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LOVE: PART 2

PART 2

LOVE

Relationships are Sacred

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

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

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

Revile Not

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

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

Connection Before Correction

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

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

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

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

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

Nurture a Tender Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold On to Your Kids

Crime and Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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READING + WRITING: THE EARLY YEARS

Language Arts

READING + PHONICS

CHARLOTTE MASON was ahead of her time in many of her philosophies and methods, and it shows in her method of teaching children to read. You can read her words for yourself in volume one of her Home Education series (see pages 199-222)

Ms. Mason believed that children should be taught to read using phonics, although her methods may not look like traditional phonics instruction. I discovered that the method she describes in her book is very similar to the Word Study approach to phonics and spelling. I recommend this as the foundation of reading instruction for Form 1 (ages 6-9) students. Thousands of studies on reading instruction and brain development show that phonics instruction is essential (see Additional Reading at the end of this article). 

Additionally, research shows that although all children learn to read the same way, each child is unique in how much instruction they require–some children need more explicit instruction, others may simply need some basic instructions to get started, while a small percentage (about 5%) will mostly figure it out on their own.

LETTER RECOGNITION + FORMATION

 

Make Lessons Child-Led

When teaching during the early years (ages 0-6 years old), all lessons should be child-led. The child should show interest and desire in learning how to read and write. Please do not coerce or bribe your child. Lessons should be driven by a natural desire to learn how to read. 

“the children who are persons endowed with minds, clamour to be taught to read and write. We can do it with our children if we like, but it must be at the like cost, the exclusion of the intellectual and imaginative interests and joys proper to children, the devotion of dreary hours every day to these dead pursuits. No, let us be content to be the handmaids of Nature for the first five or six years, remembering that enormous as are the tasks she sets the children, she guides them into the performance of each so that it is done with unfailing delight; for gaiety, delight, mirth belong to her method. If a child chooses to read and write before he is six, let him, but do not make him; and when he does begin, there is no occasion to hurry; let him have a couple of years for the task.” (Mason, Three Educational Idylls, 811)

Reading and writing develops just like other skills: some children start early, others start late. Some children master the skill in a week; for others it could take months, even years! You will most probably see pauses and regressions in their learning. However your child develops reading and writing skills, the key is patience and making your relationship the priority. Stop the lesson before the child’s interest wanes, this is a key to maintaining interest in the long-run. In Charlotte Mason’s opinion, the first six years of life should be a “quiet growing time,” and this program is meant to respect that idea.

Materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE  | Develop Fine Motor Skills

Children should be practicing their fine motor skills on a daily basis. Some activities could include: threading wooden beads on a shoelace, transferring water from bowl to bowl with eyedropper, playing with playdough, and using large tweezers/tongs to transfer objects (cotton balls, beans, pasta, etc) from one container to another. It’s important to be aware that boys’ fine motor skills develop later than girls; some boys may not be ready for writing until 7 years old! Using the above activities, as well as building with Legos, will help strengthen those muscles needed for handwriting.

TWO | Draw in Air

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

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

THREE | Draw on Chalkboard

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

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

FOUR | Draw on Paper

Each written lesson starts with gray letters for the child to trace over to get a feel for how the letter is formed. The lined paper is to practice previous letters learned by writing the suggested words. The parent should carefully write the word first, so the child can see the letter formation and have an example to follow.

The goal is for children to develop beautiful handwriting, but this takes time as the muscles grow strong. Instead of criticizing or giving suggestions, simple ask your child which letters they think look best. Ask why they think those letters look better than the others and what they are going to work on next lesson. This is a great opportunity for your child to examine their own work and learn how to improve on their own.

FIVE | Letter Recognition

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

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

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

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

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

When your child has learned upper-case letters, use the same lesson structure to learn lower-case. Match the lower-case to the upper-case letters as you learn them. To practice these skills, you can play matching/memory games. My boys also enjoy playing bingo with a mixture of letters on the boards. For instruction on how to form lower-case letters I recommend Italics Handwriting by Penny Gardner, but don’t start your child writing on lined paper with a pencil until they have mastered writing letters in the air and on a chalkboard. Starting with paper and pencil too early can result in sloppy handwriting, not to mention a distaste for the subject. Let your child use chunky pencils and paper on their own, but don’t it until 6-7 years old when their fine motor skills have developed.

You can supplement handwriting lessons with Creative Form Drawing. I have seen a huge improvement in my son’s letter formation after using form drawing along with handwriting. 

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PRINCIPLE ONE: LOVE

LOVE + AUTHORITY

“The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental but… These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.” (Charlotte Mason, Principle 4)

Many parents avoid home education because they believe they cannot teach their children because their children rarely  listen or obey. This counter-will makes it difficult for parents to believe they were meant to be their child’s teacher. As a parent, you were handpicked by God to be your child’s teacher. But your time on earth is not supposed to be easy. God handpicked your children with your growth in mind. You will only develop charity when you learn to love people who are difficult to understand. Instead of pushing your child away because they are so difficult to understand, pull them closer and ask “what can I learn from them?” Only when you nurture your attachment with your children will you gain authority to teach them.

Pure Love of Christ

Everything Christ did was motivated by love: love for people around him and his Father in Heaven. He was considered the Master Teacher because of his ability to love and lead people, not because of his educational degrees. He was a successful teacher because of who he was and his relationships with the people around him. Remember: teaching is, above all, a relationship. 

