With school out for the summer, it can become a real frustration if children are home more throughout the week and contributing more to the household mess, but not to the clean up. It can be easy to fall into patterns of doing the household work yourself (as parents), forgetting the value of teaching children, as young as 4, “practical life” skills (such as chores). In fact, you can make a big difference in your children's future by asking them to take out the trash, make their beds, or put away their toys.
As a newcomer to Montessori, I recently learned about the Montessori principle of teaching children “practical life” skills. At first, a child learns the basic movements common to all societies such as pouring, folding, and carrying. With time, the child learns care of the environment (dusting a table or outdoor sweeping). New research tells us that Maria Montessori not only was in tune with how this principle can benefit a child’s other forms of learning, but she was hitting on a truth that can benefit your child when he’s in his 20’s!
How these skills can transform a child!
Recently, I observed a Montessori classroom, and witnessed the value of practical life exercises first hand. I noticed an older boy in the class that was a bit more wiggly and distracted than other children. He looked almost too energetic to be interested in the puzzle that another boy was doing across from me. Just then he asked the teacher if he could help dust a classroom shelf, and I watched him miraculously transform into a different kind of kid. This child who could have been described as “hyperactive or distractible” was suddenly moving around the room with focus and confidence. As he gathered the materials and cleaned the shelf, he exuded a great sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Rudolf Dreikurs (an early child psychologist), said that a child’s main emotional need is belonging. Dreikeurs found that the sense of belonging was THE central component necessary for healthy social-emotional development. In coordination with this concept, Montessori found that children are naturally interested in activities they have witnessed. So providing ways for your child to do age-appropriate household chores can help him feel like he has a way to contribute to the household (thus improving a sense of belonging), and build on the fact that he will be more interested in the task if he has seen “the grown-ups” do it.
New research further proves the value of children doing chores. Research by Marty Rossmann, shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. Rossman used measures of individual's success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, not using drugs, and examining a child's involvement in household tasks at various ages in life. He determined that the best predictor of young adults' success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less "successful." The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.
So, don’t let the summer momentum keep you in a flurry of cleaning up after your children. Teach your child age-appropriate ways that he can contribute to the family and you will all feel better in the long run.
(For tips on effective chore assignments, visit this article by Positive Discipline expert, Jane Nelson).