Brother Brian K. Ashton: Create golden teaching moments in the home, classroom

Recently while reading Helaman 2:23 during family scripture study, we asked our children, ages 3-16, “What is a secret combination?”

As we discussed secret combinations, we felt prompted to talk with the children about how Satan tries to lead us into captivity (2 Nephi 26:22) and how Christ through His Atonement and our keeping His commandments makes us free (2 Nephi 2:26-27). Our children paid attention, and were genuinely interested in knowing how they could avoid the “captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). Because they were taught by the Holy Ghost, I doubt that they will ever forget what they learned. It was one of those golden teaching moments that we all hope to have more often with our children and students.

Golden teaching moments occur when someone has a question (which can be self-generated or prompted by others), his or her heart is prepared to learn, and someone else acts as an agent of the Holy Ghost to help answer the question. Golden teaching moments are vital to help us return to God. The things we learn in these moments are brought into our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and they change us. Golden teaching moments usually happen unexpectedly often in informal settings. In spite of their impromptu nature, there are things that we can do as parents, teachers and leaders to facilitate these moments and make sure that we take advantage of them whenever they occur.

Prayer in behalf of others often leads to golden teaching moments. An angel visited Alma the Younger when he “was going about to destroy the church of God” (Mosiah 27:10) and brought him “to the knowledge of the truth” because of the prayers of his father and the people (Mosiah 27:14). The golden teaching moment that occurred during our recent family scripture study happened in part because my wife and I had been praying to know how to teach our children that obedience brings both happiness and freedom. Even when we don’t have a specific need, we can pray that we will be prompted to recognize moments when our children and students are prepared to learn, and that we will know what to say to them.

We will experience golden teaching moments more frequently if we are looking for instances when hearts are softened and minds are curious. This is most likely to happen when someone is feeling godly sorrow, when they are experiencing difficulty or trial, when they have a genuine question or curiosity, or when trust is high and the setting is non-judgmental. During our family scripture study, my children were receptive to a discussion about obedience and freedom, because they began to see how Satan tries to entrap us, and they were wondering how to avoid being led captive.

We can facilitate golden teaching moments by asking questions. One of our most memorable teaching moments as parents came years ago at an art museum. As we viewed paintings of biblical stories, we asked our children what was happening in each scene. This led to thought-provoking discussions that made the scriptures come alive. Our children still remember the lessons they learned that day.

Teachers who teach by asking questions and allow ample time for all to share their thoughts without being judgmental frequently find that students will share what is truly on their minds, even though it might not be related to the lesson. Our question “What is a secret combination?” led our children to wonder why anyone would want to subject themselves to the devil, which prepared them to be taught.

One of the most effective occasions to ask questions is immediately following Church on Sunday, maybe during the car ride home or at Sunday dinner. We might ask, “What did the Holy Ghost teach you today?” “What did you feel as Sister Gifford bore her testimony? Why do you think you felt that way?” Or, “How did partaking of the sacrament change you?”

When the setting is right for a golden teaching moment, we must be willing to set aside what we are doing at that moment and focus on the needs of those who are prepared to learn. In our family scripture study, we had to set aside the task of finishing the chapter and focus on answering the questions that the Spirit was telling us were in the minds of our children. If we had focused instead on completing the chapter or leaving quickly for work, we would have missed an important opportunity to teach our children when they were ready to learn. When students open up and share what is really on their minds, teachers need to take the time to answer those questions even when it means they won’t be able to teach the lesson they had prepared. As a youth, some of my most important learning experiences came because my mother set aside what she was doing, focused just on me, asked questions, and listened in a non-judgmental way when I was willing to talk.

Additionally, we must be receptive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. We make ourselves more receptive to the Spirit by striving to keep the commandments (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:67-68) and by having daily personal and family prayer and scripture study (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:85). As we do these things, the Spirit will help us know when someone is prepared to learn and will guide us as to what to say. During our family scripture study, my wife and I were guided by the Holy Ghost to know what questions to ask, when to ask them, and what to teach.

As we do the things we’ve discussed in this article, we will have more golden teaching moments that will allow us as parents, teachers, and leaders to help those we love be taught by the Spirit and draw closer to God.

In conclusion, I want to share a golden teaching moment that immeasurably changed my life for the better. During my freshman year of college, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go on a full-time mission. Fortunately, a good friend received a prompting to tell me that the Lord wanted me to serve a mission. He listened to that prompting, stopped what he was doing, asked me if I was planning on serving a mission, listened to me, and then bore testimony that I needed to go. At that moment the Holy Ghost bore witness to me that what he said was true. I chose to serve a mission, and my life has been forever blessed. That we all may have more golden teaching moments is my prayer.