In some circles, chores have a pretty bad reputation. If we’re speaking honestly, mostly in the teenager circles, when household duties get in the way of the social calendar.
For younger children, however, chores aren’t a chore at all. They fall into a group of activities that Montessori calls “Care of the Environment.” Children, when given the option, would love to work with water to wash windows and can’t wait to use the vacuum cleaner just like mom.
Chores, and how to get children to do them, was the topic of a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, “When Can My Child Mow the Lawn?“. In it, writer Ellen Byron speaks to two executives who offer advice on what they view as age-appropriate chores for children and the benefits of introducing chores at a young age.
There are some striking differences between the approach that Ms. Byron outlines and Montessori “Care of the Environment” activities. How do the following differences (and one similarity) compare with the way you introduce chores at home?
The Wall Street Journal article cites “Making lunch” as an appropriate task for children age 10-12. Food preparation is an ongoing learning process for sure, but you would find children much younger than 10 preparing their own snacks and lunch in a Montessori setting. In fact, food preparation is an important activity for learning practical life skills like washing, chopping, and hygiene, and you’ll find these tasks in Montessori toddler (18 months – 2 years) and primary (3-6 years) classrooms. Children are much more capable at a young age than we give them credit for.
Intrinsic motivation is at play when we do something for our own satisfaction, rather then when someone else tells us we must do it. Children are best served by fostering intrinsic motivation, and you’ll find this built into most Montessori “Care of the Environment” tasks. In contrast, Mr. Eisenberg, a member of the National Financial Literacy Commission, says giving children an allowance for doing chores “…instills within children the reality that you do something and you get paid for it.” This type of extrinsic motivation actually decreases a child’s nature desire to help others. Read more about extrinsic motivation here.
One thing the WSJ and Montessori approach have in common is the long term goals and results of getting children involved in household duties early on. If a 4-year-old wants to wash the windows but doesn’t get them as sparkling clean as you might like, that’s ok. It’s important to speak to the process, “You cleaned the windows all by yourself” than the product, “There are still smudges on the windows.” As children get older, they will perfect their technique. It’s more important to build a positive and strong foundation of caring for the home environment as a family. Mr. Murset of BusyKid reminds parents, “You have to take the long view and realize that these fundamental life skills are so important.”
What do you think? Do we have fewer and fewer expectations that children should be involved in household maintenance and care? Check out the original article at the Wall Street Journal and let us know your thoughts in Guidepost Parent Chat.
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