Be All You Can Be in the Lord’s Army

Our young heroes are so inspired to make a difference in the Lord’s Army as they meet the brave men and women of the United States Military during our Military Quest. They were honored to begin our quest with a video call straight from the Naval base in Virginia Beach with LT Commander Bryon Thomson or “Dr. Bryon.” They were amazed to meet a doctor who also served in the Navy. The lieutenant was very impressed with the respectfulness, curiosity, and confidence of our heroes, fully prepared with questions they came up with on their own:


Why did you choose this mission?


How did you become LT Commander?


What is your greatest fear?


What do you do in the Navy?


Do you believe in God?


What is your favorite food?  


What is your favorite ice cream?


How fun was the military?

Each week during this session, they will be getting to know the real heroes in every branch of the military who serve and protect our country. This week, the heroes started “Basic Skills Training” learning all about the U.S. Army. They also encountered many members of the Army through their research and found out various ways the soldiers serve, either as chaplains, doctors, engineers or even artists.

During one discussion, the heroes learned about an Army officer who chose to become an Army chaplain, LT Amy Wainwright. After hearing her testimony, they conferred with one another whether they would have made the same choice, which is to go back to training as a chaplain instead of going out on a mission after completing basic skills training. They unanimously agreed that it is more important to follow God’s calling even if it means to go back to school or do more work and training.

Throughout the week, our heroes have been living up to the Army Values. They discussed the meaning and gave examples for each value,  then they pondered which one they believed was the most important value. Several heroes recognized the importance of respect, especially for their parents. Some heroes acknowledged that selfless service is most important as they correlated it with their hero’s contract promise, to think of others before themselves. One hero pointed out personal courage to be most important for a soldier when facing enemies.

Further into the discussion, some heroes expressed their fears going into battle. So the heroes started to describe the greatest fears that the soldiers face when they go into battle. Many established their fear for safety and staying alive. In light of this, the heroes recognized the sacrifices that soldiers make to protect our nation. One hero believed the biggest sacrifice they make is to be separated from their families. But most of them agreed that it would be hardest to face the enemy. Then one hero reminded his friends about another battle we learned from the Bible and provided the group with a direct quote from Ephesians 6:12, pointing out that we too “go to battle like the soldiers, but we fight in a spiritual battle in an unseen world… but we do not have to be afraid because Jesus is on our side, so we are safe and we always win the battle!”

By learning about the sacrifices and dangers our military heroes face, our young heroes have become very determined to support our deployed troops throughout this quest by preparing care packages for them. They agreed to sponsor a unit with ten members, one for each hero. They are so excited to get to know the members that they have started writing letters, making cards, and drawing pictures for them. In addition, the heroes carefully peruse the wishlist provided through to decide what they would like to add to the care packages until the last day of the quest when they will be ready to pack and ship the boxes to their sponsor unit. And they promised to ask for permission before raiding their pantries and supply cabinets at home.

