Studying the Doctrine and Covenants with Children

By Dianne Dibb Forbis

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    “Mummy” and “Me! Me!” are the words inside two dialogue balloons coming from unseen persons off the edge of the page. There’s a drawing of a fruit tree on the page, as well as the number 56.

    “What in the world was that supposed to mean?” asks nine-year-old Marin.

    I glance at the drawing and wonder also. “Well, look it up,” I suggest.

    And she does. After she finds section 56 in the Doctrine and Covenants, we search the page together, zeroing in on verse seventeen: “Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!”

    Marin continues to turn the pages of her D&C picture book. She had finished making the book when she was seven, so now she giggles at the way she used to draw and frequently stops, holds the book up so I can see the page, and joyfully asks, “Remember this one?”

    I look and smile too. And I remember the good times we had as our family studied the Doctrine and Covenants together.

    We began studying the scriptures with our children when they were quite young. Telling them Bible and Book of Mormon stories led to reading the real thing and becoming involved in associated activities. However, we were at something of a loss as to how to study the Doctrine and Covenants with our children. We felt that this scripture, without the power and drama of a continuing narrative, would require a different approach than the other scriptures. But there it was: the Doctrine and Covenants, another store of pure, delicious spiritual food, and we didn’t want to deny our children the opportunity to taste and to experience its teachings and nourishment.

    My husband and I pondered the problem, tossed around some ideas, and with the help of the Spirit, decided upon an approach that seemed good.

    Our plan

    On a sheet of paper, we printed out the numbers 1 through 136. We then explained to the children that there are these many different parts in the Doctrine and Covenants. The word section, we noted, is used to designate each part. We testified that each section contained special things the Lord wants us to know.

    Each day one of the children circled or crossed out with a colored marker one of the numbers on the number sheet. Whoever was choosing could pick at random any number he desired and we would read the section so designated. Before the reading began, we, as parents, explained in simple terms one or two of the topics which would be covered in the section. More often than not we had to tell the children, “Wait a minute while I read through this summary at the beginning so I can remember what this is about.” In this way the children were reminded that adults, as well as children, do not know all there is to know, and they realized that we were studying and learning together as a family.

    As with past experiences in reading the scriptures as a family, we often found it necessary to read several verses and then to paraphrase what had been read. This repetition helped us understand and remember.

    After the reading of the section we had a drawing activity. The children did the drawing—something that dealt with what we had just read. We sometimes made suggestions as to what they might draw, but we were careful not to decide for them. When we did give general suggestions, we gave several. Our suggestions for section 31 included—

    1. Orson Pratt being baptized.

    2. Joseph talking to Orson Pratt.

    3. Jesus coming to earth again.

    4. The words “I shall come” put into a design.

    For section 76 we suggested drawing—

    1. Joseph and Sidney praying.

    2. Heavenly Father living in a beautiful world.

    3. Star, moon, and sun.

    4. The word Celestial made sparkling and beautiful.

    As they came to trust and enjoy developing their own ideas, the children tended to reject our art suggestions and we were “forced” to create our own picture book for all of our “great adult ideas.”

    Our goal was for each child to have an illustrated Doctrine and Covenants notebook (one page for each section). Putting together a special, personal book was very appealing to the children. Even the simple task of adding new pages to the past compilation of pages was fun for them. They enjoyed watching the numerical gaps fill in. And they enjoyed our hovering over them as they drew. Most often when the children are involved in playtime activities, my husband and I use the time to do what we want. So the children found pleasure in the rare experience of having us pay close attention while they did some fun drawings.

    On days when the sun shone wonderfully and butterflies waited to be chased, fun-hungry children often hastily searched the scriptures before their unsuspecting parent entered the scene. They searched to find a short section. Of course I didn’t catch on for a while; I was so amazed that the children could wish for a short section and then miraculously choose “at random” one of the shortest sections in the book!

    Even two years later, a phrase used during our D&C study persists. The other day, as we settled down to read from the scriptures, Holly came in from her early morning rush and said, “Well, I sure hope it’s a section-116 chapter today.” (That section has only one sentence!)

    As you can see, our family reading of the Doctrine and Covenants was not only educational—but also enjoyable. In fact, we may well use the same random-choice approach the next time through. Only this time, since the children are older, maybe all family members could unite efforts to compile one D&C notebook of related thoughts or notations of parallel Church history happenings.

    Our D&C study plan was great for our family, but it might be entirely wrong for yours. The varied talents, abilities, inclinations, and combinations of each family can be called upon to find an approach that will work. We believe that the Lord will help you find an approach that will work best for your family members. Here are some other ideas we have collected as we have discussed this subject with others:

    Ideas for families with older children

    1. Have each family member choose one or more major gospel principles, ordinances, or topics. Then provide each person with looseleaf notebook paper on which to write the section number and information related to his topic as you come across it in the reading.

    2. Ask family members to listen especially for commandments and blessings as they read. Assign someone to be the scribe to list all of the commandments and all of the blessings found in each section. You might want to place the commandments into categories for quick reference.

    3. Set a family goal to memorize the subject of each section. Have contests periodically to see who can remember the most.

    4. Sing hymns that deal with themes referred to in the reading.

    5. Devise a study program of memorizing selected verses throughout the D&C. Have family members write the verses on note cards and refer to them during the day as they memorize.

    6. Refer to Church history books and briefly discuss the background of the section you are reading.

    7. Consider role playing or dramatizing some of the happenings or the circumstances surrounding the giving of the revelations. This might be more appropriate as a family home evening follow-up activity.

    8. Don’t forget the standard approach, a method which works best for many families. Begin at section one and take turns reading and discussing each section as it comes in the book.

    As I watch my daughter continue to peruse her homemade D&C book, I reflect again that our slow and simple attempts at studying the Doctrine and Covenants as a family have not been in vain. Our family scripture study over the years has been mutually beneficial for both parents and children. As we adults bear testimony of and underline basic truths for our children, they in turn give us fresh insights. And as we have tried to explain the meaning of verses to our children, my husband and I have found hidden treasure beneath words we had often read but never really understood.

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    • Dianne Dibb Forbis, mother of three children, serves as Relief Society spiritual living leader in the Taylorsville Twenty-seventh Ward, Taylorsville Utah West Central Stake.