Kids Can Do More Than We Think

Kids rise to the occasion. That becomes abundantly  clear when we look at what kids get to do —  and are expected to do — in other countries, cultures, eras. Here’s a little note that just came in. I cannot think of anything my kids have done in school that rivals this for independence and instilling a “Can do!’ sense of confidence.

Then again, it’s not like I’m saying,  “Oh, if only I got to raise them in the  USSR!” either.

By a Free-Range Kids reader named Alena:

I grew up in a small town of the former USSR.  Even in the first grade we had to behave as adults.  Each class was responsible for their classroom, and after classes were finished we had to clean our classroom: map the floor, dust and such. During recess we would go outside and pick up any garbage around the school. We had our own garden behind the school were we grew greens such as scallions, dill, parsley and cabbage which were served then in the school lunchroom. From the 6th grade till the end of the high school we had done plays, concerts and many other activities by ourselves, teachers were there just to supervise.  It was never accustomed to ask parents for the money for one or another activity in school.  We made everything by hands from the supplies provided by the school.  Girls used to bake and boys would provide lights and music. My friend and I started baking cookies when we were 8 years old, i guess that’s when we learned how to read the recipe.

I live in NYC now and I have a 11 year old daughter.  Since she was 9 she was allowed to go to the nearest  supermarket to get milk or bread, she can make pancakes for us in the morning and she bakes cookies as well.

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69 Responses

  1. Even in the first grade we had to behave as adults.
    This really jumped out at me; just because a six year old CAN behave as an adult doesn’t mean they should. A lot of kids in other parts of the world grow up in extreme poverty with malnutrition and disease and have no choice but to grow up quickly and assume adult responsibilities. Our kids in Australia, the U.K, America and Canada are seriously blessed with the gift of a real childhood.

    Our kids are capable of a lot more than we’re given to believe but pushing them to become adult-like early on isn’t healthy, IMO.

  2. I am loving the age my daughter is now – 10. Young enough to be a kid and not have to have any “real” responsibility, but old enough to walk to the bakery to buy me bread or make her own hot lunch. The school Alena mentions here would have been great for my kids – they love to be busy and that is a direct link to their happiness.

  3. “Our kids in Australia, the U.K, America and Canada are seriously blessed with the gift of a real childhood. ”

    Ummm… a ‘real’ childhood?

    Isn’t childhood that period in time where you learn to be an adult?

    Where did this nonsense notion that childhood is ‘supposed’ to be a period of endless fun come from? Sure… fun has a purpose… it trains the mind, hand-eye coordination, social interaction… all in the eventual service of being a fully-functioning, successful adult. Kids do fun as the default if parents are not otherwise instructing them so in how to be adults.

    My wife and I are free range in the sense that we give our son a lot of room to maneuver and fail. He learned to walk by falling down, like any other child. But we also expect him to begin acting like a young adult at a young age. He will have lots, and LOTS, of practice at it by the time he is expected to do so by the rest of society.

  4. While I didn’t grow up in the USSR (it was NJ), I too was a mini adult by the time I was 10. I walked to school (the horror it was almost a mile, crossed some busy streets and often without crossing guards), made my family’s dinner many nights when my mom was at night college and spent a lot of time by myself wandering around our neighborhood. And I did have a “real childhood” as real as anyone else’s. I learned responsibility (something seriously lacking in today’s world) but also had a ton of fun while doing it. In exchange for having this responsibility my parents trusted me to make good choices and be smart. I was allowed to be outside playing in the street (baseball, football, whatever) run up to the park until well after the street lights went on.
    With my son, he will walk to school, none of this crud of being driven 2 blocks because “something” might happen, have chores and be expected to take on responsibility at a young age.
    I agree with Corey that a childhood should include learning and behaving like an adult. You can not expect it in all reality to just turn on at 14, 15 or whenever. It has to start early and consistently.

  5. I don’t think kids in the US are given the time to be kids. A daycare tried to give my son homework when he was three. I laughed and put it in the trash (not to their faces — his teachers were merely doing what the majority of the parents wanted).

    But being kids and being responsible are not mutually exclusive!

    Being kids means being free range and climbing trees and playing in dirt. And it means tending a garden and cleaning up after themselves and learning how to make cookies.

  6. My daughter has a ‘real’ childhood but that doesn’t mean I treat her like she’s incompetent. At age 9 she can make stew in the slow cooker (cutting and prepping all the veg, broth and meat), she can make eggs and bacon in the microwave, and french toast even on the stove all with minimal or no supervision.

    She makes her lunch every day for school, opting for sandwiches most days but she’s allowed to make absolutely anything she can prepare on her own and that’s lead to all sorts of cooking concoctions.

    We have a herb garden on our patio with tomatos and peppers and beans that is her responsibility to tend to and harvest as well.

    I left my parents home with none of these skills as they were always done for me because my parents believed ‘childhood’ meant being 100% carefree. That’s not the case.

    It’s our responsibily to make sure our children are confident and capable individuals.

  7. I posted this article on my journal: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/08/DDIS18KJ9L.DTL

    And I got this comment you have GOT to read:


    I grew up in a small city, and I’m grateful my parents carried their small town attitudes over when it came to raising me. By seven I was catching the city bus after school to go to the Y, and by nine I loved riding my bike (or in winter, trudging on foot) across town on Saturday afternoons to spend my allowance on a couple of comic books and some fried chicken or ice cream. The only time I remember being scared with a stranger danger speech from my mother was when I was six and I’d told my eleven-year-old sister, who was babysitting, that I was only going for a walk before supper, and ended up losing track of time talking with a girl I’d met.

    Then I went to high school in another neighbourhood and was shocked to make friends who had never taken a city bus in their lives. They didn’t know how to get down to the river on foot, or where you could get cheap food, or where to find a quiet park to hang out in. Some had never been to their nearest corner store. One wasn’t even allowed to shower when he was home alone lest he slip and hit his head.

