When I was a young boy, my parents used to hold what was called family night. We didn’t have a family home evening manual to follow then, but we did have other things that provided meaningful and fun experiences. Dad read stories to us from the Book of Mormon, and Mother would prepare delicious refreshments.
There were times when we would play games such as Hide the Thimble and Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? One of the things that I remember best during those winter nights was playing basketball. Dad would bend a metal coat hanger into a circle and wedge it above a door. We younger boys, dressed in basketball attire and using a pair of stockings rolled up into a ball, would play basketball while the other members of the family watched. It was not until I was involved in high school and Church basketball that I realized how valuable those evenings were. The skills and abilities I picked up in home basketball games were transferred easily to the regulation-size basketball court.
Little did I know at that time that I was involved in what we call today a walk-through experience. A walk-through experience consists of four basic steps: (1) You need to know or understand the skill or process. (2) You need to see it done. (3) You need to practice the skill or process yourself. (4) You should evaluate or review. To help you remember those steps, a four-word rhyme describes the walk-through: know, show, do, review.
Being involved in the teacher training program of the seminaries and institutes has helped me to see the importance of these four steps in our training program, and, for that matter, for all teachers, especially the broadest army of teachers in the Church—parents. Someone has said that teachers teach the way they are taught. If this is true, and I have seen enough examples that I believe it is true, then every parent and teacher must be certain he is giving correct instructions and providing a correct model for others to imitate.
With my basketball experience, the knowing and showing came at the same time, for I listened to and watched my older brothers and their friends as they played on our outdoor court. Since I was too little to throw the basketball high enough to reach the rim, it was some time before I was included in their games. Therefore, the indoor games with a pair of stockings and the coat hanger became my first real experience with the sport. As we played, my older brothers would give me pointers to improve my ability and effectiveness. How wonderful it was to be involved in the doing and reviewing—actually participating and enjoying every minute.
One of the major roles of a teacher or parent is to provide situations or activities that permit students or children to gain beneficial experiences.
“… the learners, whether first grade or graduate school, must be led to have the experiences from which the objectives will be achieved. This principle is equally applicable to the learning of elementary mathematical processes or the most philosophical principles. In each case, the learner must learn and in order to learn he must have the experience (engage in the activity, mental or otherwise) which produces learning. Nothing is more fundamental in learning and teaching, for there is a strong tendency for the teacher to believe that his activity is the crucial factor in learning. What the teacher does is important, crucial in a sense, but only as a means, and its significance is to be judged chiefly by its effect upon the students.” (Earl V. Pullias and James D. Young, A Teacher Is Many Things [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968], p. 39.)
It was Dr. Earl V. Pullias of the University of Southern California who said a teacher is a guide. With the objectives and destinations clearly mapped out in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we guides (parents and teachers) can help provide beneficial experiences for our children and students. We should lead them to interact in different activities so as to give them appropriate experiences.
One of the major purposes of the family home evening manual and other Church curricula is to provide illustrations, analogies, stories, case studies, pantomimes, role plays, visuals, games, object lessons, and other activities in which children interact and gain experience. We want them to reach certain short-range goals or destinations on their learning journey: baptisms, confirmations, ordinations to the priesthood, temple marriages, missions, education, careers, families, and homes of their own. All of these immediate destinations are to lead them to the long-range goal of eternal life and exaltation. As parents and teachers, we should be careful to allow our children to analyze, evaluate, discuss, and interpret their experiences in order to grow mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
We will want to plan with our children so that they discover new things on their journey. The word discover is very important. There is a strong tendency to tell, moralize, or in other ways become the star of the show when we teach religious concepts, but such teaching causes students to lose interest. The guide must resist the temptation to become the answer man; he must direct the students to where the answers are. Two important questions that we should answer in order to lead children to a discovery experience are (1) did they tell us or did we tell them? and (2) could we have drawn it out of them? It is the responsibility of the guide to awaken and arouse within the student the need to find answers and thus have discovery experiences.
I have heard of families who desire to teach their children to ski. Before they ever go to the slopes, the children put on their skis in their living room and receive instructions on how to bend their knees, shift their weight, turn, stop, and other important skills. Rather than just tell their children what to do, the parents walk their children through different situations encountered while skiing. Once on the hills, the children adjust quickly and are able to maneuver with greater agility and skill.
One aspect of the walk-through we have especially concentrated on is providing a correct model of prayer. Children are quick to repeat the same ideas, phrases—even the pauses and voice inflections of the persons they hear.
