are less likely to give up  than children with a weaker sense of agency (Skinner, Zimmer, Gembeck, and Connell. Individual Differences And The Development Of Perceived Control). This is because agency is based on the idea of strengthening a person’s will, not breaking it. 

The Way of the Will

“There is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right. And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the will acts; this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, 326)

When you think of a “strong-willed” child, what do you imagine? Maybe a toddler throwing a tantrum or a rebellious teenager. Interestingly, what you are actually envisioning is a weak-willed child. Mason said “this apparent determination to go in one way and no other, which is called willfulness and mistaken for an exercise of will. Whereas the determination is only apparent; the child is, in fact, hurried along without resistance, because that opposing force which should give balance to his character is undeveloped and untrained (v. 1, p. 321) So, what is the will? I love the way Mason describes the will as “ the controller of the passions and emotions, the director of the desires, the ruler of the appetite… character is the result of conduct regulated by will.”( v. 1,  p. 319)


A child who throws tantrums or rebels against their parents is  at the mercy of their emotions and appetites. Their will has not been developed enough to self-regulate. This determination or rebellion against authority is also called counter-will. 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld describes counter-will as “ an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding.” (Hold on to Your Kids, p. 74) When you understand this truth, your child’s behavior and resistance to school may not be so mysterious after all. 

Counter-will is manifested in a variety of ways: ‘no!’ from a toddler, ‘your not my boss’ from a young child, or body language from a teenager. At any age it can come out as disobedience or defiance, passivity or procrastination, or doing the opposite of what is expected. Counter-will is a natural part of development, but it will come out more often if the relationship between parent and child is strained and the parent is attempting to control too much of the child’s life. We cannot expect our children to be obedient if they are not attached to us, and a strong will is required for the child to alter his own behavior to adhere to our demands. Charlotte Mason observes that “Obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child work towards making himself do that which he knows he is asked to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, and he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can… it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours… Let him get into the habit of managing himself, controlling himself.” (v. 1, p. 328)

Thy Will Be Done

A strong will, or the ability to self-regulate is essential for a happy, successful life, and it is up to the parents to teach this skill. Dr. Morrell, author of Introduction to Mental Philosophy, considered it to be the most important part of education; “The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect.” If there is one Christlike attribute we should be teaching our children it is to be strong-willed. 

Now that we understand what the will is and why it is important, how do we help our children develop a strong will? Current research on the developing brain tells us that the prefrontal cortex–responsible for self-regulation–is very sensitive to stress. When a child lives in constant, toxic stress their brain is negatively affected, making it harder to self-regulate and make smart decisions. Creating a loving, positive environment is the first duty of parents. Your child may be impulsive and mischievous right now, but nurturing your attachment and staying positive is laying the foundation for self-regulation in the future.

In her sixth volume of education, A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason instructs parents how they can teach their children to strengthen their will.

“Children should be taught (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) that the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts away from that which we desire but do not will. (c) that the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) that after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its wok with new vigour.”

Teach your child to immediately think of something interesting, exciting, or entertaining when they want to do something they know they should not.

Choice and Accountability

I have tried this technique with my own boys and it does work, as long as the thought is something they find interesting and they are getting close to the age of accountability. Most children start to show glimmers of self-regulation starting around six years old, and by nine it should be full-functional, thought not fully developed. I believe this is why a wise, loving Heavenly Father does not hold children accountable for their “sins” until they are eight years old. It is wise to start teaching your child how to strengthen their will and give them a chance to feel the consequences of their choices at a young age, but do not expect immediate results. The more your child exercises the skill of decision making and learning from their mistakes, the better they will become at it. So give them opportunities to make their own decisions, even if you know they will fail (see The Self-Driven Child). Ask them questions to see the flaws in their thinking; suggest and assist them in outlining the pros and cons of each choice. 

You cannot–nor should you try– to control your child’s behavior. Obvious exceptions are if the child is putting themselves (or others) in danger. Instead, you should give your child the tools to strengthen their own will and manage themselves. The purpose of parenting should be to strengthen and direct your child’s will, not break it. Success in higher education and self-education relies on the principles of sense of agency and a strong will. 


As a parent, you worry that you won’t teach your children enough. You worry there will be gaps in their education. But you can’t possibly teach them everything there is to know in the first eighteen years of  life. The most debilitating learning gap is a lack of desire. The most important skill you can teach your child is how to learn and to find joy in it. If you can teach your children how to ask questions, seek answers by study and by faith, and to apply knowledge you’ve taken care of any gaps they will have in the future. The first eighteen years of education should be the spark that ignites a voracious life of learning. 

How can you balance self-education with structured lessons? Here are a few simple ways to step back and allow your children to learn on their own:

  • Remind yourself what you have control over. You control what is presented in lessons and when they are given. Children are responsible for if they retain information and how much. The next section, “Teacher’s Role” will go into more detail in this area.
  • Let your child make mistakes and learn from books. “Moralizing all men resent; from experience they learn without a murmur.” (Edward St. John) When you share stories from your life or books, avoid lecturing, over-explaining, or moralizing. Let the characters’ actions speak for themselves and give your child the joy of discovering truth on their own. When your child encounters a problem, help them find the answer. Embrace natural consequences and allow your child the blessings and knowledge that come from making a choice (whether good or bad). Do not rob them of something they have earned.
  • Let the children play! Play is when children experiment, practice, rehearse, and learn. Daily lessons put ideas into a child, play draws them out. Allow children plenty of time to play and engage in self-chosen projects. Charlotte Mason recommends the whole afternoon (5 hours)  be dedicated to unstructured time for this purpose.
  • Allow time to ponder. Just like our bodies need time to digest food, our minds need time to digest information. Rich dialogue, plots, and questions need a lot of time to comprehend. Read the book or do the activity then allow time for your children to ponder what he has learned. “When we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully” (“Serve with the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 60).

“In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon…”

David A. Bednar



*Teaching in the Savior’s Way | part 4 (read scriptural examples as well)

*Seek Learning By Faith  | David A. Bednar

*Where is Wisdom? | Russell M. Nelson

A Philosophy of Education |  Book 1 Chapters 1 and 8

Home Education | Part VI

The Self-Driven Child | Intro + Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6 

D&C 3:4

D&C 58:27

Alma 12:31

Alma 42:7

3 Nephi 27:13


How can I change my teaching methods to let my children discover truth on their own?

Which activities I need to give up to allow my child a few hours each day of unstructured time?

How can I strengthen my child’s will instead of breaking it?

Why is agency a principle of education?

How did Jesus nurture agency and self-education in the people he taught?


