COME, FOLLOW ME
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has created an amazing resource for studying the scriptures as individuals and families. The curricula is called Come, Follow Me. Although it was created for members of the church, anyone can benefit from the simplicity of its methods. You can view the New Testament guide here. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Come, Follow Me curricula is that it is designed to teach truth while respecting the learner’s experience to create and form their own thoughts while being led by the Holy Ghost. This is modeled after how Christ taught. Come, Follow Me is not a manual that prescribes everything that should be taught – instead the content is simple and aims to deepen our conversion by relying on the Holy Ghost to steer us in our learning.
As mothers, we yearn for our children to understand and relate to the teachings of Christ at a level they can comprehend and relate to. And, instead of formally teaching a prescribed lesson, one of the most powerful ways we can encourage our children to practice self-education is through play and hands-on experiences.
By creating a simple environment where children are encouraged to explore their thoughts, we are modeling the same method Christ uses to teach us. We do not need elaborate lesson plans or never-ending coloring pages that offer little depth. Our role as mothers is to create an environment where the Holy Ghost is free to touch our children’s hearts as they play and explore the environment around them. We can casually introduce topics and offer simple instruction, but then by encouraging our children to self-steer their own learning, we give the Spirit the opportunity to touch their heart. Like many adults, spiritual expression in children is often seen in the self-expression of art, dramatic play, drawing or writing, and song or music. We invite the Spirit to touch our hearts, and our children’s hearts as we create simple and flexible opportunities for our children to explore their spirituality growth and development.
“The Bible is the chief lesson–But we are considering, not the religious life of children, but their education by lessons;
and their Bible lessons should help them to realise in early days that the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge,
and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.”
OLDER CHILDREN AND TEENS
Some of the best family scripture studies are built on good discussions and learning from each other. Questioning and discussing during scripture study is very important for teens. In a study of college freshman, researchers found that the young adults that remained religious were the ones that felt they could ask questions and discuss religion with their parents. (research study was discussed in this podcast episode). Based on this information, it is extremely important to encourage your children to ask questions, help them find answers to their questions, and discuss doctrine. One way you can get the most out of scripture study is to invite older children to prepare for each day by reading the assigned scriptures in Come, Follow Me beforehand. Then family scripture study will be focused on reading and discussing key scriptures instead of trying to read through a whole chapter, with no time left to discuss. You can also use a book like The Book of Mormon Made Harder for some real thought-provoking questions to add to your family discussion. Some families may want to invite their older children to write about scripture stories and doctrine that really interest them. If your teen is resistant to participating, try this approach shared by Elder Brett Nattress in General Conference October 2016. The most important thing is to be consistent and invite, do not coerce.
You may want to watch the Book of Mormon videos before studying the selected scriptures that week; visual learners will appreciate this as they can visualize the scenes as they read them. For more in-depth study of certain topics you can find additional resources are in the sidebar of the Gospel Library app. Additionally, ask your teens to share insights they have learned in seminary.
Mothers of young children, especially boys, will find that reading scriptures can be challenging; young children have short attention spans, do not understand the advanced language of the scriptures, and do not yet understand how to control all their emotions (read more here). Teaching the gospel to children can be difficult, but not impossible.
There are a few key points to keep in mind as you teach young children:
- Keep it Short
- Keep it Simple
- Utilize apperception
- Engage their heart
Keep it Short
In child development classes, students are taught that children can only pay attention for as many minutes as they are old. Interestingly, adults’ brains can only pay attention for 15 minutes before becoming bored and are ready to move on! In every activity you do you are engaging different parts of the brain, and when you start to become bored or “zone out” this means that part of the brain is exhausted and you need to do a different activity. When you are reading, listening, or speaking you are utilizing one part of the brain (the verbal left), while drawing and moving the body are engaging a completely different part of the brain (the spacial right), and music engages the whole brain! (source) No wonder we sing so frequently during church meetings.
Although the actual lesson may be short, you should be teaching the gospel all day every day. “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) Comparing and contrasting stories from their life (or a favorite book) to scripture stories is a perfect way to help children see doctrine more clearly.