    I’m still a shy and anxious person now, so I shudder to think how I might have turned out if I’d spent all my time inside. ”

    Unbelievable.

    As far as “the gift of a real childhood” goes… that’s a very, VERY new concept. Historically, there was no concept of a childhood very separate from adulthood – you took on responsibilities as you got old enough for them, not just because childhood is only that stage in which you grow up (which is why children don’t romanticize it at all and only wish to be DONE with it already!), but because a functioning society needs *everybody* pitching in.

    Jen, I’m curious as to what in her example seems too much for a six year old to do. Cleaning the classroom? (Divided among 20 children or more, that doesn’t sound too hard. My nieces already sweep the floor, and they’d mop it if we had a kid sized mop.) Cleaning up the litter around the school? Teaches them not to litter. Keeping a small herb garden? Takes 20 – 40 minutes out of the day. Coming up with ideas for plays and concerts alone instead of sitting waiting for the plan to be handed TO them from the adults like scripture from heaven? Sounds empowering to me.

  8. My six year old loves plants. He works in the garden with me every day, watches for weeds, waters…and he’s learning a lot about botany in the constant examination of plants that this work provides. He surprises people with his knowledge of plant anatomy.

    A “real childhood” would be what here? He’s contributing to the family, developing incredible self esteem and a healthy respect for nature. He’s also building skills that will lead to potential career.

    Should he instead be in little league that he can’t stand? Or constant playdates with kids his age who are only interested in Yu-gi-oh?

  9. I find it funny that our (adult’s) desire for lack of responsibility superimposes itself on our desire for our kids to have a lack of responsibility. That lack of responsibility poisons our culture, as seen in the “I deserve this” or “I am entitled to that” drama we hear so much of today. Responsibility is a great tool for learning.

  10. I feel that this inclination to provide our children with the “typical American childhood” (which seems to include giving them little or no responsibility to themselves or their families) is very selfish. I wonder if people don’t raise coddled children because they enjoy having someone who is dependent upon them for everything, and that somehow equates to unconditional love. Unfortunately for these children, everyone has to grow up at some point. Adulthood is hard enough, and I can’t imagine being thrust into the world after someone has waited on me hand and foot, celebrated my every tiny achievement (regardless of if it was something I should have just done), and failed to teach me the lesson of responsibility.

    And silvermine- I am right there with you on the homework! I agree that kids need to learn responsibility, but doing hours of homework a night (or any when they’re three!) seems just awful. I taught at a school where the policy was that third grade students had to have an hour of homework a night- on top of hugely involved semester projects. It was awful! I never gave weekend homework so the kids would have break, and a few parents actually complained about that! Crazy!

  11. As I read this my 4 y/o is in the kitchen washing the dishes that were on the counter. She can heat her left over food in the microwave. She makes her own pb and honey sandwiches. She makes sure the cats hard food doesn’t run out. I want her to be able to do things for herself.

  12. Each class was responsible for their classroom, and after classes were finished we had to clean our classroom: map the floor, dust and such. During recess we would go outside and pick up any garbage around the school. We had our own garden behind the school were we grew greens such as scallions, dill, parsley and cabbage which were served then in the school lunchroom.

    From this it seems to me like a lot of extra work for kids to do at school if they’re also helping out at home. Recess is spent picking up litter? What fun. Also, as any serious gardener knows, growing food isn’t easy; there’s constant care that’s needed if you’re going to see any edible result. If the kids are responsible for the garden as well as their studies, helping out at home, baking, cleaning the classroom and creating all the things they need for their plays and activities it’s a wonder they have any actual classroom learning time or free time to just play.

    I know that the notion of childhood is relatively new but I know that I had one. I’m only 25 and I remember having responsibilities that allowed me to grow up ‘confident and capable’ but also have free time to read, play and do whatever I liked. There needs to be a balance between learning to be an adult and the freedom of childhood. This letter seems to me unbalanced in favour of becoming tiny adults by the first grade. This is not, in my opinion, a good thing. Children are NOT adults and we shouldn’t treat them as such. Giving them adult-like responsibilities when they’re young is a good idea, and adding onto that as they grow older and more mature is great, but the work in this letter strikes me as way too much for a first grader.

  13. Jen, do you have kids? The reason I ask is you seem to think cleanup and gardening work is some kind of dirge. I can assure you that even if many adults see them as such, children do not automatically do so. Especially in a home that loves to do these things, children will often do so as well.

    It’s my theory – and you don’t have to agree – that LEARNING is accomplished by children no matter WHAT they’re doing. They don’t need to be directed to sit down, cut this out, glue it here, do this reading lesson, etc.

    My kids have total freedom all day (me with them) and they CHOOSE to play a lot – but they also choose to cook, clean, read, and study. A typical day for us might mean going on a 10 mile bike ride and then coming home and – of their own volition – opening up a math book. Kids are built to learn and if you get out of their way, they will learn joyfully and (it’s my theory) MUCH more effectively on their own schedule.

    I am laughing at your garden lecture. My kids grow food – our entire yard is a garden (not one bit of grass) and my kids are very active in it, as well as caring for our hens. I haven’t had to “teach” them this – they have wanted to learn! This particularly applies to my son, who at the age of 4 succeeded in planting and growing a canteloupe plant (this from a seed he got from my fruit cup at a deli!). He knows every plant in our garden and often goes out in the AM to tenderly pluck cabbage worms from the napa cabbage. He loves it.

    I don’t “push” my kids to be grownups yet my kids (7 and 5), because they’ve had so much freedom, are choosing their own route, and this includes “growup” things like cooking, cleaning, grooming, gardening – and yes, LOTS of playing.

    I think their childhood seems pretty dern awesome.

  14. From this it seems to me like a lot of extra work for kids to do at school if they’re also helping out at home.

    (We can do italics here? SWEET.)

    From this is sounds like a few minutes out of the day are spent on basic clean-up.

    Recess is spent picking up litter? What fun.

    Another thing that probably doesn’t take too long, especially not with the whole school chipping in. Don’t like it? Don’t litter.

