Tools Trump Toys!

A few weeks ago, my then-ten-year-old son sent me this email:

(I purposely did not correct his grammar and punctuation errors so that you could know it is authentic. We can work on those later.)

Hi, how are you doing? I am doing good. I want a bird (chickadee) cake for my birthday and strawberry ice cream. I  want to go swimming and roast hot dogs on the fire and have watermelon for lunch on my birthday.

Here is a list of present’s:
Drill
Drill bits
Saw
Nails
Screws
Garden tools
Clippers
Love, AJ

Well, my heart smiled, and I immediately sent it to Grandma so that she could share my enjoyment, as well as have a list of birthday suggestions. Then, I studied the list more and began to wonder, “Are these gifts normal?” Do most soon-to-be-11-year-olds wish for clippers, drills, and garden tools?

We have boys. Pretty much from the time they were able to recognize a saw, they used sticks to make pretend ones. You know how it goes: a simple stick can transform into a chainsaw, a sword, or a violin bow, just as quick as the imagination changes gears. I don’t say that this is unique to boys; they are just what I have to observe. I’ve known little girls to turn a cell phone into a pretend ultrasound probe and scan their daddy’s belly. Kids just make up pretend tools according to what they are exposed to, because they want to do “real things.” In fact, if you stop to watch little people, many of their games are attempts to copy what their adults do frequently.It’s no wonder, then, that in our family, when our oldest boy turned nine (a few years ago), he scrimped and saved his dollars to purchase a used lawnmower, so that he could be just like his daddy, who ran a lawn service. Sure, he liked playing with Legos like most boys, but he mostly saved those for the winter months, when he had to be cooped up inside anyway. He always had a desire to do something useful — build something, make something, or try to figure out how something worked. He led the way in the “Tools over Toys” philosophy that we have preferred since we began our family.

We have never been opposed to toys, but as children grow and multiply, so do their toys! I began to inwardly groan whenever holidays and birthdays rolled around, because really, children don’t need as many toys as they generally have. They are hard to keep organized, and easy to lose. Thankfully, our extended family has been very respectful in the types of toys shared. As time has gone on, and especially since we are gearing up for a move into smaller living quarters, I have seen our boys begin to evaluate more closely their possessions. Suddenly, we all have to prioritize, and only the most important items get to go along with us! I’ve seen many toys go out, and we have shifted to the new era of Big Boy Toys.

Big Boy Toys are those that men and boys alike appreciate: power tools, ratchet sets, etc. Once every three weeks or so, my boys will convince me to take them to Harbor Freight Tool Store. I’m afraid I go into that store like my husband would enter a Hobby Lobby — dragging my feet and groaning to myself. I set a timer; otherwise, we’d stay for hours! One reason I go is the very reason I hate to go — I know that a good percentage of what’s sold, or given away for free, in that store is going to be a disappointment. I hate to see good money used up on trifles, but once I’ve stated my opinion of the necessity of some of the freebies, I hold my tongue. Time does teach lessons here — those “free batteries” let you down just when you are getting ready to take that great shot of the eclipse; the “free” headlight really doesn’t provide enough light for your trail; and you can only use so many amazing grabbers! So, the lessons learned by purchasing or acquiring cheap stuff is a good one, better taught by experience than by parental advice. Our sons are slowly learning that there is quality to be found, but they may have to wait, pay more, or both, in order to find it.

Transitioning to real tools instead of toys will likely happen naturally, if the conditions in the home provide opportunities to learn to use them. A girl won’t desire her own rolling pin and apron if she never gets a chance to try out making cookies or looking through cookbooks. Boys who never get to see under a hood of a car will learn to assume someone else should fix the car instead of jumping right in there to see what’s wrong. But, I was very glad last week with my just-turned-11-year old! We were in town, and my father asked us to drive a homeless man to my parent’s house where we would eat together. Dad and our other son jumped into Dad’s truck and took off! Well, my car would not start, and the man in our car was elderly and had crippled hands, so I knew he was dependent on us. Our youngest hopped out, flipped open the hood, and proceeded to tap the battery; then when that didn’t work, he dug out the jumper cables from the trunk and helped the other man who stopped to help us. I felt very proud that our sons had learned some basic lessons (informally) under the hood. It’s because Daddy has allowed them to watch and help that they feel confident to at least try some basic repairs.