Being able to repeat the instructions or in some other way verbalize what is being taught is not enough. Nor is it enough to see someone else do it. We must actually be involved in the doing.
For example, some time ago I attended a meeting where stake priesthood leaders were discussing the fact that ward priesthood leaders were not getting men to participate in welfare assignments, and one of the reasons was the way the assignments were given. The ward priesthood leader would stand up before his people and ask, “How many can fulfill this assignment?” Generally a few hands would go up and, consequently, even fewer showed up to complete the assignment.
The discussion in our meeting concerned what could be done to help the ward leaders to be more specific in giving assignments. Someone mentioned that we should show them how. But showing is not enough.
It is true they must see a correct model, but the last two steps are missing; for until the individual is given the opportunity to do it as he has been instructed and shown, and then to have an evaluation afterward, the ward leaders will likely continue to issue assignments as they had formerly done. These stake leaders are in the process of working with the ward leaders and giving them a walk-through experience.
Asahel D. Woodruff said: “The learning has to be done by the pupil [or child]. Therefore, it is the pupil [child] who has to be put into action. When a teacher [or parent] takes the spotlight, or becomes the star of the show, or does all the activity, it is almost certain that he is interfering with the learning of the class members.” (Teaching the Gospel [Deseret Sunday School Union, 1967], p. 37.)
The following example further illustrates how important this walk-through experience is. It has always been a struggle for us as parents to help our children to be reverent during sacrament meeting. During one family home evening, we concluded that we should give our children a walk-through experience of being reverent. We gathered them around us and explained we were going to have a miniature sacrament meeting, excluding, of course, the administration of the sacrament. First, we had them act as they normally do during the sacrament meeting, and then together we evaluated our experience. After talking about what they did that was right and what they did that was wrong, we had them reenact the meeting and concentrate on ways to improve reverence.
While we still have a long way to go, much good came of this walk-through experience. Notice that in each example given, the learner or child was involved in the learning process. It was he who was having the experience. Often the best and one of the most difficult things for a parent or teacher to do is to move aside, keep quiet, listen, and observe.
In the examples mentioned, the walk-through experience was either preceding or following a real-life experience. There are many others of this type, such as walking a child through paying tithing, preparing a son or a daughter for missionary work by role-playing missionary situations, learning homemaking skills, preparing and giving talks.
Another type of walk-through is that of working side by side in something where the child learns the correct process. How often I have seen my mother and now my wife teach their daughters how to be mothers and homemakers. Our youngest child has been a great blessing for our oldest daughters, now seven and five years old. They talk to the baby like their mother does, hold the baby like their mother does, feed him, tend him, and in many other ways care for him. All of this has come as a result of know, show, do, and review, and all of this side by side with their mother.
I shall never forget the first time our oldest boy did something for which he should seek forgiveness from his Heavenly Father and also from the ones he had offended. This was a golden opportunity to walk him through some of the steps of repentance. We discussed what he had done and I instructed him in what he should do to obtain forgiveness, including praying to his Heavenly Father. We talked about what to say to those he offended, and this he did; but when it came to talking to his Heavenly Father about his error, he didn’t know what to say. I told him some things he could say but he was still unsure, so I helped him with the prayer. On subsequent experiences, he has been able to go through this process on his own, and his spiritual stature has increased as a result.
Having served in a bishopric, I can see the value of side-by-side walk-through. We had just conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on three boys and ordained them to the office of a deacon. The afternoon of the first Saturday of the month was set aside by members of the quorum to gather fast offerings. Prior to this day we had spent part of our Sunday quorum meeting instructing them in the procedures for gathering the fast offerings. But we didn’t stop at explaining what to do nor at showing them what to do; we went two steps further and had them do it in a role-playing situation where they could use a simple door approach. Then we evaluated their performances.
Many people resist the doing part because they feel uncomfortable, and some fear criticism. All of our training and practice was done in the spirit of love and fellowship. During the critique or evaluation, emphasis should be placed on the positive in order to build the individual and not tear him down; and where there are weaknesses, we need to work with the individual to help him become strong.
After each new deacon had been given the opportunity to walk through gathering fast offerings, we sent each one out with a member of the quorum presidency—two by two, in keeping with the revelations of the Lord: “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.” (D&C 84:106.) Very soon these three deacons were training others and helping them to have success experiences.
But no matter what technique you choose to use, it is the learner who must have the experience. The great teacher knows how to give help, when to provide encouragement, and when to suggest alternatives, while other teachers are over-directive, demanding, and insensitive as to how the learner feels. The major role of the teacher or parent is to give encouragement, guidance, and support as the learner gains experience.