“We have to remember that there is nothing more “enriching” for a young child than exploring his own world of home, filled with natural playthings and the work of caring for a family – housework, laundry, cooking – and exploring his own backyard.” – From Sharifa Oppenheimer’s “Heaven On Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, page 19
Liza wrote such a beautiful post here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/06/28/guest-post-meaningful-work-for-toddlers/ and I hope it was inspiring to those of you who have toddlers as your oldest children and you are trying to create your family life “from scratch”. I have a few things I would like to add as well to this meaningful post.
If you are wondering where to begin, I advise you to think carefully about how you can “de-mechanize” your home. If everything is done with just the push of a button, then there really is no meaningful work. If you rush through all the nurturing care of your family and home, then there really is not much else to do with the day but to think about how to “entertain” your small child. I don’t know about you, but I am utterly unconvinced that the entertainment of small children is what we should be doing as a society. Children want to make a meaningful contribution to the family, and this becomes even more acute as these children grow into the 7-12 age range and beyond. It is vitally important to plan for ways to involve your children in meaningful work now. The work that they learn from you is how they will go on to become successful in inhabiting their own bodies, which lays the foundation for all academic learning, and it is how the child eventually grows into the successful citizen of the world.
But, in order to do this, YOU must have a rhythm of meaningful work going on in your home and in your heart. What work do YOU offer up to your family as your loving touch and care for them? How do you do this consistently? How much do you work? We are so fortunate to live in a society where work is easier than it once was…but how do we bring this hands-on piece back to the small child?
So, if you are starting from scratch, then you may have to get out a piece of paper and literally write down some ideas for each day for the work you will do and HOW your child can HELP and what tools you might need to make that happen – a child sized broom or gardening tools, extra clothespins, etc. Typically the work we do with small children is based upon the day of the week, such as in the old nursery rhyme of wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, etc. Work done in consecutive days comes in when a child is six and a half or seven and in first grade.
As an aside…if you have a toddler, I think an important aspect of work in the home is that the toddler is still an OBSERVER for part of the day. This idea may not work as well with multiples or depending upon the health concerns of the mother, but placing your toddler in a sling on your back for part of the day can also immerse them in the work they see you do whilst they peek over your shoulder.
So, whilst you work then, the child watches you, the child sees you, and the child may join in if you sing and hand them a spoon to stir, a peeler to peel. In the home environment, you may very well need to take the child by the hand and put your hand over theirs; the child may need that if this all brand new to them. For this I am thinking more of an “older” small child who is new to all of this and has not done much work in the home before. It is more of an opportunity to see you, to imitate you, to work alongside you and to weave in and out of the work. It really is not so much about directives or commands, but a flow to the week, to the day, and to an activity. If you crack eggs and you ALWAYS place the eggs in the compost bin, then eventually your small child will take the eggshells after you crack the eggs together and put them in the bin as a way to contribute.
I mentioned the weaving in and out the child within your work. There should also be some space for them to go and re-create the work that they see in their play. So it helps if you can think through what work you are doing, and if they were going to play nearby, how could they re-create this work in their play? You may need to set things out the night before for them to work with. If you are cooking and they are done helping you, you may an extra empty bowl and a spoon for them or you may have a box nearby that is a play kitchen, for example.
Rhythmic work and play is the heart of the small child. Nurturing these important tasks nurtures the whole child and the future of humanity.
Thank you Carrie, your posts are continually helpful and inspiring.
So true. Observing and participating in real work is how children have matured through most of human history. Restricting them from participating in real work in the preschool years imposes passivity that, later on, is difficult to reverse when parents expect kids to do chores. The actual movements involved in helping around the house are also vital precursors to advanced thinking skills necessary for reading (as I noted in this article, if anyone is interested https://docs.google.com/View?id=dfv9fxdp_78f6zg44cz)
This whole idea has helped a lot in the past few days as I’ve tried to find ways to keep three pairs of little hands busy. Personality variances make this challenging sometimes but by and large, having a really simple bottom line of what I can do when I feel overwhelmed by “stimulating” them. Thank you for these posts!
