Category Archives: Series

Practical Projects for our Children – Part 3

If you missed the first two parts, you may read them here.

Please note: We recommend Steve’s book, Preparing Sons to Provide for a Single-Income Family as an important resource for raising sons. Steve shares from Scripture and his own experience with five sons. His oldest, Nathan, purchased a home debt-free at the age of 24, before he married. Christopher, the second son, is also able to do the same. To find out more about the book (which also comes in an unabridged audiobook), please go to the product page for the book.

Just prior to Jesse’s eleventh birthday, we had purchased a device from a local lumber store that required assembly. As I gazed into the box of pieces, I was reminded of years gone by when just before Christmas I would be up late putting together things that we had purchased for the children’s gifts. They weren’t difficult to assemble, but they certainly took time. That was the case with this item, not difficult, but it would take time that I didn’t have available.


Shortly after bringing the item home, Jesse asked if he could assemble it. I agreed to his offer while telling him I would need to oversee his work because what he was assembling was somewhat fragile. He was happy to wait until I could get him started. It took a small portion of two evenings just before dinner for Jesse to complete his project. He was delighted that he had been able to put it together.

I had not asked Jesse to do something like this before, and it turned out to be a great project for him. It came with large multiple-page, fold-out instructions. He had to match up the bolts and hardware with pictures to determine the right pieces to use. As is often the case, the graphics didn’t correlate fully with the parts in his hand, so there were decisions that had to be made during assembly as to the correct piece. Helping him learn how to evaluate if he really was using the right part if it didn’t match the instructions was as valuable as learning to work with his hands. What good is the ability to put something together if you are using the wrong parts?

Jesse’s next project is waiting for him on my workbench — a mountain dulcimer kit. With my help, fourteen-year-old John built a dulcimer for Mary earlier this year. Jesse said he wanted to build one, too, so that is his subsequent project. The kit was a little beyond John’s abilities and will likely be significantly beyond Jesse’s. I say “likely” because each child is different, and it is amazing how one child may excel where others his age struggled. However, Jesse will gain added familiarity in following difficult instructions, and it will provide some excellent quality time for the two of us.

Currently, I have asked Jesse to read and re-read the instructions so he will know what needs to be done. When he says he is ready, I will look over the instructions and ask him questions about the process to see if he understands what needs to be done. He was supposed to ask me if he couldn’t figure out an instruction step.

Kits and other items that need to be assembled are great learning tools. We prefer that they make a useful product as opposed to hobby model kits which will just cost money, collect dust and might create an appetite for it as a future hobby. We desire that our children spend their time in beneficial pursuits that will teach them meaningful skills or allow them to bless others.

Twelve-year-old Anna loves gardening. Therefore, we are helping to “cultivate” her knowledge and skills in that area. In the spring, we gave her a number of places where she could plant flowers in front of the house. She was quite adventurous and brought home an encyclopedia’s worth of seed varieties. She is learning about the different types of flowers and how well they grow in various environments in our yard.

With the addition of a deck and shed to our shrinking backyard, we have now begun to restore what grassy area remains. Therefore, another project for Anna is to determine what plant life we will have back there. First, I have asked her to create a scale drawing of the backyard. For someone who has never done that before, this can involve a significant challenge. Next, she will draw it on the computer so we can experiment with different plant variations easily. We will discuss multiple plant possibilities, their advantages, negatives and costs as she does her research. Then she will help find them, buy them, plant them, and care for them.

Do you see how there are countless projects available to every parent to gainfully challenge their children as opposed to mindlessly entertaining them? It is a matter of asking the Lord Jesus to give you creativity and show you how to give your children the skills they will need in life.

Some might say, “Well, the examples you used involved buying things, and we don’t have much money.” First, let me encourage you to check your heart. If your child wanted to go out for baseball, football, or soccer, would you not expect to pay something for them to participate? AND FOR WHAT BENEFIT? Often, I encourage my children to examine their hearts when they encounter problems when complying with my request. Are they seeking solutions to the hindrance or looking for reasons why they can’t complete it? Do we believe Jesus is able to save our souls? Yes, of course! Then, isn’t it a small thing for Him to open our eyes to the things around us as we pray and ask Jesus for direction as to what projects will help train our children? I can’t see into your homes, but I have no doubt that if I were visiting your family, within a few hours we would have more projects listed than the children have time for.

