The author’s 2-year-old learns to be productive in small steps.
Photo by Jenny Underwood
We have four kids, ages 10, 8, 4 and 2. Life is busy! And it would be so easy to follow the culture and just keep my kids constantly entertained. But I know this isn’t good for them, me, or their future families. (Yes, I’m already thinking about that.) So what’s a mom and dad to do? We all know that none of us have loads of extra time.
Can Children Really Entertain Themselves?
I’ve heard this statement and it’s actually a good thing — to a certain extent. Can your kids entertain themselves independently or can they entertain themselves by loading up a video game, a movie, or getting into trouble? If the latter is the case, you need to rethink your strategy.
Instead of resorting to digital entertainment, can they come up with creative and constructive (not destructive) ways to spend their time? This is where mom and dad come in.
Your kids might be able to think up all kinds of work to fill up their time but honestly, they probably won’t. Most kids avoid work like the plague — unless it’s fun. So, how do we make work fun?
Make Work Fun
First of all, have a good attitude. If you treat work like its a curse, then chances are your kids will too. And if you’re like us and have a small homestead, work is something we’re always doing. There are the regular chores of laundry, dishes, and dinner. But there’s also seasonal work like gardening, yard clean-up, and animal processing.
It might be tempting to think that these chores as easier if we just occupy our kids and then go do them (obviously sometimes you might have to for safety’s sake), but most of the time, we can safely involve them in each part of our daily work and lives.
My kids love working alongside my husband and me. They will wear themselves out when we are present and all working as a team. But their interest and drive often wanes dramatically when we get busy elsewhere. There’s a fine line, of course. You do need to be able to trust your children to take a job to completion without constant supervision or involvement, but when you’re training, you may have to work with them pretty much full-time. Its a tradeoff. Spend more time now and less time later.
Prepare Them From an Early Age
No child who can walk is too young to help. And if they’re too young to walk, set them in a safe place where they can watch the activity. This sounds slightly crazy but by the time my oldest daughter was 1, she was standing in a chair stirring cookie batter or rolling out biscuits. Now at 4, she already cook some things independently, such as eggs, and takes part in every step of cooking. She loves it, as does her 2-year-old sister. Let them do everything they’re capable of.
When they first start cooking, give them a spoon and let them play with flour. Then teach them to stir the batter. Help them crack eggs and teach them exactly how to do it. Its messy when you work with kids, regardless of their temperament and ability, so you will have to learn patience.
One thing I have learned also is the need for one-on-one training. If 4 children need to help make cookies, give them each a different part of the process or you will have squabbles.
Training is Ongoing for Many Years
This teaching in small steps works in every aspect of your life. Is your family hauling wood? Even the smallest family member can carry a stick of wood to the wood box. I can clearly remember ours helping with that chore when they could barely walk. Was it wrong to have small children work? Absolutely not! They loved being a needed part of the family.
Now I tell my 10- and 8-year-old boys to go fill the wood box. They do it without supervision (for the most part), but I remember to inspect, because your children do what you inspect, not what you expect, in most cases.
So remember to start small and train your children in each step. Your family doesn’t have to embrace a foolish notion that children are simply there to be entertained or that they are incapable of contributing to the family. Make them an integral part of your homestead. You’ll be so glad you did!
Jenny Underwood is a homeschooling mom of four who lives in a fifth-generation homestead in the Missouri Ozarks, where she gardens, forages, hunts and preserves food for her family. Connect with Jenny at Our Inconvenient Family.
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