Develop the habit of ending a lesson without speaking, lecturing, or explaining. Instead, listen to your child’s observations, questions, and explanations (i.e. narration)

Critically look at your curriculum: does it have worksheets, multiple-choice quizzes, and projects assembled by the teacher? Replace these methods with narration, open-ended questions, and projects chosen by your child.

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“One thing at any rate we know with certainty; that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality. Therefore, teaching, talk and tale, however lucid or fascinating, affect nothing until self-activity be set up; that is, self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”



When I was a young mother I imagined whipping up nutritious meals that my children would devour. I envisioned them cleaning their plates and growing healthy and strong with all the nutrients they were receiving. 

Then my dreams were shattered with my first child when he refused to eat anything other than bread and yogurt. I attempted to bribe him with dessert, then  resorted to negative consequences in one last, desperate attempt to regain control over the situation. However, I soon realized that if my child did not want to eat a certain food, nothing in the world could make him eat it. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” became my new mantra. 


In situations like this parents may feel that the “gift” of agency is more like a curse. We constantly stress ourselves out trying to take control of things that were never meant to be in our control. In regards to mealtime, I soon learned that I am in control of what is put on the table and when, and my child has control over if he eats and how much (attr. to Ellen Satter) I started focusing on my responsibilities instead of my child’s. Is it a coincidence that my two younger sons became hearty, adventurous eaters? I don’t think so. It is a universal truth that when any person, adult or child, is given control over their life , they thrive. 

Control Equals Happiness

Developing our children’s sense of agency is not an educational frill  or some new-age idea. Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks. When they face problems, they become confused, lose concentration, and start doubting themselves. Children with a strong belief in their own agency work harder, focus better, are more interested in their studies, and are less likely to give up  than children with a weaker sense of agency (1)

Agency is a main component in the Plan of Salvation, so is it any surprise that agency is also the determining factor in human happiness and well-being? Not surprisingly, the opposite of agency, lack of control, is a significant cause of stress and unhappiness. When I attempted to force my son to eat food he did not want to eat, I was causing stress on both of us; I was stressed because I was trying to take control over something that I physically and morally had no control over, and he was stressed because he did not feel like he had control over his own body. Part of life on earth involves taking responsibility of what we have control over and letting go of what we don’t. If our children choose to listen to our lessons and how much of that they choose to internalize is completely in their control, and school will become immensely more enjoyable for you both when you learn to apply this eternal truth.

Choose to ACT

In regards to education, parents may feel undue stress because they are trying to control which subjects their child is interested in and how much information they retain. As a result, children will rebel—or concede and lose an important part of their humanness. David A. Bednar explains the importance of agency by saying, “Learning by faith and from experience are two of the central features of the Father’s plan of happiness. The Savior preserved moral agency through the Atonement and made it possible for us to act and to learn by faith. Lucifer’s rebellion against the plan sought to destroy the agency of man, and his intent was that we as learners would only be acted upon.” (3)

Traditional education puts the majority of control on the teacher and not the student.  In the future, I will talk more about the role of the teacher and how to be a non-anxious presence, or in Charlotte Mason terms engaging in “masterly inactivity.” Masterly inactivity “indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.”(4)

Children should be slowly given complete control over their life as they mature; ultimately, the parents goal is to work themselves out of a job. In their book, Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress by Gary Emery and James Campbell, they outline three ways parents can find relief by relinquishing control:

  • ACCEPT | accept that your child doesn’t desire to have perfect handwriting right now, and as a result he may never have perfect handwriting. 
  • CHOOSE | choose to give him control over his  handwriting goals. Choose to not stress over his lack of desire. 
  • TAKE ACTION | talk to him about the pros and cons of good handwriting; help him outline his goals; Be an example by improving  your own handwriting.


Although it may seem like the teacher has little influence over children, it is important not to confuse Charlotte Mason’s philosophy with unschooling or free-range parenting. Charlotte Mason believed that teachers and parents have a vital role in the education of children; she described the teacher’s role as “setting the feast” of subjects and ideas, and letting the child’s brain digest what it craves and needs at that particular stage.

As soon as I heard this analogy I immediately thought of a study I read about in college. In 1926, Clara Davis conducted a study that would be one of the most influential studies on infants and nutrition ever conducted. Davis took orphans that were brought into a Cleveland hospital–many of them malnourished and some with rickets– and gave them complete control over what they ate. She provided a feast of 34 whole foods, from cod liver oil to oranges to ground liver, and let the infants/toddlers choose what they ate every day for six months. She recorded every food and amount they ate on a daily basis. What she found astonished even herself. The infants who had rickets would gulp cod liver oil with their meals until their rickets were cured, then never touched the oil again. One baby ate 2 pounds of oranges for a few days straight, along with a few other food items. When her  analysis was complete she found that overall the babies ate a near perfect ratio of calories averaged at 17 %  protein, 35 % fat, and 48 % carbohydrates — much in line with contemporary nutritional science. The infants  also intuitively knew which nutrients they were lacking and ate foods to compensate, like the infants with rickets drinking vitamin D-rich liver oil. (5)

Food for Thought

I truly believe that this study on physical nutrition is applicable to mind-food as well. If we are providing our children with an abundant feast of wholesome ideas, they will choose certain ones to chew and digest based on their intellectual needs. This principle applies to spiritual matters as well, David A. Bednar said it perfectly; “Ultimately, the responsibility to learn by faith and apply spiritual truth rests upon each of us individually. This is an increasingly serious and important responsibility in the world in which we do now and will yet live. What, how, and when we learn is supported by—but is not dependent upon—an instructor, a method of presentation, or a specific topic or lesson format.”

The ultimate goal in education should be to teach our children to be self-directed, life-long learners. They should know how to gain knowledge through the process of asking a question, finding answers through studying books and experimenting with things, and then having the intelligence to know how to assimilate and apply the knowledge they have learned. Traditional education creates dependent learners through textbooks, classrooms, and professional teachers. Too often adults believe they need to “go back to school” in order to learn and that knowledge isn’t official until they have a certificate to prove they checked the boxes. They need a professor to provide them with lectures, compile primary sources into textbooks, and tell them what is important to learn. Instead, education should be focused on the process of learning and less on the material. A true education teachings people to act, and not be acted upon.

Predigested Information

Going back to the analogy of food, we don’t pre-chew our child’s food (at least not past infancy). We don’t process and extract the vital nutrients of all their food so they don’t have to go through the work of digesting. We don’t give children potent doses of multivitamins as a replacement for real food. When we read primary sources, or whole ideas, and then pre-chew them for our children we are giving them nothing to chew on and essentially giving them potent sources of unappetizing mind food. Children need whole food for the mind. They need to work on the rich ideas they receive by filtering through what is important, making connections, and finding answers to questions. By over-explaining, lecturing, dissecting, and dumbing down information we are essentially doing the important work for our children and creating passive learners with weak constitutions.

