Meaningful Work For Adults: A Discipline Challenge

I believe the key difficulty lies in that adults of this time and place try to relate to small children through words and through the perception that the small child should be treated the same as an adult- provide logical explanations, more explanation, more talking, more experiences – in order to make discipline go well.   The fact that the child then does something that was never done to them (“Why is my child hitting me and biting me?  We don’t do that to them!” or disappointment when “She could have cared less that she was being wild and disrupting the baby’s nap.  Why can’t she have consideration for the new baby?”)

Disappointing indeed, to discover all those parenting books were wrong, and to discover the completely different consciousness of the child.

The child of birth through seven should be living in their bodies, and we should be able to hold discipline through rhythm, through using song along with movement, through silence and loving authority as we  keep calm and carry on.  Less words, more warmth, more work on our parts.

In order to help our children, we have to become agents of doing.  This is what a small child relates to.  When we don’t show our children any meaningful work within a meaningful consistent rhythm, they are rightfully confused.  We have a generation of children know who don’t know how to use their bodies, who rebel against any sort of structure, who don’t seem to know how to do anything meaningful, who have many sensory issues (and not all of this is due to parenting!  It seems epidemic due to an interplay of  general pregnancy and  birth, environmental, genetic and nutritional factors – but parents of those children who have sensory difficulties and difficulties on the autistic spectrum have told me the style of parenting I describe here has done nothing but HELP their child).

Craft a rhythm.  Write it down and post it in your house, in multiple rooms if need be. Include copious amounts of time outside.    But here is my challenge for the week:  make certain it includes you, the adult,  doing some meaningful work as a model for your children.

Here are some brief suggestions for meaningful work that you can do and show your child, meaningful work that a small child could relate to:

Inside:  Washing clothes or dishes by hand, drying dishes by hand, mending, cooking, scrubbing, polishing, sweeping,  fixing, handwork, caring for indoor pets and plants.

Outside:  weeding the garden, turning a compost pile, organizing and cleaning tools,  sweeping, sanding and sawing, splitting logs, hanging clothes out on a line, filling a bird feeder or bird bath, making bird feeders, planting seeds, washing outdoor toys or furniture

Please leave me a comment and tell me what sort of meaningful work you will include in your week this week.  Perhaps you can pick something new to add to your rhythm.

Many blessings,


16 thoughts on “Meaningful Work For Adults: A Discipline Challenge

  1. Great post, although I need to learn more about this topic, as I’m not sure if attachment parenting always works for us. Help??? (I’m thinking mostly of what should be done when my child hits, even if it’s not a really heavy blow. Any advice on this is appreciated.)

    I also love your mention of meaningful work; sometimes I worry that I spend too much time working on the computer!! I vow to start cleaning our outside toys and yard space at least once a week now that it’s nicer out.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    Peace to you…

  2. Such a great post. Always find meaningful work creates the best space for my little one to enter her own work – pretend play (and sometimes helping me). We’re moving outside into the warmth more now, with pruning and cleaning up. Don’t forget baking!

  3. Wonderful post. Today my daughter helped me change the sheets on the bed. I don’t know why I didn’t think she could do that! She was quite eager to help. We have windows that need washing, I think we will work on those tomorrow. I need to sit down and craft our rhythm and put it up for all of us to see. Thank you for your insight.

  4. Oh, such wonderful timing! I am working this week at restoring some of the threads that have been dropped these last few late-winter weeks: a short circle, stories, and rhythm of the days. This week I will actually DO the gardening, washing, mending, baking and painting that are the themes of our five week days! The last few weeks it’s just been lip service!

  5. Thank you for the wise words! We have just started to enter into gardening season – digging beds, sowing seeds, etc. Today my 4 year old helped sow pea seeds, sprinkle wood ash on the beds, and also make spring rolls for lunch. She really enjoys cooking and baking with me.

    I sometimes struggle with needing everything to be “just so” (my perfectionist tendencies getting the best of me!) and getting frustrated by her assistance. Any suggestions on how to manage this?

  6. I really enjoy your posts! Thank you for all of your wonderful sharing and thought provoking!

    My 4YO daughter has a real need for proximity with me, more than I’d like but we work with it. One way is we end up doing a lot of what one of your commentors in a previous post called “House Love” — I love that term, and have adopted it wholeheartedly. We usually do House Love together just after clearing breakfast dishes. Our current list includes: handwashing our breakfast dishes (once a week), sweeping day, dusting day (we have a lot of woodwork), and folding laundry. Every other week or so we “swab the decks,” where I get a bucket of soapy water and two small sponges and we scrub all of the spots off of the vertical surfaces in the kitchen – the cabinets, the oven door, the fridge, the dishwasher, etc. She loves water play, which this is a form of, so if we are still having fun and the vertical surfaces are clean then we go for stray spots on the floor. It is also her “job” to put napkins and silverware on the table for everyone at dinnertime, while I am putting water glasses on the table. She LOVES to do this. We also do a great deal of cooking together, I can always find a job for her – she loves mashing avocados, mashing cooked pumpkin, cracking (I help remove the shell!) and beating eggs with a “bouncy whisk” for our breakfast, grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle, chopping vegetables with a safe knife, measuring ingredients, mixing things, and scooping them into wherever they should go. Outside she helps rake, put leaves in the wheelbarrow, weed, plant seeds, dig holes for flowers, shovels compost into a bucket, and spreads compost around the plants. She has such a strong desire to be with me, she will do almost anything I am doing 🙂

  7. This is the first time that I have commented, but I just want to say how truly influential (in such a positive way) you have been to me and I thank you so very much for the time and thought you put into this blog. I appreciate it so much!!