Such a great post (as was the guest post!) My toddler very much needs meaningful work every day. Not only does she enjoy it but it really helps create some solid markers in our rhythm. Thank you for some really insightful information!
Thank you so much-I enjoyed both posts on toddlers and work immensely and they were a good reminder to me of what I need to be doing with my 2 yr old each day, not just once a in a while.
This kind of thing worked well until my daughter turned 4-5. Now, all she wants to do is play play play. (Her words.) And I have tried many things to get her to help. Now that she can actually BE a help, she’s stopped helping. Do you have advice on meaningful work for an older child who is reluctant to help?
this is a great reminder! on an aside my 2 and a half year old boy is not interested much in helping right now but its worth trying every day. Thank you so much for all this info
Great post. But my goodness, it’s hard to keep a rhythm in the summertime! *sheepishly admitting*
i just can’t pull myself away from this blog, so inspiring – thank you for sharing 🙂
first of all, thank you for your wisdom, I love your blog!
Here is a very honest admission for you: I get no satisfaction of out homekeeping and I am quite certain that I never will 🙂 I *can* do all the things: cook delicious meals every day, ferment, and mill my own flour, I can sew and knit and paint, I can keep the home clean and in reasonable order. But when that is all I do, I can feel my soul slowly dying! I go through seasons of pulling myself together and even enjoying my tasks, and then falling apart, throwing in a towel, because after all, what’s the point? Yes, this is a lovely way to live, to have a cozy home and good food, but I.am.miserable. I’ve been told all manner of things: I’m lazy, I need to change my attitude, I need to get therapy to deal with some deep-seated resentment and blah-blah-blah. I feel that the truth is simpler than that. I am someone who is extremely extroverted, requires massive amounts of regular intellectual stimulation, and a great deal of variety in life 🙂 There must be a way to find some kind of balance. I realize that my children are young (2, 4.5, and one on the way), I am quite realistic about the care, time and effort they require at this stage of life. But I just can’t give up my sanity and my very essence to keeping the home.
That is wonderful, authentic and real . Please do let me ponder this for you and perhaps I will write a post. I am extroverted as well, and get lots of energy off other people too,
Hi I am just wondering if you Carrie got a chance to write back to Irene on September 10, 2011 at 11:57 PM??
I can really relate to this lady and would like to here what you say Carrie about this.
Thanks for your wondeful blog.
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Yes, I am very interested in this too. I very much enjoyed my career before having children. I was very driven and felt a great sense of accomplishment from it aside from all the intellectual stimulation. I do love being a homemaker and caring for my toddler and would not have it any other way but wonder if you have more words on how to bridge the gap transitioning between these two worlds…I want to stay home and build a beautiful home life for my family, but it is a very different sense of accomplishment gained and although I have made ‘mommy friends’ and participate in play groups, it is a very different level of intellectual stimulation.
Yes, it is a different level of stimulation for sure. Many tasks need to be done over and over, which can be difficult for “accomplishing” and having it be over and finished….Mothers who are mothering small children have to think outside of this idea of quantifying their time and instead slowing down and demonstrating meaningful work…the goal is actually not to do things as quickly as possible, but in a way that includes a small child learning how to do meaningful work with their hands and bodies through imitation and song, not verbal commands.
Thank you so much for being here and for commenting,
What do you do when you have TWO children who want to help?? Two children who want to crack the eggs, two children who want to set the table? How do you delicate jobs when a cranky two year old emotionally falls apart when I tell him big sister will put out the napkins and you will lay the forks down on them?? Please advise!
I think we have all been there, whether with multiple children of different ages or twins….Structure is obviously key, and doing things tightly together. For example, if you hold your two year old and you put the forks down together and softly sing, “Sister puts the napkin down, here is the fork” would that go better than just telling? Also, some tasks will be really hard to divide up – baking, yes! Things like everyone getting their own piece of bread dough that has been premade by you the night before tp shape, rise and bake often goes better than trying to take turns in putting ingredients in a bowl. Unfortunately, it often is a lot of trial and error with our own children to figure out what can go smoothly…think about how much you can divide the tasks up and in what ways.
Hope that helps,
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