restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Teaching Our Children Practical Skills

 Nathan Alan Black 

(Recently a DBO reader sent along this letter:

Dave, I had a question for you. As I’ve read your blog these last few years, I’m impressed with the skills your son Nathan has developed.  It also seems somewhat apparent, and perhaps I’m presuming too much, that many of those skills didn’t flow directly from you. Because we are about to head down the homeschool path, I am interested in being able to teach my sons how to work with their hands, learn real and meaningful skills that would serve them well…. And that really is the question, brother. How did you go about exposing Nathan to those things? Blessings to you and yours.

I asked Nathan if he would be willing to answer his letter. He agreed, and his response is given below. – Ed.)

Good Morning. Nathan Black here. Dad asked me to reply to this, so here goes! First, I think there are two different minds that God gives to people. The “intellectual mind” and the “practical mind.”  The intellectual person seems to be better at languages, philosophy, history, studying, etc. The practical can look at something and figure it out. It’s a difference between “let’s see where the instructions say that piece goes” and “I can see that piece goes over there.” These two mindsets are gifts from God and are both useful in different realms of life. No matter how much we may desire the other, to a certain extent we will always be handicapped on one side or the other.   

Dad is an intellectual person. Farming and working with his hands on projects doesn’t come naturally. He is a natural at languages and theology. If it weren’t for me, I think he would be happy sitting behind a desk writing books, teaching Greek, and philosophizing for the rest of his life. It’s a sign of his great love for me that he is willing to go beyond his natural gifts to work with me on the farm. He is always willing to expend that last drop of energy on a project that is important to me here at the farm. And even though he cannot “see” how to do something, once he understands the process, he is a great help to me.  

I, on the other hand, am a “practical” mind. I can look at a problem and see what to do to fix it. This is just a gift from God. There is nothing that dad did growing up that taught me this, except to facilitate opportunities for me to develop this gift. I think that I probably passed him up (with regards to home repairs and fix-its) by the time I was 12 or 13 years old. However, over the years dad has tried numerous times to teach me Greek, and that has never been accomplished! I have no ability to learn languages or philosophy. If it’s daylight outside, I’m gonna be in it! No time for studying or “book learning.” This “practical” mind has its disadvantages as well. The major one being a lack of diligence in studying and “quiet time.” The many projects going on seems to distract from “mind work.” All dad did growing up was to give me many opportunities to learn (he certainly didn’t have many skills to teach), and given the time and the “need” for a particular skill, I was able to learn it on my own (again because of this particular gift). 

Dad and I have now found a good balance. We enjoy both our intellectual discussions and working together on the farm. I try not to “push his energy” and overwork him. We both realize each other’s limitations, and try to work around them. He is a very good worker when he can understand what we are doing. What has “fallen into place” here at the farm is that I am basically “in charge” because I can see things that need to be done and how to fix them, while dad is more of a helper and overall support.  When we work together, I pretty much tell him what to do, and things go real smoothly for the most part. This is not disrespect, only a utilization of different gifts. We have found we really enjoy the time together, even though it is not his natural bent. I must say that he is very patient with me, and I really appreciate his desire to work with me even when it is harder for him! We have grown closer over the years rather than experiencing the “drifting apart” that most people go through after their children create their own lives and homes as adults.    

To sum this up, I appreciate your desire to teach manual skills to your children. This is a much neglected area in modern “specialist” society, where everyone is a specialist in one area and completely ignorant in all other areas. A mind to see how to fix things is very beneficial. However, you must understand that God gives to different people different minds. It may be that He will choose some of your children to be intellectual and others to be practical. Your job is not so much to decide this for them or even to teach them the skills, but rather to see which mind God has given them and then give them as many opportunities as possible to develop it. Growing up in a home that was lacking a “practical” minded person, I had many opportunities to learn! Do not expect all of your children to be practical, though. God has gifted different people in different ways, and whatever gift He gives, he also has a work for them to accomplish for His purposes with that gift. So encourage whatever gift they have. Rather than hiring out repair work, use the opportunity to develop skills in your children. Find someone in your area for them to work with if it seems they are a hands-on type person.  But do not try to develop something that they don’t have within them (this is one problem with the so-called Classical approach. I have seen numerous children stifled in a world of Plato and Shakespeare when they really needed a screwdriver and a brush-full of paint! It can be the other way around as well)! Teach them to follow their own bent, and only then will you develop them into all that they really can be. May God bless your endeavor to raise children for His glory. 

Nathan Black      

June 10, 2006

David Alan Black is the editor of

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