By Lisa Yoder
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #13, 1996.
Lisa Yoder explains how to teach your children to have good character as well as a good education.
"I haven't received a Valentine's card since I was in grade school!" a widower from our congregation exclaims. His eyes brighten as he reminisces about decorating a box to receive homemade cards of lace and paper from his classmates. Although he adds that our son, Jordan, "didn't have to go to all that trouble to send me a card," I know he is glad Jordan had.
Actively serving others can fit in well with a homeschool lifestyle, and it does not have to be an enormous undertaking. Our family uses many excellent resources for character training. However, most do not include ways to implement character traits. If we truly wish to train, not just instruct, then we need our children to put character into action.
Who Do We Serve?
Who to choose? Shut-ins often have the greatest needs. Your whole family can adopt one shut-in to serve, with everyone contributing his or her talents. You can go on visits together, taking fresh baked goods that one of the children made. One child can rake leaves or clean outside windows while the others visit or do some household chore that has become too overwhelming. Or you can take decorations to brighten up a nursing home room for the holidays.
Next, consider the elderly in your church, beginning with the widows and widowers. Often the grumpiest person in your church is the loneliest.
Even a little attention can do wonders for the lonely. Our sons each chose one person from our congregation as their "special person." They see them each Sunday to give them a hug and chat briefly. This gives them regular contact and provides them an opportunity to give gifts they have made during the past week.
Tears come to the eyes of one widow every time our youngest son sings or does something special in the service. He has become her special little person, making church more personal for her.
Neighbors are another option for the homeschooler. Take notice of the elderly, ill, and lonely in your neighborhood. Do not forget to consider children who may fit these qualifications. Your child's friendship could change the character of an outcast child in the neighborhood.
Whichever category you feel best fits your family, remember to pray and ask God who He wants you to serve. The Riordan family has a cookie ministry. Rather than chose one person, they pray for the Lord to reveal to them who needs cheering. Each week they make and deliver cookies to that person.
We all try to train our children to be kind to those less fortunate and to serve others. Making a conscious effort to consider one particular person consistently (or to do a particular service regularly, like deliver cookies) will have lasting results in your child's discipline and the lives of those you serve.
How Do We Serve?
The first thing you must impress upon your children is the value of prayer. Instruct them in petition and intercession. Along with our devotions (and often meal prayers as well) our children pray for "their person." If we focus on being more open to God's Spirit and pray that for ourselves in our family devotions, they pray that individually for "their person" as well.
When we started, we had our children cut out photos from our church directory and place them in home-made frames. Next, they made marbleized paper note cards and wrote to their special friends explaining that they had their pictures in their rooms to remind them to pray for them daily. Would it not touch your heart and make your burdens lighter to know that someone specifically prayed for you daily?
When the person misses church, our children also inquire and send "get well" or "missed you" cards. The faith of children praying for illnesses and loneliness is often more fragrant to the Lord than our adult-altered faith.
Visits are what most elderly and ill people covet more than anything. A simple monthly visit can mean so much! Especially during the holiday season, we try to take our sons to visit their person individually. Since they are still young, the adult does most of the talking. Still, that common bond between the elderly and young makes the presence of a young one uplifting for many. Visits are kept short, and our sons learn proper visiting etiquette by example and instruction. The most important rule is: "Ask questions and listen. Do very little talking about yourself."
Your church records may also reveal the person's wedding anniversary date. For a widow or widower, try to visit sometime during that week.
Having someone remember your birthday is always special. With many children doing duplicate craft projects as part of homeschool, the amount that gathers can be overwhelming! We now do many of our art projects with our people specifically in mind. Recently we studied medieval times and stained glass cathedral windows. We "painted" squares of colored tissue paper onto clear glass bottles with a thin glue. Afterwards, we spray shellacked the bottles to give them the stained-glass effect. We filled each vase with fresh flowers and presented them on recent visits. We hope to occasionally take cut flowers on following visits to refill the vases.
Holidays can be very painful, especially for those who recently have lost a spouse. Using a book on greeting cards makes a great art activity for school, and homemade cards are more meaningful than store-bought. Send the creations off to the special person, remembering even the smallest holidays.
Getting a card in the mail is almost as good as a visit! Cards brighten one's day and can be held and read over and over again.
While studying pioneer times we made homemade bread, taking a loaf to each person. Older children can do errands and yard work, especially if your person lives in your neighborhood. A commitment to shovel the walk or run to the store occasionally can help your children understand the dependence of others and the joy of service.
We can teach our children so much about character, commitment, discipline, and God's commands to serve others through these experiences. As homeschoolers, there can also be an academic benefit. Our oldest son has kept a ministry journal detailing his activities and how his person has responded. We have begun prayer journals as well. This adds to their character and their writing skills.
Take advantage of the person's expertise. Not only will they be honored to share their knowledge, skills, and abilities, but they will receive joy in giving themselves just as your child will be learning the joys of giving. We have learned a great deal about Christmas tree farming from our eight-year-old's person. Our oldest, a budding artist, has been encouraged to learn more about art and music by his person. She has even given him several books and materials to use.
God has designed the world in such a way that we receive tremendous blessings by giving ourselves to others. The joy in the moist eyes of a slight, white-haired lady as she reaches out for an eager hug from your little one will be all you need to keep you motivated!