In our homeschools, one goal is to graduate our children with the knowledge they will need to do practical work once they leave our supervision. So, practical training is vital to their success in life. There are many recommendations in the Spirit of Prophecy about practical training. We have been reading through the book Education, and the chapter on “Manual Training” is very useful for this topic. A few nuggets that I dug up are these:

“When children reach a suitable age, they should be provided with tools. If their work is made interesting, they will be found apt pupils in the use of tools. If the father is a carpenter, he should give his boys lessons in house building, ever bringing into his instruction lessons from the Bible, the words of Scripture in which the Lord compares human beings to His building,” Child Guidance, p. 356.

“Your means could not be used to better advantage than in providing a workshop furnished with tools for your boys, and equal facilities for your girls. They can be taught to love labor,” Healthful Living, p.137.1.

“While attending school the youth should have an opportunity for learning the use of tools. Under the guidance of experienced workmen, carpenters who are apt to teach, patient, and kind, the students themselves should erect buildings on the school grounds and make needed improvements, thus by practical lessons learning how to build economically. The students should also be trained to manage all the different kinds of work connected with printing, such as typesetting, presswork, and book binding, together with tentmaking and other useful lines of work. Small fruits should be planted, and vegetables and flowers cultivated, and this work the lady students may be called out of doors to do. Thus, while exercising brain, bone, and muscle, they will also be gaining a knowledge of practical life,” 6 Testimonies, p.176.

This sentiment is voiced from several individuals that have experience in educating children. One is Dr. Raymond Moore. He recommends a balanced approach to education, with three areas comprising most of the student’s education: work, service, and study, in equal proportions. Here is his counsel on what will help a child to learn practical skills:

“Instead of toys, give them tools (kitchen, shop, yard or desk), encyclopedias, magazines; use libraries, etc. Don’t be shocked at their interests, even if they are guns or motorcycles! From these they can learn chemistry and physics (internal combustion motors), economics, math, history, geography, languages, cultures, and manual skills (at local repair shops or in home businesses). Girls are usually a year or so ahead of boys, at least until late teens.

“The ‘antennae’ sprouting from the brains of most students are blocked by mass-education’s cookie-cutter substitutes for life that destroy creativity. Kids come out uniform-sized cookies, or sausages.”

You may read more about this tried and true approach to education at the Moore Foundation.

As I was gathering my thoughts about this post, I stumbled across an excellent article here (No Greater Joy).  It has been years since I have read any of the material from No Greater Joy, but in this article, Michael Pearl shares his perspective on why many young people, boys in particular, drift away to an aimless life. He believes that, “Boys have a greater need to explore, invent, achieve something objective, conquer, and compete. They have a need to be meaningfully engaged in pursuits that yield objective results, like rebuilding automobiles, painting a house, cutting firewood, building something that others will admire. They are little kings looking to build a kingdom and furnish it. Idleness (including entertainment) breeds self-loathing and wanderlust.” And also, “The child who is not needed as part of the team will gravitate toward loyalties outside the family.” In other words, our children absolutely need to not just feel needed, they need to know they are needed! It reminds me of another page from Child Guidance that says we need to “let children feel that they are part of the family firm” (p. 126).

