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.
entrepreneur partnership

Homeschool…to Entrepreneur Partnership

Many homeschoolers choose business over college. Homeschooled all his life, Stephen was not sure he wanted to attend college. He visited several colleges, spoke with recruiters and current students, took the ACT test in preparation, but was still not certain that life was for him.

His ACT scores were extremely high, opening up scholarship opportunities that would help pay for a four-year degree at some of the best schools. Still, he hesitated.

Jeremy and Stephen had been friends for many years; their families enjoyed social time together often. Jeremy, also homeschooled, had good scores on his tests. He had always just assumed that college was the next step, although he had no idea what he wanted as a career.

entrepreneur partnershipThe boys often helped others in their church and neighborhood with needed chores. They did lawn work, cleaning out garages, took care of pets while owners were away. They learned as they went; their customers were willing to teach them skills while getting help. Often they received pay, but other times they just did it to help out a friend. These odd jobs were just a part of their everyday lives; they enjoyed working, being busy, and helping others.

entrepreneur partnerIt was a cool September morning when their futures changed. They were helping Roy, an elderly friend of theirs from church. Roy lived alone now and often needed help with cleaning and yard work. They even kept his dog bathed and brushed.

While taking a break from trimming trees, the boys and Roy chatted. Roy remarked that he sure would miss them, their talks and their help, when they went off to college. They assured him that they would help whenever they were home. Then he asked the question: Had they decided what they wanted to do with their lives?

The boys were silent for a few minutes. Stephen remembers stirring his cider with the cinnamon stick, feeling awkward and not knowing what to say. He really had no idea. Jeremy broke the silence by stating that he guessed he would take his first two years in general studies to try to find what he wanted to do.

Roy explained to the boys that he had his master’s degree and was never against college, but for him, it wasn’t very useful. He had had the same problem; he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but his parents were able to send him to college, so he went. He majored in biology, planning to enter the research field. But, that just didn’t turn out to be what he truly wanted to do. Retired now, the majority of his life he had owned a small restaurant with his wife. While he didn’t regret his college days, he also didn’t find them largely beneficial.

Stephen remembers the question Roy asked them implicitly: “Have you boys thought about expanding your help business, rather than going to college?”

That one question led to many hours of discussions over the next few days. The boys had certainly been making a fair amount of money, even considering that they were only working a few hours each week. They relished the feeling of helping others, especially those that needed their assistance, like Roy.

entrepreneur partnershipBoth boys were hesitant to speak about the possibility with their parents. They knew that their entire families were assuming they were college bound. The reaction of their parents was a pleasant surprise. Not only did they express their support, but they also offered to help them set up a structured business plan. Stephen and Jeremy were business owners before they completed high school.

It helped that they had the support of family and friends. Having a small base of customers helped, too. Building their business slowly while completing high school gave them a chance to build a solid structure and create a good plan.

While they offer basic help for all, they have since specialized in helping the elderly with whatever they need, including transport to shopping and appointments. Remarking that Roy inspired them, they feel that helping the senior citizens in their community is especially important to them, and they also donate time to helping those not able to pay whenever possible.

Now a legal partnership, Stephen and Jeremy have begun to hire others to help them as the business has grown beyond what they can manage full time. Other homeschool teens are now helping them part time, as they grow out their business.

Much happier to be building a business now, rather than spending time in a classroom, both boys remark that the best part of the business is that they are still helping others with necessary tasks and are able to make a difference in others’ lives.

 

The Work Aspect of the Moore Formula

The Moore Formula is based on creating a balance in the homeschool family between studying, work (manual labor), and service. As the child grows, the percentages of each change. Moore recommends to do as much work as study per day, with service additionally lasting an hour or so. A young child of nine or ten may only study an hour, with service being helping someone in the home or a close neighbor. As the child ages, study may increase to three or four hours for high school, followed by the same in work (home chores, self-employment, or family business), and service consisting of volunteering outside the home on a regular basis.

For some parents the work aspect of the Moore Formula can become a bit confusing. Today, I hope to clarify some questions and also bring in what Ellen White says we, as parents, need to teach our children about work.