    Also, as any serious gardener knows, growing food isn’t easy; there’s constant care that’s needed if you’re going to see any edible result.

    This is actually not true. We got our biggest crop, actually, the year we didn’t do ANYthing to our garden but plant the seeds. Okra, tomatoes, squash, beans, herbs aplenty (we never do anything to our herb garden other than occasionally cut it down)… and all we did was plant and pick.

    If the kids are responsible for the garden as well as their studies, helping out at home, baking, cleaning the classroom and creating all the things they need for their plays and activities it’s a wonder they have any actual classroom learning time or free time to just play.

    Most of these things are things children think of as fun and do in their free time anyway. My nieces love sweeping – the younger one dances with joy if I “let” her use the dustpan. They beg me to let them help wash the dishes. We bake for fun, and there’s nothing more fun than making the stuff you need for your activities – which is more useful learning than most of the stuff you do sitting in a chair.

    And neither of them is even *in* the first grade yet – the younger one hasn’t even entered pre-k.

  15. “The reason I ask is you seem to think cleanup and gardening work is some kind of dirge. I can assure you that even if many adults see them as such, children do not automatically do so. Especially in a home that loves to do these things, children will often do so as well.”

    This is so true. In fact, my four-year-old daughter’s been begging me for 3 days to walk down to the circle at the end of our street and pick up the trash we saw on our last walk. “And can I wear gardening gloves to protect my hands?! Is it time to go clean up the trash now, Mom? Can we? Can we?” Kids LOVE taking care of their environment – at home, in the classroom, outside. And nurturing that love is good for everyone.

    I think a lot of parents today (and I’m including myself) squelch this desire because *we* don’t want to deal with the extra work it causes us to teach and help them do these things.

  16. These comments make interesting reading.

    One of the things my 2 y.o. son most wants to do and seeks (constantly) to initiate is to “help” me. Honestly it gets a bit tedious, as there is absolutely nothing I can do faster or better with a two-year old’s help than without it. But, I get it … I get that this (presumably) innate desire is what allows him both to become part of our social group and to learn. So, mostly, I try to make time to allow this. A major, major thrill for him the other day was when, as I sliced squash, he, standing on a stool beside me, was allowed to lift each slice and place it in the skillet (cool, sitting on the counter, waiting to be placed on the stove after it was filled).

    I don’t know how long the desire persists, but certainly children do want to contribute (help) and derive pleasure from knowing that they’ve done so.

  17. Seems like only the younger ones here are freaking out over the idea of “work” as a form of learning.

    I’m not saying I want to live in the USSR either, but cultures the world over (excepting ours it seems) teach their children from a young age to do all the things that they need to do as adults. Look at the myriad of tribes in the jungles. These children are not suffering some infernal work dirge, but are learning how to hunt, cook, clean, rear children… all things that help their societies thrive in tact. These things are not done as a do-or-die, either, but are presented in a reverent light… these children WANT to learn because like all kids, they WANT to be adults!

    Our kids still have that same desire, but the model they’re emulating is one of instant gratification and party. Look at what we plaster on television as the model for adulthood. Certainly not responsibility. We have “push-to-talk” networks, we use Facebook as though it’s a necessity, our ability to sell anything using sex pushes the idea, among many, many other things.

    We want responsible adults, but we still sue frivolously when we aren’t able to take responsibility for ourselves. What are our kids going to grow up learning?

    I, for one, am so glad to see this forum simply because I do believe that with common sense at home, even in a world plagued with all the garbage it is, the children will grow up with common sense. Why? Because our kids by virtue of our nature, want to be like us and do what the adults do.

  18. Seems like only the younger ones here are freaking out over the idea of “work” as a form of learning.

    Bit of a large assumption there, given that only Jen has given her age – and she’s only one year younger than I am, and I disagree with her!

  19. Didn’t Luke run away from his uncle because he was sick of chores?

    Not only does that mean we should do this to our kids to save the galaxy but it’s probably the only way to get them to move out.

  20. I do have a child, I’ve mentioned him several times; he’s not quite 3 and has his own little chores and yes, loves helping me out in the garden and with dishes and baking. However, my arguement is that for these kids in the USSR these chores are exactly that; chores. Litter picking, gardening, cleaning are all extra work these kids have to do that may not be as fun as for a kid where it’s optional. That’s the difference between work and play. One you can pick up and stop as you wish, it’s optional, the other is not.

    Also, if this woman who’s writing in is an adult now and is remembering growing up in Cold War or post Cold War USSR, I can assure you that her responsibilities and that of her classmates were not all sunshine and happy rainbows.

  21. Re tribal peoples with work and play: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200906/play-makes-us-human-i-outline-ludic-theory-human-nature This is a fantastic series of articles I’ve been reading that explores exactly that. I thought Nicola might appreciate it.

  22. Also, if this woman who’s writing in is an adult now and is remembering growing up in Cold War or post Cold War USSR, I can assure you that her responsibilities and that of her classmates were not all sunshine and happy rainbows.

    How do you know? You didn’t live her life! If she remembers her childhood that clearly as existing *before* the fall of the Berlin Wall, you don’t even really remember being alive when there *was* a Cold War USSR.

    However, my argument is that for these kids in the USSR these chores are exactly that; chores. Litter picking, gardening, cleaning are all extra work these kids have to do that may not be as fun as for a kid where it’s optional.

    Yes, chores. Those things kids are supposed to have so they grow into productive and functioning members of society.

    It’s not “extra” work when it’s expected, btw – and it *should* be expected. Why shouldn’t children have enough respect for their playground as to not litter there and to pick up stray litter and throw it out when they see it? Why shouldn’t children have enough respect for their classroom as to tidy it up and mop the floor at the end of the day (a task which, divided among a whole classroom, probably takes less than 10 minutes, as I have said)? Why shouldn’t children contribute to putting food on the table (especially when they eat more than everybody else)?