 It is an eternal truth that when you feel loved, you can rest; only when you feel at rest are you free to learn and grow. If a child feels that their parent’s love is conditional or the attachment is weak, the child’s whole focus will be on reestablishing the relationship. This can come out in the form of annoying, clingy behavior, as well as the inability to focus and learn. In his book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim Payne calls these symptoms “soul fever.” You’ll notice this soul fever in a variety of ways: irritability, opposition, hyperactivity, aggression, etc. Just like a physical fever, your child needs to rest from demanding activities to reestablish their relationship with you. Take a break from school or other activities that may be straining your relationship. Spend time together; maybe doing activities that your child loves, or doing nothing besides being together. A secure, positive relationship between parent and child is powerful; it guards your child’s brain from the stresses of life and nurtures its growth.

Relationships Are Sacred

The parent-child relationship is sacred; it is literally ordained of God. Children are meant to attach/orient to their parents, but sometimes that attachment is weakened; school, work, and technology are a few of the biggest culprits. The result is a child who resists adult authority and has a decreased desire to learn. Your child started attaching to you before birth and will continue to do so into adolescence. Although their needs change and lessen as they mature, their attachment needs are just as important in adolescence as they were in toddlerhood. Attachment starts when a baby needs to be physically close to their parent and bond via their five senses. Around two years old, children will start imitating their parents, they also become possessive of the parents. At around age four, they want to know they have significance, that they are valuable to you. Around age five, they seek attachment through feelings of love and affection (hugs, holding hands,“I love you,” etc). Around the time a child starts school, they want to attach by being known through sharing secrets, desires, thoughts, and ambitions.

Authority + Attachment

Attachment is vital to teaching and learning because when a child attaches to an adult, they place the parent in a position of authority over them. They listen to, obey, and seek to please the person in authority. We may assume that as parents we are automatically given authority over children, but we are not. It is given to us by our children when we prove they are important to us and we are experienced/knowledgeable. We may also assume that pure love is naturally given to us as a rite of passage into parenthood. But unconditional love is a gift dependent on our desire and daily sacrifice. Charlotte Mason explained it this way:

“But we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, pg 11-12).

Interestingly, the Lord gave this same advice to members of the church:

 “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 122:41-44)

The parent-child relationship is not unlike other relationships in that it requires constant nurturing and mutual respect. It is important for you to make daily sacrifices to show your children they are loved and important. But even more vital is how you connect with them; your tone of voice, your facial expression, the delight you show in being with them. 

People of all ages need to feel important. It is such a powerful craving that adults will literally commit crimes and even go insane to gain a feeling of importance. When you give your child a feeling of importance, they will give their heart to you. Your invitations to learn will be accepted, and what you say and do will be enticing. 

A Tender Heart

This willingness to listen and learn is vital to education.  In the scriptures this is also called having a tender heart. A child must maintain a tender heart to take risks and ask questions. A tender heart is a teachable heart, and we have the power to influence our child’s heart by how we treat them when they are most vulnerable. To maintain a tender heart, Christ has given us a perfect example of what not to do: revile, condemn, and lecture. 

To revile means to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting way. Instead of reviling against his persecutors, Christ remained silent. When people committed sins, Christ did not condemn them, he connected with them and encouraged them to do better. When people were mourning he did not lecture or explain away their pain, he mourned along with them.

The principles shown to us by Christ are almost identical to the “seven principles of natural discipline” that Dr. Gordon Neufeld outlines in his book (Hold on to Your Kids, pg 213), and Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of authority and docility. Read the starred resources below and then write down in your notebook (narrate) what you learn about love, attachment and authority.

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

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids

ADDITIONAL LEARNING

Study

Teaching in the Savior’s Way | pg 6 

Parents and Children | Chapters 1-2

A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) |  Chapters 4-5

Hold On to Your Kids | Chapters 4-6, 13-16 

Christlike Parenting by Glenn Latham

Ponder

Is love motivating how I interact with my children? 

Do my children know I love them? How?

What principles from Christ’s life can I apply to my relationships with my children? 

Do my children see me as an authority figure? Why or why not?

Apply

“Collect” your child before directing them.

Discipline without damaging the relationship (see Hold on to Your Kids chapter 16)

Make your child feel important.

Take a fast from all social media for one week. Use that time to nurture your relationship with your children.

How to Make Your Child Feel Important:

  • Stop what you are doing, and make eye contact when they are talking to you, always ask follow up questions. This can be hard, but try!
  • Ask them to teach you about something they love. Video games, books, sports, etc.
  • Wrestle or steamroll them. 
  • Play hide and seek.
  • Tell them stories about when they were little; funny things they said or did.
  • Leave notes on their pillow or in their lunch.
  • Ask them what they are doing and if you can do it with them.
  • Hug them throughout the day. Make sure they are the one to break the hug.
  • Give eskimo or butterfly kisses.
  • Tell your child “do you know what I’d like to do more than anything else in the whole world right now? I’d like to play [insert child favorite activity] with you.”
  • One-on-one time every week. Even if it’s just running errands with you.
  • Ask them to hold your hand while you walk together.
  • Whisper a secret in their ear (usually just jokes or silly words)
  • Tell them funny quotes from books you’ve read together.
  • Ask them to tell you a joke.
  • Ask them what they want to do for their birthday, or another future date. 
  • Cuddle with them before bed.
  • Write messages with your finger on their back (my four year old LOVES this)
  • If you notice your connection is suffering, take your child on a date night, or maybe even a whole weekend if needed.
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MUSIC

WHY

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

PLATO

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

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

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

HOW

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

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

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

1. PLAY YOUR FAVORITES

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

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

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

2. PLAY WITH THE MUSIC

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

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

3. GET A CD PLAYER

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

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

4. MAKE-UP STORIES

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

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

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

5. PLAY MUSIC DURING CHORES OR PLAYTIME

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

6. PLAY AS WHITE NOISE

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

7. PLAY IT EVERY DAY

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

8. BABY STEPS

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

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

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

 

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How to Start a Family Gather Routine

GATHER YOUR FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LEARNING BY HEART

Language Arts

RECITATION

Recitation is more than memorizing: memorizing is committing information to memory, but not necessarily comprehending it. The difference between memorizing a poem and reciting a poem lies in the technique and emotion used to portray the meaning behind the words. And to be able to portray the author’s thoughts you must comprehend the meaning, not just memorize words.