As soon as a child can walk, he can begin doing “work.” This can be picking up toys or emptying out the bathroom waste basket. By teaching them early, children learn that they have a place in the family to contribute to the family’s good. There are no free rides for anyone. As they age, their work can include a home business in addition to home chores, in which they learn many practical life application skills. Working in a business (whether their own or a parent’s) can help teach math skills, planning, social skills as they talk with others, manners, patience, and even cause/effect. Running a business helps a child build self-confidence, self-control, and problem-solving. Self-employment helps boost creativity. Work teaches responsibility.

Ellen White wrote that education is more than just the studying of books. Children are to learn to be masters of labor, to use their mental faculties to make work more proficient and useful. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to dress and care for it. Labor was to provide a safeguard against temptation. Mrs. White also wrote that fathers are to train their sons as they bring them alongside them in their work. Mothers are to teach the girls of the family to handle their share of the family’s burdens. Education is to develop habits of industry, self-control, self-reliance, money management, and business acumen. (By the way, she also states that education should teach children courtesy and kindness to others, which is what service to others teaches.)

By using the Moore Formula, the child learns a truer purpose in education. It is not just learning the “3 R’s,” but learning useful life skills to be successful in the community and fulfill God’s purpose for their life.

From this background, we can see the benefits of adding work to our school day. I think one important aspect of this work is it is to be manual, rather than cerebral. Children have spent some time already doing brain work. Now they need to move their bodies. As I said earlier, work can begin as soon as a child walks by doing simple chores. A child of five can set the table and even help mother with preparing meals. My children even helped with dishes at this age by rinsing. They were washing by the time they were eight, with me standing beside them.

As a child reaches adolescence, self-employment can be sought, using their God-given talents. Moore also suggests that children this age be given an officer position in the family business. If a parent will put this type of responsibility on a child (with parental guidance), they will not see the child fail or suffer burn-out from doing too much. Instead, the child will develop self-confidence and amazing social skills as they practice life application.

In the teen years, the child can take more responsibility with self-employment as they take over covering some of their own expenses of life. They learn financial stewardship and responsibility. Psychologically, teens begin to pull away from their parents in a search for autotomy. This is a natural and essential stage of development. Teens by this time need to be practicing more decision-making, even suffering the consequences of mistakes. The parents can be there as a safeguard, but still allow the teen to feel the results of a bad choice.

The Moore Formula may sound as it would include a lot of work to implement. Instead, it allows the family to work together in God’s purpose while the child learns the needed life skills to become the person God meant him to be. Study, work, and service — three aspects of life we all can use to develop Christ-like character, no matter our ages.

Homeschooling the Gifted/Talented Child, Pt. 5

Just How Fast Should He Go?

One of the beauties of homeschooling is that a child can go as fast, or as slow, as needed in order to learn the needed material. With some gifted/talented (G/T) kids, going slow is not the problem. I know some kids who will whip through a year’s worth of math or science in just a couple of months, especially if you are using a curriculum where it is focused on reading and answering questions, followed by testing. Many G/T kids are left-brain learners, and this type of schooling is very easy for them. They can read the material, answer questions, test, and move on to the next topic.

Should they be allowed to? I mean, you’ve seen those TEDx Talks where there are 14-year-olds in college. You’ve heard of kids graduating college at 16. Is this best for the child?

On the other hand, if the child is learning easily, is it right to hold him back so he will be at a level for his same-aged peers? Does this lead to boredom? Acting out? Quitting school?

To be honest, in a public school setting, the second scenario is more than likely to be true. You are more apt to find G/T kids who are held back due to age, who get bored and begin to act out. It is not unusual for them to drop out as soon as they are old enough. I’ve seen it numerous times.

In fact, I believe that many of our behavior issues in schools today, outside of not eating real food, can be traced to boredom due to material being too easy or not being taught in their learning style.

So what does a parent do when their Johnny is speeding through their curriculum so fast he will be done in half the school year? I’m going to share some suggestions.

