Dishonesty is often glorified on television. Most neighborhoods suffer at least occasional onslaughts from young vandals. Drugs circulate even in elementary school. Sometimes, when all these temptations seem to focus irresistibly on your children, when insensitivity and deliberate cruelties wound their fragile innocence, when they are surrounded daily by companions you do not know, absorbing conversations you do not hear, it’s natural for you, a parent, to feel helpless and very lonely.
Who helps parents? The Church does. It regards seriously its responsibility for its estimated 700,000 Latter-day Saint children under the age of twelve. Two organizations are directly involved in teaching them the gospel—the Sunday School and the Primary. One special committee is writing basic lessons for children in developing areas; another is working to ensure that mentally and physically handicapped children partake fully of gospel opportunities and blessings. The Music Committee provides songs on gospel topics. The Friend speaks directly to children of all ages.
There is also a cluster of related stewardships, all of them aware of how they affect children: the family home evening program with its help for parents, mother education lessons in Relief Society, instruction for fathers in priesthood lessons, and the Child Correlation Review Committee, charged with reviewing all material produced for children in the Church.
Concern for children starts with the prophets—look at the scriptures, and at President Spencer W. Kimball’s message in this issue. And it extends through all levels of planning and organization to your three-year-old’s Sunbeam teacher, the presidency that supports her, the inservice program that assists her, the librarian that supplies audiovisual materials, and the Church Building Department with child-sized chairs and low drinking fountains.
Tom Rose, supervisor of child and youth curriculum for Instructional Development, coordinates lesson planning with the Sunday School and Primary. The family home evening manual is also within his stewardship. Enthusiastic plans are underway to make even further improvements on the current curriculum through more student involvement and more intensive use of the scriptures. “Made-up stories often lack the power of a true story,” he comments. “The scriptures have an authority that even young children respect.”
A former seminary teacher for seven years, he deplores the “myth” that the scriptures are too difficult for children. “Students from the ninth to the twelfth grade told me that the Book of Mormon was too difficult. In reality, it’s written on a seventh-grade reading level.” He cited the example of a Sunday School teacher who has been using selected Bible verses with the seven-year-old children she has taught over the past twenty years. “They love it.”
Mary Jane E. Johnson, chairman of the Primary’s curriculum planning committee, sees Primary as a bulwark of “spiritual strength” to children who must be “in the world, but not of the world.” The key principle they must learn, she feels, is that “they are actually children of their Heavenly Father. If they know that and understand their relationship with Jesus Christ, they will be strong enough.”
Since the Savior taught “line upon line,” the curriculum is planned along the same principle. For instance, honesty is taught repeatedly on the child’s level to reinforce and add new insights to what has been learned before.
And since children learn by doing, activities are suggested to reinforce each principle. For instance, the Merrie Miss code commits ten- and eleven-year-old girls to “radiate the light of the gospel.” One way they can do this, the lessons suggest, is to bring a nonmember or inactive friend to Church. Another suggestion is performing a service for a nonmember neighbor.
And Primary is deepening the spiritual sensitivity of its children. A ten-year-old boy in a Mesa, Arizona, ward was deeply touched by Primary lessons on prayer. Concerned because his inactive parents did not have family prayer, he asked his father to kneel with him as he said his nightly prayer. Hearing that prayer so impressed the father that he began attending church again. Now both he and his wife are happily involved in Church service.
Elliott Landau, chairman of the child committee on the Sunday School General Board, is in full agreement about the importance of teaching the scriptures. The revised curriculum, currently in the planning stages, will use the scriptures more effectively to teach the gospel to children, to help them appreciate their families, and to build faith.
“We know children can have spiritual experiences,” he said. “They tell us how they feel when they receive blessings, when their prayers are answered, when fear and loneliness disappear. We want to help children develop the faith to have more of these experiences. If they’re familiar with the scriptures, they’ll know that God loves them, that he’ll answer prayers.”
The current curriculum meets many of the present needs, but he pointed out a need for increased understanding of children from single-parent families. “Since one of our objectives is to teach children veneration for the family and pride in belonging to it, we want to be very sure they don’t feel excluded from discussions about families. I’m sure the teachers are sensitive to these problems already.”
Arta M. Hale, a vivacious white-haired woman, chairs the committee which, in Brother Rose’s opinion, “produces some of the best lessons ever written for children,” the so-called “basic lessons” for children in developing areas. “We’re talking about areas that are barely branches, or sometimes just a family or group,” said Sister Hale. “We’re talking about a curriculum for children from six to twelve, teachers who may have never taught before, have no place to meet except a home or small building, and no access to visual aids. And above all, we’re talking about a crying need to learn the gospel.”
