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Practical Homeschooling® :

The Joy of Chores

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #56, 2004.

Chores - survival training for the real world.
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Mary Pride


Do you ever have one of those “down” days when you feel nothing got done? “I spent all day just helping the kids clean up the house,” you moan pre-emptively to your husband, forestalling any questions about how your day went. “I was so tired afterwards I asked them to make supper.” You then give hubby dearest a look that suggests it’s probably best not to ask about the lumps in the casserole. “We did get a few loads of laundry done, too, and neatened up the garden, but not a speck of math or language arts,” you sigh.

Well, you might not have accomplished great things academically, but take heart, because you were teaching your children priceless real-life skills that not every kid today knows.

You see, there are teens, college students, and even adults out there who do not know how to:

  • Sort and wash laundry
  • Mop floors
  • Organize toys, books, and clothes
  • Bake cookies, pies, and cakes
  • Make dinner
  • Do the dishes
  • Sew on a button
  • Mow and edge a lawn
  • Weed a garden

You might find this unbelievable, but I have heard of children who do not even know how to use a can opener or to measure with teaspoons!

A Can of Beans and Thou

While today we don’t live in the “Little House on the Prairie” world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, we still need some practical skills. We might not have to track and snare rabbits, but it should be possible to track and snare an open can of beans. Cooking, baking, cleaning, gardening, basic health care, basic car care, and much more are all necessary for comfortable existence in today’s world... even though they are not covered in any academic curriculum!

In other words, chores are curriculum. And kids need to learn to do them.

Top Chore Traps

You might be tempted to do most of the chores yourself, because it is always easier and simpler - at first - to do the work than to teach it to someone else. Also, those of us with a “progressive” or “liberal” background may feel some guilt about making kids work. (And no kid on earth has ever wanted to do the dishes, night after night, for “fun”!)

But kids do not live by “fun” alone. Self-confidence can only be obtained by knowing how to do work, and do it well.

Which leads me to the second trap: letting kids get away with sloppy work. After all, you’re already tired and overworked, and don’t feel like getting into a battle over the dust bunnies in the corner.

It takes less time in the long run to “come alongside” your child, show him how to finish the job properly, watch him finish it, and then commend him. Your child may initially gripe, but he’ll actually feel better inside from doing it over until it’s done right.

You don’t have to be a cranky “white glove” perfectionist to see the benefits in not accepting poor performance. If your child is at an age and stage when he can do the work, but somehow always manages to do such a ghastly job that you end up redoing it or assigning it to another child, you’re seeing “strategic incompetence” in action. Or should I say, “in inaction”?

The proper response to strategic incompetence is to assign more of the sort of work the child is attempting to avoid. Don’t treat it as a battle of wits, though; let him know your goal is for him to be able to do the original chore quickly and well, so he’ll have more time for himself. After all, dawdling away all afternoon pretending to work is actually both tiring and boring.

Top Chore Tricks

Here are a few tricks for your chores grab bag:

  1. Time it! Set the timer for 10 minutes and tell everyone to clean their rooms as much as possible. A prize for the “most improved” room adds incentive.

  2. Model it! Show them how to do it, then have them show you how to do it. And have them show you again. And again. This is also helpful with etiquette transgressions, such as plopping on the couch or slamming the front door. A kid might feel resentful the first or second time he has to close the front door properly, but when he does it 10 times in a row, usually he finds it funny by then - and the lesson is learned.

  3. Team it! Often a “people person” personality who hates doing chores alone will perk up when working with another person.

  4. Schedule it! “We’ll have lunch when the living room is cleaned up.” Hunger is a great motivator!

The main chore “trick,” though, is not a trick. When kids realize their work is meaningful, real, and appreciated, you will not only have taught them to do chores with a good attitude, but you’ll also have made a start on giving them a sense of mission. All this, and a cleaner house, too.

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