Each of us, no matter our age, face challenges to our testimonies of the gospel. Children and youth can be especially vulnerable to attacks on testimony since they are young in gospel learning and understanding. Handing out testimonies to the young ones we love isn’t an option, but we can give them the tools they need so the teachings of the gospel will always be written on their hearts.
Here are five ways to set children up for a lifetime of spiritual learning and growth.
1. Help them learn to interpret scripture into their own words.
Having youth and children translate scripture into their own words can increase spiritual capacity and grit to understand stories, principles, and doctrines. In his book, Seekers Wanted, Anthony Sweat says, “as you read the written word of God mindfully and listen reverently to the Spirit, the next step is to write down what you are understanding in your own words. This is perhaps the single greatest exercise I could encourage for seekers to deepen scripture study.”
This is doable in part for its simplicity: you just need scriptures, a pen, and a place to write. Practicing this as a family can help youth and children learn how to translate in their own personal study. This helps them think through what the scriptures mean to them and is a start to a gospel study technique they can use long term.
Here are some translation instructions to get you started:
- • Read, read, and read again. Read the passage fast. Read it backwards. Ask questions while you’re reading, such as: What is the background story? Who is speaking? What happened prior to this passage? What happens after? What other gospel stories are they referencing?
- • Meditate on the passage. What is really being said? Why do you think they said it this way? Have you received similar truths to this in your family?
- • Translate the passage and write it down. What is your family version of this scripture? What does this truth look like in your life today? What does God want you to take away from this verse? How does God communicate this verse to you? Use your own words. Scribble them in a notebook, write them on butcher paper, put them on your fridge.
- • Act on the translation. Does something need to change as a result of your personal translation? Commit and make plans to make that change.
Translating scripture can help us all learn how we can better follow God, feel the spirit in our lives, make changes, and have a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It’s one thing you can try today for a lifetime of spiritual growth.
2. Learn how to ask questions.
It may seem like a basic principle, but sometimes, asking questions causes a lot of stress. Some people would rather keep quiet than risk seeming like they don’t know the answer. Asking questions is something we need to do, or learn how to do, because questions help us increase our gospel understanding. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.” Children and youth need to know that asking questions is an essential practice, not just in school or in Sunday school, but also on their own. If they feel safe to ask questions when they are young, they will continue to ask questions and seek for the truth when something arises that challenges their testimony.
Just like everything else we learn, asking questions takes practice.
Try using these four different types of questions in family study to help establish a pattern for children and youth to follow in their personal study:
- •Ask informational questions: These questions help clarify context and content. They can include questions about what certain words mean, geography, etc.
- Example: “What is the definition of the word 'harrow'?”
- •Ask understanding questions: These questions help deepen understanding and help identify truths. They can focus our learning on the Savior and His attributes.
- Example: "What can the use of the word 'harrow' teach me about what I must feel to truly repent and become more like Christ?"
- •Ask application questions: These questions help us apply what we learn in our scripture study to our lives. They should inspire action.
- Example: “What could I do to allow my heart to be harrowed up so truth might sink in deeper and help me change?”
- •Ask feeling questions: These questions invite us to think about past experiences and provide opportunities to testify of principles.
- Example: “When have I felt forgiveness? What did it teach me about God?”
Remind children and youth that it’s okay not to know the answers. We are invited in the scriptures to ask questions: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). The point is to continue asking. Make asking questions a natural part of family gospel study and you’ll set children up for a lifetime of spiritual growth because they’ll continue to ask questions and look for answers, even if it seems difficult.
3. Give assignments.
Giving assignments to children, and to ourselves, for gospel study helps us be accountable for our gospel learning. We learn by doing and fulfilling an assignment is actively doing something. It is also keeping a commitment. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “When you teach [people] to keep their commitments, you are teaching them to become covenant-keepers” (“Making and Keeping Covenants,” missionary satellite broadcast, April 25, 1997). Keeping a commitment helps us be personally responsible and can increase our learning capacity. When youth and children complete gospel study assignments, they not only learn on their own, they establish gospel study habits that can benefit their entire lives.
In order for assignments to be effective, they need to be age-appropriate and not feel overwhelming. Trust that you know the children you teach the best.
Here are some ideas:
- • If your child is very young, the assignment could be something as simple as handing out scriptures and pens. A young child could help you give out assignment cards to other members of the family, or the child could remind everyone about their assignments.
- • Emerging readers could be tasked with finding and highlighting certain words in a passage of scripture and to report that number of times they found it. If they are ready for more, have them report on what that word means to them after having read their assigned verses.