Here are a few ways that we inadvertently create passive learners in our children :

  1. Asking all the questions. Instead, let the child ask questions about things that have piqued their interest. “The mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.”(6)
  2. Asking pointed questions. Instead, ask open-ended, thought provoking questions that require effort and time to answer. 
  3. Automatically giving the answer, or pointing out connections. Too often we jump in to point out a connection/pattern or “help” them discover a truth. But, sometimes an unanswered question is the best gift you can give a child. (See “Ponder” section)
  4. Solving a child’s problem for them. Give them the right tools/skills and let them solve the problem themselves. Even if it takes days to solve; it’s the effort that is educational, not the answer. 
  5. Giving unsolicited feedback. By telling your child what they are doing wrong and how they need to fix it we are 1) hurting the relationship and 2) smothering their ability to self-correct and actively improve their own work. Instead, ask “what did you do well?” “what do you need to improve?” and, “what will you do differently next time?” Make sure they know what is expected of them, and that they give specific examples of what they think they did well and what they did not. 
  6. Labeling a character in a story as “bad” or “good.” Children are much more captivated by a story and get more out of it when they have  analyze the characters’ actions to decide for themselves what kind of a person they are.
  7. Automatically defining words. Instead, wait for the child to ask for a definition or simply let them figure out the meaning of the word through context. Most good authors will provide enough description for the child to comprehend the word’s meaning.


“I believe that in the pursuit of education, individual desire is more influential than institution, and personal faith more forceful than faculty. Our Creator expects His children everywhere to educate themselves. He issued a commandment: “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (7)

Charlotte Mason regularly compared educational principles to gastronomical ones, which explains why I found it so successful to approach education in the same way I approached meal times. For example, my first year of teaching my son, I tried to give him knowledge he wasn’t craving. I fed him ideas when he wasn’t hungry. I tried to force his brain to digest certain information that I deemed most important by administering worksheets and tests. And just like with feeding his body, this method of feeding his mind was a failure. After a discouraging kindergarten year, I began to concern myself over the things I do have control over: what knowledge is presented and when I introduced it. Then, I stepped back and let my son choose if he wanted to listen and how much he retained. The key to whether my child listened and how much he “digested” is based on his hunger, or desire.

In terms of desire, parents need to keep these two facts in mind:

You can’t make your kids do something against their will.
You can’t make your kids want something they don’t want.

There is only one way to get your children to do something, and that is to arouse desire within them.
“He who can [arouse desire in others]  has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”(8) For children–or any person for that matter–to become self-motivated they first need to develop a desire to do it. According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (9), people need a sense of autonomy, competence and connection to become self-motivated. These three things need to be balanced, like a three-legged stool, or the whole thing will topple over. 


Explain why a task is important, what you expect of them, and then allow as much personal freedom in carrying out the task. French parents call this “cadre.” They give their children a broad framework of requirements and then give them lots of freedom within that structure. 

Make a list of the positive and negative consequences of their choice, and then respect their agency and allow them to make their choice and enjoy the consequences of their choice (see chapter seven of Christlike Parenting). Teens and children as young as nine are capable of making decisions that are identical to adults; even more so if they are shown the consequences of their choice. (10)  Kids are capable of making good decisions; the reason they sometimes fall short is lack of experience, not ability. 

William Winter once observed that “Self expression is the dominant necessity of human nature.” Dale Carnegie also observed that self-expression is essential when igniting a geniune desire in people. Help your child incorporate their interests in learning academic skills, like math, reading, and writing. The sentences they use in copywork or grammar can be from a favorite book or movie. They can make a manual about how to defeat levels in Zelda, an essay about their favorite Disney princess, or the different flowers they have found in their area. 


Being competent is more about feeling that we can handle a situation than it is about excelling at something. Competence comes from within, not from without. When your child successfully solves a problem ask “how did you figure that out?” This requires your child to see himself as the active agent in his own story and see the evidence of his own competence. Helping your children notice their successes and showing them how their decisions and strategic actions are responsible for them increases children’s perceptions of their ability and effect is less of their focused efforts” (11).
The desire for a feeling of importance. You can foster self-esteem by saying “I bet you’re proud of yourself” after a child has completed  a task or mastered a skill. This satisfies the internal desire for importance and does not rely on external sources. You can also ask “how does it feel to have solved that difficult math problem, read the entire book, written something like that, etc.?” 
Rites of passage, positions in the home, and responsibilities are all ways you can ignite a desire in otherwise apathetic learners. For example, you could make “tutor” badges for the older kids in subjects they are competent in. Then they can help younger siblings with school work (tutors have special privileges, of course). You could also plan a special dinner date with mom and dad on the child’s sixth birthday, explaining that now they are old enough to start school lessons. 
Create growth mindset. To create a growth mindset, focus on effort instead of ability. Praise the strategies they use to solve problems, help them see the progress they have made. A feeling of competence comes when a child can see improvements through daily, consistent effort. It does not come by feeling they either have or don’t have in-born abilities. If your child needs a boost of desire, give them a challenge. Every child loves a game, especially boys. Just make sure they are competing against themselves. See if they can sort their words faster than last time, make their handwriting look better than the day before, etc. 


When your child has a strong attachment with you they’ll want to work harder for you. Your child should feel that they are more important to you than their achievements. I have already covered, in-depth, why connection is important and how you can nurture your relationship with your child. You can read about Love and Attachment in this article and this article.

Autonomy, competence, and connection are vital  to eternal progression; the Lord has said  “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (12) Charlotte Mason has also commented on the importance of these traits by saying, “Boys and Girls are generally Dutiful-It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work, now and then, than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter. The more we are prodded the lazier we get, and the less capable of the effort of will which should carry us to, and nearly carry us through, our tasks. Boys and girls are, on the whole, good, and desirous to do their duty. If we expect the tale of bricks to be delivered at the due moment without urging or entreating, rewarding or punishing, in nine cases out of ten we shall get what we look for. Where many of us err is in leaning too much to our own understanding and our own efforts, and not trusting sufficiently to the dutiful impulse which will carry children through the work they are expected to do.” (13)

In my experience I have found there are two main ways we can foster self-education in our children: give children space to learn by experience and lots of time to ponder.