Military Quest

Focus topic

Research options

Project options

Week 1

Feb 19 – 23

US Army

Structure and organization

Serving in the Army





Online chat with Sgt Star

Sponsor a unit

Letter writing

Care kits lists

Crochet/knit scarves

Military flags

Army soldiers

Binoculars camouflage painting

Toy soldiers parachutes

Box Army vehicles

Week 2

Feb 26 – Mar 2

Marine Corps

Becoming a marine

Being a marine

Roles in corps

Physical fitness

Legendary uniforms

Warfighting lab

Stories of distinction

Contact a marine

Thursday, March 1, 10:30 am

Field trip to The Silverside Museum

Armed forces uniforms




Week 3

Mar 5 – 9





Uniforms and Insignias

Navy equipment


Navy life

Stories of service

Careers and jobs

Navy chat

National Anthem – Star Spangled Banner

Patriotic songs

Parade of military colors

Week 4

Mar 12 – 16

Air Force






Explore videos

Chat live

Tribute to Veterans

Song for Veterans

Pledge of Allegiance

Writing Poetry

Week 5

Mar 19 – 23

Coast Guard





Experience the Coast Guard

Life in the Coast Guard

Field trip: March 22, 10 am

Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Support our troops banners

Collection drive posters

Military artwork

Sponsor unit flyers

Invitations for family and friends

Week 6

Mar 26 – 30


Hero Box

Operation Gratitude

Wounded Warriors

Exhibition: March 28, 2-4pm

HeroBox  Collection Drive

Write a letter to the Commander in chief

Collection drive script practice


Practice march

ELS help in EMS exhibition


Our Week At A Glance

Week 1: February 19-23, 2018






Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began a good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Where are you in your hero’s journey? What work has God done in you? What work will God continue that He has not finished yet? Philippians 1:9I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.What ways can your love grow?Being friendly, playfulHelping those in need Philippians 1:10-11Live pure and blameless lives…filled with the fruit of your salvation – the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God. What do you do when you seem to always get in trouble because you forget things that your parents have asked you to do, or make mistakes, or make a mess? Philippians 1:12Everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.How has your hero’s journey spread the Good News? Philippians 1:18The message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. When things do not go your way, what do you do?

Writer’s workshop

Questions for LT Commander Thomson

Writing journal

Wishlist for troops

Letter writing for troops

Reflection paragraph


When does a hero submit to authority?

Hero talk: video call:

LT Commander Thomson

Basic training: why soldiers joined

Do think the soldiers made good choices for their heroes’ journey?

Purpose and reason:

Why have a military?

Bigger picture of being a soldier: Army values

Which Army value is most important?




Selfless service



Personal courage

Building soldiers up through prayer: an Army chaplain’s story

What is the biggest sacrifice soldiers make? What would be harder for you if you were a soldier?

Leaving your family

Facing the enemy

Launch your career through the Army Reserve

Would you choose to join the Army Reserve to reach your goals for your career or would you find another way to reach your goals?

An Army Public Affairs Officer: serving her community and her country

Is it more important to serve your community or the country?

Project time

US Army


Military banners

Collection drive care kits

Sponsor a hero

US Army Poster

Care kits lists

Cards for soldiers

Army soldiers

Binocular camouflage painting

Toy soldier parachutes

Box carton Army vehicles




Cutting shapes for Army soldier


Army song:

The Army goes rolling along


US Army flag




Growth mindset

Did you avoid challenges? Or accept the challenge?

Did you give up on something that was challenging? Or did you persevere?

Did your effort help you improve? Or was your effort useless?

Did you ignore negative feedback? Or did you learn from it?

Did you learn from your friends’ success? Or did that make you sad?

Upcoming Event

Thursday, March 1

10:30 am

Field trip to The Silverside Museum



Out of the Mouth of Babes

What a blessing it was to worship with our heroes during their exhibition! It was truly amazing to hear from the Lord through our early learners in their worship and messages. As our heroes prepared for their church service, they were filled with so much joy and excitement, so much so that they would even work on it outside of project time, such as during play-based learning time and indoor recess. As a result, they were able to coordinate and organize a church service based on world-class examples from their own churches. They voted and decided on the name of their church. One hero even took the initiative on her own, without any instructions or suggestions, and made a big banner for Journey Church at home, and brought it to school ready for her friends to color and paint. In addition, while researching their own churches, they decided to make their own website for Journey Church to help others learn about their church and ministries. They chose the template, added text and images, and changed the backgrounds for the website. They were so full of confidence and boldness in their faith, believing in the gifts the Lord has given them, their calling, and their place in serving God’s kingdom, which they enthusiastically expressed through their ministries and mission statements.  

The worship team was so dedicated to worshipping the Lord in song and dance. They worked together in choosing from their favorite worship songs the song they would like to sing during our church service, through lots of voting and negotiating. They also choreographed their own dances to each song, based on some videos or dance steps they created themselves. They found the videos they would like to use and added them to our slides presentation. It was amazing what they were able to accomplish on their own when they were empowered to work together and make their own decisions.

