A basic teaching of the gospel is that if we pray and read our scriptures, our lives will be blessed in so many ways. Our faith in Jesus Christ and testimony of His gospel will grow. We will receive answers to prayers and important questions we may have. We will experience more peace and happiness in our lives.
Knowing the importance of these activities, our family has made it a priority to have family prayer and scripture study together. We have also helped our children to say their own prayers since they were very young. But when it came to personal scripture study, felt like our children would need to be a bit older before they would have an interest in the scriptures for themselves.
This thought process all changed one Sunday afternoon as our family was walking out of church together. That day my son, who was almost six at the time, told me he felt he needed to start reading from the scriptures on his own because he would “learn more that way.” He’s always been a very spiritually mature boy, but I was still surprised that he had this desire at such a young age when he had only been reading for a short time.
But I was so excited to hear him say this that as soon as we were home, we opened the Book of Mormon and started to read it together. However, he was quickly confused by the big words, phrases, and deep concepts and started to change his mind about wanting to read. It seemed to be just… too… hard.
But I didn’t want him to lose his desire to read, so I began putting great effort into helping my children understand and love the scriptures for themselves as young readers. I soon discovered that children are often ready to study the scriptures at a much younger age than we might think and perhaps all they need is to be introduced to the idea.
Although our family members are still not perfect at daily personal scripture study, we have gotten much more consistent and discovered a few helpful things along the way. Many of them are now compiled in The Book of Mormon for Young Readers, but here are just a few that may help your family get started.
1. STUDY FROM THE SCRIPTURES YOURSELF
There’s nothing like teaching our children through example. I’ve found the best way for me to be excited about personal scripture study for my children is to experience those blessings each day for myself. This also allows me to share insights throughout the week from what I read and the ways a particular verse helped me, which helps them see the relevance of scriptures to life. And it’s wonderful to honestly tell my children that when I miss a day of the scriptures, I can really feel a difference, helping to instill in them a desire to be consistent.
2. SIMPLIFY AND USE DIFFERENT STUDY TOOLS
Once children are reading, they’re the perfect age to be introduced to personal scripture study. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that even if a child can read the words in the scriptures, they may not understand what they mean, which can obviously lessen their interest in reading at all. Our middle son made this very apparent when, after reading a few verses in the Book of Mormon, he declared, “Mom, I can tell you right now I have no idea what this is talking about!”
We’ve found that being there with our younger readers as they begin personal study makes it easier to answer the questions they may have. We in turn can ask them questions to gauge how they’re doing with comprehension and if they need a few more helps. For example, nothing brings a story to life like pictures! The Church has some wonderful images available for many scripture stories at lds.org in their media section, and these are a great way to introduce you child to a story they’re about to read.
Some children might also benefit from following a simplified reading schedule with verses that are ideal for children beginning to study the scriptures. For instance, the January 2012 Friend magazine has a great list of suggested Book of Mormon verses to read, which can make it easier for children to get a strong understanding of simple scripture truths.
3. READ AS A FAMILY AND MAKE IT FUN.
Having family scripture study has also helped our children with personal study because it gives them an opportunity to clarify things that are confusing as we all study together. Other fun things that have helped our children engage with the scriptures include having them “liken the scriptures” to themselves by putting their own name in a verse where they see the name of one of their heroes, such as Nephi or Mormon. Memorizing key scripture verses as a family and individually has also helped us see how the scriptures can become a friend, whispering words of instruction in times of need.
Studying scripture is so much more enjoyable and easy to do when we understand what we’re reading and see how it applies to our life today.
4. ESTABLISH A CONSISTENT TIME OF DAY TO STUDY
If important things are to happen in our lives, they have to be planned into our day. This is certainly true with reading scriptures. Setting a time just for personal scripture study has helped each member of our family, and I hope it will build habits for a lifetime. Help each child determine an ideal time that works best for them to spend time in the scriptures, and have them prepared to adjust to a different time for days when the “ideal” just doesn’t happen. I encourage my children to do their personal scripture study in the morning since we enjoy family study at night, and my husband finds that the lunch hour works best for him.
5. SHARE WHAT YOU LEARN
Sharing what we learn in our own study makes personal study more meaningful to our family. Since my boys try to read first thing in the morning, I ask them during breakfast what stood out to them or what they think will help them for the day. They often amaze me with their thoughts. One morning my oldest son asked me if I thought it was worth it for Teancum to kill Ammoron since it lead to his own death. It was so exciting to share that I had pondered that same question only weeks earlier. Another morning my younger son said that Amalickiah was a bully. He then went on to explain how reading about him could help him at school if he encountered any bullies. Talking about our morning reading often provides some great discussions over breakfast!
6. ENCOURAGE THEM TO HAVE A GOAL
We have found it helps if our children know what they’re working towards in their reading each day. Are they trying to read for a certain amount of time (at least five minutes)? Or are they trying to complete the book by a specific date? Perhaps the goal is simply to read until they find something that will help them for the day. Reading for application in life has been a particularly helpful goal for our 8-year-old. Some mornings he reads a few verses and other days he reads a complete story, but he is learning to look for ways the scriptures can help him for the day. Goals may change as a child approaches their reading with a different emphasis, but having a goal gives them something to work towards and can add more meaning and motivation to their study.
7. HELP THEM PREPARE FOR SUCCESSFUL DAILY STUDY
We remind our boys to begin their personal scripture study with a prayer to invite the Spirit to help and teach them as they read. We encourage them to come prepared to learn something, sometimes even with a specific question in mind like, “What would God want me to do?” This seems to come easier as they get older. We’ve also begun encouraging them to write or draw in a journal about the things they learn and impressions they receive, or any questions they have as they study. My 8-year-old said, “Writing in my journal makes me want to read my scriptures!” He loves having things to write about.
In family study, we discuss what we want them to think about in their personal study and remind them that one of the main purposes of reading the scriptures is to help us become better. After reading, we regularly ask them what specific action they are going to take because of what we have read to become more like Jesus Christ.
8. WORK AROUND CHALLENGES
As with anything our children are learning, patience is needed as they strive to make scripture study part of their lives. We’ve found it helps to remember that what works well for one child may not work for another, and each child’s age needs to be considered. Prayer is always a great source for needed inspiration.
On days when one of our sons might feel “too tired” to read, I remind him that reading from the scriptures helps him to have his spiritual armor for the day, which will protect him and help him make good decisions. And for particularly crazy mornings, I have my children look up or quote one of their favorite scriptures and ask them how that can help them for the day. I want them to know it’s better to read something from the scriptures than nothing at all.
When our children are immersed in the scriptures through family and personal study, we’re well on our way to doing what President Eyring teaches is one of our vital roles as parents. He states, “We help God's children best by providing ways to build faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel when they are young" and by doing this, they “will be less likely to need rescue as teenagers” (Henry B. Eyring, “Help Them On Their Way”, Ensign and Liahona, Nov. 2010, 22, 23).
For more information and some awesome ways to use these easy tips, check out Kelli Coughanour’s new children’s Book of Mormon study book The Book of Mormon for Young Readers, available at Deseret Book Stores and desertbook.com.