“We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”


When you first read these verses your initial thought may be that we came to earth to be proved or tested, but once you replace “prove” with its  archaic translation  of  “learn by experience” you understand the purpose of earth differently. The purpose on earth is to learn by trial and error; to make choices and experience the consequences. Our children cannot possibly do this if we take complete control over their lives and prevent them from making mistakes, and they cannot learn if we rob them of the consequences that are due to them. This can be absolutely terrifying for parents, and seem borderline neglectful. However, it is important to remember what we do have control over: the atmosphere of our home, the habits we instill, and the living ideas we present. 

Stages of Competence

As I mentioned earlier, children as young as nine are capable of making responsible decisions. After the age of eight, children are held accountable for their choices, and we also know that the prefrontal cortex starts developing around this age as well. Therefore, it makes sense that children are developmentally capable of making decisions at this age. This is the time to start relinquishing parental control and giving them more decisions over their lives. I can guarantee that this will be a messy, difficult process. It will be hard to watch, but it helps to realize that people go through stages of competence. Here is an example of the stages of learning by experience:

Stage 1: Unconsciously incompetent. This will look like a child saying “I don’t want to study spelling. People know what I mean.” You can see the consequence dead ahead, but after you have offered to help with spelling and explain the consequences of bad spelling, there is nothing else you can or should do. 

Stage 2:  Consciously incompetent. Your child wants to make a sign to sell lemonade on your street. He made the sign by himself but misspelled some key words. Adults may just smile and purchase some lemonade, but older kids may laugh at his sign and tease him that they can’t understand what he is selling. He is now conscious of his incompetence, although he still needs help. The key is that he has experienced the consequence and a desire is starting to develop. It is important to remember to let his consequence do the talking; you don’t need to rub it in his face!

Stage 3: Consciously competent. Now the child has worked on his spelling, and when he makes a sign or writes a letter he feels confident people will understand the meaning of his words. 

Stage 4: Unconsciously competent. As years pass, correct spelling becomes habitual  and the child is now a parent. Now it is hard for the father to understand why spelling is so difficult for his child, or why his child resists spelling so much. This is why an older sibling makes a great tutor to younger siblings; their previous incompetence is still fresh in their mind. 

The beauty of  giving your child more control over their life is that when it comes time for you to make an authoritative choice, they are more likely to go along with your decision without resistance. Edward St. John wisely noted, “Moralizing all men resent; from experience they learn without a murmur.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Our children  need more responsibility than we think they are developmentally ready for.  The brain develops according to how it’s used. So, by giving your child control, even if it’s small, will activate her prefrontal cortex (decision making) and condition it to respond accordingly. If we do not give children opportunities to make choices at an early age, they will be forced to learn this skill in teenagerhood and beyond when the risks are higher and consequences more severe. We were sent to earth to learn by experience, which means we learn by trial-and-error. As the age-old adage goes,  “Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” Children learn by experience through making mistakes. and we need to give them room to make mistakes and let the consequences teach the lesson; Glenn Latham, a father of nine children and doctorate of behavioral and developmental psychology, gave this wise advice on how to respond to your child’s mistakes: keep your comments short and positive, avoid lecturing and the dreaded “I told you so” attitude, and never tell a child something he already knows. (15)

The Power of Play

“In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way.” (16)

While at play, children are not passive bystanders. They are making decisions, creating a narrative, and being active agents in that narrative. Play is a unique activity in that it draws out a child’s ideas, desires, imagination, and aspirations. (17) Play is important for all stages of life; Google famously asked employees to spend 80% of the work week on their official job and 20% on projects of their choice, which led to the creation of products like AdWords and Gmail. When we play, we are free to practice skills in a safe environment. Children can act out past and future experiences and ideas without fear of serious repercussions. Children need a lot of unstructured time to experiment with ideas, develop passions, problem solve, and develop social skills.

When your child’s attention is completely absorbed in a task they enjoy and is just the right amount of difficulty, they enter a state of “flow.”When you’re in flow, levels of certain neurochemicals in your brain–including dopamine– spike (18).  Frequent states of flow shape your child’s brain to be more attentive and motivated. Forcing a child to work on something they don’t enjoy will not strengthen their attention skills; it will actually prevent them from developing it. Giving a child lots of time and freedom to play and engage in meaningful projects where they enter a state of flow will shape their brain and prepare them for difficult material later in their education. If your child can play with Legos for hours on end, but has a hard time sitting down for a few math problems, this isn’t an issue of attention; it is an issue of interest. Instead of focusing on the child’s assumed attention deficits, focus your efforts on making the knowledge or skill more appetizing to the child.  The child’s attention is being developed through play, so allow them plenty of uninterrupted time for it and you will reap the benefits in the schoolroom.


Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” (19)


Albert Einstein spent over a year in Italy  “loafing around aimlessly” dividing his time between attending lectures and boredom. Soon after this vacation he discovered the law of relativity.  That time spent in rest was just what his mind needed to sort through information, make connections, and form new ideas. Just as our bodies require nourishment, exercise, and rest, so do our minds. When we have eaten a large, nutrient-rich meal our desire for food decreases as our body prepares to digest what we have just eaten.

India’s ancient Vedic tradition states that “rest is the basis for all activity.” Just as our body craves rest after eating and exercise, so does our mind. Interestingly, the brain has at least forty neural networks that are dedicated to a resting-state (20). The fact that so much of our brain activates when we are at rest says a lot about the importance of taking time to ponder. What constitutes a state of rest? Anytime you are not being externally stimulated in the form of tasks, socializing, electronic devices, reading a book, etc. Being at rest literally means being alone and bored, and it can be very uncomfortable for most of us because it requires our brain to go into a deep reflective mode. 


As difficult as this may be for our children to be bored, this is the time that the brain digests the information they have consumed and makes knowledge of it. This is the time that the brain solves problems, reflects on self, and makes connections. It is also when you consider what other people may be thinking or analyze their actions. I also believe this is the time that we can receive personal revelation. The most powerful forms of pondering are daydreaming, meditation and sleep (see chapter six of The Self-Driven Child by Stixrud and Johnson for more information on meditation and sleep).  


Imagine the state of your body if you were constantly eating or exercising all day long, with no breaks to rest. Now imagine the state of your child’s brain if it were constantly being stimulated by socializing with friends, being tested,  and consuming information all day long. This analogy makes the high rates of childhood depression, anxiety, and stress much more understandable. When a child loses focus during school it simply means they are full and need time to digest. We can literally see their mind preparing to digest information by entering a day-dreaming state. Sadly, too often children are punished or incorrectly diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder simply because their mind craves rest from stimulation. 

