I believe in teaching my kids to work, and to do things for themselves. Each has daily jobs they are responsible for, and they have developed many amazing skills. I also believe strongly in helping them learn to serve others.
This began out of necessity, and probably was influenced by my own childhood experiences with work. I had five children before the oldest was six years old. Life was busy. I got the basics done: food, dishes, laundry. I seldom had time or energy left to do things like washing windows or sweeping floors.
Enter the idea of allowing my oldest to “help” me. No, she did not do an expert job of sweeping at age five. But she was willing; and with a few pointers, she did the job at least halfway … which, by my reckoning, was better than not at all. The thing is, she loved it! She thrived on helping mommy. She began to learn to work with joy. And her skills improved. I have tried to start my children working when they are still toddlers. Nothing major, just “let’s clean up the toys,” and then make it fun.
By age 2 or 3, they can help me stuff the washer with dirty laundry or switch the freshly washed clothes to the dryer. They pull the wheeled hampers to the laundry room. This is fun for them.
Yes, it is a bit more effort for me initially, but fast forward a few years and I’ll tell you what they are capable of:
All kids are responsible for making their own bed, maintaining basic hygiene, keeping their drawers neat, putting dirty laundry in a hamper, and a few other basic tasks.
Stephen, age 4, daily gathers the dirty laundry and brings it to the laundry room for sorting. He helps with switching the laundry from the washer to the dryer. He helps put away his own clothes in his drawers. He helps fold wash cloths and dish towels. Takes his dishes to the sink after meals. Cleans up toys he has taken out. I do have to remind him to do most of these things. But he is learning.
Landen, age 4-going-on-5, daily empties all the wastebaskets from around the house into the main trashcan in the kitchen. He helps put away his own clothes in his drawers. He helps fold wash cloths and dish towels. Takes his dishes to the sink after meals. Cleans up toys he has taken out. He also needs reminding to do most of these things. But he is learning.
Noah, age 8, vacuums the main living areas and a bedroom (on a rotation) every day. He is responsible for folding and putting away all his own laundry. He folds smaller towels, napkins, wash clothes. He collects eggs and does other small jobs involving the animals. He sweeps the floors and even washes them on occasion. He is usually a willing helper.
James, age 11, is responsible for washing the milking related dishes and tools twice daily after the goats are milked. He unloads the dishwasher in the morning and loads it back up with dirty dishes after breakfast. He is responsible for folding and putting away all his own laundry plus the folding and putting away of underwear and socks for everyone in the family. He is the second-call substitute milker when Isaac is not available. He cheerfully volunteers for “new and novel” jobs, but is less than enthusiastic about his regularly assigned tasks. But we are working together on the character quality of diligence and the integrity of hard work when it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. This is life.
Abigail, age 12 (soon to be 13), makes breakfast for herself and her siblings every day. She, along with Naomi, makes lunch and helps make dinner most days. She folds and puts away her own laundry. She is also responsible for washing the eggs that Noah collects from our chickens daily, and for feeding our baby goats their bottles. She helps watch her younger brother and nephew. Sometimes she gives them their baths. She takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. Abby is wonderfully capable.
Naomi, age 14, is responsible for keeping our 3 bathrooms clean. She folds and puts away her own laundry. She, along with Abby, makes lunch and dinner most days. She feeds the baby goats and is the stand-in for milking the goats when Isaac, the regular milker, is not available. She helps watch her younger brother and nephew. Sometimes she gives them their baths. She takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. Naomi is able to able to manage the house reasonably well in my absence.
Isaac, age 16, milks the goats twice a day. He cares for all the animals morning and night. (That’s a big job, with 30-odd chickens, baby chicks, 7 goats, a half dozen cats, several kittens, a dog, a turtle and sometimes a pig and/or turkey) He folds and puts away his own laundry. He helps with “fix it” and maintenance jobs around the house and property. He wipes the kitchen table after meals. He takes a turn making our family’s bread approximately every 10-14 days. He helps watch his younger brother and nephew, giving baths if needed.