  23. Not only does that mean we should do this to our kids to save the galaxy but it’s probably the only way to get them to move out.

    LOL. Mostly. Maybe a little COL. As a stepmom to (lovely) (now adult) kids whose dad had what we called “divorced dad guilt,” there is little question that my stepchildren’s eagerness to join the adult world was reduced by the fact that they could continue to live at (our) home with few responsibilities and much provided, or go out and live in a setting where they had to be responsible (enough) to provide for themselves.

  24. Also, if this woman who’s writing in is an adult now and is remembering growing up in Cold War or post Cold War USSR, I can assure you that her responsibilities and that of her classmates were not all sunshine and happy rainbows.

    I have in-laws who grew up behind the iron curtain and who have very fond childhood memories of participating as … I think it translates as “Young Pioneers?” This isn’t to say they don’t now (as adults, with a very different perspective and from a very different context) look back on those experiences rather critically, but at the time, as they recall and describe it, they very much enjoyed working to contribute to the well-being of their society (e.g. picking up litter) and competing with the other children to express their support for the system in which they lived.

    Was it all sunshine and roses? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean the kids (necessarily) perceived their activities (including chores) as unpleasant, or even unwanted.

    I think we’re tapping into two totally separate issues here …
    Issue 1:
    1.a. What is the appropriate level of work to expect from children in tapping into their contributions to a household or other organization (e.g. school community)?
    1.b. How much unstructured free time do children need (or should children have)?
    Issue 2:
    2. How, if at all, should we engage children who are too young to have developed critical judgment meaningfully in a community or belief system? Is it wrong to involve children in maintaining or promoting Communism (or the Democratic/Republican party, or Christianity, or whatever) or parts of a given system (e.g. the playground at a church) at an age when they are too young to assess whether they believe in the organization’s tenets and want to be a part of it (not that the USSR gave those living its rule this choice, which is of course a significant part of our objection to it)?

  25. silvermine: I agree that the tendency to try to push academics on kids earlier and earlier is a Bad Thing. The problem is that it gives an artificial advantage to kids with early intellectual growth spurts and causes everyone else to fall behind (in particular, it gives a big advantage to kids with birthdays shortly after the enrollment cut-off date, since they’ll be up to a year older than the other kids, and at young ages one year can make a huge difference in cognitive maturity).

    I don’t know if this is still the case, but as of about 15 years ago Swedish schools didn’t start formal reading instruction until kids turned 7, and Sweden had the world’s highest adult literacy rate. I doubt that was a coincidence; some kids just need a few months extra time for their brains to mature, so a group of 7-year-olds will have less irrelevant (i.e. not likely to persist into adulthood) variation in intellectual abilities than a group of 5-6-year-olds.

    On “kids growing up too soon”: When kids have to take on adult responsibilities at a very young age because, for whatever reason, their parents aren’t there for them, that’s a Bad Thing. Why? Because it means there are potentially dire consequences if the kid doesn’t get something right the first time. There’s no room for trial and error. But that factor isn’t present in any of the experiences people have described here, not even the kids in the USSR. Expecting kids to learn adult responsibilities early, but providing a real safety net so they aren’t totally self-dependent, is something quite different; it’s empowering and growth-promoting.

    There’s one extremely pernicious version of “let kids be kids”: the idea that kids should spend their childhood unburdened by the knowledge of things like race, sexual orientation, and class/poverty. The problem with that is that form of “childhood innocence” is only available to straight white suburban middle-class kids living in homogeneous communities. That’s not innocence, it’s privilege, and what it really leads to is the attitude “people like me are normal. People unlike me are abnormal and should at the very least aspire to be like me” In other words, it breeds narcissism.

  26. My husband grew up in India and while working his tail off from an early age to get good grades and earn his way to America, he saw more than a child should ever see. That said, he still wants our children to grow up to be responsible and does not see their childhoods as “endless fun”. He’s more Free Range in his parenting views than I am, despite all that he has seen.

    He and I both agree that a “real” childhood includes responsibilities and learning how to be an adult. Regardless if we live in the US or India.

  27. I am an observer of small children ranging from 3 to 9 in an academic setting and the parent of two free range boys (10 and 12 – who navigated Savannah this past weekend on their own).

    In my observations, I have observed that all young children desire to be worthwhile members of their community. In my classroom this was helped by real materials (even glass) with lessons in the proper use – spooning, folding, table washing, dish washing, window washing, plant polishing, carrying items on a tray, pouring – the list is endless. Children of this age want to say, “I did it myself!” As the children grew older in the 6 to 9 room, they cared for all the maintenance of the room from watering plants to vacuuming the floor, to mending tears in clothes. The pride a child has when he performs a service to the whole community can not be matched by test scores or gold stars for good behavior.

    My goal in the classroom is to provide each child with the physical and mental challenges needed to feel successful in their life. This may be the confidence to ask a waitress for a refill or to fold the clothes coming from the dryer. Real confidence is built when the child is successful in real things.

  28. I think we’re tapping into two totally separate issues here …
    Issue 1:
    1.a. What is the appropriate level of work to expect from children in tapping into their contributions to a household or other organization (e.g. school community)?
    1.b. How much unstructured free time do children need (or should children have)?
    Issue 2:
    2. How, if at all, should we engage children who are too young to have developed critical judgment meaningfully in a community or belief system? Is it wrong to involve children in maintaining or promoting Communism (or the Democratic/Republican party, or Christianity, or whatever) or parts of a given system (e.g. the playground at a church) at an age when they are too young to assess whether they believe in the organization’s tenets and want to be a part of it (not that the USSR gave those living its rule this choice, which is of course a significant part of our objection to it)?

    This is a very good point and one that’s going to need more thought before I can tackle it Thanks for pointing it out and bringing it up!

  29. Jen … thanks. I’m reasonably comfortable addressing (1), at least in my own family’ day-to-day life (would not feel qualified to set down firm rules for all to follow!!!), and really have no idea what the “right” answer to (2) is, if any exists.

