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Teaching Children to Work

children in masks

Please understand this is a very different thing to getting work done.

Teaching children to work is not the same as accomplishing tasks.


At some point in the distant future, they may become helpful to you in handling your heavy workload, but don't hold your breath.


After that very encouraging introduction you may be thinking, "So why would I bother?"


Two reasons:
- the principle of work

- picture yourself in 15 years doing all the work of a household while your teenagers sit on a computer and ask for things.  
I don't think so.


I think if you are clear on this - teaching children to work without expecting your workload to be magically diminished - it will help you to do it better.  Not be frustrated  and cross with them over and over as the job is not done (so as you could notice).


Think of teaching a child to work like you teach them to ride a bike: after a fair bit of training and support they can finally do it but will still fall off.


I like these quotes :-

"The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride a bike.  A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom.  The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard."  Sloan Wilson


"When you teach your son, you teach your son's son."  Talmud


"If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders."  Abigail Van Buren 


From Kaye Whitworth:

"The basic principle about work is 'stewardship'.  I explain that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden, they had to labour for their food instead of just picking things that grew spontaneously and without weeds.  God meant us to learn from working - it is not a punishment but a way we can feel joy and satisfaction when a job is done well.  Projecting to the future, how can we expect to rule our own world if we cannot take care of our own room/bathroom/yard (the spaces we use plus others assigned by parents)?  This prepares us for adulthood when we will actually own or rent living spaces for ourselves and families.  An important part of growing up is learning to take personal pride in taking care of something that is ours."


The principle of stewardship is being responsible for a job that is yours.  This is better than a chore seen as repetitive ("But I did that yesterday!") and inflicted as a punishment.


Example - a 5 year old has the responsibility of the front porch.  Make it do-able by having only a door mat and a pot of flowers on the porch.  Show him how to sweep it clean, even corners (the coordination is tricky for a 5 year old), and water the plant.  Do it with him for a week or so.  Every day ask them,"How's your porch?"  Mention to anyone, "Doesn't the porch look nice?"  Watch for the moment when the child "owns" the job - feels responsible - accepts the stewardship.  I treasure comments from a small child such as - "Hey!  Who left their shoes on my porch!  They go in the basket!"


So assigned jobs need to be simple, visible.  Assigning a child the kitchen is too much, too messy, too scary.  Some start small examples are:

-keeping the couch cleared off with only a comfy quilt spread nicely on it.

-taking the dirty clothes basket to the laundry (we built a firepole from the upstairs to the downstairs, just for fun, but it doubles as a laundry shute.  It is very fun to drop the clothes down there, especially if you can land them on the dog as she sleeps.)

-picking up the floor of one room (contents of one floor go in one basket in the corner.)

-carry a few inside bins out to dump into the outside bin. 


A two or three year old can make their bed by sitting on the pillow and pulling up first the sheet, then the blanket.

Simplify care of the room by having the room basically empty except for bed, a few books on the bedside table, a few stuffed animals on the bed.  (See "Chaos Control"  in previous topics) 


An idea we are doing at the moment is to paint an old chair a bright colour (or have the child draw on it, then paint and gloss their design), and use that as a bedside table.  On the back of the chair you hang the clothes for the next day, or the child hangs the clothes they take off - beats the floor. 

This simplifies the hang your clothes up job.


Keep the same job for a long time. I think at least a year.  The steps are 1. learning the job  2.doing the job by themselves 3. doing the job without being asked  4. feeling the stewardship of it  5.keep doing the job even after the novelty has worn off which is a very necessary discipline, because work does not go away, does it.


Not too soon, give the child additional stewardships, "Wow you can handle that easily! Remember when it used to be hard?  Let's try a new job."


You have to be careful about how many children you are teaching a new stewardship to at once.  At first, I would run out of steam and never really get past step 2 or 3.  Better to take it slowly, even one at a time - occasionally this has worked to advantage as one of the children sees mum spending time with someone else and wants in on the action.  "Can't I have a job?" 


You might set up a morning stewardship and an afternoon stewardship for little ones after they have the idea. 


Teaching children to work using the stewardship idea is separate to "mustering the troops" as Bronwyn describes in her profile and as I mention in "How to Fake it".  Working together for the common cause is a different kind of teaching and I love Bron's description of how she gets so much cooperation from them by being so much fun.


My dad told the story of visiting with cousin Susie's husband, who ran a pig farm.  Dad, being a business man, talked enthusiastically about efficiency and increasing profits.  "Uncle Garry, I don't think you understand.  I'm not raising pigs, I'm raising boys."  Efficiency was not as important as teaching his sons to work.


Approach it in a positive way (instead of, "This room's a mess!", say, "Someone's couch looks great!"), not expecting miracles and try to remember you are not doing housework, you are raising a child.


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