  1. Make sure that you are using a curriculum that is not just read and fill-in-the-blanks. There are so many choices available today that I would try to provide a learning program that provides a good deal of hands-on projects. Hands-on learning provides all types of opportunities for deeper learning, making mistakes, and making discoveries outside the pages of a textbook.
  2. For subjects of deeper interests, explore library books, documentaries, museums, businesses on the topic, etc. Allow the student to dig deeper, while at the same time making sure that they are not focusing only on the subject of interest. It is not unusual for a child to become so fascinated with a topic they can become walking encyclopedias on that particular topic. Our children need to be well-rounded learners.
  3. When they have taken the normal subjects pretty deep, be sure they have the opportunity for other learning such as music, art, photography, and sports. Each of these can allow the child to continue to learn while broadening their horizons. In today’s technical world, a child can be exposed to all types of museums online.
  4. If they are still speeding through these various topics, then it is time to turn their attention to the world and being of service. I love the Moore Formula in that students are encouraged to study, work, and be of service as part of their education. I used this template with my children. It helps give them a broader view of life. If you have problems finding places to volunteer, check out the United Way.
  5. The last option follows along with Moore’s Formula also. This is allowing them to develop a home business or help a parent in a home business (depending on age). Moore has some wonderful advice in his homeschooling books on the positive learning a child has by developing their own business.

When I was just beginning to homeschool, I met a family who had a 16-year-old son who started a computer consulting business at 14 and was in such demand that the parents had to limit his work hours due to taxes. This so impressed me that I adopted that mindset to help other young people develop ideas for their own self-employment.

When considering how deep to allow to go, it depends on the child’s age and maturity. There is nothing inherently wrong with graduating early and going to college as a pre-teen. Just remember that cognitive development is often not at the same level as emotional development in the G/T child. This is where the advanced graduation can cause some problems.

A child who is 14 and entering college will not be emotionally ready to socially interact with young adults who are experiencing living on their own for the first time and learning to set their own boundaries. Sometimes, even in our Christian schools, the older students are not as accepting of a child who has graduated years early. Life is hard enough to have to wade through teen years and early adult years without adding additional stressors.

I was given an option of placing my daughter several grades ahead. I turned it down. I had too many negative memories of being teased for being the youngest in honor classes and making the highest grades. From this homeschooler’s viewpoint, I chose to branch out to explore the wide variety of topics available rather than going so far ahead. There’s an unending amount of knowledge to learn. By going broad, rather than deep, a child can slow down enough to allow other parts of their development to catch up.

Warm, Responsive Parenting and Delayed Academics

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In our family, we chose to follow the Moore Formula approach to education. The focus on work, study, and service helped us keep a balance in our family life while presenting the value of learning to our children in every facet of our lives. I believe that the Moore approach, possibly more than any other, allows learning to become integral to the whole child and the complete family system. With this approach, education is not placed in a box. Instead, the entire world is open to the child in a way that most other types of educational systems cannot replicate.

Sometimes parents who choose to follow the Moore Formula find that they can feel like a fish swimming up the stream instead of going with the flow. That’s because they are thinking and teaching outside the norm. Our culture and the educational system are creating learning environments that take the parent out of the educational formula at an early age (preschool). One goal of the present public system of education is to do this at increasingly earlier ages. As homeschool parents, sometimes we forget that these are external, artificial pressures, and we take them upon ourselves.

Research shows that children whose parents practice delayed academics rather than early academics, catch up with and exceed peers who have been educated formally and starting at a young age. Not only are delayed-study children beneficiaries academically, but research shows that they exhibit more skills in inquiry and higher-level thinking than their traditionally educated peers. Traditionally “schooled” AND traditionally “schooled at home” children who are not taught by the work-service-study model of delayed academics that Dr. Moore promoted have been found to exhibit signs (across the board) of burnout by fourth grade. These are only a few examples of the excellence that results in children who receive an education with delayed academics.

School Can Wait is an example of a very well documented and highly researched book which proves Dr. Moore’s educational philosophy. This book is highly research oriented and the result of a $257,000 federal grant which documented the importance of unbroken continuity of parental attachment wherever possible, and the dangers of formal schooling until at least eight to ten. In it Dr. Moore states that:

“The preponderance of evidence indicates that the key role of a parent throughout the years of childhood is simply to be the kind of warm, responsive, and relatively consistent person to whom a child can safely become attached. Early development and learning are actively dependent on this relationship. Parents are chiefly responsible for a child’s early learning by their attitudes and responses to the child in frequent interactions,” (School Can Wait, p. 47).

The Moore Formula encourages warm, responsive parenting and a delay in formal academics until eight or ten years of age. It is a plan that has proven itself over and over again. It really does work!