A large family can be a powerful army. I know because I was part of such an army not too long ago. Before the Forster kids started going off to college, jobs, and marriage, we worked together a lot. We organized parties and church events. We showed up to help families move. We staffed the family business. We tackled huge cleaning projects. We could knock out painting and building projects in short order. We grew huge gardens, raised flocks of animals, and canned piles of food every year. These were good times!
My wife and I want to raise our own army of diligent, hard-working children. This hope has caused me to examine more closely what our parents did to train us to be helpful.
What it really comes down to is this: our parents allowed us to get in their way and make messes. Not just any messes, though. Even when it was inconvenient, they let us “help” alongside them, knowing that a 2 year old making a mess in the sink will soon be a 9 year old capable of doing all the laundry.
Training little helpers is inconvenient (maybe even downright frustrating) at times, but it’s worth the investment of time and energy. Here are a few things I and (mostly) my wife are doing at this point with our kids (ages 4, 3, and 20 months):
- We moved our plates and cups to bottom cupboards in the kitchen, and we call the kids over to help when it’s time to unload the dishwasher (hint: don’t do this with expensive or irreplaceable dishes).
- Certain children always want to help me wash dishes in the sink. I let them push a chair up beside me and they play in the water while I’m washing. Sometimes we get wet. Sometimes clean dishes go back in the dishwater. Always water gets in the wrong places. But that’s okay.
- They like to help cook in the kitchen. Scooping ingredients, licking beaters, and watching Test Kitchen videos are all popular activities.
- Katelyn taught both girls how to fold washcloths and diapers in half and stack them on laundry folding day.
- They love to “save the day” by bringing us tissues, diapers, or wipes in emergencies.
- The girls are learning to pick out their own clothes from the drawer (which is very fun) and to put their old clothes away (which takes a little more encouragement).
- When I’m splitting firewood, my son wants to be right where the action is, so I stop and bend down. I let him help hold the splitting maul and pretend to split the wood with me until Mama comes to take him away to safety.
- Just the other day, we were picking up leaves in the yard. One child offered to help hold the trash bin so it wouldn’t tip over. Another smaller child happily did his part picking up fistfuls of leaves off the ground and putting them in the bin. Both received high praise for their efforts 🙂
These things don’t happen every time, but we try to welcome such opportunities to involve our children in our day-to-day work. We can raise young children to be helpful by giving them practice early, even if it’s inconvenient for a while. We just have to slow down and include them in whatever we’re doing (and watch out for puddles on the floor!)