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?