How do they meet these needs? “With basic Mormon doctrine.” There will be two volumes of forty lessons each, translated into the seventeen established languages of the Church and many additional languages for the developing areas of the Church. The first volume deals with the existence of our Heavenly Father, our premortal existence, the plan of salvation, the creation, the importance of families, learning to resist temptation, the importance of baptism, the first principles of the gospel, and so on. The next year’s manual will have more emphasis on the restoration of the gospel, Church history, and preparation of boys for the priesthood. The manual contains all of the visual aids for the lessons, and ten songs translated from Sing with Me.
Josiah Douglas, supervisor of Special Curriculum, deals with the broad range of Church members “with special needs.” That blanket term includes the blind or visually impaired, the deaf or hard of hearing, the mentally retarded, the illiterate, the physically handicapped, the incarcerated or probationary member, the chronically ill, the emotionally disturbed, the socially maladjusted, and the elderly.
Brother Douglas explained that, based on Church percentages of the total U.S. population, for every thousand Latter-day Saints there are two with impaired vision, six with hearing difficulties, fifteen with physical handicaps, twenty-three who are mentally retarded, twenty who are emotionally disturbed, and thirty-five with some kind of speech impairment. Then add to these the illiterate, especially in developing nations, and the “functionally illiterate” who can’t read effectively even though they may have completed high school. “These persons have no more access to the scriptures than if they were written in a foreign language,” stressed Brother Douglas.
Children with special needs are an important part of this program, he said. “Members need to be sensitive. These children need acceptance and praise. Leaders who know that these members can serve make all the difference. Some families have turned to community groups or, tragically, even to other churches that have programs for handicapped children, for this very reason.”
How is the Church’s responsibility to help members with special needs being translated into action?
1. A Dictionary of Sign Language Terms for unique Latter-day Saint terms, such as “Melchizedek,” was developed by delegates from the Salt Lake and Los Angeles areas. After refinement and field-testing by the Church’s thirty-seven deaf units, it will be standardized and illustrated.
2. The Building Department has committed itself to making all new chapels barrier-free for wheel-chaired members, modifying bathrooms for the handicapped, and placing acoustic jacks in congregational areas.
3. Some children’s books—stories from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Church history—are recorded and available to the visually handicapped as “talking” books.
4. A self-instruction manual on Teaching the Handicapped is rapidly running through its first printing. It includes general principles on how to accept the handicapped class member, adapt course materials for him, and involve him in class participation and activities. It adds specialized instructions for the different handicaps.
5. Book of Mormon stories, written at the second-grade level and heavily illustrated, contain glossaries of terms, people, and places. These stories will also be recorded with sound effects. Plans to publish readers on both the Old and New Testament and Church History are on the drawing boards. A second set of readers on the fourth/fifth grade level will follow. “This will provide an introduction to the scriptures for beginning readers, especially the deaf and mentally handicapped,” explained Brother Douglas.
6. A home instruction course for mentally handicapped children is being piloted. The child listens to the story-tape as he looks at the picture book and responds to questions that are asked. For example, he may be asked to look at family activities and choose the one showing kindness.
7. All new manuals have special guidelines for involving members with disabilities.
8. Being field-tested now is a hand-powered cardboard record player. The needle arm is a styrofoam plate cut in half. A second, uncentered hole in the record label matches a hole in the turntable. Place a pencil in the hole and rotate the record, and you are listening to the Book of Mormon or family home evening lessons in English, Spanish, or Aymara—for pennies.
9. Instructional Development is also experimenting with soundsheets that rotate at 4 rpm. At this speed, a person could purchase a recorded Book of Mormon for seventy cents.
10. Manually operated cassette players can play music to accompany congregational singing in places without organs or pianos.
Still in the talking stages are filmstrips on how to involve the handicapped; more training for parents, leaders, and teachers; sports manuals for the handicapped; sympathetic parents’ program (parents who have raised handicapped children help new parents); and respite families (they give parents a break from caring for a handicapped or homebound family member).
The needs are pressing, “but,” promises Brother Douglas, “as we begin to meet the needs of our special members, the Lord will open up the secrets of teaching normal children, too.”
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy in October 1977, had previously been chairman of the Melchizedek Priesthood subcommittee on home teaching and family home evening. “Before I say what the family home evening program does for children,” he said, “let me make it clear that family home evening is for everyone. Our best information shows that two-thirds of our Latter-day Saint homes do not have children under the age of eighteen—but family home evening belongs in those homes too.
