by Jill Hasstedt
I was impressed when I visited the home of another young mother. Though her children were just toddlers, she had placed simply printed labels on items all over her house. Every day, she was teaching them new vocabulary and letter recognition using engaging activities and alphabet-themed snacks. Her goals were for enrichment and exposure, not forced learning.
Amazingly, they had already started to read simple words. I read to my children faithfully, but it had never occurred to me that they could absorb so much and have so much fun doing it. What if every Christian parent applied the same simple concepts to faith literacy?
My mom had a love for little learners. My earliest memories are of her singing hymns in the kitchen or reading to my twin and me from a Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. She sprinkled Bible verses into our life as they applied to the events of the day. We knew to “honor our parents,” to not let “the sun set on our anger,” that a gentle answer could “turn away wrath” and that “God is love.”
Soon after I was married, my husband’s mother presented me with a bound book of his Sunday School pamphlets, proudly stating that he had been able to say the Lord’s Prayer before he even started Sunday School. Where had he learned it? He had a father and mother who had prayed it with him often.
Today our parenting lives are hurried and hectic. There never seems to be enough time. But is it that different from other eras? The Israelites were fighting for their survival every day in the wilderness when Moses received the Ten Commandments and passed on the Lord’s command to “teach them diligently to your children” (Deut. 6:68). There were animals to care for, tents to move, clothing to make for the household and a wilderness to contend with, but along the way, they had an even more important task to accomplish: talking and teaching about the living God.
Life wasn’t easy in the 1500s either. Food had to be grown, prepared and reserved. Most of a peasant’s income went to the payment of taxes or to rent land and lodging. Crops often failed, and food shortages were common. Housing was often shared with animals during bad weather. Most peasants were illiterate. In the midst of this, Luther wrote the Small Catechism, providing the basic teachings from the Bible that he believed were essential to the Christian life “as the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”
His educational technique was simple but effective. Luther exhorted pastors to help the adults learn the catechism and then teach them to use a simple and consistent version of it in their homes. “But with young people keep to a single, fixed, and permanent form and wording, and teach them first of all the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s prayer, etc. according to the text, word for word so that they can repeat it after you and commit to memory.” After the words had been learned, the meaning could be taught a little bit at a time. “For it is not necessary to teach everything at once, but one thing after another” (Preface to the Small Catechism).
Imagine the impact of a father, mother or grandparent today diligently teaching a child in little bits over days, weeks and years. Imagine that child seeing the adults in their life reading the Bible, learning and discussing the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.
My friend was diligent in her efforts to teach her children to read, but we have the even greater privilege of teaching about “daily bread” when we shop, about forgiveness when siblings battle or how to deal with temptation after a cupcake has gone missing. We get to teach the meaning of the Eighth Commandment to our sons and daughters just entering the world of social networking. We have the joy of teaching our children how to pray for others and of explaining to them that God is Creator, Redeemer and Comforter.
In the Large Catechism, Luther wrote, “Whenever God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day, and work are sanctified. This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all.” What a vision for parenting! It is nothing less than saint-building. It is the challenge and delight of discovering new ways to honor the First Commandment every day, to keep God first in our homes.
Sanctified parenting never ends. It keeps going, one thing after another, from generation to generation, all the way to heaven.
> Does your family learn by singing? Try Dr. Martin Luther’s catechism hymn “These Are the Holy Ten Commands” (LSB 581).
> Go to www.cph.org to order “Listening to a Luther,” a recording of Luther’s Small Catechism.
About the author: Jill Hasstedt serves as Director of Christian Education at Zion Lutheran Church and School in Belleville, Ill.