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang describes two alternating brain systems: 1) a task positive  or “looking out” system that’s activated when we’re engaged in goal-directed tasks, and 2) a task-negative or resting system that is for “looking in.”(21) School lessons are task positive and are an essential part of education. We are taking in other people’s ideas and discoveries. But too often we neglect the second brain system which is just as important as the first; the resting system involves formulating our own ideas and making our own discoveries. I cannot overstate this enough: all people need a liberal amount of unstructured time to ponder and be at rest.

In the scriptures we are frequently told to “ponder”on the things we have learned. Information does not become knowledge until the individual’s mind has had time to act on it. An essential component of education is frequently overlooked and it needs to be taken seriously. Children need time to do nothing. Give your child the gift of a few hours each day of unscheduled time to be bored and ponder, because this is when the act of self-education truly takes effect. 


  1. Ellyn Satter, Division of Responsibility

  2.   Skinner,Zimmer, Gembeck, and Connell. (1998) Individual Differences And The Development Of Perceived Control

  3. Bednar, Seek Learning by Faith, (2006) Church Educational System Address

  4. (1896) School Education, page 28

  5. Schleindlin. (2005) “Take One More Bite For Me”: Clara Davis and the Feeding of Young Children

  6. Mason, Charlotte. (1896)  School Education. p. 181.

  7. Nelson, Russell M. Where is Wisdom?. General Conference October 1992.

  8.  Carnegie, Dale. (2009) How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition.

  9. Deci, Ryan. (2000)  Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.

  10. Weithorn et al., (1982) The Competency of Children and Adolescents to Make Informed Decisions.

  11. Pintrich, P. R., & Blumenfeld, P. C. (1985). Classroom experience and children’s self-perceptions of ability.

  12.  Doctrine & Covenants 58:26.

  13.  Mason, Charlotte. (1896)  School Education. p. 39-40

  14. Abraham 3:24-25

  15.  Latham, Glenn. Christlike Parenting. Gold Leaf Press (MI); First Edition edition (October 2002)

  16. Mason, Charlotte. (1896) School Education. pg 37.

  17. Macnamara, Deborah.  Rest, Play Grow, Aona Books (April 26, 2016). pg. 54.

  18. Kotler, Steven. (2014) Flow States and Creativity. Psychology Today.

  19.  3 Nephi 17:3

  20. Shen, Helen H.(2015) Core Concept: Resting State Connectivity. PNAS.

  21. Immordino-Yang, Christoduolou, Singh. (2012). Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education. Sage Journals.

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“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” (Vol. 1, p. 309)


In one of my first Humanity classes in college, my teacher started off with a story of a boy who asked “why spend time learning and studying art that depicts pagan gods and worldly struggles?” 

My teacher responded: Art is more than images depicting people, it provides perspective in  understanding human nature. It can be a window to the past and present; it can give you an appreciation and awareness of other cultures and ways of life. It helps us see the world in a new way. If you examine the tales of the gods, you can always find the light of Christ weaved within the rich tapestry of art and story. 

As I studied art from other cultures from around the world, I started looking closely for that light of Christ. It didn’t take me long to find it intertwined within each culture. It taught me that everyone sought a higher being and art was an expression of that light within. 

Now of course, there will always be art that is distasteful and not to our liking. But we can seek the best and learn from it. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, why do we need to teach our children? Can’t they learn when they’re older? Yes! Of course, it’s never too late. But why not start now? There are so many ways to learn about the world around us, art is just one of those beautiful ways to help our children appreciate it and perhaps, gain a fresh perspective of the world outside of their own world. 



There isn’t a best place to start – start anywhere! When you’re ready for more intentional learning, choose one artist and 5-6 of their paintings and study these works for 10-12 weeks. 

There are so many wonderful artists to choose from and so many different ways to study art. For our family, we have selected 3 to study for the school year, studying 1 artist per term. For each artist, we will learn about six different works. Art study in our family occurs once a week for about 10 – 20 minutes.

On Simple Wonders, we have curated a list of artists and paintings and written a short companion study guide for each artist. You can find the guides at the end of this post. Each guide includes a short bio, suggested artwork to study, and additional resources, like picture books.


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”
-Marcel Proust

This is the fun part. There are so many ways to study art: it can be complex or as simple as you would like. The most important advice I can give is to not overdo it. Here are the most important things you can do to teach your kids about art.


Let them examine the artwork for themselves. For elementary-age children don’t worry about memorizing details, such as the name of the painting. Right now, it is about helping them to see and notice.  

  • Let them examine the painting in silence for at least 1 minute. 
  • After your art discussion, make sure to display the picture somewhere where your children can see it often. 


Ask them open ended questions. Questions are so important to help get us thinking and noticing. This isn’t art history class though, so you do not need to be asking complex questions about artist techniques and styles. Here are some questions you can ask to get them seeing the painting and not just looking, you can also adapt these  questions used for discussing books:

  • What’s going on in the painting?
  • How would you describe this artwork to someone who has never seen it?
  • How do you think this artwork was made?
  • How does the art make you feel?
  • Describe the lines in this artwork
  • What shapes do you notice?
  • Describe the colors in the artwork
  • What objects do you notice?
  • What stands out to you when they first see the painting?
  • What do you like about the painting?
  • What do you not like?
  • How do you think the people/children feel in the painting/sculpture?
  • What are the people or animals doing in the painting? Is that something  you do?
  • What would you do differently if you painted this?
  • Would you take something out of the painting?
  • Would you add something to the painting?
  • Would you change the colors?
  • Ask them to compare to other paintings
  • How is this painting similar to (compare to different painting by similar artist)
  • How is the painting different
  • How is it like a previous artist we’ve studied?

We sometimes focus on one painting for two weeks. Sometimes I will ask different questions  the second week, but often I ask the same questions again. I ask the same questions because they might notice something new and their answer might change. If their answers change, that is great; that means they are starting to think and see the painting for something more than just a scene taking place. Now you can just do those two things above and that will be enough to introduce and help your children appreciate art. But, here are a couple more things to enrich the learning process. 


Have you children sketch the painting. We have done this in the first and the second week of our study of a painting. I give them about a minute to look at all the details of the painting: shapes, people, objects, colors. Then I turn it face down and everyone does a quick sketch. I tell them to keep it simple and to not worry about details. I really enjoy seeing what they choose to depict from the painting. I have three kids of various skill levels and they all have their own artistic style that is brought out in these quick sketches. 


Place art pieces throughout your house and leave out art books! In addition to displaying the artist of the term, I suggest also displaying other prominent art pieces that you appreciate. You can download for free and print works by many known artists from the National Gallery of ArtUsed book sales are great places to look for art books; my children love looking at some of my old art books. You can also get wonderful art books from the library.