Our pastors and our bishop were committed to delivering their messages from the Lord that they wanted to share during the church service. From the very beginning, they believed they were called to teach and speak for the Lord. Each hero chose the message they would like to share. They created the slides they would like to use to add to the presentation. It was inspiring how the heroes had a specific message, which they believe the Lord has placed in their hearts, through Bible verses, Bible stories, discussions, or personal experiences. Their messages during rehearsals were getting better and better each day as they kept adding more and more (which unfortunately dwindled down to shorter messages at the exhibition in lieu of the presence of a much more intimidating audience, sorry, so I will record more on video next time). Eventually, as the heroes continued on their quest to build the Body of Christ and prepare for the church service, not only the pastors and the bishop had a message to share, even our worship team and our bakers were given a Word from the Lord. Every early learner made the decision on their own, without coercion, suggestion, or external motivation, to stand in front of a crowd and share something the Lord has spoken to them in their hearts.

As the heroes reflected on our quest, many of them felt that while doing all their work, they had so much fun that it did not feel like work at all. But as we have witnessed during the exhibition and all around our studio, our young heroes did do a lot of work. They stayed on task during our project times, engaged in meaningful work that they believed was very important to meet their individual goals. Some heroes diligently searched for the worship songs. Another hero wrote pages and pages of the lyrics to the songs, which she said was for her friends to help them remember the words to the songs. Some heroes read Bible stories to each other in the library. Many heroes used a Bible app to interact with Bible stories. And another group of heroes was busy creating every piece of the armor of God and planning activities for their younger siblings who would take part in the kids’ ministry. What an amazing sight to see the Lord build His Body through a small group of young believers.

Right before the exhibition, the heroes discussed their main purpose for our church service. One hero pointed out that we really need to tell people that Jesus loves them no matter what. All the heroes agreed and also talked about listening to the Holy Spirit to know what to say during the exhibition. Another hero added that all we do, our worship songs, dances, and messages, are all not for ourselves, not even for parents and families, but for God. Someone else reminded her friends that we need to focus on God during the church service instead of ourselves.

Seeing it all come together during the exhibition was a spectacular demonstration of how the Lord works in our studio. Because the heroes were not restricted or limited to complete specific tasks or assignments, they were enabled to discover in their own ways what the Lord really calls them to do, to learn, and to be. But truth be told, the exhibition was barely a glimpse of what our heroes have truly learned during this quest. Even with the advantage of seeing the heroes at work each day and having heard some of their thoughts and ideas throughout the session, assessing, measuring, and evaluating their learning seems to be a daunting task, even impossible, except for the Lord who knows their hearts and minds, constantly at work in growing the seeds that have been planted during this quest.

Thus, the exhibition continues, as the heroes continue to amaze us each and every day, from this day forth, at the end of the Body of Christ quest, and we have yet to witness even more splendor and greatness the Lord has in store in each hero. Simply put, one hero exclaimed, “Ms. Elsie, you are learning a lot from us!  We are not learning anything from you. God is making us learn on our own!”

Our Week At A Glance


Using the Armor of God

A friend shows you a new game in his Chromebook during core skills time.  You agree it is a fun game but you know that you should do your  work. You want to be a good friend. What would a good friend do?

You are visiting your friend. You saw your friend watching videos that are scary. No one will ever know you watched the videos. What would you do?

Above all else guard your heart…

Proverbs 4:23

What are ways we could guard our hearts?  Why does the Bible tell us to guard our hearts?

Ephesians 6: 10-17

Which armor of God would you put on first and why?

Ephesians 6:18

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

When do you pray? What do you pray for?


What do you love most about your church? What is one thing you wish you could change about your church?

What connects people within a church? How can we help others who are not connected?

What is most important to you about the church?

Church is where we study God’s Word, learn to live better lives, where we become a family.

What is our responsibility within the community of the church? Who gave us this responsibility?

Project time

Prepare slides

Church ministries



Practice Church service



How can we improve our exhibition?

Do feel ready for the exhibition? What would you do to better prepare yourself for the exhibition?

What is the most important message we would like to share during our exhibition?

Final Lesson – A Regret?

Written by Laura Sandefer and originally posted Feb. 09, 2018

My first three lessons were simply learning what the key ingredients are for brewing up an environment at home that feeds a child’s learning journey: hero’s stories, curiosity, and decision-making strategies. Combine these gently and let them marinate. It’s a nourishing combination.