A couple of years ago now, my husband did a mulch job for some neighbors. The boys sometimes go along to help out, but this time they didn’t. But, for some reason the gentleman gave my husband a little extra money, designated for the boys, so that they could each purchase a little something. The funny thing was that, when we trekked out to Wal-Mart to buy their gift, they each chose a garden tool! I drove them by the neighbor’s house for them to show him what they had chosen with their money, and imagine his surprise when three young boys marched up to the front door with rake and shovels! He exclaimed, “What’s this? Are you coming to dig a hole?” They simply told him that the tools were what they had chosen with his money. He really did scratch his head over that one, but several years later, when he needed someone to cover his lawn for a few weeks, he gave the job to the boys with the garden tools!

So…we can encourage our kids in the areas that they have an interest, and if we help them to build up their stash of tools appropriate for the task, they will not only be better equipped, but they will also sense that they have our support.

For (not just) boys, the list is almost endless:

  • Garden tools
  • Saws, clippers, and pruners, pocket knives
  • Toolbox tools: hammers,wrenches, screwdrivers, tape measures, drills
  • Power tools
  • Photography equipment
  • Science tools: microscopes, telescopes, magnifying glasses, ID books
  • Rock tumblers, gold pans, metal detectors
  • Knot trying and climbing books, rope
  • Bike fixing supplies: tubes, wrenches, tire tools

For (not just) girls, all of the above, plus:

  • Kitchen essentials: small baking pans, smaller sized oven mitts, aprons, kid cookbooks
  • Knitting needles, crochet hooks, and yarn (Knitting looms are fun and an easy way to make hats and scarves.)
  • Sewing machine and fabric, simple patterns (Boys like this too! My husband always wanted a sewing machine until someone told him they were for girls. But…what about tailors?)
  • Hair cutting supplies
  • Books on wild edibles, compass

The list really could go on and on! I think the point is to get ourselves and our children into a mindset of learning useful skills, and to provide equipment and training so that they gain the confidence to pursue their interests.

Happy learning, and go find some tools!

p.s. The Lord tested me on this on the very next day after I wrote this article. We planned our “first day of school” for that day, only to find that my husband needed help on a project. I struggled, but realized we could be inside “doing school” with him needing help, or I could let the boys go help. I chose the latter, and what a blessing it was to see them working alongside Daddy — with their own tools! We can still maintain the balance of work/study/service. Some days are almost all books, and some are more heavy on the service or work. But, I would not trade the experience that they had working with Daddy — it’s real life, and he really did need them!

Resources:

  1. White, E.G. (1954) Child Guidance. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald.
  2. White, E.G. (1897) Healthful Living. Battle Creek, MI: Medical Missionary Board.
  3. White, E.G. (1901) Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press.

Planning for Success!

As you read today’s blog post title, you might be thinking, “Ah, yes, the old adage, ‘Failure to plan is a plan for failure,’ by Benjamin Franklin.” Today we won’t be talking about academic success, but rather the ability to plan our homes to have a successful homeschool environment.

As our family has grown, and we’ve added more children to our homeschool, my time has become more limited! Sometimes I think homeschooling hasn’t been my children’s journey, but my journey as I mature as a mother. Growing up, I don’t remember my mom ever having a plan for meals, chores, or any schedule for my brother and me. She just winged it! But, she also wasn’t a Christian, didn’t raise five children, and certainly didn’t homeschool.

In order for our home to excel in creating a loving, Christ-like homeschool environment, the basic necessities of family life need to be planned. Today I am going to share with you five basic and yet vital steps that are helpful in creating an orderly homeschool and home environment. (Note: These practical steps are in addition to the standards of morning and evening worship, and daily personal devotions.)

With four growing sons, and a very selective daughter, food is on their minds and stomachs more than on mine! How can we keep a healthy, plant-based diet and yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

1. Meal Planning: Every week, usually on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, I plan out every meal for the following week. Some plan for the month, others for the pay period, but what works best for me is weekly. I usually plan at least one soup night, one rice night, one casserole night, etc. You get the general idea.