We have six paintings on our staircase wall. I have a ritual with my two year old son when we come down the stairs together. I ask him if he sees this or that in one of the pictures. Recently, I stopped doing this; but my son is now stopping me and telling me what he sees in each of the pictures. It amazes me every time. He has taught me that even a two year old can learn to see and notice the art around him. 

Our Heavenly Father has given us a beautiful world and art is one way that we can appreciate and show gratitude for His creations. You’ll be surprised what your children learn from each work of art and hopefully you will gain something along the way, too.



Harriet Powers

American, 1837-1910

Winslow Homer

American, 1836-1910

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844-1926

Minerva Teichert

American, 1888-1976

Edmonia Lewis

American, 1836-1910

Augusta Savage

American, 1892-1962

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has created an amazing resource for studying the scriptures as individuals and families. The curricula is called Come, Follow Me. Although it was created for members of the church, anyone can benefit from the simplicity of its methods. You can view the New Testament guide here. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Come, Follow Me curricula is that it is designed to teach truth while respecting the learner’s experience to create and form their own thoughts while being led by the Holy Ghost. This is modeled after how Christ taught. Come, Follow Me is not a manual that prescribes everything that should be taught – instead the content is simple and aims to deepen our conversion by relying on the Holy Ghost to steer us in our learning. 

As mothers, we yearn for our children to understand and relate to the teachings of Christ at a level they can comprehend and relate to. And, instead of formally teaching a prescribed lesson, one of the most powerful ways we can encourage our children to practice self-education is through play and hands-on experiences. 

By creating a simple environment where children are encouraged to explore their thoughts, we are modeling the same method Christ uses to teach us. We do not need elaborate lesson plans or never-ending coloring pages that offer little depth. Our role as mothers is to create an environment where the Holy Ghost is free to touch our children’s hearts as they play and explore the environment around them. We can casually introduce topics and offer simple instruction, but then by encouraging our children to self-steer their own learning, we give the Spirit the opportunity to touch their heart. Like many adults, spiritual expression in children is often seen in the self-expression of art, dramatic play, drawing or writing, and song or music. We invite the Spirit to touch our hearts, and our children’s hearts as we create simple and flexible opportunities for our children to explore their spirituality growth and development. 

“The Bible is the chief lesson–But we are considering, not the religious life of children, but their education by lessons;
and their Bible lessons should help them to realise in early days that the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge,
and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.”



Some of the best family scripture studies are built on good discussions and learning from each other. Questioning and discussing during scripture study is very important for teens. In a study of college freshman, researchers found that the young adults that remained religious were the ones that felt they could ask questions and discuss religion with their parents. (research study was discussed in this podcast episode). Based on this information, it is extremely important to encourage your children to ask questions, help them find answers to their questions, and discuss doctrine. One way you can get the most out of scripture study is to invite older children to prepare for each day by reading the assigned scriptures in Come, Follow Me beforehand. Then family scripture study will be focused on reading and discussing key scriptures instead of trying to read through a whole chapter, with no time left to discuss. You can also use a book like The Book of Mormon Made Harder for some real thought-provoking questions to add to your family discussion. Some families may want to invite their older children to write about scripture stories and doctrine that really interest them. If your teen is resistant to participating, try this approach shared by Elder Brett Nattress in General Conference October 2016. The most important thing is to be consistent and invite, do not coerce.

You may want to watch the Book of Mormon videos before studying the selected scriptures that week; visual learners will appreciate this as they can visualize the scenes as they read them.  For more in-depth study of certain topics you can find additional resources are in the sidebar of the Gospel Library app. Additionally, ask your teens to share insights they have learned in seminary.


Mothers of young children, especially boys, will find that reading scriptures can be challenging; young children have short attention spans, do not understand the advanced language of the scriptures, and do not yet understand how to control all their emotions (read more here). Teaching the gospel to children can be difficult, but not impossible.

There are a few key points to keep in mind as you teach young children:

  1. Keep it Short
  2. Keep it Simple
  3. Utilize apperception
  4. Engage their heart

Keep it Short

In child development classes, students are taught that children can only pay attention for as many minutes as they are old. Interestingly, adults’ brains can only pay attention for 15 minutes before becoming bored and are ready to move on! In every activity you do you are engaging different parts of the brain, and when you start to become bored or “zone out” this means that part of the brain is  exhausted and you need to do a different activity. When you are reading, listening, or speaking you are utilizing one part of the brain (the verbal left), while drawing and moving the body are engaging a completely different part of the brain (the spacial right), and music engages the whole brain! (source) No wonder we sing so frequently during church meetings. 

Although the actual lesson may be short, you should be teaching the gospel all day every day. “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) Comparing and contrasting stories from their life (or a favorite book) to scripture stories is a perfect way to help children see doctrine more clearly.

Keep it Simple

Too many time-consuming activities can take the focus away from the doctrine and what the Spirit is trying to teach. There is no need to subscribe to activity packets and stay up late printing and cutting, or making a late-night run to the store to get the list of items needed. A calm and rested mother who knows the scriptures by heart is a much better teacher than an activity page. Object lessons and activities do have their place, but I’ve found the best activities are the simplest; acting out the story, drawing or looking at a fine art, asking children to narrate (telling story in their own words), and engaging the senses in a simple object lesson that will help them understand the principle by apperception

Use Apperception

When a person is trying to learn a difficult concept, the best teachers use apperception to help the student understand. Christ used this method whenever he taught, and usually used parables to do it. Apperception simply means to compare the difficult concept/principle to something the person is familiar with. Christ frequently used nature and everyday life to teach difficult gospel doctrine to people. We should be using apperception everyday with our young children. Before the lesson, think about something your children genuinely enjoys (Legos, favorite books, pets, etc.) and find a way to use it to teach the difficult principle. For example, I (Jessica) once used Legos to teach my boys about the Word of Wisdom. I compared a Lego set to our bodies. The instructions were our genetics and the Legos were the food we put in our bodies. Each boy opened up his own simple set of Legos and found that one of them didn’t have enough of or the right Lego pieces to follow the instructions. We then talked about how this related to the Word of Wisdom. 

She would begin with a glow in her eyes and tell me their story.
All of their tales she knew,
by the hundreds and hundreds
she knew them.
Tales of the beings divine…
Mark! what I as a child picked up,
the old man still plays with.
Pictures of heroes in sound that lasts,
when spoken, forever,
Images fair of the world and marvellous legends aforetime,
All of them living in me as they fell
from the lips of my mother.

