Church Helps for Teaching the Gospel in the Home

It was nine o’clock at night and I was in a hurry to get home. I knew that my husband had left the house at eight-thirty to do his home teaching, and our eight-year-old, Breana, was tending. She could handle the little ones, but for the last half-hour the valley had been jostled and jolted by a fierce thunder-and-lightning storm. She would be frightened.

I parked the car and ran through the rain to the house. Expecting fear, I was surprised by a strong feeling of the Spirit that permeated our home. At the sound of the door closing, three bright-eyed faces greeted me.

“Oh, mom,” Anissa whispered excitedly, “did you know that Jacob worked seven years to get a wife and then this guy tricked him?”

Instead of fear, the three little girls radiated peace and contentment.

“Yes, I knew,” I answered in amazement. “But didn’t you hear that storm?”

“Yes,” Breana said. “We got scared, so we decided that if we listened to the—”

“Did you know,” four-year-old Mariah interrupted, “that Joseph had a colorful coat that was very, VERY beautiful?”

“Yeah,” Anissa energetically added. “But his brothers got blood all over it.”

“Isn’t that gross?” Mariah wrinkled up her sunburned nose.

I laughed as I gathered all three into my arms, relieved that the storm hadn’t frightened them, and thankful—again!—for the many helps the church has provided to help families teach the gospel in the home.

The night of the storm, the girls were listening to the tapes and following the pictures of Old Testament Stories (PBIC0336; tapes VVOT0992). The Church has also produced tapes and books called New Testament Stories (PBIC0347; tapes VVOT1044) and Book of Mormon Stories (PBIC0325; tapes PCBL0078). A book of Church history stories, using the same format, is also planned.

These books are written at approximately a second-grade reading level and have a filmstrip format. There are many pictures and only a few lines of narration with each illustration. A bell sound on the tape directs the child to move from picture to picture and to turn the page, so even very young children can listen and follow along on their own.

The teaching value of these books is obvious—but the little side effects are sometimes surprising.

We only had the New Testament tapes a day (they had been playing constantly) when six-year-old Anissa came running to find me, her blue eyes twinkling with delight. “Guess what?” she asked excitedly. Not waiting for a reply, she continued: “I can spell Jesus. I found it on this page and learned how all by myself.” Then, with a glowing sense of self-confidence, she spelled out his name.

In the back of each book are several helps for parent and child. One section, called “Words to Know,” lists alphabetically terms that may need defining. The definitions are written simply, and many have illustrations which help explain the word.

One mother described a new game her family has invented. They turn to the “Words to Know” section and she points to a picture. “What does this remind you of?” she asks. The child then tells a scripture story connected with the picture. “It’s a wonderful way to review and reinforce.” There are also maps and “People to Know” and “Places to Know” sections that can help clarify the stories.

Many persons have answered the invitation in the back of each book to write their feelings about the books and tapes. One mother wrote of finding a way to have daily scripture study, even with her toddlers. A mother from Florida reported that a bedtime scripture story a day had grown upon demand to two, then four a night, until soon the Book of Mormon Stories was finished. Her son’s response was, “Mom, can we please read it again?”

From New Zealand came the remark, “Our friends have all commented on how much easier they have found the Book of Mormon to understand since reading this book with their children.”

Another excellent teaching help we have enjoyed in our home is the Children’s Scripture Story Book (PBIC0358; VVOT1135). This book has a reading level of about fifth or sixth grade, with more words than pictures. It is an excellent stepping-stone from the beginning scripture books to the actual scriptures, and the older children enjoy it more. This book contains fifty-four stories taken from all the standard works except the Doctrine and Covenants. Its stories are more detailed, often contain direct quotes from the scriptures, and are written in such a way that many valuable lessons can be taught and reinforced in each story.

As an example, in the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, the obvious message is the miracle. But from this story we were also able to point out to our daughters that Jesus had emotions, suffered afflictions, experienced pain and hunger, and was often tired; but still he thought of other people’s needs before his own. Recalling the same story, we talked about the importance of saying a blessing on the food.

