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.