Teaching Children to Work - Summer Chores


Last week Kristen and I attended an orientation program at Purdue. She registered for her fall classes (15 hours of nursing and science courses!) and saw the apartment she'll be sharing with three other girls from her church. One of the highlights of our day was touring Andrew's lab and eating gyros with my favorite 24-year old.  (Having two kids at the same university is so convenient! And having done this once before, Tim and I highly recommend sending your daughters to college with an older brother.  Built-in bike and computer repair, transportation to church, and the occasional trip home is fabulous, not to mention the brotherly protection from unwanted male admirers. )
Kristen and I also had to sit through a mind-numbing session for parents and students which began with tips for making the transition to college and ended with the group trying to sing "Hail, Hail, to Old Purdue" without any word prompts. (The few alumni in the group weren't able to carry the rest of us, so it was pretty sad.)  I chuckled a bit when they told us to make sure our kids knew how to do their own laundry. In our home kids take over that responsibility around age 8-10, and they have to fold and put away clothes earlier than that. But as soon as I started to get up on my high horse, I remembered that I had been one of those lazy bums who happily let her mother do all her laundry until she was married.               
Speaking of chores, summer is a great time to re-think your chore system. Usually there is more time to teach new skills to your children, and time to supervise their work.  (Remember – young kids tend to do what you INspect, not what you EXpect.) Teaching little ones to do chores can be tedious and frustrating when you know you could do a better job in a fraction of the time. But the payoff is enormous, both in terms of surviving with a busy household and in giving your kids those practical life skills they need to move into adulthood.  If you're not sure what are reasonable expectations for a certain age, check out this website for some ideas. (My kids would scoff at the suggested age for picking fruit though, because in our house if you are a biped, you have to participate in our near daily blueberry picking during the month of June.) But I do like how they give ideas for children starting at 9-24 months. If your child can walk, he or she can start helping! Little ones are usually enthusiastic about working with mommy, so take advantage of this and lay a great foundation to build on year by year.
Every summer I revisit our chore assignments, tweaking it to reflect increased abilities, responsibilities I've overlooked, and in some recent years, the absence of another child as they move on to college. With Kristen leaving in August, I need to bump another child up to take over her jobs including washing the dishes each evening and cleaning the kids' bathroom. I've also been noticing that Ben and Paul both need more responsibilities.  I've been brainstorming the jobs that aren't getting done on a regular basis plus other revisions  and am about ready to put it all together with our current assignments. We'll try it out during the summer and be in full-throttle when we start back to school in mid-August.  
The biggest help in getting chores done around here has been having chores pegged to something else in the schedule. For example, each day after breakfast we hold a work blitz for just 15 minutes. We set a timer and everyone turns to his or her daily work for that time period. My youngest boys can fit all their chores in that slot, but the rest of the kids have other time periods throughout the day to work as well. Saturdays everyone works longer, not against the clock, but until that day's extended tasks are completed.
We don't pay for routine chores, but let our children know that they are contributing to the good of the family. It's important for your children to know that their work is not make-work, but really benefits the household, so make sure you show them how this is true. We've had a number of discussions about this while doing our daily blueberry picking! And to make it more tangible, I'm keeping score of how many quarts of berries go in our freezer. We're aiming for 22+ quarts, which will allow for 2 during each of the 11 months blueberries are not in season.  (We're pretty close to that already, so I might need to bump the goal.)
Think through what life skills your kids need. Then as you work, include them. Teach your sons to split firewood and change the oil. Teach your daughters how to bake bread and sew.  Everyone needs some basic cooking skills. (It is a graduation requirement in our homeschool that you be able to prepare a minimum of seven different dinners. This became necessary after watching our eldest son survive one summer on Taco Bell, frozen pizza, and ice cream out of the carton.)  However you divide home responsibilities, remember that it is vital that your children learn how to work and work hard.  Almost nothing else will set them apart more distinctly than this as they move out of your home and make their own way in the world.
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