Daniel, age 21, works outside the home on a regular basis, so he no longer has regular chores. Instead, he does projects, such as “build a play kitchen for the little kids,” “build an enclosure for the buck,” “install this new light fixture”, “paint the house.” Pretty much any job I throw at him, he can do it.
Robert, age 22, is developmentally disabled, and will live with us indefinitely. He is responsible for washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after lunch and dinner. This means he is responsible for washing dishes, loading the dishwasher, wiping the table, sweeping the floor, cleaning the microwave and stove counters, and drying and putting away dishes. He empties the kitchen trash and recycle bin when needed. He takes the trash to the street each week for pickup. He is responsible for folding and putting away his own laundry. He also does all the outside watering of garden, trees and landscaping.
Each of the older kids babysits as needed. Each one is capable of filling in for another sibling if they are sick or for some other reason unable to do their jobs.
Why work? We are designed to work. The sense of accomplishment is healthy. Rather than having a sense of entitlement, I want my kids to be willing and able to work hard to reach their goals. They have a much greater appreciation for things that they must work for. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” (Prov. 13:11)
A few things about how to teach a child to work: First of all, work with them when they are young. As they get older, teach with this pattern:
- I do, you watch
- I do, you help
- You do, I help
- You do, I watch
Spend as long as necessary on each step. You may have to go back to a previous step if things aren’t going well. But once they get it, you can be confident that the job will get done properly. But remember: you can’t expect what you won’t inspect. Frequent checkups are really important, at least until you’re sure that the child won’t try to skip out on jobs. (And every child tries it! and some kids never stop trying!!!)
My husband says be sure to mention the balance between work and play. It may seem as though all we do is work, as you consider the many jobs that my kids do. Play is important too. I think that our society places a higher priority on play for kids, so it is not something that I feel needs a lot of explaining or focus. Here are a couple of tips:
- Use timers. Hurry to beat the timer, and then set the timer for play as well.
- Find ways to make the work fun. Almost anything can be turned into a game, with a little creativity.
All this work helps to develop the ability to serve others. This has been a goal of mine for many years. There is always someone who needs a helping hand. What better way could there be to share the love of Christ, than to serve? Since I’m confident that my older kids know how to work, I feel secure in sending them to help those in our church and community who have needs. It is an absolute JOY for me to hear back how blessed others are by the work that my kids do. This has had the unexpected benefit of leading to paying work for my all my teenage and young adult kids. Their initiative and hard work are noticed and valued by others. Time will tell, but I expect that this will carry over into their adult lives.
If you are interested in encouraging your kids to serve, let me give you a few ideas of how our kids get involved helping others.
James helps hand out bulletins at church.
He helps our elderly friend “Ms. Pat” get her special chair set up before the church service, and fixes her coffee for her.
Abby babysits during a midweek Bible study so a busy mom can actually participate.
Naomi sings on the worship team at church.
Robert, Isaac, Daniel (and some of my adult children who no longer live at home) volunteer whenever someone needs help moving.
We try to always attend work days at church.
We put the word out that we are willing to be available when an elderly person needs something heavy moved, or to reach something that is high (even changing a light bulb).
We try to listen when we hear people talking about things that are broken that need fixing or things they have not been able to find the time to do or are unable to do for some reason.
I try to always bring a meal to a family going through a tough situation, or after a baby is born.
Daniel (and some of the others in past years) volunteers to help with Awana at a local church.
The older kids help with VBS.
Daniel and Isaac volunteer at Camp Julian Oaks (a camp for kids in the foster care system).
Most of these things are minor. They don’t take much effort or even tremendous skill — just TIME — and, usually, just a little bit of time.
What are some ways in which you have been blessed by others? Have friends or strangers ever served you in a time of need?
What are ways in which you or your family have been able to serve others in your church or community?
Please share your experiences and ideas. It will help our family to improve.