Projects are great ways to help neighbors. For example, Anna could help her grandmother, who lives next door, with many of the same kinds of plant decisions if we were unable to purchase our own. If we didn’t have a computer with a drawing program, she could hand draw it by hand on paper. The boys help the neighbors with projects and love doing it. None of those cost us anything, and they are blessed in the process.

Most families will purchase items on an occasional basis that require assembly and these provide excellent opportunities for children to gain experience. Often times, girls can benefit from this kind of proficiency as much as the boys.

Learning to sew is another great example of a project for girls that can yield lifetime benefits. What could be more practical than ending up with clothes to wear? Learning to follow the directions alone provides excellent skills. They are spending time with Mom, they are learning to follow directions, and they end up with something practical. For years it has been difficult to find modest dresses or jumpers in stores. That is the main reason why our girls learn to sew, but look at all the other benefits that are gained by this investment of time.

Anna wasn’t thrilled with learning to sew initially, but she is really liking it now. I think sometimes parents hinder themselves by not assigning a project because they don’t think the child would enjoy it. May I encourage you to repent of that sort of attitude? It is consistent with an entertainment, flesh-pleasing mindset and not conducive for raising men and women of God. Our children may not enjoy something at first and then come to really enjoy it. However, it is possible they may never come to like something, and that is okay as well. There are many things that we do in life that we don’t enjoy doing, but we must. Changing diapers, changing the oil in the car, or fixing a leaky faucet might not be what we enjoy most, but they all have to be done.

I encourage you to always manage the risk as you teach your children through projects. Consider safety issues, risks with tools, and possible damage of what they are working on. Even after carefully assessing dangers, we must realize they are still children and capable of doing dumb things. I surprise even myself sometimes in my ability to do something stupid when I should have known better. We must anticipate our children having similar “abilities.”

Training our children through projects will take our time. If our hearts are turned towards our children, we will love these opportunities to work with them. If our hearts are not turned toward our children, we will have lots of excuses for why we can’t do it. It all begins with our hearts. First, our hearts should be turned towards the Lord Jesus. Colossians 3:1-2: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Next, our hearts must be turned toward our children, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6). May we love our children and prepare them for life by using every opportunity before us. We only have them in our homes for a short time.

Practical Projects for our Children – Part 2

As we continue with our series on practical projects for our children, I want to share with you a practical story.

Fourteen-year-old John had been working on the new shed’s soffit for an hour. It had been obvious that a bit of rework was necessary because when he had put it up the first time, it didn’t look good. Upon seeing the soffit earlier in the day, I had encouraged him that it should be taken down, and a new piece put up correctly. After that unproductive hour, John came to the conclusion that the job was impossible. With frustration showing on his face and obvious in his voice, he dropped into the chair beside me in my office. Telling me of his dilemma, he said there was no way to put the soffit up as we had discussed.

I encouraged him that if I weren’t available to help him, and it was just he and the Lord Jesus, would he give up? As we talked longer, there was just a hint of a whine in his voice (he said it was okay for me to say this). Normally such a tone is an indication to me that a child doesn’t have a good attitude about what he is doing. I pointed this out and challenged him to see what the Lord might show him. Back he went.

Thirty minutes later he was in the house with a smile stretched across his face. “Got her up!” he said with a new-found confidence in his voice. I queried him as to whether he had enlisted the help of one of his brothers. He said that he realized if he was going to build his own house some day, he wouldn’t always have a brother who could help him, and so he figured out a way to get the soffit up by himself. It is beneficial for a child’s maturing process to learn that he can depend on Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to direct him when he has a problem.