My last lesson verges on being a regret. I understand only now how deeply courageous other parents have been to join us on this wild adventure of re-creating school.

It’s one thing to have a new idea. It’s another to let go of the familiar, even beloved, old idea and grasp on to something brand new. Joseph Campbell described the transitions from old ideas to new ones as potentially tortuous and painful.

Yet so many of you have done it.

Acton parents have crossed the threshold from familiar schooling to a brand new vision of what school could be. They’ve trusted us, trusted the process and stepped back so their children could step forward.

This is no small feat – even with the evidence we now have that Eagles learn deeply, lead with empathy, and succeed in apprenticeships, college applications, and traditional testing – to mention of few outcomes of the Acton experience.

Over the past few years, I have witnessed and engaged with other parents opening Actons launching around the world. Each day I hear their stories of challenges, quandaries, and celebrations. Often the stories are of parents bravely living through the growing pains during the first few months of the journey.

Hence, my final lesson.

Lesson #4: Parents who venture into a learner-driven community and stay to watch their children struggle, fail, get back up, grow, and achieve are the true heroes at Acton Academy.

These are the people changing the world today so their children may do so tomorrow. These are the people setting children free to find who they were meant to be. It’s the parents.

You may think because we ask parents not to intervene on behalf of their Eagle that we don’t believe parents are important as a part of our studio life. Quite the contrary. The parents fuel the entire experience with their choices, principles, and words.

I’ve always wanted this blog to help Acton parents by providing explanations of our methods and stories of how it all plays out at home. My mission moving forward is to go deeper into the experience in order to encourage and support parents better. There are no heroes who go at it alone. We all need the support of a community bound by common principles. And even when the journey gets hard, it doesn’t have to be tumultuous on the soul. There can be a feeling of peace and satisfaction when we know we are heading in the right direction. One day at a time.

Lesson Three: Getting to the Magic of Parenting

Written by Laura Sandefer and originally posted Feb. 06, 2018

Lesson #3: Level up your storytelling.

I overheard Charlie say to Sam, “Don’t do what mom did! Remember that story? It didn’t turn out very well!”

We all use storytelling in our parenting. We know the power of a good tale and how hungry our children are to learn details about our childhoods and daily lives. Our stories entertain, teach, relax, excite, and forewarn.

But my experience at Acton Academy has changed my strategy of storytelling.

I now know all children need a repository of particular stories – hero’s stories. And as a parent, I aim to hunt for them and weave them as I go through daily life.

An esteemed friend described the alternative well: “Without hero’s stories children grow up into young adults who believe they are fragile and are not to blame for their own misery.”

Pre-Acton, I released this level of storytelling to the great filmmakers and writers. But I cannot risk missing the opportunity. Hero’s stories give my children an inner map for traversing their journeys with confidence. They teach that life isn’t fair, feelings get hurt, ordeals arise but there are mentors, guides, true friends to help along the way. And, most importantly, these stories transmit the truth that my children – all children – have unique inner gifts to discover and use joyfully to help others in the world. I don’t need to be the most brilliant storyteller to share how the checkout worker at the grocery store swiftly covered for the woman who didn’t have enough money to buy her groceries.

Here are two main ideas to help you level up your own storytelling.

What’s a hero?

At Acton we describe heroes as people who don’t always win but who get back up when they fall. Heroes aren’t afraid to be wrong. Heroes look for mentors and guides. They work to solve problems. They are honest even when it’s hard and learn how to apologize with humility. Heroes accept responsibility – actually crave responsibility.

Victims, in contrast, blame, complain and shirk responsibility – even responsibility for their own feelings. They look for the easy way out or quit when things get hard. Victims have excuses when things don’t go well and have a hard time apologizing because “it’s not really my fault.”

We all act like heroes and like victims. Being aware of these mindsets helps us call out one or the other and shift attitudes and behaviors when needed. It’s helpful to use a lot of forgiveness and grace with yourself and others in the process.

What’s the framework for a hero’s story?

I like this simple description from “A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell” and adapted by Chris Vogler:

“A hero is introduced in his ordinary world, where he receives the call to adventure. He is reluctant at first but is encouraged by the wise old man or woman to cross the first threshold, where he encounters tests and helpers. He reaches the innermost cave, where he endures the supreme ordeal. He seizes the sword or the treasure and is pursued on the road back to his world. He is resurrected and transformed by his experience. He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or elixir to benefit his world.”