Once I have the food scheduled for the week, carefully selecting meals that fit the day’s activities, I can rest knowing I don’t have to think about what to make next. If I am making something that uses dry beans, I can have them cooking ahead of time. If there are meals that require overnight soaking, I can do so. A point worth mentioning is how to record your meal menu. I’ve used various methods, including paper and pencil, apps, weekly homeschool planner, and my phone’s “Note” section. It doesn’t matter — just write it down in a place you can find it!

Besides meals at our house, there are other anchor points, tasks that must be completed daily in order to have a well-functioning home. Clean clothing is a basic necessity for our family, so the second most vital point in our plan for success is having a set routine for laundry. With seven people in the home, including a potty-training toddler, we go through quite a bit of laundry. I cannot spend one or two days doing it all; my septic tank can’t handle that!

2. Daily Laundry Routine: Every morning, each room’s dirty laundry hamper is brought to the laundry room, where it is sorted by the respective child into whites, darks, and denim. One child is responsible for emptying the dryer, and another for starting a load, during the morning chore time. Mom is responsible for moving it throughout the day, like during break time. Every morning and evening chore time, each child is responsible for folding an entire load of laundry. Each child and parent has their own clean laundry basket, so as soon as it is folded, it is placed into that person’s clean basket. Once a day, the laundry is put away into drawers.

You might have noticed that we have designated chore time. Before we start school, chores are to be completed, then after school ends and before dinner, we have another set of chores. Because I have learned that some children like to sneak away during work time, I have preassigned the chores to be done by specific children. If the dishes aren’t unloaded and put away, I know exactly who is responsible. I have also provided a physical prompt for them to remember it is chore time.

3. Chore Routine: In order for me to spend time with my children during school, I need to make sure the cleanliness tasks are accomplished. Although I would like to say our home is very clean, the truth is, we are home all day long, every day. Kids make messes! Knowing that, at least twice a day, chores are being completed to clean the home, I can rest and be still. It will get done, eventually! If you would like to know more about our chore system, I highly recommend “Managers of Their Chores,” by Teri Maxwell. It is purposeful, logical, and practical!
Managers of Their Chores, by Titus 2 Ministries and Teri Maxwell

Another principal that I’ve had to accept and not murmur about is the correction phase to school. Many smaller homeschools may not have to have a parent guiding and correcting, but as I manage four grades and a toddler, I’m not so fast at grading anymore. Frankly, when my older kids were younger, we were so hands on that we rarely took tests, etc. Now that my oldest two are in middle school, I’ve begun to have tests more often, and expect assignments to be written and completed.

4. School Prep and Correction Time: Because I expect my older children to work more independently, I write down their assignments for the following school day in their school planner. I make it very clear what needs to be corrected or redone, and what new tasks need to be completed. This is also a time I can thoroughly look at their work to understand their deficiencies. For example, if a child gets half of a math worksheet incorrect, is it the new concept being taught, or old concepts not showing proficiency?

Although I try to make our homeschool a happy, loving place, there will be times that it might be frustrating, challenging, and not what I would expect. My last point in planning for success is to truly believe that my expectations won’t be met every single day.

5. Surrender Thy Will: Our school is for God’s glory, for the bringing up of His children for His kingdom. Yes, I wish to provide character training for my children — diligence, integrity, and positive attitude — but I also want to provide grace, love, and joy. My children will disappoint me, because they aren’t perfect! And, it is no poor reflection upon my Christianity or character, if my child takes longer to grasp a skill, an attitude, or a desire. I need to be at the feet of Christ daily, with our homeschool in heart, to surrender what I think is most important. I need to consult the Greatest Teacher every day!

When we can plan our home to succeed so that Mama is not burned out, feeling overwhelmed by the daily tasks at hand; if we can accept our role and responsibility to the homeschool, even after the school day has ended; and we can surrender our own expectations, but day by day keep turning to him for His will and grace, we can set ourselves up to have a happy, successful homeschool.

Holidays Bring Opportunities

Thanksgiving holidays are over for Canadians. We’re gearing up for Remembrance Day and Christmas already. If the snow hasn’t flown yet, it will soon and winter will be settling in. For those in the States, Thanksgiving and Christmas are rolling up faster than you can imagine.