I couldn’t put a price on how important I believe it is for our children to comprehend this lesson. It is a vital part of their spiritual growth and ability to function as an adult. I imagine most of us know of other adults who do not know what it is to rely on Jesus in a real way through their day. This is critical in a relationship with Jesus, yet somehow these people haven’t learned how to look to the Spirit for direction as a child, if they were saved early in life. I definitely did not learn it as a child, and only by His grace have I learned it as an adult. As parents, may we own this goal of teaching our children what it means to practically depend on Jesus through their day. Using projects is a great way to do this. It doesn’t matter whether the project is a son building something or a daughter who is learning to sew; each one provides blessed opportunities.

In addition to developing a practical confidence in Jesus directing their lives, our children will learn all sorts of practical skills in the process. That is another reason why projects are important in raising children. I’m surprised by how few parents embrace projects as fantastic teaching tools. If one of our goals as parents is to raise children to be adults, then projects can be an important part of our child rearing. If a parent’s goal is to raise children to be lifelong children, then they might let their children continue to watch TV and movies, play video games, and spend the rest of their time in sports and recreation. The children may have fun, but they will miss out on the true joy of life. Is it any wonder that most adults today live for their relaxation, recreation, and pleasure while not having a clue as to the real joy of depending on Jesus and following Him?

We will use the rest of this Corner to discuss projects further. First, where does someone start? In our family, we usually begin with a need. It may be that a household item is broken, we have something that could be built, or a child should learn a new skill. A need should be the basis for all projects. It is a great motivator and will provide satisfaction in the job when it is finished.

Our family has needed more storage room for our books for quite a while. It wasn’t until this year that I felt the Lord giving permission and direction to find a solution. That was one need. The other was that I wanted John to have the experience of designing and constructing a building. John has felt God’s calling to be a missionary. Even though I want all of the boys to have construction experience, it was even more important for John. I planned for him to build the shed to the same building code that would apply to a house.

Next, it is important that we motivate the children. If they aren’t motivated, the project is unlikely to succeed. Either they won’t give it their best, they will not finish it, or we will constantly have to be cajoling them to stay the course. None of these are the way we want to teach them to be mature adults.

If you can’t motivate your child, it is likely you don’t have your child’s heart, which is an even bigger problem than motivation. If you have your child’s heart, you should be able to motivate him to work on and complete his project. Even if the project doesn’t interest him, you should be able to motivate him with the need and your desire for his help. If he still isn’t motivated once you share your heart with him as to why you want his help, then I would encourage you to cry out to the Lord for direction and insight as to what the relationship problem is. Don’t excuse it, but be zealous to understand and correct what the problem is with your child. (You might consider reading Keeping Our Children’s Hearts.)

After motivating your child, you should convey to your child what he needs to do. Your instructions will depend on what you want your son or daughter to learn through the project. For example, if your goal is for your son to be able to follow detailed instructions, then you might get a kit that has many pieces and steps that are required to put it together.

If your goal is for your son to learn to think and work with his hands, you could, for example, ask him to build a bird feeder for you. His first question would likely be, “How do I build a bird feeder?” We see from Scripture that Jesus was a Master of questions. I have also found that a good way to prod a child along is with questions.

“Son, what do you want your bird feeder to look like?” He might say he doesn’t know. You prompt with another question. “Have you seen other bird feeders around that you could get some ideas from?” You could take him to a store so he would have the opportunity to look at bird feeders that are for sale to get ideas. You will ask him to draw his bird feeder plan out on paper. “What materials will you use?” “How might you use that scrap piece of siding that we saved on your birdhouse?” You can lead him in his project through your questions.

Are you going to work with your child, is the child to do it by himself, or is it a combination of the two? At first it is always better to work together. It is great fellowship, and the child is much more motivated. However, there is a time when each child needs to be able to do a project by himself. You should know your child, his abilities, and his needs in order to decide which way is best. For example, the shed was a big project. John has worked by himself, but his brothers and I have worked with him on it as well. Recently, I asked John to replace a very difficult broken part in the table saw. He did that almost completely by himself. There were a couple of brief times I checked on him and encouraged him when we had problems.

What if Dad doesn’t know how to do the project? Can the blind lead the blind? You can’t, if you are determined to stay blind. There are “how to” books that will teach you almost anything you want to learn to do if you are motivated to want to learn. (By the way, if you don’t want to learn new skills, it is likely your children won’t want to either.) Decide whether you will get the book first and learn from it personally, or if the two of you will read it together.