                                 –Denton T. Snyder

Engage the Heart

Many mothers have asked how they can get their young children  to listen during scripture study. We have all experienced the frustration of young children becoming bored, disruptive and noisy during scripture study. And we have all felt the guilt after blowing up at them after trying to hold it together for so long. One technique that can totally change the atmosphere around your scripture study is to tell the story, and tell it well. Now, I (Jessica) will tell you a story about how storytelling has completely changed how I approach scripture study in my home:

A few weeks ago I laid down and fell asleep discouraged and in tears. I was frustrated with myself  (yet again) for raising my voice at my young boys during scripture study, of all the places to yell this was the worst. That morning my little boys were running circles around the house, yelling “poop” at inappropriate moments, and refusing to listen or participate. I had planned to only read  a few verses, but we couldn’t even get through one. I want them to love the scriptures like I do. I just want them to listen for one minute, and I feel my desires are reasonable. But after many failed attempts I finally, I cracked. “QUIET!” I exploded. And it was over. I’d lost my authority and made scripture study even more unpleasant for my children. My husband said a few cutting words and told me to take a walk. 

I felt miserable all day, and of course blamed it on my children. In my prayers that night I begged for patience and the knowledge of what to do.  Nothing came to mind immediately and the next day I walked into our dining room prepared to keep doing the same thing I had been doing. As I was about to read the scriptures the spirit said “Tell them a story.” So that’s what I did. I started telling it and drawing out the characters and scenes on our chalkboard. Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. And there was silence; beautiful, golden silence. The boys were listening with rapt attention, and had been for over ten minutes when I stopped at an exciting part of the story. They begged for more, but I told them I would finish tomorrow. The next day my oldest said “Mom, you need to finish the story about Limhi.” 

Scripture study has been a pleasure ever since I realized that I need to get my young children to fall in love with the stories of the scriptures before trying to teach them the doctrine. There is a reason the scriptures are composed of stories and not dry facts. Stories engage the heart and prepare children’s minds to understand difficult doctrine.

“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the willfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience.”


As they get older, around school-age, start reading selected verses from the scriptures. You can mark your scriptures where a good story starts and ends so you can read those selected verses to your elementary-age children. Come, Follow Me is also a good place to find selected verses that will be the most interesting for children. It is important for children to become familiar with scripture language, but first they must become familiar with the stories, and the best way to do that is to tell them from your heart. 

You can find more information on how to tell stories to children at Well-Educated Heart. There are helpful tips for how to win your child’s attention through word choice, pauses, etc. 

If you are needing more ideas of teaching young children the gospel, Cassie of Teach in the Home creates weekly activity ideas for teaching Come, Follow Me. They are free, simple, and require little or no preparation.  We love how they supplement the church material, but do not detract from it.  

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Songs can be some of the best tools for helping your homeschool day go more smoothly. Do your children struggle with transitions? Let a song be your cue to switch gears. Do your children need frequent wiggle breaks? Have an impromptu dance party. Do you need to get your children settled and focused again? Try a hymn. Music is a powerful tool. Here are some thoughts, tips, and resources you can use to get more music into your homeschool. 

Sing a hymn each day. Remember what the Lord told Emma Smith? “…[T]he song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12) Do you need blessings? My family sure does! Even if you don’t consider yourself or your family as musically blessed (more on that later), you can claim these blessings by adding a hymn to your daily routine.

My family starts off each day with a hymn. We sing the same hymn every day for a month. My children are small and don’t read yet, so it takes about a month for them to learn the hymn by heart. If you have older children in your family, you could sing your new hymn 2-3 times a week and fill in the other days with old favorites. Or you could sing your way through the whole hymnbook! Bedtime is a great time for a hymn. Some families sing before they say the prayer for dinner. Ask the Lord when a good time is for your family. You may be surprised by the answer.

The church’s sacred music app is a great tool for family hymn singing. Some families like to create a playlist of the Tabernacle Choir singing the family’s chosen hymns. If you’d like help choosing which hymns to learn, a 12-year rotation of Latter-day Saint hymns is available at By Study and Faith. The”Family Gather” packet also includes the lyrics of a hymn and folksong for each month of the year. We plan on creating a packet for every year of a 12-year rotation. 

Sing folk songs that you love. Are there songs from your childhood that you can still sing? Start with those. It doesn’t matter if a song fits the perfect definition of a “folk song.” If it’s part of your history, it’s worth making part of your children’s lives. Folk songs are songs of the people. Traditionally, they only got passed down if there was something about them that was worth passing down. They are typically easy to sing, easy to learn, fun, and/or have catchy tunes. We like to listen to a folk song playlist in the car. If the kids are getting a little crazy during school time, we turn on a folk song and take a little break to sing and dance. I play the banjo very badly, but the kids don’t care that my rendition of “Buffalo Gals” is barely recognizable. And you don’t have to play an instrument badly (or well, for that matter) to sing folk songs. There are many YouTube playlists already created for the AmblesideOnline folk song selections. If you’d like to create your own list, click here for over 100 folk songs that are part of the American folk song tradition. Chances are that you already know many of them!

Sing even if you think you can’t. Far too many people think that they can’t sing. It’s not that they can’t sing–it’s that they haven’t trained their voice and their ear to work together yet. This can be taught at any age. If you want to learn to sing, you can!

Children learn to sing–or “match pitch”–at different rates. If a child is singing regularly at home and at church, most children will be able to sing “on key” by about age six. I observed this in my own children. My son couldn’t carry a tune until he was about six and a half, while my daughter was able to sing a pitch-perfect “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” by age two. Please don’t ever tell your children that they can’t sing. They can! They just may not have figured out how to do it yet. 

Charlotte Mason used a method called Tonic Sol-fa in her curriculum. The pioneers and early Utah settlers actually used the same system. Music teachers today use a more up-to-date version of Sol-fa. It is most commonly called “solfege” and is often taught by music teachers who use the Kodaly method. Sing Solfa is a free, Charlotte-Mason-inspired website that offers video lessons that teach children (and adults) how to sing using the Kodaly method. Each lesson is about 10 minutes long. If you do two lessons a week, your family will have a great foundation in training your voices and ears to work together. (Full disclosure, Sing Solfa is my website.) 

Sing in your foreign language. Sing Solfa also has some foreign language song resources that you may find useful. Foreign language songs can be used like folk songs–as breaks, for fun, or in the car. My children particularly like to learn songs they already know in English in their foreign language. The “Teach Me” series has been a hit at my house.      