  30. […] Kids Can Do More Than We Think Kids rise to the occasion. That becomes abundantly  clear when we look at what kids get to do –  and are […] […]

  31. Sometimes kids can even do more than we can.. or even dare to try:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/16/teen.sails.around.world/index.html

  32. I’m one of those horrible mean moms who make their kids do chores. Some days they totally hate me for it. But by God, they are not leaving this house to go to college without knowing how to do laundry, clean dishes, cook, pick up after themselves, and do basic yard work. I am doing them no service by letting them have a care free childhood while teaching them no life skills.

    This doesn’t mean that they never get to play. They have learned that they get tons of free time if they get their chores done early in the day, or right after dinner. Once chores are done, mom stops nagging. If you spend 20 minutes in time out for back talking over a 2 minute chore, you have wasted 20 minutes of your own time to no purpose. If, however, you sweep the stairs like you were told, clear your place, and make your bed, mom will gladly let you ride your bikes all afternoon.

    Sure, it would be easier and faster to just do it all myself. But we are a team, and all the members of the team have to work together.

  33. I’ve always said in other posts in other blogs… “Kids are allot smarter than most adults give them credit for”. It’s what we as adults are willing to teach them and work with them on, that encourages them to go further and further.

    Coddling them and and over protecting just leads to sheltered adults who cannot deal with responsibility and adulthood.

    I’m also a ‘mean mom’, my kids have chores, they have responsibilities, they know to follow the rules or they WILL get it. Mom says what she means and means what she says. And they are better people for it!

  34. Mary Poppins:
    Well, it depends on your point of view. You see,
    In every job that must be done,
    There is an element of fun.
    You find the fun, and snap!
    The job’s a game.
    And every task you undertake
    Becomes a piece of cake
    A lark, a spree it’s very clear to see
    That a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
    The medicine go down
    Medicine go down
    Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
    In a most delightful way
    A robin feathering his nest
    Has very little time to rest
    While gathering his bits of twine and twig
    Though quite intent in his pursuit,
    He has a merry tune to toot
    He knows a song will move the job along
    For a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
    The medicine go down
    Medicine go down
    Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
    In a most delightful way
    The honeybees that fetch the nectar from the flowers to the comb
    Never tire of ever buzzing to and fro
    Because they take a little nip from every flower that they sip
    And hence

    Reflection: And hence

    Mary Poppins: They find

    Reflection: They find

    Mary Poppins & Reflection: Their task is not a grind

  35. I would have loved the opportunity to garden at school! How cool would that have been? My parents were not into gardening and I always wanted to do it. Now my 11yo does all my landscaping and grows vegetables for us, not because I make her but because she wants to and I have no idea do it. I had the most carefree childhood I can imagine. Looking back, I remeber days and nights spent roaming the neighborhood and sleepovers with friends. Yet I was expected to spend 1-1.5 hours before school doing chores. I also had to cook dinner for a family of nine once a week starting at 7 years old. I also had to help with 2 paper routes and never saw a dime for it. I am glad I had this responsibility and am a better person for it. The fact that I can remember so many endless days and nights of freedom spent with my siblings and friends is a testament that responsibility does not negate a carefree childhood.

  36. The school I taught at in 2004 in Wisconsin didn’t have a full time cleaning person or crew. All kids – right down to preschoolers – were expected to clean up their room at the end of the day. Each task was assigned to a kid or two and it never took more than 10 minutes in my room of third through fifth graders. Was it perfect? No. Did it matter if it was perfect? No – well as long as the garbage was taken out since we ate lunch in our classrooms and nobody liked day old banana peal smell. The kids didn’t find this process strange at all. Just another part of their day. In an age where budget cuts are cutting teachers and increasing class sizes, it amazes me that we haven’t thought of getting rid of some of the maids and teaching the kids a little about responsibility.

  37. I just mentioned to someone online that kids can handle more then most adults give them credit for. Then to prove that point I taught my 9yo daughter how to do laundry. I just got tired of them changing clothes 5 times a day and leaving stuff every where. They can clean up after themselves. She did 2 loads of laundry (the 2nd one she had help with from her 6yo sister). From now on the kids are doing their own laundry. They also folded it all and put it away while I sat there and watched.

    Then after dinner my 7yo son swept the floor while my 6yo daughter scrubbed the table (the 9yo was getting clothes out of the dryer). I put a load of dishes in the dishwasher (the 9yo previously emptied it).

    My kids hate chores (who doesn’t) but they do them for the most part. There are some that they actually fight over doing like sweeping, vacuuming, dusting. Some they do without fighting at all. They love to empty the dishwasher. My son (again, he’s only 7) jumped at the chance to walk 3 blocks to the market with me to help me carry stuff home. I took him because he won’t whine about carrying heavy stuff. And he carried a full bag of groceries home without a single complaint and helped put them away.

    If these kind of chores are a normal, every day thing then they aren’t seen as some huge ordeal. They are just part of life. And cleaning up a classroom and playground sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I once took the kids to a local playground to find the place trashed from the ball game the night before. There was garbage everywhere. So I set my kids to work. We were there to play, didn’t make any of the mess but they cleaned it all up because we are part of the community. They were 4, 5 and 6 at the time. The 4 and 5 years didn’t even complain. They were so sad to see the park that way that they jumped at the chance to clean it up.

    And on a related note:
    when my 9yo started complaining about having to go get the laundry out of the dryer I told her she was lucky she wasn’t born 100 years ago when she’d probably be up with the sun to go milk the cows, gather eggs and help cook the breakfast for the family then go feed the animals before walking several miles (alone) to school. Then walking home and doing more chores, homework, helping cook dinner, more chores, etc.

  38. I doubt the part under discussion is the whole of the story. Alena had a “real” childhood. I don’t read in her post deprivation of fun – I see pride in remembering how much she could help. I remember that pride, and I know my own daughter feels it. This doesn’t mean we don’t have fun.