- • Confident early readers could be asked to read and retell a passage of scripture in their own words.
- • Strong readers could be asked to read a chapter and share their favorite scripture and why it stood out to them. Or they could be asked to answer a specific question about the reading.
- • As the adult/parent, give yourself your own assignment to show that you are also being accountable for your learning.
- • You could take turns giving out assignments so that everyone has a chance to be a leader and to take on some responsibility, which leads to personal growth and confidence.
The very best teaching sessions are balanced with some instruction and ample time to work through a principle either as a group or individually. The purpose of assignments is to reinforce learning, to give practice and to demonstrate learning skills. Above all, follow the spirit so that assignments feel simple, doable and productive for family study time. When done with love, giving assignments for family gospel study can lead to long-term spiritual growth in children.
4. Learn to retell scriptures stories and passages.
We often retell stories about books we read, shows or movies, even about our everyday lives. When we retell stories, it helps engage our thinking, visualization, and imaginative skills. These then help us remember and retain the information in the story, however important or frivolous. It makes sense to use retelling with our scripture study as well so that we can ingrain the stories into our hearts and minds.
Think about the Nativity story. It is something we retell through actions, in words, in writing. It is a story we all know well and remember because we have read it and retold it so many times. Other scripture stories can be as memorable for us and our youth and children if we give them the same kind of attention.
Try these steps to retell scripture stories together:
- • Let your child/youth know that you’d like to hear the story in their own words after you read. This helps them pay attention to the reading in a different way.
- • Read a passage of scripture together aloud. Do this in the best way that suits your situation. You might read the entire passage, or take turns reading.
- • After you’ve read, ask your child if they understood the passage. Sometimes scripture language is difficult to comprehend so you might need to summarize the story, or some of the verses, to help clarify what is going on.
- • Have your child retell the story. They can retell out loud, draw, write, or try a combination of drawing and writing.
- • Praise your child for their efforts and retell the story your child has told you back to them. Unless there is a glaring misunderstanding of doctrine, it isn’t important to correct or add to what they’ve done. They have expressed what has stood out to them and how they have connected with the scriptures. The next time they hear the story, their learning will increase.
- • You might sum up the retelling activity by pointing out how the scripture story relates to life today.
- • President Howard W. Hunter said, “often youth and little ones have amazing insight into and appreciation for the basic literature of the scriptures.” Help children ingrain the scriptures in their hearts by helping them retell the stories they hear, then take the time to humbly listen.
5. Liken the scriptures to life.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “the rich Restoration gives us added ways to understand the dealings of God with His children, including with each of us personally. We can partake of His love by applying Jesus’ glorious Atonement in order to become more like Him. By likening precious scriptures to ourselves we will hasten that precious process!” When we liken the scriptures to our lives, we not only see how the words written long ago apply to us today, we learn that God knows each of us individually. If children and youth are able to understand this now, they’ll rely on the Lord to lead them through words in the scriptures later in life as well.
Likening scriptures to life could look something like this:
- • Read a passage of scripture together, or do a combination of storytelling and reading as found in this article.
- • Identify the common threads that relate to life today that happened in the scripture story. It might be a familiar emotion or it could be a friendship dynamic. There might be a physical difficulty or triumph. It could be a current event topic.
- • Use these relatable circumstances or feelings to link the story to modern life.
- • Ask questions to help children think through how they have gone through or witnessed something similar.
- • You could also share how you have experienced the same feeling or situation.
When we liken the scriptures to our lives we see what’s possible through the examples of the prophets and others. The understanding of God’s hand in the lives of others can help us have hope and faith in what He can do for us and with us.
Memorizing a verse is another way to internalize and apply the scriptures to daily life. Give out a family assignment to memorize a scripture verse together. Talk about what the verse means and why it is important to know by heart. Memorized passages can come to mind when we need them and testify that the scriptures bless us today.
These five ideas are additional tools for gospel study. Pick them up, try them out, see what works for you. Every individual is different. Give children and youth a variety of tools to build testimony now so their testimonies will stand firm throughout their lives.
Lead image: Shutterstock
- • On questions: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-teaching-and-learning-a-handbook-for-teachers-and-leaders-in-seminaries-and-institutes-of-religion/teaching-methods-skills-and-approaches?lang=eng
- • On assignments: https://www.aoneessays.net/importance-of-assignments-at-the-school-and-college-level
- • On retelling: https://spedellreadingstrategies.weebly.com/retelling.html and https://www.missdecarbo.com/3-ideas-to-increase-retelling-skills-in/