by Elise Ellsworth
Many years ago, homeschooling pioneer, Dorothy Moore, described “a woman who was asked by a rehabilitation center to counsel men who had been classified as unemployable. They were not derelicts, Mrs. Moore reports, but instead, well-dressed and articulate. As the woman worked with these men, though, ‘she discovered a common denominator. None had learned to work as children.'” In their article, Family Work, Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless share that the power of family work is in “its potential to transform lives, to forge strong families, to build strong communities.” With that in mind, summertime is a great time to begin educating your children about family work. Here are five steps to get you started:
- Decide What Needs to Be Done – Make a list of jobs that you need help with on a daily basis. There are other big jobs that need doing but I believe that kids need to be helping out in the house every single day. Some parents just have their kids focus on academics while in school or on developing their talents. This is a mistake. If we want kids to have great families we need to teach them to do the work associated with family life.
- Decide Who Will Do It – Create a system where each child (it could even be two children) has a responsibility for one or two of the daily jobs you have listed. This could be a job wheel, a job chart or a peg system. The Internet is a great source for kid-friendly job charts. We’ve tried a lot of ideas over the years. Find one, create it, call a family meeting and present your new system. You may get some complaining but …
- Expect Opposition – “But my kids just whine and cry about their jobs.” Yes. This is normal. But I know from experience mothering seven children that perseverance is key. Kids need to do things they don’t like. Learning to work when we don’t like it is one of the most valuable skills we can learn. I once heard a successful Harvard Business School graduate talk with admiration about how his mother would smile when she saw him miserably weeding the garden. So when your kids whine and cry about their jobs just smile, they will someday thank you for teaching them this valuable skill..
- Provide Incentives and Consequences – Although work isn’t always fun I try to make it funner with incentives and creativity. I use rewards to motivate my kids (although they will tell you that I am very forgetful about reimbursement). I pay a base rate for basic jobs and more for extra. You can also use non-monetary rewards – choosing the music for a day or a trip to the park. Figure out what they like. It’s also handy to have a couple of consequences up your sleeve. In our house the rule is usually that we don’t play until our work is done. The parents work hard to provide entertainment and good food – children can do their share as well.
- Get Creative – Once you have a basic job chart going you can spice things up a little. This summer my son made the job chart and incentive system super cool with an incentive system called “summer baseball.” They earn runs for jobs. Pay for homeruns. If your kids like a certain movie or hobby try a chart with that theme. You could also play games like the one I learned from a friend – “magic scrap” – kids all work together to pick up a room, whoever picks up the chosen item (“magic scrap”) wins a prize. And change things up every six months or so to keep boredom from setting in.
So, as you get ready to start the new school year I hope you will not forget to also educate your children in a most important life skill – family work. And I hope that these simple tips will help to get you started.