“Now, for the homes with young children: we think family home evening is the best—and first—place that children learn how to bear their testimonies, conduct meetings, be fair, and love their neighbors and Church leaders. So family home evening teaches skills. Let me use my own family for an example. We have six children ranging from eighteen to seven. One child conducts each week—and they love it. Another is responsible for preparing refreshments. Sometimes it’s fit for neither man nor beast, but when it’s their turn we all go along.
“Second, children need to feel loved by the most important people in their lives—their families. Third, they need to feel eternally secure. About age eight or nine, they begin to understand death, and they need to know that they’ll still belong to the family, even when death occurs. The fourth need is to know that the best solutions to problems come through the gospel. I’ve tested that principle again and again in the business world, and it is always true. Fifth, they need to know that they belong to heavenly parents as well as to earthly ones.
“Sixth, they need to know that differences are good. Our six not only don’t look alike, they’re different in almost every way. Our eighteen-year-old, for instance, is a hard act to follow—a pilot, a scuba diver, an almost straight-A student. If our fifteen-year-old son didn’t know that we really think his photography and debate are as important as our eighteen-year-old’s flying and mathematics, he’d have a problem. As it is, the eighteen-year-old is asking the fifteen-year-old how to take pictures.
“A seventh need is to realize that success is never tied to economics. Many of their friends’ families have boats. We don’t even have an inner-tube to float around on, but they know why. We’ve taught our children to take pride in what they do have and to be equally proud of what others have.
“And eighth, they need to learn to say ‘yes’ every righteous chance they get. We try to do this with them, but let them know we still love them when we say no. That’s not only because we do love them but because we want to teach them that you solve life’s problems most effectively by being positive.
“These are some principles about children that permeate the lesson, ideas that our committee has tried to strengthen wherever we can.”
Ralph Hill, current chairman of the family home evening committee, sees a strong need for the Church to reinforce parents in homes with special needs. “I know what it is like to grow up in a home without a mother. She had given us a foundation of faith and testimony in those few short years, but our wonderful father was taxed to just provide the necessities. If it hadn’t been for Church teachers and leaders who took an interest in us, there are probably values we never would have internalized, teachings we never would have learned, needs that never would have been satisfied. In fact, one of the greatest values in the Church’s developing programs for children may be to serve families that aren’t quite so ideal.”
Two committees with indirect impact on children are those concerned with the Melchizedek Priesthood lessons dealing with fatherhood and the mother education lessons in Relief Society. C. Richard Chidester, a member of the Instructional Development curriculum committee for Melchizedek Priesthood, is a marriage and family counselor. Sensitized to family problems, he finds himself “including fatherhood and parenthood principles wherever there’s an application to be made.”
He specifies his concern: “We sometimes assume that if a man knows the doctrine he will automatically understand his priesthood responsibility and what it means to be a father. If his own father was a good model, that may be true. All too often, it’s not. Knowing the doctrine and understanding how to apply it are often two different things.” He praises the monthly Relief Society lesson on mother education and comments, “I think the need of fathers for instruction is just as great.”
Phyllis Benedict, chairman of the Mother Education writing committee, says her committee wants to help mothers “develop skills that will help them raise competent and spiritual children, able to cope with life.”
Two principles that undergird those skill-teaching lessons are: (1) Mothers should realize that their Heavenly Father has faith in their abilities, and (2) they need only take their mothering responsibilities a step at a time.
Alvin H. Price, a professor of child development and family relations at Brigham Young University who works on the committee, explains his philosophy: “I try to approach the assigned lesson in terms of helping the mother see her child as an eternal being. Even though the child can’t talk, doesn’t have bladder control, and scribbles on the walls, his spirit is coequal with hers, perhaps even superior in terms of faithfulness. Really feeling the truthfulness of that gospel principle is kind of awe-inspiring.
“The second principle is to give some practical help. For instance, a lesson on quarreling lists some of the reasons children might quarrel and helps parents eliminate causes of quarreling.
“We’re starting to write on some very important topics for the 1979–80 manual, dealing with the roles assigned by the Lord to men and women, moral cleanliness in children, and teaching integrity in a troubled world.
“Children have needs of the spirit. If parents and teachers can fulfill those needs, the children are happy. If those needs are not being met, they’re restless—physically as well as spiritually.”
