Latter-day Saint parents recognize the tremendous importance of scripture study in the family. Not only does learning the gospel together stimulate feelings of family harmony and appreciation, but it establishes a foundation of truth upon which children can build throughout their lives.
Unfortunately, most children do not generate the same enthusiasm for studying the scriptures as they do for watching a first-rate movie. But that can be changed. With some commitment and creative preparation, parents can excite the entire family about scripture study and help each make gospel study a habit.
Part of that preparation involves studying the scriptures ourselves. The best teacher has always been example, and parents who study the gospel regularly have the power of example to strengthen their words of counsel. Of course, finding time for regular gospel study can be a challenge. It may require a change in choice of activities, such as how much television we watch or how many outside activities we can comfortably handle. It might even mean an overhaul of family schedules, including arising earlier.
Whatever we must do to fit gospel study into our lives, the rewards will be well worth the effort. The light we allow into our own lives will reflect upon the lives of our children.
Commitment. Once we commit to anything, our desire to succeed makes the task easier, whether it is losing five pounds, finishing up a college degree, or having regular gospel study. As a family, discuss ways to study the scriptures. Then, once the family has agreed upon a plan, get a commitment from each member to follow the plan. Until that commitment is obtained, your efforts will be only partially successful.
Consistency. Just about any activity done on a regular basis is more effective than those done randomly. You would probably ask for a parent-teacher conference if your child’s teacher taught the class math for two days and then didn’t teach any math for two months. So it is with studying the scriptures—the predictability of a set schedule encourages learning and frees us to learn with a minimum of interruptions. Family members need to determine the best time for study, then stick to it.
Individuality. Elder Howard W. Hunter said, “Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all.” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 64; italics added.) As no two families respond identically to the same situation, no one method of gospel study will be equally suited to all. Through thoughtful, earnest prayer, and by counseling together, each family can determine its best way to study the gospel.
One family, whose children ranged from elementary-school age through post-high-school age, tried studying during and after dinner, before bedtime, and on weekends—all without measurable success. They finally found their answer by having a family breakfast an hour before anyone leaves for work or school. This allows them to have a nutritious meal together and to study gospel principles each day. “We are a happier family now,” says the grateful wife and mother. “We have more time to talk together in a meaningful way, and our family gospel study has helped each of us understand and live the gospel better.”
Variety. Keeping the interest and attention of family members is essential. When young children are learning a concept, they best remember what they do (such as draw a picture, tell a story), followed by what they see (pictures, filmstrips), and then what they hear (reading, tape recordings). A lesson on the Nativity, therefore, might best be remembered by young children if each child role-played a part, supplemented by a reading from the scriptures.
Modern technology and inspiration of Church leaders have made the gospel message available in a variety of forms. In addition to the scriptures, there are videotapes; audio tapes—some with accompanying books; filmstrips; magazines; books; and lesson manuals. There has never been a time when so many resources have been at hand.
Read it aloud. The tradition of reading aloud as a family diminished with the advent of radio, then almost disappeared after television was invented. Today, too few families participate in a tradition that for centuries bonded hearts and fostered learning. Arthur Henry King, a retired professor of English at Brigham Young University and currently president of the London Temple, stresses that children can learn to love the scriptures by listening to their parents read them: “The most important thing we can read to our children is the scriptures. … The voices we hear as little children remain with us, so parents must read the scriptures to their children as early as possible. The child who hears the scriptures in the loved voices of his father and mother will come, through that love, to understand the scriptures and appreciate them in the best way. … Through the voice of their parents, children can … become familiar with the voice of the Lord.” (The Abundance of the Heart, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986, pp. 221–22.)
We may choose to read topically or consecutively through the scriptures. Or, while children are still young, we may read and reread the same favorites, thus giving that “loved voice” to the language of the scriptures. The more this kind of sharing can occur, the more familiar the language of the scriptures becomes to our children, and the more approachable the scriptures will be.
Memorize it. Besides reading aloud, another traditional method of study is to memorize selected passages of scripture. Young children can memorize simple verses, and they will feel a great sense of satisfaction from their accomplishments.
Look it up. The appendix in the new edition of the LDS scriptures provides an excellent tool for gospel study. When reading aloud as a family, you can find definitions of important words in the Bible dictionary, identify scriptures containing the same words in the topical guide, and locate geographical areas on the maps. As children become familiar with these helps, their understanding of the scriptures increases, and they make them a meaningful part of their lives.
Tape record it. Parents can record gospel-related stories for children to listen to. This approach is especially helpful for busy parents and those who must be gone from home for extended periods of time.
Discuss it. Educators are concerned that today’s students cannot express themselves well verbally. Family discussions are excellent ways to strengthen this skill, as well as broaden gospel understanding. Families can discuss:
—The content of lessons taught in classes at church or seminary.
—Talks given in sacrament meetings or conferences.
—Articles in Church magazines.
—Poetry, stories, or books that have wholesome themes.
—Current events relating to the gospel.
—Current movies and television shows whose themes promote the gospel.
Share it. Give family members, according to their ages and abilities, a chance to share with the family what they learn about the gospel. Following are some ideas for making this approach a successful part of family gospel study:
—Ask your children to help teach a family home evening lesson.
—Ask a family member to prepare a short talk on a gospel subject.
—Let a member of the family choose a favorite story from scripture or Church history and tell it in his own words to the rest of the family.
—If family members have Church teaching responsibilities, encourage them to practice giving their lessons or talks to the family.
Plan a family-study activity. Following are some suggestions for family activities:
—Have members of the family write their own stories or poems about gospel subjects and compile them into a family book.
—Play question and word games using people, events, and principles from the standard works.
—Begin a family art gallery of pictures and clay models of scriptural stories, historical events, or gospel principles in action.
—Prepare a family program of songs, scriptures, and stories to share with the elderly or nonmembers.
—Make a family “filmstrip” of a scripture story using a camera with slide film and a tape recorder.
The natural setting for gospel study is family home evening. Once children have seen how enjoyable gospel study can be, they will want to expand their study to other times.
In teaching children, the key word is enjoyable. One father, George Durrant, explains how family members’ needs for love and patience overshadowed their need for a factual lesson:
“Some years ago I felt a bit ornery one Monday evening. As we began our home evening the children were poking at each other and acting wild. I became upset and announced in a loud voice, ‘Sit up straight and knock off the fooling around or else there is going to be some big trouble around here.’ The children could see by the red in my face that I was serious. They became quiet. I continued by saying, ‘I don’t know why you can’t sit still for a few minutes and listen. Now, I don’t want to hear anything out of any of you until I finish this lesson. And when I finish I’m going to ask some questions. You’d better know the answers.’
“Finally I finished the lecture and began to ask the questions. They knew every answer. I had taught the ideas very well. I then asked, ‘Do you children have any questions?’
“My oldest son said in a subdued tone, ‘I do.’ He then asked, ‘Next week could Mom teach the lesson?’
“His words and my feelings told me that in trying to do right, I had done wrong. I had taught ideas, but I hadn’t taught my family.” (George D. Durrant, Love at Home—Starring Father, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1976, p. 44.)
Unlike physics, mathematics, and other academic subjects, study of the gospel cannot be effective if only facts are involved. We must teach with our hearts. Our spirits must be in tune with our intellect if our children are to benefit from our efforts to teach them the value of gospel study.