Teaching moments can be found in every story.

On another occasion we read the story of the crucifixion. I was unaware of how deeply it had touched the children until that evening. As Anissa said her prayers she said with much feeling, “Please bless Jesus that the people won’t hurt him anymore.” No amount of sermonizing could have made her feel so deeply, but the Spirit had touched her heart.

We have read as a family the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, but our children are so very young that they have learned much more from the scripture stories. As we continue reading the scriptures, however, we are finding that being familiar with the stories is helping the girls to more fully appreciate and understand the scriptures themselves. The scriptural references are found at the end of each story, and it is often fun to read the story and then turn to the scriptural account and read it.

Another manual, Gospel Principles (PBIC0245), has enriched our home evenings, provided information for talks, and been a great help in explaining doctrine to our daughters. It is written in a simple style so that our eight-eleven- and twelve-year-old can study it on their own.

Every basic principle of the gospel is covered in forty-seven chapters of the book. Each chapter contains many scripture references and questions that can be used in discussion. The book also contains many pictures, a section of hymns, and a glossary to help young people or new converts learn Mormon terminology. Being able to research and understand for themselves when preparing talks has given our older daughters self- confidence.

Another great tool for teaching the gospel in our home has been the Friend. A few years ago I was disappointed because the girls weren’t reading the Friend. As I analyzed the problem, I could see that we were approaching the magazine as if it were a book.

The next time the Friend came, we sat down together and I explained that they didn’t need to read a magazine cover-to-cover like a novel. I pointed out that the magazine had some stories for three-year-olds and some for eleven-year-olds, and that the little girls could skip over the “big” stories and the older girls could skip over the “little” stories if they preferred. And they didn’t have to read every word—only what they wanted to read. They seemed relieved to know that.

Next we thumbed through the book and enjoyed the pictures, the colors, the feel, and even the fresh smell of the pages. After our browsing time, they picked out two stories and I read them. Then they took the magazine to play the games and do the puzzles. Several more times during the next weeks we read a story or two. After that they eagerly awaited and then devoured the magazine each month themselves. We also established a “Friend Spot”, a place where the Friend is always put so the children know where to find it when they want it.

The quality of the stories and illustrations mark the Friend as an excellent children’s magazine. One woman wrote, “At last we’ve found a children’s magazine that is modern, joyful, family-oriented, economical, and Christian. I’m a Catholic, but the Friend is just fine for my home.”

With both the scripture story books and the stories in the Friend, our eleven- and twelve-year-old daughters also enjoy making up flannel board stories. They tell these stories to their younger sisters and take them babysitting to entertain the children they tend.

To get the most use out of the Friend, the Gospel Principles manual, or the scripture story books, I have found it important that I become familiar with each one. When a child asks, “What can I do now?” if I answer, “Read the Friend,” she usually doesn’t. But if I say, “There’s a great story in the Friend about a dog who helps a boy. Why don’t you read it?” she usually does. The same is true of the scripture stories. We generally find it difficult to lead our children to discover something we haven’t first discovered ourselves.

I will forever be grateful to the Friend, the four scripture story books and tapes, and the Gospel Principles manual for the spirituality they have fostered in our home, and for the way they have made gospel study a reality—even for our youngest children. As a mother of seven, I don’t always have as much time as I would like to read to the children. With these materials, the time I do have is much more productive. More important, however, are the ways the materials can be used when I am unavailable. And they not only help me teach, but they create a mood in our home that is conducive to righteous living.

Old Testament Stories, New Testament Stories, Book of Mormon Stories, Children’s Scripture Story Book, and Gospel Principles are available at Church distribution centers. The Friend can be ordered by writing to Magazine Subscriptions, Floor 24, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

Sherrie Johnson, mother of eight, serves on the Church Instructional Development Committee and lives in Bountiful, Utah.