This is Part III of the series Teaching our Children to Work. Click on the links to read Part I or Part II.
Have you heard of the Moore Formula? If you have not, I highly recommend doing a little research on Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore or reading one of their books, Better Late Than Early or The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook. They have some very interesting information on the effects of modern education methods.
One thing they stress, based on their many years of research, is an emphasis on teaching children to work. The Moore Formula encourages the child's time be split into three parts: Study (very little in the early years, but gradually increasing with maturity), manual work (at least as much as study), and home/community service. When questioned about the emphasis on work, the Moores respond,
"It is the most practical, productive and refined discipline tool. It awards authority (freedom) equal to ability to accept responsibility. Few problems with these kids!"
Teaching our children to work in our homes is a gift to them and a wonderful, effective tool to teaching them the self-discipline they will need to grow into mature, responsible adults.
But how does it work in real life, you may ask? Many times I will read a good article or a parenting book that I thoroughly enjoyed and maybe even gained new insight from, such as the Moores' book, but then have no idea how to apply it in my own home. I am a concrete, black-and-white kind of gal who has trouble translating concepts into practical application. I need examples. Don't just tell me, show me!
For Young Children:
1. Start small. As with anything, a child's abilities will grow as they grow and mature. Ideally, as mentioned in the last post, children learn to work from the earliest age by "working" alongside you. However, at some point, usually around 3 or 4 years, they learn to work alone. For example, I usually have my younger children empty the dishwasher. It's a simple, repetitive job that improves their motor skills and cognitive abilities as they sort the items and place them in their proper place. At age 3 or 4 years, I might start giving them part of the dishwasher to do alone, like emptying the silverware tray (after I have removed the knives!). The rest of the dishwasher we do together. Another simple task is folding laundry. As a toddler, their help is optional as they try to mimic my folding. By 3 or 4 years old, I give them a small pile of washcloths that is their responsibility to fold. These are short, simple tasks and they are still working with me, but a portion of the task is theirs alone. Gradually more responsibility is given to them as they master different tasks.
2. Use plenty of praise. Children know the difference between flattery and genuine praise. Find something your child has done well, and give them a genuine compliment. My little boys especially seem to thrive on "physical" compliments--vigorous high fives, hugs that lift them off the ground, a victory lap piggy back ride around the dining room, etc.
3. Have an older sibling teach them. This is a win-win situation! Your younger child learns a new skill, your time is free for another task, and an older child learns responsibility and how to be a faithful overseer.
4. Work toward independence. It is important that children transition from working alongside a parent or older sibling to independence. In the past, if we have a lot to get done in a short amount of time, I will divide up the tasks by person, write them on an index card, and give one card to each person. For non-readers (a child about 5 or 6 years old who is still not a fluent reader), I have drawn simple pictures on index cards of the jobs I want them to do. For example, a dryer and laundry basket for emptying the dryer; a feather duster for dusting furniture; a stack of dishes for emptying the dishwasher. For a child who is learning to work independently, I might put two or three pictures of tasks on a card and have the child work alone, crossing off pictures as they complete each task. Once the chores on the card are finished, they turn it in to me so I can check their work. Sometimes they might get a small treat (think Hershey kiss), especially if it was a difficult task or more work than I normally would assign at one time. We have a simple tool for teaching how to set the table--another great task for little ones--Table Setting Placemat. Just click on the icon to download. I recommend printing on cardstock and laminating with a Scotch laminator for durability.
5. Use rewards cautiously. (Says the woman who just wrote about rewarding her children for working!) I am not a big fan of paying children for chores. I know there are benefits, such as teaching them how to manage money. However, the underlying idea that can be communicated is that children are "owed" something for any work that they do, rather than viewing that work as a contribution to the family for the good of all. It also doesn't prepare them for adulthood. As an adult, a good many of the things I do throughout the day do not have a monetary reward. Come to think of it, I'm a stay-at-home mom. I don't get paid for anything! Satisfaction in a job well done, bringing glory to God, and my family's appreciation are my rewards. We do our children a disservice by teaching them to expect to be paid for everything they do. That being said, I have used small rewards before. If someone has done a particularly good job or had an excellent attitude, I might reward the child in some way (not necessarily with money).
For Middle-Aged Children:
As a child matures emotionally and physically, the bar is raised. This is where their help is a real asset and a good work ethic becomes part of their own value set.
1. Set a goal of "mastery". When a child is learning a task, it helps to have them repeat that task until they have mastered it. For example, when my 3 oldest children were around 5, 6, and 8 years, they learned to clean the bathroom. They were each given a task in the bathroom (potty, bathtub, sink/countertop) and that became their weekly job until they had "mastered" those jobs. Once they had learned their jobs well, they were given a different job to learn. Eventually, they learned how to clean the entire bathroom alone. (Nothing motivates someone to do their best like being on potty duty until you've mastered cleaning the potty!)
2. Be specific. Don't assume a child knows how to do something simply because they have seen you do it one hundred times. (They probably haven't actually been paying attention anyway when you have done the task.) Give your child specific instructions of how something should be done. If need be, do the task with them several times until they understand and you are confident they can do it alone.
3. Expect quality work. Translation: If the task isn't done well (according to their age and ability) make them do it again. If you find a task undone or not done well, gently show the child areas that need improved and have them give it another go. Don't do the job for them unless they have encountered some insurmountable obstacle that makes it impossible to finish the task alone. Doing a job for the child when it wasn't done correctly the first time teaches the child a poor work ethic; having a child try again, multiple times if need be, teaches diligence and perseverance, which will spill over into other areas of their life.
4. Follow up. If you give a child a task, there must be accountability to ensure that the job is completed. Check their work when they are done (before they are permitted free time, screen time, etc) either in person, by proxy (send a sibling to check), or with a camera. My kids loved taking a digital picture of their rooms for me to "inspect" while I was a nursing a baby!
5. Encourage independence. The goal is to not only teach our children how to work, but also to teach them to work independently. At 15, 13, and 12, I rarely have to check my older children's work. There are very few tasks I could not give them with full confidence that they can and will do them and do them well. Like the chore cards for non-readers, a chore chart can be a handy tool to help children transition to independent work. There are many chore charts and systems out there; we've used different ones over the years. Currently, Tara uses the following Daily Checklist, which is simple and effective. This checklist is available as a free download; just click on the icon. We recommend printing on cardstock and laminating for daily use with dry erase markers.
There are so many things as a parent that I haven't got right or wish I could do over. It's good to celebrate the successes. So, here's a success story: Last summer my oldest child got her first job washing dishes at a local restaurant. After a couple of weeks, I ran into her boss. He said, "I don't know what you've done to teach her, but that girl is a good worker!" Grace had already earned a reputation as a hard worker and a valuable asset to the company. It was one of those glorious Thank you, Jesus! moments when you feel the angels looking down whilst singing and heavenly sunlight shining through the clouds on your upturned face. Okay, that might be a bit of exaggeration, but you know those moments when you see some of the fruit of your labors as a parent and it is sweet. So, press on sisters! When the children are complaining (yes, my children whine too) or it would be easier to just do the work yourself than take the time to teach them, remember the many benefits of teaching our children to work: good character, self-discipline, perseverance, confidence and a good work ethic. Parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint. With the good Lord's help we will finish and finish well!
Click on the links to read Part I: At What Age Should Work Begin? and Part II: 42 Age-Appropriate Tasks for Children.
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