Right on the very first pages of the Come, Follow Me Primary resource, it reads, “Little children are ready and eager to learn the gospel if it is presented in a way they can understand” (Come, Follow Me—For Primary, New Testament 2019, p. ix).
As a parent, you know this: A child’s brain is engineered to absorb information, adopt and refine their own opinions, and discover their world through a balance of observation and application. So when the environment is favorable, their capacity to learn from scripture and develop their own testimonies will blow you away!
That sounds nice and all, but in practice, I’m sure you’ve wondered—like I have—if that learning brain of theirs has an off-switch that’s somehow connected to the words, “and it came to pass.”
This is where the five senses come in.
Backed by research, Teaching in the Savior’s Way tells us, “Most children (and adults) learn best when multiple senses are involved” (Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 25). It also states, “As you teach, allow children to build, draw, color, write, and create. These are more than fun activities—they are essential to learning” (p. 25).
Children learn about the world around them through their bodies’ senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. So not only will they be happier learning through activities that engage their bodies, they will actually learn more as their capacity to understand, internalize, and apply is amplified through their senses.
Wow! That’s amazing, right?! But it sounds like a lot of work
Actually, it’s not.
You’re Already There.
You may not feel this way, but I’m willing to bet you’re already doing what it takes to nail Come, Follow Me with your toddlers!
How can I be so certain? Here’s what I mean.
You’re already working hard to help your toddler develop their fine and gross-motor skills, navigate their emotions, learn about days of the week or dinosaurs, and you’re already planning simple activities to make your days together a little bit more exciting.
The trick to being wildly successful using Come, Follow Me with toddlers is to find intersections between what you’re already doing to help your child discover the world and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You will find triumph in teaching your toddler from scripture just by connecting your parenting efforts to the gospel. That intersection is where the magic is at. And by magic, I mean the Holy Spirit.
I’ve found that one of the best ways—though, not the only way—to capitalize on those intersections is to focus on your child’s five senses.
Teaching your toddler through their senses is not about a cute craft or a clever activity. (Thankfully, toddlers have incredibly low standards, as far as that’s concerned; they just want to spend time with you!)
It’s not even about going through Come, Follow Me chronologically. (“The [Come, Follow Me] schedule is simply a guide to help you pace yourself [through a book of scripture]. Use this resource in any way that is helpful to you” (Come, Follow Me—for Individuals and Families, vi.). Simple activities can be about making the final connection between what you’re already doing to parent your kiddo, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, as contained in scripture.
It’s about taking advantage of everyday moments to speak Truth to your tiny humans.
If you’re going to finger paint today, connect it to the gospel. If you’re going on a walk today, connect it to the gospel. If you’re washing your car today, connect it to the gospel. Do what will help both of you have a great experience and it’s a huge win—whatever that looks like for you!
Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
Because so many gospel principles deal with things that we can’t directly see (forgiveness, Jesus, resurrection, the Priesthood, etc.), any visual aid will help anchor the principles in your child’s mind, even if you just plant seeds and open a happy dialog at this young age.
• Let your toddler try on your glasses (or sunglasses) and explain that just like glasses help us see better, God calls prophets to help us see right from wrong.
• Vacuum up a mess together and share that when we do something wrong and repent, Jesus will take it from us so that we’re clean and free of the sin and guilt.
• Go on a scavenger hunt around your home and look for things that help us feel close to Jesus. You could also use a compass to explain the Liahona’s role in leading Lehi’s family to Christ.
• Show your little ones some family pictures to help explain that they have both earthly and heavenly parents.
• Help them make a picture chart of things they can pray about, or create a visual list of activities that help your family keep the Sabbath Day holy.
• Make simple paper puppets on a popsicle stick and perform a puppet show of a scripture story.
Children are sensitive to and excited by all types of sounds. Focusing on this sense can extend your toddler’s attention span and spark their interest.
• If you have an Amazon Echo, ask Alexa to “open Come Follow Me Music.” This plays a weekly playlist that’s curated for the topics that the curriculum is covering that week. You could pick a song to memorize each week, play musical chairs, or help your toddler clap, tap their tummy, or shake maracas to the beat.