    This year, my daughter is having an experience I had around her age – raising a litter of orphaned kittens. If you think raising bottle-baby kittens ain’t work, you’ve never been a parent. It’s the same drill – they are dependent on you for round-the-clock feeds, potty assistance (they literally cannot do it for themselves), cleaning, socializing, and so forth. If you think it isn’t fun – again – you’ve never been a parent.

    My daughter has spent her life helping with younger cousins, doing chores from the time she could walk, and knowing that her efforts helped make the family go in so many, many ways. Among them, if she hadn’t been the sort of kid to look after all her own homework and some of her own meals, her mom would not have been able to finish college. She takes tremendous pride in her contributions, and we tell her regularly how proud we are of her. It doesn’t mean we don’t also have fun – everything from free downtime to structured activities to parent-child outings that run the gamut from a quick trip to the park to a week-long family cruise. If she hadn’t had all these experiences, this learning of both responsibility and how to balance it, I would not have had the confidence to let her take on four 9-day-old kittens. She also knows, as always, that what she’s doing MATTERS.

    Just don’t fool yourself that her childhood is somehow less “real” simply because she’s been asked to shoulder a larger-than-normal burden for most of her life.

  39. @justanotherjen: Try using a wagon to pull your groceries home. We do and my kids love it. I never have to pull it. The hardest thing I have to do is remember which child pulled it last. Also, I love hearing that your kids do laundry. I get the strangest looks when I talk about how my kids have done all the laundry since my oldest was 6. All I do is hang the clothes on the line (they can’t reach) and iron. They do all the rest of it. Laundry was always the chore I hated so I was glad to give it to them.

  40. I attended a suburban Canadian school in the 90s and never thought twice about the fact that we cleaned our own classrooms every Friday afternoon and that the classes took turns picking up litter at recess. The teachers handed out gardening gloves and bags, told us not to pick up broken glass, needles, or condoms, and set us to it.

    I have to say, now that I live with roommates, I’m kind of glad this was the way my school operated, because honestly, some people my age (mid-20s) act like it’s a huge effort to put in the least bit of preventative cleaning and end up living in squalour. I also had quite a few chores at home given that my parents worked shift-work, and while my own kids won’t be in a position of *having* to put in so much work at home or school, I certainly intend for them to do it, because life is so much easier as an adult when work is second nature.

  41. “…because life is so much easier as an adult when work is second nature.”

    Brilliantly said! Exactly what I thought when I read this post but couldn’t state it as simply as you did.

  42. AMEN! Not to mention easier on OTHER PEOPLE who have that same work ethic. It’s hard to constantly be cleaning up after other adults.

  43. “squalour”

    Gah… I’ve been away from Canada so long that looked wrong instead of right.

    /sigh

    Loved your post though.

  44. It is my believe that every member of a community should take responsibility for it, whether that is a family, school, or larger community. I don’t think kids can be completely taught that by having a couple of token “chores”, most frequently cleaning their own room and putting their toys away, and playing the rest of the time while the adults around them keep everything functioning smoothly. My daughter (6) knows that there are TWO people in our family, and since it’s her family and home too she needs to take care of it. I do most of the cooking, she does a lot of cleaning (vaccuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, picking up a lot of the time). I do the laundry (washer/dryer are in the basement, and the stairs are a little steep and narrow for her to be carrying baskets up and down), but she puts it away – hers and mine. I wish her school gave the kids more responsibility for their own classrooms and school grounds! She picks up litter when we are out, and even though she enjoys doing it, I don’t mind that she thinks of it as something she HAS to do even when she doesn’t want to …. the parks belong to our community, and we are often the first or last ones at soccer fields and pick up the trash.

    Kids need to play, for sure… but I didn’t see anyone contradicting that. Do they need to play ALL the time? I don’t think so. All people need time to do their own thing, down time free from responsibilities…. I want my daughter to value that time, hopefully enough to keep it as one of her priorities into adulthood. We will leave chores undone because of an opportunity to do something more fun, but we know things will need to get done afterwards, and we do them together or we each tackle something different. My daughter loves to read, draw, play with toy animals, and any number of any other things… I don’t think she’s missing out on anything by sharing in the responsibilities of the household. She has a lot of freedom for her age, and an equal amount of responsibility – the two in my opinion go hand in hand (both based on her own maturity and ability to handle it).

    She often goes to the Boys & Girls Club on Saturdays…. it’s a drop-in program, unstructured but with specific open gym hours, swim time, a playground, game room, and other things to do. She’s usually the youngest kid there for the drop-in program, since it’s an open door policy – her friends are not allowed to go, but she likes hanging out with the kids she’s met there. One time I showed up to find her sweeping the floor…. the guy in charge explained “she kept asking to help with something, so…” I think it’s great! The building is a resource for the kids, they SHOULD think of it and treat it as their own. Cleaning up litter at a school playground, or cleaning the classroom after school is the same thing.

  45. (BTW I’m a different Jen from all of the above.) I have many friends who grew up “behind the Iron Curtain” and they have memories of wonderful childhoods – yes, they probably idealize it in retrospect as adults, like many of us do. But children have a knack for finding fun in most any activity, “chores” or otherwise. Children even played and invented games in the Nazi concentration camps. Obviously we would not think of that situation as a “happy childhood” – quite the opposite – yet it was a REAL childhood for them. Holocaust survivor Ruth Klueger has written that she does not like it when people tell her that she was robbed of her childhood – of course she had a childhood, she says, and no one can take it away from her.

    One more minor point, there’s not really a “post-Cold War USSR”, it’s just Russia or the Russian Federation now.

  46. Perhaps someone else has mentioned it (sorry, I´m in a hurry and don´t have time for reading all posts right now), but the great thing about kids is that EVERYTHING is a game. They can learn to do a real job, and they won´t necessarily miss their childhoods, because they will inevitably consider it a new game. No matter what you ask them to do, they will learn playing. Or play learning, if you wish.

