I was teaching a girls’ Activity Day class and the project I had planned was making casseroles to take to two sick people in our church. I had set out cutting boards and knives, potatoes and carrots. The girls were 9-10 years old. I can imagine in the pioneer era of our nation, out on the frontier, most young girls could manage making dinner by themselves, so I hadn’t even considered that cutting with a sharp knife would be a challenge. I was stunned to discover that all but one girl had ever before used a sharp knife to chop hard vegetables!
Oh dear, Moms! Let’s not forget the magic of “can-do”. When a child can do something useful that takes skill—his confidence, self-value, and perceived worth to the family increases dramatically! Suddenly he begins to grin and he seems to grow a few inches taller as well! He can help! He is able-bodied! He is useful!
Yes, it is more trouble to teach a child to cut with a sharp knife, or put away glass dishes, or teach him to light a fire or other potentially dangerous but necessary skills. It is trouble because now he might do something unwise and risky. And hurt himself or break something or make a big mess. Teaching a child to be independent is always more trouble in the here-and now than just doing it yourself. But in the long run, the payoff is enormous in ability, independence and self-worth.
Babies grow into toddlers grow into preschoolers grow into kids that could actually master some skills, if we noticed they were old enough and gave them the chance to learn! It sneaks up on us moms. We get in the habit of doing for kids, and suddenly, our children are pre-teens and can’t use a sharp knife!
Necessity drove me to teach my children rather complex skills, as I had difficult pregnancies and their help was essential! As an 8-year-old, my son Mark learned to operate my breakmixer and and bake our family’s bread. He even won a blue ribbon in the County Fair, Child Division, for his great whole wheat bread! My son Daniel learned to run the washing machine and dryer, and was in charge of the family laundry at 8 years old, also, when I was pregnant with his sister Julianna. This might seem like child labor, but you should have seen those boys beam with satisfaction. They knew their contribution was sorely needed at the time! They could see that it was a blessing to our family, and they got honest praise, and a sense of accomplishment for their skills!
Although I relied on them and taught them skills in response to our family need (rather than on purpose), they flourished and I adopted this philosophy: Whatever a child can do for himself (or others who cannot), he should do!
Maybe it is time, for their own good, to put a little burden on the backs of your children. Allow them the thrill of being useful and capable!
Here’s some help!
One of the books I love for inspiring us to give our children more opportunity to develop their independence and teach them skills is: Understood Betsy. A wonderful read-aloud book about childhood and being able to do things!
Equip your children with what they need to really be useful and helpful with yard work, helping with animals, or moving wood. Kids’ Gloves will protect their tender hands so they can learn to do hard things! Take a look.