Life presents so many opportunities for discussion. One of the advantages in homeschooling is that we can direct difficult conversations — we can answer questions, or pose them when applicable. We can help our children form their own fact-based opinions in these areas. We can help them discover their thoughts, their own ideas. We can help them think through all the options and information. Sharing what others believe, what we believe, and the reasons why helps our children to critically think through the issues and form their own opinions, which will last longer than if we insist they take only hours.

One of the life opportunities I’m grateful for is Halloween. It’s also just around the corner and, even if you don’t celebrate it, we can’t ignore it. We don’t celebrate Halloween in our home, and I’m grateful my boys don’t question that; they don’t enjoy Halloween or any of the decorations. We can’t bury our heads in the sand, and we can’t ignore the celebration of Halloween when it is all around us.

Halloween has been a time of less media because we don’t enjoy shows that highlight Halloween. It does however, open up many conversations. Some of the conversations revolve around vandalism and lead to respecting other people’s property. We live in the city and during Halloween there are houses TP’d, graffiti increases, and things are destroyed. We have conversations about God vs. Satan, the war between good and evil, and how we must choose which side to be on. We discuss healthy eating, even during holidays — showing self-restraint when the temptation is all around us, even being pushed on us. It’s an opportunity to respectfully engage others in conversation, to be kind even when people disagree with us.

Every opportunity is one for education, for improvement of character. Let’s not miss any simply because we don’t like the holiday or event at hand.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

We have all heard the saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” However, in this last couple of weeks, God has been bringing me into a new understanding of this saying. First of all, does this saying have a negative connotation or is this saying indeed implying a blessing? I am beginning to switch my paradigm from the first to the latter, and I’m so grateful God is still working on my heart and mind.

My kids (six and three) were playing in the living room while I was packing one morning last week. My son, being older, was not happy with the way his sister was playing and started to “recite” the Ten Commandments. Now to be completely honest with you, up to this point in our lives, I have had to struggle to spend time with the kids and speak of Christ in every situation. My husband has had to work long hours just to make ends meet, and I have often had to take on side work just to be able to feed everyone. My kids do not know the Ten Commandments, but we listen to them as often as I remember to play them. I couldn’t help but chuckle in this instance. I don’t remember what Elijah was unhappy about; however, I do remember him saying, “The commandments say, you shouldn’t lie, so you need to stop doing [whatever it was she was doing].

I had to laugh (to myself of course), because what she was doing had nothing to do with lying, but to him, he felt like saying that would pack more punch to solving her behavior than if he didn’t. (I saw the “I’m better than you” attitude of pride come out and that is a struggle for me, but at that moment, Christ came in and whispered in my ear. “You know ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’? Let me teach you about the Rod.”

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” Proverbs 13:24.

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him,” Proverbs 22:15.

“For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatsoever passes under the Rod, the tenth one shall be holy unto the Lord,” Leviticus 27:32.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” Psalm 23:4.

So we see the rod being both comfort and also correction. Can we correct and discipline our kids in a way that they will feel comforted and yet still change their ways?

I have to study it more; however, I want to pose to you this question and this challenge.

“This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient, to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more then lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, ed away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs was. But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, affiliations, which came unto me at Antioch, at lconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things, which thou hast learned; and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” 2 Timothy 3.

May I make the suggestion that the Rod in scripture can be replaced with the Word of Scripture. When we see the areas in which our children are struggling with sin, and we teach them how to claim promises, stand on scripture, and memorize scriptures having to do with the specific area that they are struggling in, not only do we give them the tools for dealing with and overcoming sin, but we give them a foundation for what they believe in that can never be shaken.

My prayer in this next month is that Christ will give all of us the strength, time, and wisdom to discern the faults in our children, and that He will lead us to the verses that will allow our children to overcome.

