I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

We are concerned with ways to enhance the learning experience our children receive in public schools. Can you help us?

Jeanene Rowe Flake, reading specialist, mother of three, and Relief Society President of the Alma Third Ward, Mesa Arizona West Stake. Education has always been of prime importance to the Saints, who take seriously the Lord’s statement: “The glory of God is intelligence.” (D&C 93:36.) The Church emphasizes that parents not leave the religious training of their children completely to the various Church organizations but provide spiritual training in the home. We parents are in fact primarily responsible for the spiritual upbringing of our children. And related to this, more directly than we might think, is the academic education of our children.

The scriptures make it clear that secular learning impinges on the spiritual, and that to live a balanced, joyful life spent in service to God and man, education on a wide spectrum is very desirable. Consider the Lord’s counsel:

“Study and learn,” the Lord tells us, “and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15.)

“It is my will,” he says in another place, “that you should hasten to … obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion.” (D&C 93:53.)

Indeed, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

“And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (D&C 130:18–19.)

How can we better help our children prepare for time and eternity than to educate them in the ways of God and the best of man?

In most areas in the United States the academic school year consists of 180 days, less than one-half the days in the calendar year. Consequently, parents have the opportunity to work with their children individually, one-on-one, uninterrupted for longer periods of time than can most teachers in the traditional classroom setting.

Furthermore, parents can provide the special kind of love and security that so often a child does not gain in public school, though he or she might have a very thoughtful teacher. Parents are in a position to know each one of their children better than anyone else—his needs, his wants, the way he learns best, the rewards he will work for, his natural interests, his readiness, and his enthusiasm.

By no means am I advocating doing away with formal education; I am simply suggesting we join hands with professional educators to make the most influential team possible. School can provide the “teaching” situation and the home the “learning” situation, at least in a general way, as parents reinforce what public schools are teaching, making sure each child knows and understands the principles taught in school.

In the 1960s Dr. Dolores Durkin studied children of New York City, and Oakland, California, who had learned to read before they entered school. She observed them through five grades, testing their achievement in each grade. Test results showed they stayed ahead of other children for all five grades in their reading ability. Through additional extensive research, Dr. Durkin found these children to be no different from other children in their intelligence or personality. The only difference she could find was a difference in their parents, specifically their mothers. These early readers had mothers who had provided a more stimulating home environment for their children. They read to them and stimulated their curiosity about words—in short, took an active part in educating their children. Fathers can of course do the same thing, and many already are doing so.

Our overall goal in teaching our children to learn should be to help them discover the joy of learning. Here are some suggestions.

Work with teachers

Discover what your children are learning in school and in church. Then determine what each child should or could be learning at his particular age. Check to see whether he fully understands the concepts he is being taught. This might involve sitting down with the child for fifteen minutes at night with a game, a discussion, or another approach in order to reinforce the concepts he learned that day. If a visit to a particular place would benefit the child, turn it into a special “family field trip.” A lot of fun learning can take place in a very casual way, even while traveling in the car.

Take advantage of parent-teacher conferences. Some schools offer programs in which parents are asked to come in and help the teacher. Find out what your child excels in and what his problems are. Ask what you can do to help your child, and don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions in order to give your child an extra challenge in a specific area.

Provide books and instructional devices

Give all your children books. Start teaching your babies with books—they love to look at pictures; these stimulate their language development as well as other mental processes. Point out objects and have them do the same. Teach each child that books are a source of information as well as pleasure.

Provide your child with a blackboard, puzzles, crayons and paper, music, other kinds of sounds, and new words, as well as educational toys. Find out what types of learning skills your child needs to develop at a specific age, then buy or create toys that will help him develop these skills. Teacher supply stores and stores that specialize in educational items are excellent sources. Also, even though electronic learning aids may cost a little more in the beginning, the benefits a child can gain through their use will more than make up the money spent.

Provide a pleasant, exciting atmosphere

The home should offer a pleasant environment conducive to learning. High achievement in learning is possible when the atmosphere is relaxed and natural. Make learning fun, a time the child looks forward to—a time he just can’t wait for! If appropriate, present the learning situation in the form of a game or a special activity.

Focus on the child’s thinking and problem-solving ability

Teach your child to “think” by asking him questions—and by teaching him to ask questions as well. Take the time to answer all of his questions, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Help him reason through a problem in steps. Instead of doing his thinking for him, ask him questions to give guidance through the problem-solving process. The goal is to teach him to think, not merely to verbalize an answer found on page 32, for example.

Help your children “apply” and make “meaningful for him” the information he studies in school. You can actually teach this type of skill when you read bedtime stories to your child and have him draw his own conclusions. For example, ask him questions as you read: “What do you think is going to happen?” “Why does little Johnnie feel sad?” “Do you think that was a good thing for the boys (or girls) to do?” “What would you have done?” The type of question that does not require true or false answers will help the child begin to draw his own conclusions and think for himself.

Learning is an eternal process. It does not require fancy or expensive materials or gimmicks, and it need take only a few minutes each day. Yet with it we can prevent serious difficulties in school as well as help our children be happier and much more competent in all phases of life. Don’t underestimate the influence you can have.