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

Furnish the Mind

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

Learn by Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Should You Recite?

  • Scriptures
  • Poetry–just a favorite line or two is perfectly acceptable
  • The Family: A Proclamation to the World
  • The Living Christ
  • The Restoration Proclamation
  • Famous Speeches
  • Inspirational Quotes from Prophets and Great Leaders
 

How Should Recitation Be Taught?

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

Be an Example

Pick favorite poems, passages or speeches you want to recite and learn them yourself, or as a family. Read poems and passages in Family Gather time to expose your children to beautiful language. By doing this your children will have a good selection to choose from when they start formal recitation lessons.

 Before you read poetry aloud, quickly read it to yourself and think about what the author’s purpose was, the overall mood, where to pause, and where to slow down/speed up.  I’ve noticed a huge difference in my sons’ enjoyment of poetry when I recite it and not read it.

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

The Child’s Choice

Aside from your Family Gather time, your school-age children should be spending a few minutes each reciting a short poem of their choice. They should also choose how to recite it. They do not have to memorize (although memorization is usually the result). Do not to correct or tell your child how you think he should do it.

When your child has learned it to their satisfaction, have them recite it to the audience of their choice. You can also record it so they can listen to it later.

Your child may choose short, silly poems, but have faith that as you read beautiful poetry aloud everyday they will be exposed to poems that speak to the soul, and as they mature they will gradually choose more meaningful poems to learn by heart. 

If you did not grow up reading or reciting poetry,, do not fear. It is very simple and much more enjoyable than you think. There are many helpful resources (see end of post)

In the beginning, I found it helpful to listen/watch YouTube videos of professionals reciting famous poems. We still listen to them occasionally because professionals do such a better job.

When Children Don’t Want to Recite

I did experienced some resistance from my young boys when we started reciting scriptures, but I had an idea that has made all the difference: recite with an accent! Some of our favorites are: robot, baby, cowboy, and British. I don’t always pull out the accent, but on those days when no one wants to recite it never fails to bring joy and excitement to young children.

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

Remember, the purpose of recitation is not to memorize. The purpose is to read a phrase over and over again, while pondering the meaning as you imprint it on your heart and mind.  

You can download scripture cards available in the “Downloads” section of this site.

ADDITIONAL READING

Your Morning Basket episode 2
with Andrew Pudewa

Learning by Heart
BYU Speech given by Susan W. Tanner

My Heart Pondereth Them Continually
Devin G. Durrant

Recitation: The Children’s Art
Arthur Burrell

Poetry
The Well-Educated Heart

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HOME-CENTERED EDUCATION

HOME-CENTERED EDUCATION

Home-Centered, Public-Supported

As a second generation homeschooler, I have had many experiences that shaped my view of education. I was educated at home entirely until eighth grade when I decided that I wanted to take art and choir at the local middle school. I continued dual-enrollment through high school, eventually taking a math class and government in addition to art and choir. My brothers were “expelled” from homeschool (they did not meet the self-motivation criteria) to attend high school full-time their freshman year. They thrived and loved the structure placed on them by their teachers. All five of my siblings have had unique combinations of homeschool, online charter school, and public school through their K-12 education; each person received an education as unique as the individual themselves. My parents have always viewed education as home-centered and public-supported, but that idea never verbally materialized until The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its plans to shift gospel instruction to be home-centered, church-supported. What my parents had believed about education and practiced all these years finally made sense.

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

Fortunately for us, none of those things happened. It turns out my family is not the only ones who have escaped the “side-effects” of home education; in fact, I cannot find a single study that shows people educated at home are statistically more likely to have any of those problems. Studies actually show the opposite: people who are educated at home turn out to be more mature, score higher on tests, and have less behavioral problems than their public school peers. I have met many home schooled children and public schooled children that might be perceived as being “weird.” People from both of these groups were quirky in their humor and hobbies, and maybe a little shy, but were perfectly able to carry on a conversation and developed mature social skills. It is important to not confuse conformity with social skills.

Education in America

I believe that we live in a society that has a distorted view of what real education looks like, and we have very little faith in the power of the family. For the vast majority of Americans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traditional education looks like this: children are required to attend school with a class of 25-35 other children of their same age. They are taught by a different teacher each year, where a pre-planned curriculum is followed. Traditionally, students:

  • sit and listen to the teacher present a lesson about what he/she has read and feels is important for students to know
  • fill out a worksheet or are engaged in an “hands-on” activity (if they have a motivated teacher)
  • read textbooks instead of primary sources
  • and are finally tested and graded based on if they retained information deemed “important”

This system of education has only been around for 150 years, yet it has dominated the way we think about education in America (1). It has permeated all institutions of education: public, private, and home. While I was researching the legality of home education in Connecticut (a state whose original laws influenced the Constitution), I was fascinated to find that the current system of education has not always existed in the United States; Connecticut’s original (and still existent) law states: “Duties of parents: All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments.”(2)

Education in early America (pre-public schools) was viewed first and foremost as the responsibility of parents. If they were unable or unwilling to fulfill those responsibilities, they were responsible to employ someone else to instruct their children. Over the years our view of parental responsibilities and government responsibilities has shifted; for the majority of America, the mindset is that the public schools are responsible for educating children and the parents’ role is to support the public schools. Unfortunately, despite the dedication of hardworking teachers and billions of dollars spent on education, American students are not performing as well as we would expect.(3) 

John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning public school teacher, has written multiple books on his experiences as a teacher in New York State. In his book, Dumbing Us Down he writes:

“…no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of “school” to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents…we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.” (4)

Teachers, government officials, and parents have been contending and researching for years to figure out what needs to be changed to get the results we want, but I suspect the answer is not what they want to hear: children’s success or failure in life is largely based on their parents, not the quality of the school. Although there are many areas in which public education can improve, we must realize that education outside of the home will never have the ability to replace what is the responsibility of parents. 