 

Outdoor Activities You Can Fall For

My boys are outdoor country boys through-and-through! They wake up and beg to go outside before breakfast is warm and table is set. We coax them into waiting until their bellies are full (and mom and dad are dressed), and in the summer we have to debate about the usefulness of clothes on a young boy as well. When fall swings around, there is no damper on the boys’ excitement for the outdoors, but we do have to change the experience slightly.

Less Sun, Still Fun?

The sunny, warm summers meant the boys could run free morning, noon, and night. They’d come in the house with crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, roly-polies, caterpillars, lady bugs, frogs, lizards, and handfuls of other cringe-worthy organisms. They knew just where to look to find the best critters.

When fall comes around the leaves die, the tiny bugs and reptiles seem to hide, the wind is cold, and the boys grow…bored. Where we used to coax them into staying inside during the hottest parts of the day, now we have to convince them there is something worth finding outside after the first run of the morning. We don’t get much snow in even the deepest months of winter, but in October? Nothing but gusty, brown cold. Mom and Dad have to put on their thinking caps when the seasons change.

Routine, Routine, Routine

The R-word is one I hate, and I’m not fond of that word either. The only thing routine about our family is the places we go through the week at the same time every week: church, taekwando, Celebrate Recovery, my mom’s, repeat. During the winter, if we don’t slip outdoor play into our daily routine, it just won’t happen.

This year I’ll be talking a lot about practical life schooling, which is my focus in my homeschooling with my boys. They’re using an online curriculum for their main academics, which means Mom’s role is practical life application. Part of the challenge will be to include outdoor activities during cold months!

Practical Outdoor Play Made Easy 

First, make sure you know what your kid likes to do outside, how they like to learn, and how they burn their tiny-human energy. If it’s looking for critters (spatial, logical), then maybe they’d also like to look for other forms of wildlife — or proof of wildlife (nests, scratches, tracks, droppings). If your kid likes to dig in the dirt (kinesthetic), maybe he or she would also like to stack firewood, rake leaves — and jump into them — and paint a fence.

Here is my list for this October/November:

  1. Yard Work: Clearing trash, brush, weeds, leaves away so that next year our yard can flourish (and we can enjoy the snow more thoroughly this winter).
  2. Nature Hikes: To find nuts, nests, bones, turtle shells, etc., that point to life in the woods. Also bird-watching is fun this time of year because some leave, and others arrive.
  3. Building and Maintaining a Bird Feeder: Build a bird house or feeder for those winter birds that stick around. Let the kids photograph the birds and make a book that they can add to as seasons change.
  4. Stacking Firewood: Mainly because the kids unstacked our firewood this summer, playing, they can stack it this fall. Discuss fire, responsibility, safety, and gain a little exercise.
  5. Fun Play Ideas: Dodgeball, catch, freeze tag, Olympic competitions, leaf/finger painting, and an internet’s worth of other outdoor activities to choose from.
  6. Star Gazing: I don’t know one kid that doesn’t like a bonfire on a fall night. This is a great time to star gaze with your students. If you have a telescope of your own: BONUS. If you don’t, your local library may have some to check out.
  7. Local Nature Excursions: Our regional Nature Center has fantastic programs, and many specific to homeschoolers. They also have backpacks full of themes activities for two-week check-out. If you live near to a nature center, conservation area, or zoo, there are many similar programs for homeschoolers. Also, many regions have fairs, fall festivals, and orchards with regular programing.
  8. Camping: My family loves to camp, and unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity this summer. So we’re planning one fall campout before the weather turns too cold for our littles. If you are a camping family, plan ahead, and choose a camping area that has some educational programming during you stay.
  9. Have Fun: Your outdoor play may not be part of your specific schooling, but it is part of staying healthy! Set an example by spending time outdoors, and do something you love to do outdoors. Your enthusiasm will show.
  10. Include Others: Activities can be more fun when you include people you enjoy to hang out with. Spend time outside, then come in for some hot cocoa and popcorn by the fire.