Keep it Simple
Too many time-consuming activities can take the focus away from the doctrine and what the Spirit is trying to teach. There is no need to subscribe to activity packets and stay up late printing and cutting, or making a late-night run to the store to get the list of items needed. A calm and rested mother who knows the scriptures by heart is a much better teacher than an activity page. Object lessons and activities do have their place, but I’ve found the best activities are the simplest; acting out the story, drawing or looking at a fine art, asking children to narrate (telling story in their own words), and engaging the senses in a simple object lesson that will help them understand the principle by apperception.
When a person is trying to learn a difficult concept, the best teachers use apperception to help the student understand. Christ used this method whenever he taught, and usually used parables to do it. Apperception simply means to compare the difficult concept/principle to something the person is familiar with. Christ frequently used nature and everyday life to teach difficult gospel doctrine to people. We should be using apperception everyday with our young children. Before the lesson, think about something your children genuinely enjoys (Legos, favorite books, pets, etc.) and find a way to use it to teach the difficult principle. For example, I (Jessica) once used Legos to teach my boys about the Word of Wisdom. I compared a Lego set to our bodies. The instructions were our genetics and the Legos were the food we put in our bodies. Each boy opened up his own simple set of Legos and found that one of them didn’t have enough of or the right Lego pieces to follow the instructions. We then talked about how this related to the Word of Wisdom.
She would begin with a glow in her eyes and tell me their story.
All of their tales she knew,
by the hundreds and hundreds
she knew them.
Tales of the beings divine…
Mark! what I as a child picked up,
the old man still plays with.
Pictures of heroes in sound that lasts,
when spoken, forever,
Images fair of the world and marvellous legends aforetime,
All of them living in me as they fell
from the lips of my mother.
–Denton T. Snyder
Engage the Heart
Many mothers have asked how they can get their young children to listen during scripture study. We have all experienced the frustration of young children becoming bored, disruptive and noisy during scripture study. And we have all felt the guilt after blowing up at them after trying to hold it together for so long. One technique that can totally change the atmosphere around your scripture study is to tell the story, and tell it well. Now, I (Jessica) will tell you a story about how storytelling has completely changed how I approach scripture study in my home:
A few weeks ago I laid down and fell asleep discouraged and in tears. I was frustrated with myself (yet again) for raising my voice at my young boys during scripture study, of all the places to yell this was the worst. That morning my little boys were running circles around the house, yelling “poop” at inappropriate moments, and refusing to listen or participate. I had planned to only read a few verses, but we couldn’t even get through one. I want them to love the scriptures like I do. I just want them to listen for one minute, and I feel my desires are reasonable. But after many failed attempts I finally, I cracked. “QUIET!” I exploded. And it was over. I’d lost my authority and made scripture study even more unpleasant for my children. My husband said a few cutting words and told me to take a walk.
I felt miserable all day, and of course blamed it on my children. In my prayers that night I begged for patience and the knowledge of what to do. Nothing came to mind immediately and the next day I walked into our dining room prepared to keep doing the same thing I had been doing. As I was about to read the scriptures the spirit said “Tell them a story.” So that’s what I did. I started telling it and drawing out the characters and scenes on our chalkboard. Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. And there was silence; beautiful, golden silence. The boys were listening with rapt attention, and had been for over ten minutes when I stopped at an exciting part of the story. They begged for more, but I told them I would finish tomorrow. The next day my oldest said “Mom, you need to finish the story about Limhi.”
Scripture study has been a pleasure ever since I realized that I need to get my young children to fall in love with the stories of the scriptures before trying to teach them the doctrine. There is a reason the scriptures are composed of stories and not dry facts. Stories engage the heart and prepare children’s minds to understand difficult doctrine.
“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the willfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience.”
As they get older, around school-age, start reading selected verses from the scriptures. You can mark your scriptures where a good story starts and ends so you can read those selected verses to your elementary-age children. Come, Follow Me is also a good place to find selected verses that will be the most interesting for children. It is important for children to become familiar with scripture language, but first they must become familiar with the stories, and the best way to do that is to tell them from your heart.
You can find more information on how to tell stories to children at Well-Educated Heart. There are helpful tips for how to win your child’s attention through word choice, pauses, etc.
If you are needing more ideas of teaching young children the gospel, Cassie of Teach in the Home creates weekly activity ideas for teaching Come, Follow Me. They are free, simple, and require little or no preparation. We love how they supplement the church material, but do not detract from it.