“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.