Just one song is enough. If you don’t already sing regularly at home, then just pick one song. Play it on your phone for your kids. Show them that you like it. If you are already doing some singing, is there a way you could make your singing more intentional? Singing loses a lot of its magic when it becomes a burden–so there’s no need to force it. I hope that you feel at least a little inspired to add another song or two to your homeschool.

Jessi Vandagriff is a musical, homeschooling mother of two young children. 
She is also the creator of Sing Solfa, a free singing curriculum that is inspired by Charlotte Mason’s methods of teaching music. 

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Children Are Born Persons


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

(section from) Intimations of Immortality  by William Wordsworth

The Foundational Principle

Charlotte Mason’s first and foundational principle is that children are born persons. Everything comes back to this one principle.  In Mason’s time, many of the leading theories about children and education believed that children are born “tabula rasa” meaning blank slate. These theorists believed children have potential to become a person, to develop a valuable mind. They did not view the child as a person with value right now as they are. This is an important distinction that determines how you will approach education. 

“If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for these occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education, and that his education does not produce his mind.” -Charlotte Mason

The statement that children are born persons may seem obvious, but think about it : do you really believe that children are born persons? Take a close look at our societal norms and you will begin to see how adults truly view children: daycare, age-segregated schools, and separate adult workplaces (where children are not allowed). Think about the curriculum and books that have been created especially for children; they are so full of fluff and watered-down material that adults wouldn’t think of using for themselves. 

If you spend time with children and closely study them, you will notice that they want to engage in meaningful, serious projects; they want to learn real-life skills. In their play, children reenact events from their life or books they’ve read.  In reality, children are not so different from adults.

Lack of Experience, Not Intelligence

In her book, The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes convincingly of the truth that Charlotte Mason uncovered one hundred years before:

“Why should we settle for unimaginative goals (as we find in so many early education settings) like being able to identify triangles and squares, or recalling the names of colors and seasons? Recognizing visual symbols is something a dog can do. Surely we can aim higher than those picayune objectives and demand preschool classrooms based on a more advanced understanding of developmental processes, an understanding that is bounded only by the limits of a young child’s growing brain, not by a superintendent’s checklist of what needs to be covered before June rolls around.”

Think about it: if an adult asked you to teach them a subject they know nothing about, how would you teach them? What would you use? Would you use the same methods and materials created for children? Probably not. The language, graphics, and activities would offend an adult’s intelligence. A person, no matter what their age, learns line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept. If a person has no desire to learn a skill, they probably have not encountered a need for it in their life and require more life experience to see the value in gaining it. If a person has difficulty understanding a more advanced concept, it simply means they need more time to understand the previous stage. It’s a child’s experience that is incomplete, not their intellect. 

Some of the most successful books written about leadership are just as applicable to children as they are to adults. Poor teaching and parenting is based on bribery and punishment because the adults don’t understand basic principles of leadership. Christ was considered the master teacher and leader. To become like Christ, we need to truly believe that children are born persons with equal mental faculties as adults. 

Christ’s Three Directions

In the scriptures, Jesus gave only three directions on how to treat children:

  1. Despise not.” (Matthew 18:10) We despise children by having a low opinion of them. Notice how many adults ignore children when they speak or don’t take them seriously. We chastise and correct them in front of others as if they can feel no shame or embarrassment. We put value on who they can be someday, not in who they are right now. We despise them by not having high expectations for them; we don’t believe they are capable of intellectual thought. 
  2. Offend not.” (Matthew 18:6) When we dumb things down for children, read books to them that no adult would read, and organize activities for them that adults would consider a waste of time, we are offending a child’s intelligence. If an adult would find it offensive to their intelligence it is not fit for a child either. 
  3. “Forbid not.” (Matthew 19:14) How do we forbid children? They are not allowed in adult conversations, activities, or workplace. We forbid them from making mistakes and shield them from consequences. We forbid them from moving on to more advanced subjects or books because they must stay at their grade level. Young children may not have the attention span for advanced activities, but they have the intellectual capacity to understand in small doses and if presented in the right way.

“It is not only a child’s intellect but his heart that comes to us thoroughly furnished.” (Charlotte Mason) It is the child’s brain that is still developing, and it takes a long time: twenty-five years to be exact. This process cannot be rushed, no more than we can force our child to walk before they are physically ready. Treating children with respect while also being patient with them as their brain matures can be a difficult balance to achieve. Children are essentially a walking paradox: they are a mature spirit in an immature body. This truth is what makes teaching children so difficult. The solution is to see people as Christ sees them: free  from earthly constraints. (Brooke Snow podcast) We should look at our children and see their mature spirit as it really is: free from the constraints of a developing body, free from developmental disorders, free from the effects of the natural man (hunger, tiredness, overstimulation), free from impulses and behavioral issues. The only way to help our children reach their full potential is to see them as Christ sees them. 

Mothers, you may feel guilty because you are too busy with real life to prepare special activities for your children. But remember: children are born persons. You simply need to include them in your life and they will gain the desire and skills they need. Children may lack experience, but they do not lack intelligence. When you are planning lessons, remember you are teaching people, not lessons. 

“The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty. If you share with children the very best, carefully chosen to meet their needs, they will amaze everyone.” 




Which of my children do I need to get to know better? What can I do to get to know them better?

How can I change my curriculum to meet the needs of my children and respect them as people?

How can I show my children that I am more interested in them than in completing a lesson?


Apply general leadership skills (See list below). 

Let your child live their own life and fulfill their own purposes, separate from your own. Do not make your children an extension of yourself.

Notice your child’s intellectual questions; desire to engage in  serious work; ability to gain meaningful skills.

Treat Your Child Like a Person

Basic Leadership Skills from How to Win Friends and Influence People

  • Show respect for your child’s opinions. Never tell them they are wrong. Instead, ask follow-up questions.
  • It’s best to avoid arguing with your child. Avoid reviling with your child ( explained in “Love” section)
  • If you are wrong and your child is right, admit it! 
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing your child.
  • Begin any suggestions in a friendly way–with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Call attention to your child’s mistakes indirectly. Make statements that praise yet subtly suggest improvement. 
  • Let your child do a great deal of the talking.
  • Let a child feel that an idea is his.
  • Try to honestly see things from your child’s point of view.
  • Be sympathetic with your child’s ideas and desires.
  • Appeal to their nobler motives, and assume they had good intentions.
  • Make your ideas come alive! Make them appealing.
  • Throw down a challenge.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct order — “What is the first thing we do when we get ready for bed?”
  • Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  • Give your child a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Use encouragement. Make the thing you want your child to do seem easy. Start with small steps.
  • Make your child happy about doing the thing you suggest. Give them authority and responsibility. Find a way to make them excited to do it.