  47. We live in an indulgent culture. At 14, I was foster sister to 4 children ages 5 & under. We had horses, goats, dogs, cats, and one mean chicken. My dad worked full time. My older sisters were all away at college, and it was exam time. My mom fell ill (literally got out of the shower and collapsed). She couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t cook, clean, wash clothes- nothing. Fortunately, it was Christmas break, so I wasn’t in school. Equally fortunately, my sisters and I had been raised responsibly, doing chores, feeding animals, cooking, doing our own laundry, etc. I was able to step up and successfully feed, bathe, rock to sleep, play with, clothe, and generally care for my younger siblings and everything else with the help my dad was able to give when he was home (he did the majority of the barn work & grocery shopped) for two weeks. It never seemed odd at all. Thankfully, I had been well-equipped. It was tiring (being an adult is still tiring), but certainly not panic-worthy or mentally scarring. It also made a firm impression on me that I wanted to wait until adulthood to have kids and bring adult responsibilities on myself. Experience is a thorough teacher!

    Yes, as parents (I’m 30 now with a 4 year old son), it’s our responsibility to protect, feed, care for our children. They are not little adults, and many of our worries should not be their worries. I think, though, that we are doing them a grave disservice if we do not teach them to be self-sufficient to the best of their ability. What if the time comes too early when they need to be able to handle themselves with maturity? Why would you ever want your child to look at a task or situation and feel, “I should be able to handle this, but I am incompetent.” It seems like setting the ones we love most up for failure.

  48. We send our kids a double message. We have this idea that childhood is this special time of fun and pleasure with few responsiblities. That period now goes on well into the twenties with “kids” still living at home with mom and dad. But we also believe that childhood is a time to learn to be adults. You can’t have it both ways. Life is both fun and filled with responsiblitiy. Let’s teach our children to be adults and at the same time teach them to love life. Adulthood is not a time of regret and a time for remembering the good old days. Life is to be lived and enjoyed at whatever stage we are in.

  49. “2. How, if at all, should we engage children who are too young to have developed critical judgment meaningfully in a community or belief system?”

    I’ve been thinking about this particular question. My feeling is how can you NOT engage your children in your own culture. No, they don’t have critical judgment, but the experience itself helps them learn. You raise your child in the way you were raised or would have liked to have been raised mostly. I think Free Range parenting comes from a reaction to construct that has little to do with the way most adults were raised. Many of us were allowed to do things, or required to do things, at an age that now seems too young. How did this happen? I want my own children to have the same freedoms and responsibilities that I did. Ideally, they learn from the experience and take away their own ideas as they grow and learn.

  50. From the kids:

    “Look what I did!”
    “I’m helping!”
    “I can do what the big kids do!”

    From the adults:

    “I’m so proud of you!”
    “Look at what you were able to do!”
    “You did that all by yourself?!”

    These are the real joys of childhood from both perspectives.

    This is what helps make competent, responsible, self-caring adults.

  51. I grew up in Japan in the 80s, and the scenario in the original post is similar. We were responsible for keeping the classroom clean, we took turns getting the food from lunch and serving it to our classmates, etc. No gardening, though! It didn’t take away from any aspect of our time “spent learning” as Jen seems to suggest. We didn’t think of it as a drag or as a “ugh, don’t wanna do it” – it was just as the same if you expect a kid to put away his crayons and glue after he finishes making something.

    I remember being very bitter I had to switch schools before my turn at the lunch server came up.

    I don’t think that made us miss out on any aspect of childhood, though. Just as we had chores at home, that was our basic part of responsibility, we had chores at school, that was part of our basic part of education.

    Oddly enough, I also remember doing lunch duty here in the States – we helped the regular lunch staff get the lunchroom cleaned up after the first lunch period before the second one started. We loved doing that, especially since that meant we got to get lunch before everyone else!

    I had plenty of time to play and run around and “be a kid” – exploring, climbing trees, name it. I don’t think incorporating chores detracts from education – in actuality, it probably promotes it because you take pride in what is going on at school.

  52. I remember being something of a free-ranger kid growing up. It included being able to walk from our house about half a mile from the town limits in classic farm country into town to spend my allowance as I saw fit, or to go to the library to drop off and borrow more books – I was already a confirmed bookworm and nerd, although the latter term was not in the vogue at that time. I could go look up my buddies in the small housing development near our house and hang out with them – as long as I let my parents know generally what I was doing, and promptly came home when they hollered for us (dinner or bedtime, or some activity that required us).

    I also remember learning at a young age some of the rudiments of cooking, being given regular chores, and being held accountable for my report card grades! We had our responsibilities as well as our liberties.

    Was there a complete lack of risk in what we were doing? Well, the child predators were out there even in those days. So were the drug dealers. I was warned by my parents and by our public school system in cooperation with the local law enforcement, of what to watch out for in those areas. None of my circle of friends and classmates came to harm from those criminals, that I can recall. Reckless motorists were a far greater hazard, as were accidents that occurred during play. Several times, somebody broke his nose or her arm or suffered some other injury. The worst, life-threatening injury any of my circle suffered, occurred while my friend was mowing his parents lawn on a riding mower, and the car failed to negotiate a moderate curve and smashed into him. It was one of those things that should never have happened, but had nothing to do with irresponsible conduct on the part of the boy or his parents. (He survived and recovered completely, by the way).

    Is it possible to return to this pattern in today’s world? I would rather say, is it possible to hope for a functional society if the “under siege” mentality should prevail?I don’t see the anxiety-gripped smothering attitude as being conducive to real liberty and real relationships. There is a balance between the need to protect and the need to push out of the nest – between preparing for the adult world, and allowing our kids to be kids.

    Come to think of it, “balance” is the key word back there. It’s lack of balance that’s mucking up our world as much as anything. And some of those yelling loudest for the return of “common sense” and “balance” are among the failures in that area. Free Range kids seem to have picked up on this sort of balance better than have their more guarded, academically “advantaged” peers. Think on it.