I want my children to know how to find out how to do things on their own, so I give them some projects that require them to do research. Before we did the concrete work for the shed, John was given a book about concrete projects as a Christmas present. Once he knew the shed project was coming up, he read the book eagerly and was ready for the concrete work. I guided him through the building-design phase. In retrospect, I would have liked to have had longer in the design phase. I would have found a book on building codes. I still might find one and use it with all the boys.

If you are doing any type of construction for projects for your children, I would strongly encourage you to check with your local building-code inspector’s office. I am amazed how often building permits are required. If a permit is required by the local law, then get one. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). No matter how we might rationalize not obtaining a permit, we are clearly told to obey the law. We set a horrible example for our children if we don’t.

After John drew up his plans, we went to the building inspector’s office for approval. John was able to discuss the plans with the inspector and made some changes suggested by the inspector. Even at that, there was still an area that was missed in the plans review, but caught by the inspector in a progress inspection. Had we had a building-code book for John, he could have avoided that problem and not had to fix it once the project was underway. At least we use screws instead of nails whenever we can to simplify rectifying mistakes.

One caution is that we shouldn’t use projects to get our children to do work that we should be doing. If we have been lazy and not made repairs, those repairs could be great training opportunities. However, in reality, if we just assign them to our children, we are teaching them to be lazy as well. We are saying that when you are the parent, you can be lazy and get your children to do your work for you. If you have not been responsible, confess it, and then use the upkeep needed as time to work together with your children. In the future, there might be other good projects in which you would want them to take the lead.

I would encourage you to bring the idea of projects before the Lord. What do you want to teach your children? What skills do you want them to have that they can benefit from for the rest of their lives? Are you willing to learn with them? Are you willing to invest something in them in the process?

Practical Projects for our Children – Part 1

It is very popular to send children away for all sorts of good learning opportunities these days. Let’s say you choose to send your son to an organization that guaranteed to teach him how to share Jesus effectively with others. How long do you think the course would be? What would they teach your son? How would they teach him?

In Luke 10, we read about Jesus sending seventy of His disciples out two by two. He gave them the preparation He thought was necessary before they went on their way. They were about to learn some important lessons that were key but couldn’t have been learned any other way. It would have been quite an adventure.

The disciples had not been long in their training before their “practicum” was beginning. They had no degrees or certificates of any sort. In addition, they had no finances to fall back upon in case of need. They simply had one other disciple and prayer. Today, people would think such training practices were unrealistic.

I expect the disciples themselves had some apprehension regarding such an assignment with the preparation they had been given. They went out having had some verbal instruction and the opportunity to watch Jesus as He ministered. In warning, Jesus even told them about the possible persecution they could face. “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17). The disciples had not experienced Pentecost yet, and therefore, they were not the bold men of God that they would later become. I have little doubt that their enthusiasm for their journey was tempered somewhat by very real concerns as they set out.

What was the outcome of the disciples’ mission? In Luke 10:17, we are told the disciples returned with joy. “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” They were excited about what the Lord had done through them. Likely, no amount of teaching could have produced in them these results.

What did Jesus do? He used a project to work mightily in their lives. It was acceptable if the disciples weren’t comfortable, because Jesus knew this was a project that would be good for them. It wasn’t beyond their abilities, because He had prepared them as much as they needed to be prepared beforehand.

Projects are an important part of raising children-disciples, but far too often they are neglected by parents. The results of projects can be impressive. I remember someone once complimenting me on how smart I must be to have trained my sons with the skills that they had acquired. I chuckled and said, “You must not know me very well. It doesn’t take much smarts to hold a carrot on a string out in front of a horse you want to guide along.” What I meant was that I don’t have to know more than my boys. I just have to be able to motivate and challenge them. The Lord has shown me that this can primarily be done by using projects.

Projects are wonderful vehicles to spur children on to learn all sorts of things. Real-life projects, which fulfill a need we might have around the home, cement what a child has learned. They also become a stimulus for wanting to learn more.