Faith in the Family

The family truly has the potential to be “… the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.”(5) Research studies support this truth: children do better with one teacher over many years (6), learn better social skills in mixed-age classrooms (7), and retain more information when they engage in real, meaningful life experiences. The family offers all of those things and more. The family is not an earthly institution, but an eternal structure. The more I’ve learned about the Plan of Salvation and eternal principles of education, the more convinced I am of the value of the family unit to teach and train the children of God. In the beginning, God did not institute schools to educate people; in the beginning there were families that learned together, and in the celestial kingdom the family will continue to be the primary mode of education.

“I think that by the end of the millennium, for those who occupy the celestial kingdom, the home will be the only media for teaching children.  Teaching will be through the family.” (8)

As members of The Restored Church of Jesus Christ, it is our duty to prepare ourselves and our families to be centers of learning for all subjects, not just religion. In 2018, Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revealed a new way of teaching the gospel in the Church: Come, Follow Me. In this revealed method of learning the “objectives,” teacher scripts, and pointed questions of past curriculum are removed and replaced by focus on reading the primary source (scriptures), and asking a few open-ended questions to invite discussion. These methods take the responsibility of learning off of the teacher and puts them on the student. It also focuses on most of the learning happening at home, with parents teaching their children and the church supporting that teaching once a week. 

In the past, home-education was sometimes not possible or practical. Parents worked long hours on the family farm or in factories. They did not have the knowledge or materials to educate their children. Today, however, is very different; Technology and libraries have made it easier to nurture the mind and spirit by granting access to almost any book in the world, not to mention the greatest music and art, for free right in our home.  Mother’s are more educated and better prepared to teach their children than ever before. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World it states that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” To nurture something means to encourage growth and development; physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Innovation has freed women from time-consuming, labor-intensive housework that was required for the basic nurturing of the body (food, house, clothes) making it possible to spend time nurturing the mind and spirit. The difficulty now lies in resisting the temptation to use that time for less edifying pursuits. We have slowly been accustomed to the worldly idea that mothers are not meant to be teachers (unless they have a degree) and that the government is responsible for the education of its citizens. However, the Lord’s way has never been in-line with the world’s way, and He has felt the need to remind us of His ways. 

“The Lord intended parents to be the primary teachers of their children. He is not concerned about credentials, degrees, curriculum and such–only about parents’ love for their children. He expects parents to sacrifice for their families. He expects learning and the search for truth in all areas to be a family quest and a lifetime pursuit. He expects excellence, integrity, and refinement. And He stands ready to pour out blessings and directions upon the family. With the heavens working with us, how can we fail?” (9)

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

Teach and Train

Amanda Ripley is a journalist who decided to take a unique look at education in America. She followed three high school seniors from the U.S. as they spent a school year studying in a foreign country. The three countries–Poland, South Korea, and Finland–are considered educational superpowers because they claimed the highest scores on the PISA test — a worldwide test administered to 80 countries every 3 years to test 15-year olds’ competence on reading, math, science, and collaborative problem solving skills. The test does not consist of multiple choice questions to test how much information the students have gained during their education, it is a test to understand problem-solving skills, creativity, a way to test how the students learned to think during their education. It is not a multiple-choice format to test how much information a student knows; it requires students to apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations. Through interviews with the U.S. students and teachers, as well as foreign students and teachers, she is able to compare and contrast the educational methods and results of all four countries in her book, The Smartest Kids in the World. (10) The observations in this book do not favor any one country, but instead looks at what each country is doing right to give us a more complete picture of what a high-quality education could look like. Ms. Ripley’s observations support almost everything Charlotte Mason’s writings teach about education: 

  • We should have high expectations of all children (regardless of background). 
  • Curriculum should have structure, but freedom within that structure.
  • Curriculum should cover less material, but more thoroughly.
  • Require fewer tests and less homework.
  • Parents should view education as their responsibility.
  • Children need freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes. 

I will be focusing on each of these points throughout this book, but for now, let’s talk about the parents’ role in a child’s education.

Coach, not Cheerleader

The PISA researchers wanted to understand how parents influence their children’s scores on the PISA test, so they sent questionnaires to parents to determine how much time they spent with their children, time spent volunteering at school, time spent reading to their children, etc. The only consistent variable between all the successful countries (even down to individual test scores) was that parents in countries who scored well on the PISA spent more time with their kids and less time volunteering at school. The researchers were confused. Wouldn’t a child do better if their parents were more involved in their school? They ran their analysis again, but came back with the same results. 

Their conclusion was that when parents do not volunteer at their child’s school, they are spending that time one-on-one with their child instead. That one-on-one time is more powerful than managing fundraisers and splitting time between other children in the classroom. Ms. Ripley called this the “coach” versus “cheerleader” mentality. In general, parents of teens who did well on the PISA viewed their role as a coach (the primary educator), while teachers and tutors were the cheerleaders (support). Teens who did not do as well on the test had parents who viewed their role as the cheerleader; they spent more time supporting the school and cheering their child on than spending one-on-one time reading and tutoring their child.