    I do have a question. My newly 6 year old has recently become uninterested in participating in my daily work. I have never really forced him to work (as in chores) before as he used to drift in and out of my work, helping for part of the time and then playing. So now I feel that he just plays all day and does very little meaningful work. I think this has been the cause of a lot of bickering with and basically torturing of his little brother who is about to turn 3.I know he needs to be busier but I feel that he really digs in his heals about working about the house and the only way to get him to join me is to talk, talk, talk. I admit that I have talked way too much with him in the past. However, just when I felt we were able to lessen a lot of the verbalness on my part, things started to change and I have no idea how to get him to do anything without the nagging (oh yes, I realize it is becoming nagging). I really hate all the talking (especially because it is not always helpful anyway) but not sure what else to do. So, I guess my question is whether you have any suggestions for families where children are around a lot of meaningful work but no longer want to participate in it? What to do when the rhythm and singing and movement don’t seem to work anymore? Will this resolve itself on its own? OK, sorry. That is more than one question. Anyway, would love to hear any of your thoughts (or the thoughts of other readers) on this subject, if you have any. Thank you.

    • Hi Lisa,
      I am glad you have commented, I think this is an important topic. I personally think six year old boys need a physical challenge….they are not going to be happy just running a rag over something to dust it. Heavy polishing, scrubbing, “can you juice 10 oranges by hand for juice for breakfast? I bet you can because you are so strong!”, hauling rocks to build up a border for a flower bed…and yes, this new developmental phase needs rules, not just weaving in and out. I would also look at the book “You’re Not THe Boss of Me!” available through Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for more ideas.

      No nagging, just “this is what we are doing,” take him by the hand and have a consistent routine of what is done when. And keep the amounts realistic.

      Many blessings,

  8. This just makes me smile, as I spent this Sunday joyfully outside in the warming sun washing my windows with my 9month old on my back giggling away. We both had a wonderful time singing and listening to the birds and getting some meaningful work in too. I am glad to feel like I am not he only one who can appreciate this as a glorious day, well spent!!

  9. These are great suggestions Carrie! We have recently started washing dishes by hand during the day and I’m working on making it part of the rhythm. I find that the outside meaningful work goes really well for us and the children weave in and out with their play easily (raking, gardening, turning the compost)! Inside is a bit more challenging….my daughter has a doll that needs a little sewing repair so I will make a point to do that mending this week!

  10. “The child of birth through seven should be living in their bodies, and we should be able to hold discipline through rhythm, through using song along with movement, through silence and loving authority as we keep calm and carry on. Less words, more warmth, more work on our parts.”

    Could you please elaborate on this or tell me where I can read more about this style?

    • Hi Velma,
      THis site is all about this…check the discipline section, and also by age of your child under the tab at the top that says “Development”. THere are many posts on authority (loving authority), movement and pictorial thinking for discipline for the small child, …even if you use the search engine on this blog and put in those terms,such as “Keep calm and carry on” posts should come up. 🙂

      I am so glad you are here! Welcome!!
      Many blessings and in joy,

  11. Dear Carrie,

    I do plenty of housework in the presence of my young children, however my plate is so full and with little help, I find it harder to find the time to sit down and BE with the children. I sing, I try not to rush about, I TRY to enjoy my work, but my 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year olds go off on their own and their energy most often becomes wild. I am at times too busy (I.e. something I can’t drop like nursing our 7 month old or preparing food to feed cranky/hungry kids and stay on schedule so we can make bed time) to calm them, and can only do things like have my older child (the one old enough to do what I verbally request without a battle of the wills) to stay by my side as I work.
    Sometimes I feel guilty that having 3 children close in age means I can not give the children what they deserve. I am working at a rythm. I have a feeling I will find that that is the biggest helper in our lives. I just ordered Seven Times the Sun.
     I am trying. It is hard to have a gentle bath or story. I am so very busy and sleep deprived. I AM able to take them to a quite, beautiful farm and there I can just sit with them. I am able to accommodate the out breath, but it is harder with the in- breath. I need some in-breath ideas suitable for a 2 1/2 yo AND a 4 1/2 yo. Please help me understand. – and I am hoping I am missing something and you will be able to educate me in a way that will relieve the guilt that weighs so heavy on my heart :/

    Thank you!

    • Oh Mia,
      Please, please go back and read some different posts than this one! LOL. I have often said I think with multiple children under the age of 5 or 6 or even 7, you are doing great if at the end of the day the house is still standing and the children have all been fed! My best, best advice to you is yes, to show them real work- you are taking care of three small children, how can you not be doing real work? Sing, yes, but mainly think about movement, going outside, getting that energy out and being in nature. Enjoy them, love them and take your guilt and throw it out a window. Seriously!
      Someone asked me the other day what I did in my oldest child’s six year old kindergarten year, and I was like, oh we did some work and had stories, some painting, but mainly we went outside in the morning, had lunch and a little circle and a story, quiet time and went to the pool all afternoon! Movement, nature, and small children go hand in hand.

      No guilt, just love. 🙂 Your children are so tiny, and much of what you read in Waldorf circles really applies to children on the older range of that birth through seven life cycle. If your children see you do fifteen minute increments of real work, and I have said that many other places on this blog, that is great for such a tiny age. 🙂
      Many blessings, enjoy life and don’t look back, the season of mothering small children will fly by….

  12. How about making bread – tactile feel, any age child can learn – even the adult – it’s takes some time to get a rhythm but once you have it – boy the efforts are hugely rewarded!!!!!

    • Glenda – Absolutely. Bread making usually has one whole work day devoted to it in traditional Waldorf pedagogy for the Early Years and there are whole posts on breadmaking on this blog. Thank you for writing in!

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