And of course, one of the most consistent resources to parents is the Ensign itself, appearing monthly in family mailboxes with at least two articles per issue that teach parenting principles, share solutions to problems that other families have discovered, and testify to the importance of parents’ eternal callings.
The agency responsible for reviewing all Church materials produced for children is the Child Correlation Review Committee. Its secretary, Lynn Stoddard, outlines their stewardship as “reviewing the material for accuracy in doctrine and Church procedures, and in light of our current understanding about the temporal and spiritual needs of children.”
He sees children’s needs—and the goals of religious education—as “three Is.”
Identity. “The most important knowledge for any of us to acquire is a knowledge of who we are as God’s children and how we can grow to reach our full potential.” “Children need to know that all people have attributes, such as free agency, which come from their Heavenly Father and make development toward Godhood possible. They also need to appreciate their identity as unique individuals with talents and gifts to be discovered and developed. The two halves of identity—human and individual—are what make us great. Children need to know how to work on both halves.”
Inquiry. “It is part of the eternal plan that each one of us must choose to grow toward Godhood. It is through personal inquiry that we acquire knowledge. We really have to generate in children the desire to use their own initiative in learning and living the gospel. One of our challenges is to get children to fervently seek—to ask questions about the gospel and study to find personal meaning.”
Interaction. “It is through interaction with other human beings that we give highest expression to the gospel. We must find better ways to help children learn how to feel and express love to all people.”
“If there’s a basic principle of the gospel, we feel there ought to be a song about it for children,” says Michael Moody, director of the Music Division. “That’s one reason why a supplement to Sing With Me, called More Songs for Children, is being prepared. This supplement will include a musical setting of the Articles of Faith, as well as songs on the first principles of the gospel and songs giving the names of books in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon.”
Another supplement, Activity Songs and Verses, containing rest songs, is already available. The Music Division works closely to coordinate needs for children’s music in the Junior Sunday School, Primary, and Relief Society nursery program.
The Music Division was also responsible for selecting ten children’s songs to be translated into languages of emerging areas. How do you pick just ten out of the wealth available? An effort was made to emphasize lesson topics; among the final choices were “I Am a Child of God,” “I Know My Father Lives,” and “Teach Me to Walk in the Light.”
The Music Division not only provides songs and music for children—it has also prepared helps to train those called to work with children’s music including the new Guide for Children’s Music. This is a self-instruction workbook. The format uses questions such as, “How do you get children to respond? How do you use music with children who are mentally handicapped? What do you need to know about a song before you can teach it?” and then provides answers.
Brother Moody feels pleased with the contribution that is being made to provide appropriate music for both Church and home, but points out an area of future challenge. “We need to teach our children to learn songs of the gospel, and even more, the hymns, so they will grow up knowing them, singing them, and loving them.”
Lucile C. Reading, managing editor of the Friend since its inception in 1971, remembers her initial reluctance to assume such a mammoth project. President Harold B. Lee pointed out something that increased the weight of the responsibility and also made her duty clearer: as a member of the Primary General Board, her impact on children would pass through manuals, committees, boards, presidencies, and teachers before it reached the child. But the magazine would contact the child directly—sometimes children who might never attend Primary. “That may be one reason why I’m so glad to work hard at it,” she says. “He gave me a vision of what the magazine can do.”
Also serving as president of the Davis County Board of Education, she is keenly aware of some of the challenges facing all children today. “Some are under terrific pressures from status-hungry parents to achieve scholastically, socially, even financially,” she said. “The temptations of drugs and alcohol have reached the elementary schools. There are girls pregnant who have not yet reached their teens. Many children suffer agonies of insecurity because of their parents’ divorces. Children, more than ever, need assurance and security, understanding and caring.”
She neither overestimates nor underestimates the impact of the magazine on some of these major problems. “One of the most useful things we can do is to have our stories reflect real life more accurately. There are seldom tidy resolutions in life, and we need to give children courage and encouragement as they meet the unresolved situations in their own lives. The gospel is the anchor. Our challenge is to present it realistically enough that it will meet the needs of those in conflict with it while reinforcing the values of stable homes.
“I think we underrate children. For the most part, they have a greater capacity for understanding than most adults give them credit for. We should stop ‘writing down’ to them.”
Another need of children that has been apparent in all countries in all times is their great delight in fantasy and their ability to learn moral lessons from it without confusing it with real life. “It’s when we present unrealistic solutions in the framework of real life that we create false expectations that later lead to disillusionment.”
So who helps the parents? All those involved in these great stewardships recognize that the future of the Church is its children—and the Church is not inclined to let parents fight the battle for their children alone.