I believe the reason that parents are such effective teachers is that the motivation behind teaching is parental love and a genuine concern for their children. There are certainly many public school teachers who deeply love and are concerned about their students, but that love is spread out across thirty or more students and they only have three to nine months to bond with each other; their time and effort is finite. As much as teachers would like to slow down and individualize learning for each student, they are bound to the rigid curriculum of the public schools and under scrutinizing pressure from administrators for their students to perform well on state tests. Teachers sacrifice immense amounts of time and effort to teach thirty or more children, but are we putting in the same amount of time to teach our own? We are expecting teachers to perform the duties that were originally assigned to parents, and then wondering why they aren’t meeting our high expectations.

There are many reasons that family is so effective at educating individual children, but one important and overlooked reason is that parents can customize their child’s education using methods. Methods can be much more effective than a system, and much easier to implement on an individual level.

System Versus Method

I love using public transportation to get to my family’s favorite places like the zoo, nature park, and downtown. We walk to the nearest station, wait for the next train to come–according to the strict schedule–and ride it to one of the many places along its route.  It is a very efficient system that is able to transport thousands of people to locations all over the metropolitan area. However, it is a system that works only if people adhere to its schedule and limitations. Most of the places my family needs to go are not along its route and are miles away from our home. Fortunately, I have multiple methods of transportation available to me: a car, a bike, and my two feet. I can utilize any of these methods to get me to where I want to be, exactly when I need to be there. 

Public education is a system set in place to efficiently educate thousands of children in each school district. It runs on schedules, time constraints, and efficiency. Just like public transportation, it cannot stop and wait for individuals if they are late, or speed up if they are early. It cannot personalize your itinerary to get you to the exact place you want to be. Home-centered learning is based on methodology. As the parent/teacher, you utilize different methods to get your child  to where you want to be, exactly when you need it. It is individualized, and usually more effective than using a system. However, there are downsides of methods; they require more resources and effort than a one-size-fits-all system. And for many parents teaching their children entirely at home just isn’t practical, and they seek support from a system. 

On the other hand, many parents recognize the shortcomings of the public school system, but are wary of home education because of five pernicious myths that saturate our society. 

MYTH ONE | GOD HAS NO PLACE IN EDUCATION

“The idea that the religion of Christ is one thing and science is another is a mistaken idea, for there is no true religion without true science nor, consequently, no true science without true religion.” (11)

This is one myth that can have serious consequences, as education is a vital part of our eternal progression. Russell M. Nelson explained in his talk “Where is Wisdom?” that the scriptures contain more than just knowledge about spiritual matters. He relates the fact that millions of people have died over time due to the ignorance of infection. Yet, in Leviticus chapter fifteen, the Lord explains to Moses, in detail, how to properly care for someone who has a contagious disease. President Nelson comments,

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

A wealth of knowledge is at our fingertips, if only we would be wise enough to use it. We are doing our children (and ourselves!) a great disservice by not utilizing scriptures in our studies of all subjects. Harold B. Lee taught: “We [must] measure every teaching to be found in the world of book learning by the teachings of revealed truth, as contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we find in a school text claims that contradict the word of the Lord as pertaining to the creation of the world, the origin of man, or the determination of what is right or wrong in the conduct of human souls, we may be certain that such teachings are but the theories of men.” In public school, children are exposed to 6 or more hours a day of the theories of men; but are they receiving the same amount of time being exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ? In a home-centered learning environment the majority of learning should be happening at home.

The early prophets of the restored church–Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor–knew that Zion is built on celestial principles (12) and since education is a vital component of the plan of salvation, it is a vital part of building up Zion. A celestial organization of education was revealed to them: to learn all subjects (both temporal and spiritual) from spiritual sources: the Holy Ghost, a righteous teacher, and the scriptures. The leaders of the church were commanded to organize church schools, also called academies. In these church schools they used “the best books” about science, history, and the liberal arts in addition to spiritual sources, but they were supplemental and completely in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The Lord directed the prophets to organize church schools for children to receive an education, but once the academies were organized the members did not obey the counsel to enroll their children.  In response, President George Q. Cannon observed “Whenever this people shall fellowship a spirit to disregard the counsels of the Priesthood, seeking to accomplish end by methods that are popular in the world, then they become like other people, and their strength leaves them…Our strength consists not of being part of [the world], but the very opposite of that. (13)

Philosophers over the past two centuries have worked hard to remove all religion from public education.  John Dewey and Karl Marx were two of the most influential in this effort. John Dewey is the father of Secular Humanism, which is the belief that is taught in schools today; that there is no God and we do not need Him to become good people. Karl Marx was also an advocate of removing religious beliefs from public education, which seems logical since there are many different religions in the U.S. and it would be a conflict of church and state to include Christian beliefs in school curriculum.  However, President Benson counters this logic by explaining the consequences of separating God from education. In a 1970 General Conference address he warned:

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

Knowing this, should it really come as a surprise to us that young adult retention in the church is at an all-time low? The retention rate for members of our grandparents and parents generations hovered around 75%. Now it is estimated that 30-46% of young adults stay active in the church after high school graduation. (14) Twenty years ago, Boyd K. Packer also warned us of this spiritual danger, and the climate in the schools have only worsened since then. He warned: 

“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools (and it’s becoming almost generally true) it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.” (15)

When we separate God from all other subjects it makes it much easier to disregard His existence altogether. When we isolate eternal truths to religion only we are halting our own progression. Heavenly Father has knowledge of all truth and has promised “… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things,

and bring all things to your remembrance.” Although I did enjoy having discussions with my classmates in high school, I will never forget the inspiration and learning experiences I received when I was quietly reading at home in my room, in complete solitude to ponder on ideas and listen to the Spirit. I was free to compare scriptures to my textbooks with no time-constraints or interruptions. 

