Helping Children Learn

Mormon Mother reading about Jesus with young children.Children learn from the world they live in. It does not have to be a world rich in material goods, or “stuff,” but if you are willing to give of your time and talents, you will provide your children with a rich world in which to learn.

Mom Helps Doug

Doug was in his third year of school and was behind in reading. The doctors had said his vision was good and he had no learning disabilities. He did resist reading, however, and spent every afternoon hiking in the hills behind his home instead of studying. When his parents sent him to his room to read a chapter in his book before he could come out, he would build a castle out of blocks or draw pictures.

One day, Doug’s mother sat on the bed with him and said, “Let’s read this book together, one word at a time. You read a word; then I’ll read a word.” Doug was sullen at first, and resentfully whispered the words when it was his turn.

He soon became encouraged by his mother’s enthusiasm. She congratulated him often, and his reading improved. He began to enjoy the daily, thirty-minute reading time with his mother. (For his mother, it was a little more complicated. It meant that her eleven-year-old daughter would watch the baby, and her teenager would start preparing dinner. The entire family adjusted. Indeed, the reading time became a regular part of the family routine.)

Gradually, Doug’s reading speed and comprehension improved. Doug and his mother moved from alternating words to alternating sentences, then paragraphs, then pages. By the end of the school year, Doug’s reading skills were above average.

Doug’s mother did not use a magic formula for helping him read and learn; she helped him learn a correct principle. She taught Doug that if he wanted to learn and improve he would have to work consistently and with faith in his efforts. As a result, he did improve. In Mormon beliefs, faith and works go hand in hand in such endeavors.

Helping A Child Overcome Failure.

Usually when children have failed at something, they already know it. It is not necessary to tell them they have failed, or to reinforce their failure. Instead, we should help them find out what went wrong and encourage them to try again, as Peggy’s mother did in the following story.

Peggy’s Cake

Twelve-year-old Peggy cried as she took the burnt cake out of the oven. Her mother, hearing her cry, came into the kitchen, saw the cake, and said, “What happened?”

“I burned the cake,” Peggy said unhappily.

“I can see that. Let’s find out what happened,” her mother said as she put her arm around the distressed girl. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose, and I can see you feel badly about it. Dry your eyes and let’s read the recipe together.”

Peggy and her mother read over the recipe and found that the temperature control on the oven had been set too high. “Now that we know what went wrong,” her mother said, “let’s wash the dishes and you can try again.”

By encouraging Peggy to discover what went wrong and how to correct it, Peggy’s mother turned a discouraging situation into a positive learning experience. She acknowledged her daughter was upset and did not condemn her. Peggy was encouraged to try again, and her confidence remained intact. Sometimes the way we respond to our children affects the way they learn and accomplish a task. (Adapted from Relief Society Courses of Study, 1984, “Mother Education,” lesson one.) (Relief Society Courses is one of the Mormon books, or manuals, for instruction.)

Give Children Opportunities to Help and Grow.

Sometimes we ask too little of our children because we underestimate their abilities. As Shawn illustrates in the following story, children often need only the chance to help. They learn and are able to learn much more than we may expect.

Shawn Helps

Diane was struggling to change her baby’s diaper. “Oh dear,” she said, “I left the clean diapers downstairs.” Eighteen-month-old Shawn disappeared and returned a moment later clutching a wad of clean diapers. Although he didn’t speak yet, he understood what his mother needed.

She was surprised. Diane had assumed that he knew less than he did. In the next weeks she began to make more requests of her toddler. She was amazed at his ability to find things, to look for lost items, and in general, to respond to her requests. When asked, he would open the door and let the cat in. He would stand by the baby while Diane answered the front door. He was also obedient about not doing things he wasn’t supposed to. For example, he stayed away from the hot oven when told. As Shawn grew and developed, Diane found herself asking him to do more and more tasks. She made her appreciation known, and he was so willing and eager, that he seemed to thrive as his mother’s helper.

When you offer your children opportunities to help, you give them the chance to discover their strengths and their limits. Mormons believe that people often grow to match their situations and opportunities for service.


Boy smiling over his homeworkDad attempted to respond encouragingly to Randy’s report card. “Well, you got poor marks in English, but look how good your math was!”

Unfortunately, Randy will not live in a math-only world. He will live in a world where he will need to read, write, and communicate as well as use mathematics. And apparently his English skills are suffering.

It may be true that Randy prefers math; he may even have a gift for it. And there may be a variety of reasons for his poor grades in English. But even though his father should encourage Randy to continue to excel in math, he should also encourage him to improve in English. Allowing math achievements to justify a lack of effort in English would be irresponsible on the part of Randy’s father. Randy and his parents need to first find out exactly where he needs help, and then they each should do their best to help him improve his English skills.

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