One perceived hindrance to projects might be the child’s reluctance to tackle something he has not done before. Likely, the disciples felt that way also. However, that is where the carrot and the string come in. Part of making projects successful is to learn how to motivate and challenge our children. We want to spur them on to giving it their best without discouraging them. Our relationship needs to be such that the child trusts us and wants to please us. Therefore, he will give it his best. He needs to believe that I am counting on him and wouldn’t ask him to do something he couldn’t do. (A side note: See how important it is to keep our children’s hearts? We want to motivate through influence and not have to resort to authority.)

At times a child might say, “Dad, I don’t know how to do that.” Or, “It sounds impossible to me.” In that case he will hear me say, “That’s okay. We will just give you a little longer to do it. I know you can do it.” It isn’t harsh or unrealistic at all to tell him he still has to do it. I’m raising my sons to be men. That is what a man might expect in his work day – challenges that he has never faced before and needs to conquer. It isn’t harsh, because I know the child can do what I ask him to do. However, what I ask is just beyond his immediate knowledge and current experience. This is how he learns to face challenges head on, depend on the Lord Jesus, and figure out how to do it. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Can our children (and we) apply the truth of that verse to their daily lives?

Some dads may be reluctant to use projects because they are concerned about the finances involved. It is true that there are projects that can cost you something, but many might not cost a dime. Begin first with projects that involve no expense. As your confidence builds, you can add projects that do. Even that shouldn’t be a problem for most families because doing a project yourself almost always is more cost effective than hiring someone else. It is all a matter of priorities. How will you choose to spend your money?

I was shocked when I recently spoke with a dad who spends three thousand dollars a YEAR so his son can play on a hockey team. I couldn’t imagine that for our family, yet they do it every year. For me, I would want to invest the funds the Lord has entrusted to us in training our children with worthwhile skills that will pay dividends throughout their lives.

One example, of many I could share, is that just last week John (14) was able to bless a neighbor who needed a very complex repair done. It was 100 degrees the afternoon John helped our neighbor. Even though the project was spread on the ground under a tree, it was still blistering. John wanted to bless the neighbor and had the peace of mind that he could do what needed to be done. John worked over two hours and finally was successful. The result was there were three very blessed people, in addition to a problem that was resolved. The neighbor, who had a need, was blessed in having his repair done with no expense to him. John was blessed the most of all because of the joy he received in serving someone. Plus, he learned some new things in the process. Finally, I was blessed and thrilled. I saw John’s love of helping others and his dependence on Christ to direct him when he was beyond his experience level.

Several years ago, I was speaking with a dad at a homeschool conference who was concerned about his fourteen-year-old son. The two of them didn’t have a very good relationship. The son was bored. He had no purpose in life. I challenged the dad to find some meaningful projects for his son. I suggested he look for something that would be of benefit in some way and from which his son would learn in the process. The dad thought for a minute and said how the family was in dire need of reliable transportation. He had just bought another car, but it needed significant repair work before they could count on it. Unfortunately, the dad had neither the experience nor the time to do the repairs. He wondered if that was a project his son might do even though the son also had almost no mechanical experience.

I encouraged the dad to pray about it. To me it seemed like an opportunity from the Lord. Off that dad went, and to my surprise, I met him again a year later at a mini-conference we were giving. He came up, introduced himself, and reminded me of our previous conversation. I was excited to learn that he had motivated his son to accept the car-repair project. The son learned what he needed to know, took the engine apart, and put it back together again. The Lord used a fourteen-year-old son to provide the family with transportation they needed so badly. It was a bountiful blessing to the family. The dad went on to say how good it had been for their relationship as well.

Projects can be so beneficial for our children if we dads will select projects that will stretch them. We don’t need to pay others to do what God has enabled us fathers to do for our children. There is much to be gained if we will step up and own the challenge of training our children to the best of our ability, as enabled by the Lord Jesus. Frankly, we would all agree that if Jesus is enabling us, we can do all that He is calling us to do.

Projects will be the theme of several future Dad’s Corners. Be praying and see what projects God may put on your heart for your children.