 

MYTH TWO | DIRECT-INSTRUCTION IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO TEACH

“[And] the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself … And because that [men] are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever … to act for themselves and not to be acted upon” (17)

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

Traditional education relies heavily on the teacher’s role to schedule, prepare, and impart knowledge to students. The student’s role is to read assigned material, listen quietly to the teacher’s lectures, complete assignments (mostly in the form of worksheets), and regurgitate information deemed important through multiple-choice tests. A teacher cannot possibly follow the interests of every child or listen to every question or commentary on the material. It just isn’t feasible. But here’s the problem: it is vital for children to ask questions (even if they aren’t related to the material). It is essential for children to work through their thoughts and ideas and express them verbally, and feel that someone is listening.  Children thrive in a child-led, parent-supported (or teacher-supported) environment. And, it should be our goal to create this environment at home and look for it in quality teachers.

Compare traditional education to the new Youth Program the Church has recently released: a simple framework is given within which individuals are free to choose their own goals, set their own deadlines, and assess their own progress. Parents are there to guide and assist when needed. This is what education should look like. Some schools are implementing these methods, but they are rare and usually expensive. Implementing these methods at home is always an option and all it takes is some time and effort. We want our children to be self-reliant, so we need to take them out of an environment where they are passively being acted upon and allow them freedom to choose and act for themselves.

MYTH THREE | CHILDREN LEARN HEALTHY SOCIAL SKILLS FROM PEERS

“If socializing with peers leads to getting along and becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. In actual fact, the more children spend time with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civilized society. If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme-to orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs-the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens.” (18)

This myth originated with John Dewey and his theory that children needed to be removed from their homes where traditions and cultures of their parents were taught, and be “socialized” in a central place with their peers. But like most philosophers, his beliefs were based on theories, not truth. The changes made to public school based on Dewey’s theories has been a social experiment since it was instituted in the beginning of the 20th century. We’ve been told that by their fruits ye shall know them.” (19) So let’s briefly look at the fruits of Dewey’s theory that children should be socialized by their peers. In his book, Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld presents evidence to prove that ever since the transmission of culture was switched from parent-child to peer-child society has slowly been deteriorating; aggression (20) and violence are increasing in schools (21,22), more teens are committing suicide (23), and prison populations have increased by 500% over the past 40 years. (24)  Although there are many contributing factors to these issues, my belief is that the underlying factor is the deterioration of the parent-child relationship and the unnatural phenomenon of peer-orientation. The structure of the public schools–same-age peers, high student-to-teacher ratio, and long school days–encourages children to orient to their peers instead of mature adults.

A child naturally attaches to someone that they are physically and emotionally close to. If there is a void (either physical presence or emotional availability) then children fill that attachment gap with peers. When a child is peer-oriented they can never get enough peer interaction. They would rather be spending time with friends (in person or online) than spending time with family. They start to behave like their peers, believe what they believe, and value those relationships more than anything else.  Dr. Neufeld explains that children need to be attached to loving, mature adults in order to learn mature social skills.

Playing with friends is called “social play” in developmental psychology terms. It is being acted upon by outside sources with little or no active role itself. Peer interaction offers novelty—which is addictive to the brain—and detracts from personal growth. Only when the child is alone with their thoughts and no novel experiences will they blossom and reach their full potential. In this setting, the mind will become hungry and crave stimulation to the point of creating new experiences for itself (i.e creativity and imagination). The play that children need for healthy development is “emergent play” which involves the child creating their own narratives, problem solving, talking to themselves (yes, this is healthy), and learning who they truly are without the outside influence of peers. For some children, this unscheduled time alone may feel uncomfortable, and maybe even distressing, to not be constantly stimulated, but this is not actually healthy. Children absolutely need to be able to play for a few hours a day without friends, parents, or planned activities. But don’t children need to play with one another? Dr. Gordon Neufeld–psychologist, author and founder of the Neufeld Institute– counters:  “We have to see the difference here between what children want and what they need. The play that children need for healthy development is emergent play, not social play.” (25) 

Children need lots of self-directed play to develop their sense of self. Social interaction actually delays the development of personality and creative thinking, so although social play is healthy for certain aspects of development, it is only needed in small doses.

“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (26)

We are starting to see the “curse” of peer attachment in today’s increasing deterioration of the family and social issues.

MYTH FOUR | CHILDREN NEED TO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOL TO BE A "LIGHT"

“Ye are the light of the world, a city that set is set on a hill cannot be hid.” (27)

One of the most common concerns that parents have of educating children at home is that their children cannot be a light to the world if they are not attending public school. First, I would like to point out that as adults we do not attend school anymore, but still interact with people on a daily basis and are perfectly capable of being a positive influence. Additionally, education does not mean that you stay home all day; most children are involved in music lessons, sports teams, play groups, library visits, community service, etc. where they meet and socialize with people of diverse backgrounds. 

A close friend of mine was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ while in high school, and she is now homeschooling her own children. I asked her about her conversion experience and the role that her peers played in it.  She said the most influential person in her conversion was not one of the kids at school, but a neighborhood girl who befriended her. The one-on-one time with that friend was more influential than the time with a large number of kids at school. 

Unequally Yoked

Paul advised the Corinthians “be ye not unequally yoked with the unbelievers.” When two oxen are yoked together they need to be equal in strength and influence, otherwise one will drag the other along, causing problems and possible injury. When our children are in a place where they are outnumbered and over-influenced they are essentially unequally yoked and can be injured spiritually.