(Don’t forget the “cave” is the thing you fear doing the most. You’ve got to go there to get your treasure. I love that angle when I need to encourage my children to face something hard.)

Happy treasure hunting and storytelling!

To Share or Not

ME: “Imagine that you are sharing what you have learned about yourself and your role in The Body of Christ with others. You can share ANYTHING you like about your experiences-but your words could have the power to inspire or change a life. What would you want to share?”

HERO 1: “I wouldn’t really want to share. It’s kind of personal.”

HERO 2: “I agree. I might feel comfortable if I shared with just my parents, but I wouldn’t want to share with everyone.”

During one of our discussions today, our heroes expressed some concern about sharing their learning experiences with others. After hearing a few more heroes express their thoughts, one chimed in and said, “I think some of us are afraid to speak in front of people.”

Our heroes’ comments lead to a discussion on fear. While I had anticipated the discussion to go in a completely different direction, our heroes had a lot to say about fear and speaking in front of people (a skill that many adults struggle with). I think this is the power of a student-driven learning environment-we can address and learn from the very experiences and challenges that our heroes are facing.

This week, our heroes’ journey through The Body of Christ involved reflecting on their growth and all they have been learning. Our heroes answered a series of reflection questions, started writing about some of their experiences (with their mentors, service projects, and other quest challenges), and also discussed what they have learned about The Body of Christ through some of the challenges they have faced.

In addition, our heroes also tackled a few new challenges. On Monday, our heroes learned about the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) which works to provide safe and affordable housing to families in Grand Rapids. Our heroes also worked on making blankets for families that will soon be moving into a new housing/apartment unit.

On Thursday, our heroes also took a field trip to Christian Healthcare Centers (CHC) where they participated in a variety of activities to learn more about the heart. Afterwards, our heroes discussed how though the doctors and professionals at CHC are not directly involved in the church building, they are still operating as a part of Christ’s church, and functioning in specific roles.

Discussion Questions This Week Included:

  • Should humans invest more money into robotics? Would the world be better if there were more human robots like Sofia?
  • When you are growing in excellence, is it most helpful to look at a “world class example”, have a peer review your work, or revise your work (adding and changing it)?
  • What is your definition of a “student-driven learning environment”? What is your definition of an independent learner?
  • What have you learned about The Body of Christ through this quest so far?
  • Do you think the world should use a virtual and universal currency system (like The Bitcoin)?
  • What was in your challenge this zone? Your comfort zone? What is something that was in your panic zone?
  • Is it ever good to act out of fear?

Hero-centered Learning

Each day, our heroes actively pursue their own learning, driven by their individual interests, needs, and abilities. What they learn and how they learn it is centered on the choices they make. They thrive when given the responsibility for their own learning. Empowering them to meet their learning goals based on their own choices provides our heroes valuable opportunities to increasingly engage in their learning, independently make decisions, and assess their individual competencies.

The heroes are empowered when they are involved in planning, implementation, and evaluation. They excel in a task when they are given their voice in what, why, and how they learn. Our heroes achieve their goals because of their involvement in choosing the focus of the content. Their interests drive the skills they would like to develop and concepts that they would like to learn about. Throughout the day, whether they are working on core skills, writer’s workshop, and project time or collaborating with friends for PE, music, or civilization, our heroes make their own choices in what area content they would like to work on, the amount of time they would like to work on it, where to do their work, with whom to work with, what materials or programs they would like to work with, and how to demonstrate their learning. And because their choices perfectly match their interests and needs with the skills and concepts, our heroes succeed and achieve their goals.

Our heroes especially thrive when they are given a chance to take charge of learning activities, regardless of mastery of content skills. When given the opportunity, they demonstrate their ability to lead, negotiate, communicate effectively, engage in higher order thinking, and problem solve. Hero-led learning experiences have proven to be effective in addressing the specific needs of each hero and presenting context that is more meaningful to them. The opportunity to confidently apply skills in a meaningful way keeps them engaged in authentic learning, wherein they tackle challenges that they are likely to encounter in their real world.