• When you’re teaching a child from a scripture verse or phrase, prepare them to stay engaged with directions like, “Listen with your ears for words you know,” or, “When you hear me say faith, jump up as high as you can!”
• Use a variety of tones and pitches in storytelling. You could even replace the character’s name with that of your child’s for a bedtime story. There is no sweeter sound to a child than the sound of their own name.
• Make up short songs with catchphrases from the Come, Follow Me lessons. Think Daniel Tiger songs: a simple tune and phrase will stick in your toddler’s head and keep teaching them as you remember and sing it a few times. It doesn’t have to be a clever tune or have a rhyme. Try something simple like, “We always pray to start and end the day.” Or “Prophets reveal the will of God.” (In my home, we often use the manual’s section headings as our catchphrases!)
• If there are Primary songs that teach a specific doctrine you’d like to cover, make up your own hand gestures to make learning the song more interesting for the child.
When a child’s hands are busy, their ears are primed for listening and learning. I love to use this quiet concentration to teach from scripture, testify of truth, and encourage them in their walk with the Lord.
• Go to a petting zoo and explain to your toddler that a shepherd is someone who takes care of sheep, so when Jesus calls Himself our shepherd, it means He takes care of us.
• Glue two pieces of paper together and testify that our covenants bind us to the Lord.
• Teach your child about how the Spirit can comfort us like a soft blanket.
• Gather a group of children to play Capture the Brass Plates, instead of Capture the Flag.
• Make a paper chain to talk about the 10 commandments.
• Build a city wall for Samuel the Lamanite out of blocks or Legos.
• Have your toddler follow a rope through a dark room, like the iron rod.
• Make a papier-mâché globe to teach your child that Jesus created the earth.
Snack and meals are awesome times to teach because little ones are seated, hands and mouths are busy, and food makes us all happy. Children will remember these visual—and tasty—reminders of the gospel when they have the same snacks in the future.
• Make pancakes in the shape of the tree of life, a temple, a cross, etc.
• Pretend a bunch of grapes, raisins, or fruit snacks are the stones that the Lord touched to light the brother of Jared’s boat.
• Make pizza dough together and place the toppings in the shape of a smiley face. Explain that it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, but God’s plan for us is for our happiness.
• Pretend your string cheese or pretzel sticks are the iron rod.
• Use cupcakes to talk about how the Lord pours out blessings on us (like sprinkles) when we pay tithing.
• Make trail mix together and talk about how just like the mix, we’re all different and we all contribute to the Lord’s kingdom in different, important ways.
• Explain that Jesus called us to be fishers of men and snack on goldfish crackers as you list ways you can help gather people to Christ.
These may seem like simple conversation starters, but the Lord Himself uses bread and wine as an everlasting symbol of His life and death.
This is the least obvious sense to incorporate, but smell is the most linked sense to memory.
• Bake cookies or bread together, then go outside for a little while. Help your toddler take note of the scent when you walk back in your door, teaching them how God uses us to “spread…knowledge of Him everywhere,” just like yummy smells, or “aromas,” travel through the whole house. (2 Cor. 2:14)
• Share a good smelling object (cinnamon, fresh laundry, etc.) and a bad smelling object (vinegar, daddy’s shoes, etc.) as another way to explain, “by their fruits, ye shall know them.”
• After a bath, rub lotion on your toddler’s feet and talk to them about how Mary anointed Jesus’s feet, drawing attention to how nice it smells and feels.
• Go to a petting zoo and have your toddler imagine how the boat would have smelled for Noah/Lehi and his family, and remind them that these families still thanked God, even though it must have been really hard.
GO AND DO
You’re already doing so much to help your toddler discover their world! Now let’s go just one step further to connect those things to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Engage one or more of their senses, and you’ve completely nailed Come, Follow Me with your toddler!
Kate Matthews is the founder of Milk and Honey Market, a community by mothers and for mothers, dedicated to the modern homemaker. Kate is the mother to two on Earth and one in Heaven.