There are actually many studies that support Paul’s advice to the Corinthians. One research study found that when one unproductive employee is placed in a group of productive employees, the efficiency of the whole group decreases, instead of the one worker’s productivity increasing. (28) Another interesting study aimed at understanding peer-pressure took a participant and put them in a room with one or more other people–these other people were actors who knew the purpose of the study and were given a script to follow. The participant and actors were given two pieces of paper, one with a black line on it, the other with three black lines, numbered 1-3. The task was for all the people in the room to come to a consensus on which of the three lines was the same length as the single black line, and write down the number the group decided on. The actors’ job was to choose the wrong answer, even though it was very obvious that the line was not the same length. When an unknowing participant went into the room with one actor, they stood their ground and would not be satisfied by submitting a wrong answer. However, if there were two actors insisting on the wrong answer the participant eventually gave in and submitted the wrong answer. If there were three or more actors, the study participant wouldn’t even mention their doubts, they simply went along with what the majority believed. (29)

Following the Crowd

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, observes that people are most influenced by these three groups:

  1. The powerful.
  2. The many.
  3. The close.

He goes on to advise those who want to develop good habits that “One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.” (30) Children and adults are influenced by people they see as powerful, the majority of people around them, and the people closest to them. The children at school will be influenced most by their teachers, the habits and values of the majority of children, and their closest friends. And the same is true for your own children. This is not a theory or a personal belief; it is a truth written in the scriptures and proven by science. This is one reason why so many parents want their children to attend a church university, like Brigham Young University; the culture is different from a public university, and it stands as a light to the world inviting everyone to “enter to learn; go forth to serve.”

A child’s brain structure is programmed to learn and imitate the beliefs and habits of those around them, especially if it is one of the three groups above. Parents and teachers naturally have more power to influence those around us than children do. Instead of putting so much responsibility on our children to be a light in their young, vulnerable state, we should focus on what we can do as adults to be a positive influence. Right now, young children need to be taught how to be a light before they can do it effectively as teens and adults.

An experienced gardener and homeschool mother once explained to me how she gets the most productive plants for her garden: she starts her plants indoors before planting them outside in the elements. She gives them a temperate environment with lots of nurturing, and when their roots are strong enough, she starts “hardening” them to the elements, slowly increasing the time outside before planting them in the soil. If she plants them too soon they either wither and die, or their growth is stunted and they never produce fruit. If she waits too long, their roots outgrow the pot and they will eventually die or stop growing. The key is knowing the plant and the weather, and watching for when its roots are strong enough to survive. After this explanation she then compared this truth in nature to children and their spiritual growth. Home-centered learning is not about deciding if your child will be a light, but when and where.

MYTH FIVE | TEACH TO THE TEST

“The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined. In this great gospel of emulation, one of the purposes of our earthly probation is to become like them in every conceivable way so that we may be comfortable in the presence of heavenly parentage and, in the language of Enos, see their faces ‘with pleasure.’”(31)

Slowly over time, traditional education has slowly warped into a system of information, worksheets, and testing. By no fault of their own, schools resort to these tactics because of pressure for their students to perform well in state tests. Although a lot of genuine learning may be happening in the school, if the students are not learning information that is on the test, the schools will suffer negative repercussions in the form of funding. Testing ignores the emotional and spiritual aspects of the human soul; those things that cannot be seen, but are true. Faith, integrity, imagination, and compassion are just a few of those truths that cannot be experienced with the five senses. They need to be felt with spiritual senses, or in other words, the “heart.” The heart consists of the faculties that sense beauty, eternal truth, and Christlike attributes. These are impossible to test and quantify, and therefore are drowned out by the subjects that can be tested, and therefore deemed more urgent by school administrators and state governments. And this can have negative repercussions for the child. Many parents I speak to know this is true and understand the consequences, but continue sending their children to a place that employs traditional methods of education, hoping that something will eventually change, or that their child will escape unscathed.

Imagination Breeds Empathy

Dr. Samuel Curry, author of Imagination and Dramatic Instinct beautifully defined the imagination as “The thinking of the heart.” (32)  Marlene Peterson, the founder of The Well-Educated Heart, observed that there is a “sacred combination” when heart and mind are nurtured. History and scriptures are full of examples of both people who have nurtured their heart and mind, and those who have not.  The phrase “hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds” (33) is quoted many times to describe people who were wicked and would not believe in God or Jesus Christ. Right now we see a period when education neglects the heart and, consequently, there is a decline in creativity, compassion, religious belief,  and an appreciation of beauty. 

“In the curriculum of most of our institutions of learning no place is given to that instruction which has for its end the cultivation of the imagination, and the sentiments through the refining of the perceptions and quickening of the love of beauty. ‘Education,’ say some of our legislators, ‘must give a means of making a living, our public schools must train up practical citizens, boys and girls must be educated in the practical arts of life. The ornamental has no place in the schoolroom.’ They utterly fail to grasp the nature of the imagination and its relation to everyday life.” (34)

Jack Monnett–a doctorate of education, author,  and experienced educator in the public schools–said this of educating the heart: “By amplifying the intellect and dyeing character curriculum, schools have assisted in the creation of an out of balance society that is ‘ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’” (35) In addition, David O. McKay cautioned that “The principal aim of schools and colleges seems to be to give the students purely intellectual attainments and give but passing regard to the nobler and more necessary development along moral lines.” (36)

The Liberal Arts Feed Imagination

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

A child needs to fall in love with a subject before they will retain the information in their mind; nature study before science, reading-aloud before grammar, and speaking before writing. Children understand and remember when they love something; when their curiosity and imagination have been sparked. This is the business of the heart, and it is vital to a deep understanding of all subjects. Johann Pestalozzi, the influential German educator and founder of kindergarten, wisely stated, “it is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”

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

A MORE EXCELLENT WAY

“God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability.” (37)

Parents have been given the responsibility to teach their children all truth, whether by themselves or by actively seeking out someone they trust to teach their children. Too often we assume that all teachers are of high moral character, or have good intentions. Too often we assume that the public schools are using the most effective teaching methods based on time-tested principles and/or research. As parents it is our moral duty to educate ourselves on what excellent, Christlike teaching methods look like and seek out teachers and schools that employ them. We also need to have the courage and faith to pull our children out of an environment (or change our methods at home) that is not in-line with correct doctrine. 