Our Week At A Glance

Week 5: January 22 – 26, 2018







You’re with friends when they start teasing another hero, taking his things and calling him names. If you stick up for him, the group could turn on you. You start to slip away, but someone throws you the boy’s backpack. What will you do? (James 4:17; Ecclesiastes 4:10)

You’re in the middle of an intense video game. Just a few more points and you’ll beat your high score. You hear Dad say it’s time to turn off the game. The game’s loud, so it would be easy to pretend you didn’t hear. That way, you could finish the game. What will you do? (Colossians 3:20)

You heard your best friend and some others lying to the principal about who started a fight. You didn’t see the fight, but your friend told you another good friend of yours started it. Now an innocent person has been blamed and will be suspended from school. What will you do? (James 4:17; Proverbs 12:17)

You’re playing with two good friends. They both want to be your best friend. You think you like one friend better. That friend says, “Let’s go play by ourselves.” You know your other friend’s feelings will be hurt if she’s left out. What will you do? (Proverbs 17:17; Luke 6:31)

There’s a new kid at school who hardly talks and seems to look at the ground a lot. The other kids laugh at him, and they expect you to laugh with them. You know this child needs a friend, but if you become his friend, the other kids might not be your friends anymore. What will you do? (John 15:12-14; 1 John 4:11)



How do we learn about God? Do you learn more from the Bible or the world? Why should we believe the Bible?

Where did everything come from? How do you know?

How do we know what is good or bad? Do we know even without anyone telling us? Do people who do not know God also not know what is good or bad?

What is free will? Why did God give us free will?

Why do bad things happen? Whose fault is it when something bad happens?

Project time

Role play defending your faith

Church service


Church service


Youth ministry

Record personal mission

statement videos

Website presentations



What do you do when friends do not include you in some activities?

Is it ok to disagree with a friend? What do you do if they get upset? What words can you say to help them feel better? Role play disagreement

How do you help a friend who needs help making good choices? What do you say when they choose to make sad choices?

What should we do when a friend does not want to play? What if they would like to play something you do not want to play?

Who helped another friend make good choices?

Character callouts

Lesson Two: Getting to the Magic of Parenting

ritten by Laura Sandefer and originally posted Feb. 01, 2018

First, be curious.

Second, make decisions out loud.

Do you let your children hear how you decided to oversleep, pay your bills, read that particular book, forgive your friend?

Do they see you claiming responsibility for your life in little ways or do they see you often blaming a system or a person when things don’t go your way?

Do you let them see you admit being wrong? Making a bad decision? Dealing with consequences?

At Acton Academy, our Eagles learn early that their choices matter. They have great power to make decisions and know that there are real consequences to each one. The processes in our studios are designed to shine the light on this power and to provide tools to help make them make good decisions and to recover from poor choices.

A few of the decision-making tools Eagles are equipped with are: Urgent/Important Matrix, Pro-Con; Challenging Assumptions, and Asking for Different Perspectives.

This is one of the ways Acton Academy turns learning upside down. In a traditional school, children are told what to do and when to do it. This sets them on a perilous path when they must venture out into a vastly complex and merciless world.

We had a college student over for dinner the other night and he was upset about not knowing how to decide what job to look for after graduation. Our sons looked at him in consternation and later asked us, “How does he not know how to decide what to do?” After years of the Acton method, it just seems natural for them to think through decisions methodically without a high level of stress.

Acton parents are the bravest people I know because they are willing to make courageous choices for and with their children. They are willing to get out of their own comfort zones to set their children free to learn how to make hard decisions. It would be so much easier to tell our children what to do and protect them from failing. But the Acton parents I observe are willing to smash the common idols of the average parent: being right, being in control and looking good to peers.

Our learning philosophy at Acton is: Clear thinking leads to good decisions. Good decisions lead to good habits. Good habits lead to strong character. Strong character determines destiny.

Like charity, this philosophy begins in our homes. Parents get to be the role models of clear thinking and good decisions.

So pull out the scratch pads and let your children help you weigh the pros and cons the next time you need to make a decision.