When the Saints first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, they established schools where all subjects would be taught hand-in-hand with the gospel. In order for Utah to become a state, they were required to organize a public school system. However, as soon as free education was instituted, the members of the Church abandoned the church academies and enrolled their children in the public schools. The leaders of the church warned and pleaded with the saints in general conference addresses until the church schools were dissolved in 1920. (38) But free education was too enticing for the members, and eventually all the original church academies were closed, except one: Brigham Young University. 

The Lord has not instructed the Church to organize primary and secondary church schools since that time, but He still expects parents to take responsibility to “teach and train” their children, and to seek support from outside sources when needed. Through Come, Follow Me and the new Youth Program, we are being given the tools we need to become more Christlike teachers. The teaching philosophy and methods used in the Church are nearly identical to the methods Charlotte Mason used  in her schools and outlined in her six volumes of education. 

The philosophy and methods may be foreign to most of us because they are not the methods used in traditional education, but I know that they work. Traditional education strips away the agency of the learner, and relies on the teacher to do the work of learning (compiling information, giving lectures, testing). Traditional education can be found in home, public, and private schools. Which is a significant reason why many parents become burnt out after attempting homeschooling and conclude that home education just isn’t right for their family. School-at-home is not the same as home-centered learning. Christ’s methods of teaching individuals are not the same as the world’s. When we attempt to educate our children by the world’s standards failure is inevitable.  What I am proposing is that parents need to understand what constitutes Christlike teaching and learn how to apply his methods so we can enrich home-centered learning and know what to look for when we seek support in outside sources. I feel much like Alma when I say “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but… by small and simple things are great things brought to pass… and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (39). At first glance these methods may not seem effective because of their simplicity and inability to produce immediate results. But like all eternal principles it requires faith to take action. We need to strive to become more Christlike teachers and have the faith to utilize a more excellent way of learning in all subjects.

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

Ponder

WHY have I chosen [public, private, homeschool] as the method of education for my children? Is the choice made out of fear or love?

WHAT do I believe about how children learn best?

WHAT conditions are needed for children to learn deeply and meaningfully? Are my children receiving these conditions?

SOURCES CITED

  1. History of Education in United States
  2. Chapter 168, Sec. 10-184. https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_168.htm
  3. U.S. Ranking in World PISA Test 2018
  4. John Taylor Gatto. Dumbing Us Down. (2017) New Society Publishers.
  5. Bednar, David A. Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing. General Conference April 2019
  6.  Hill and Jones. A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches. (2018)
  7. McClellan, Kinsey. Children’s Social Behavior in Relationship to Participation in Mixed-Age or Same-Age Classrooms.(1997)
  8. Dyer, Alvin.”Education: Moving Toward and Under the Law of Consecration.” BYU Studies, 1969 p.6-9
  9. Kinmont, Joyce. LDS Home Educators Association.
  10. Ripley, Amanda. (2014) The Smartest Kids in the World. Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition
  11.  Journal of Discourses, vol. 14 pg. 117
  12. D&C 105:5
  13. Cannon, George Q. Collected Discourses. Vol. 1 September 2, 1889 (emphasis added)
  14. How Many Millenials Are Really Leaving the LDS Church? Religious News
  15.  Charge to the David O. McKay School of Education, December 1996
  16.  John 14:26, emphasis added
  17.  2 Nephi 2:14, 16, 26
  18. Neufeld, Gordon. Hold On to Your Kids.
  19. Matthew 7:16
  20. Classroom Crisis in Oregon Schools. (2019) KGW
  21. US School Shootings, Just the Facts. (2019)
  22. School violence in US Schools. (2018) USA Today
  23.  Suicide Rate is at It’s Highest in a Half Century. (2018) Pacific Standard Mag
  24. Criminal Justice Facts
  25. Neufeld, Gordon. Hold On to Your Kids, pg 252
  26.  Malachi 4:6
  27. Matthew 6:14-16
  28. McCord, J. and McCord, W. (1959). “A follow-up report on the Cambridge-Somerville youth study.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 32, 89-96
  29. Asch, Solomon. Conforming to Social Norms. (1950)
  30.  Clear, James, Atomic Habits. Pg 117
  31. Douglas Callister, Your Refined Heavenly Home, BYU Speech 2006
  32. Curry,  Samuel Silas., Imagination and Dramatic Instinct. (1896)
  33. Ether 15:19
  34. Curry,  Samuel Silas., Imagination and Dramatic Instinct. (1896)
  35. Monnett, Jack. (2000) Revealed Educational Principles and the Public Schools. Archive Publishers. Pg 123
  36. McKay, David. Gospel Ideas pg 441
  37. Maxwell,  Neal A. “It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts.” Ensign (July 1975)
  38. Monnett, Jack. Revealed Educational Principles and the Public Schools (2000) pg 29
  39. Ether 12:11