  53. Just a quickie on picking up trash – at my kids’ grade school, there’s a fabulous teacher who does a ton of environmental/science projects. Two days a week, there’s an hour of gardening, watering, pulling weeds, etc, and picking up trash (with any parents welcome to drop in and help). The trash gets weighed and they keep a running total. I did the parent-carrying-the-bag job a lot, and there were ALWAYS many more kids wanting to pick up trash than could do it. It was a favorite job. AND it made them very aware of how messy their schoolmates are.

  54. I grew up in USSR as well, and although our school did not provide as many opportunities for gardening or cleaning up the grounds as Alena’s school did, I remember helping out in the cafeteria and cleaning up the classrooms. In 2nd grade, I was responsible for tutoring one of my classmates in math – she was behind the rest of the class and, with 35 students, our teacher could not give each straggler individual attention. I was also, from about age 8, expected to dress myself in the morning and leave for school on time – my mother had to leave for work early.

    Regarding “post-Cold War USSR”, USSR was a huge country that spanned many geographical regions and ethnicities, but people who had lived in it share many common memories – from the Young Pioneers and wonderful kids movies and books to standing in huge lines at the grocery store – whether they grew up in Kazakhstan or Estonia. So I think it is perfectly ok to use a term like “USSR” or “former USSR” when you talk of our childhoods, whether we turned 18 before or after the wall fell.

  55. At my children’s public charter school the kids clean up the room (heavy cleaning is for the cleaning company – but they all have jobs in their classroom) tidy the playground (big deal – its as neat as a pin.) and the middle schoolers have been making the school lunch. They are also given a lot of responsiblity for maintaining noise level in the classroom and self governance. The classes seem to have no to little teasing because they are expected to treat each other with respect. (My youngest cried in class one day after getting in a fight with a girl he said didn’t listen to him. He came home delighted that he got to sit in the special chair outside of the principal’s office and a nice lady talked to him about what had happened. And it never happened again.)

  56. We send our kids a double message. We have this idea that childhood is this special time of fun and pleasure with few responsiblities. That period now goes on well into the twenties with “kids” still living at home with mom and dad. But we also believe that childhood is a time to learn to be adults. You can’t have it both ways. Life is both fun and filled with responsiblitiy. Let’s teach our children to be adults and at the same time teach them to love life. Adulthood is not a time of regret and a time for remembering the good old days. Life is to be lived and enjoyed at whatever stage we are in.

    I also had quite a few chores at home given that my parents worked shift-work, and while my own kids won’t be in a position of *having* to put in so much work at home or school, I certainly intend for them to do it, because life is so much easier as an adult when work is second nature.

    I love this! My job as a parent (and for the record, I’m 27, expecting our 4th daughter in a few weeks) is to raise responsible adults who contribute to our society. Yes, I want them to have lots of time to play and explore and just be kids, but helping with chores and having responsibility is part of that!

    I wish I had been required to do more chores as a child so that it wouldn’t have taken me so long to develop the discipline of getting them done as an adult!

  57. @Jen: Yes, I’ve read the studies about how important play is, etc. etc. Har har. Now, have the people in the jungle read them as well? Should they stop teaching their kids to do things adults do because the kids need to go climb trees? You and I both know the answer is no, and that’s the point I was attempting to make. Perhaps it came out badly since the focus went to age.

    To all: Apologies for the sweeping generalization on the age thing. Just something I noticed in the comments is all.

    @Fahmi: Nailed what I was going for.

    My own childhood was filled with work. My mother passed away when I was 8, so I was left looking after my brother who was 2 and my sister who was 8 months old. During school, we had a sitter, but my father would come home after working all day in a factory and I, many times, would have dinner cooked and be looking after them while he rested.

    Even with all the work I did – cleaning, cooking, child rearing – I found time to do things I wanted to do and follow interests that I found, well, interesting. So, those of you who feel I’m knocking play time will have to excuse me for feeling that sweeping the school yard is not some exorbitant chore for a child. There are far worse things that a child can be expected to do and still there is time to find for play and enrichment and be left with good memories from childhood.

  58. Wonderful post and a great discussion. My 4 yo DD is going to a Montessori school this fall which sounds just like Alena’s experience. Kids are allowed and excpected (aka: responsible) to prepare their own snacks during the day, including getting out, washing, and chopping up carrots; peeling and chopping up bananas, making PB sandwiches, etc. There’s a child-height sink and they wash up their tools and dishes when they are done. They clean up their messes with wash cloths from the sink and a broom and dustpan. Each day one child is responsible for preparing a small snack and walking around to each child to offer a snack (ex: banana slices with a toothpick in them), teaching them not just motor skills but gracious behavior and social awareness.

    They have a classroom pet which the kids are responsible for. They have a class garden in a greenhouse and attend to it.

    Older kids (3rd grade) take a class trip each year. They are responsible for raising the money for the trip and have come up with incredibly industrious plans. They work with a local beekeeper (actually go there and work, not just source!!) and harvest honey which they sell at the school store. Other kids set up a school supply store selling pencils, pens, notepads, etc. They designed the plan, proposed it to the teachers, and manage the inventory and money themselves. The trips? Camping in the Adirondacks.

    And they do all this without assigning any homework, and the kids go on to the best high schools in the city and top notch colleges. It does NOT detract from their education but 100% enhances it. Of course, in the montessori format it’s a constant rotation of tutoring and self-learning, so there’s not any real structured time lost; it’s all part of it. I’m hoping between their school and our home our kids will learn (1) that they are capable and expected to contribute and take responsibility for their physical environment and(2) learning is a constant self-driven activity, not something that’s spoon fed to you in 60 minute doses and does not interact with the next subject and concept.

    incidentally, at ages 4 and 2, our kids currently set and clear the table, put silverware away from the dishwasher basket (after I’ve removed the sharp knives which they can’t reach to put away anyhow), help put laundry in the machine, into the dryer, and into baskets, put away all their own clothes, weed the garden when we’re out there, water the potted plants (until we beg them to stop!), push swiffers around the hardwood, help cook at least one part of the meal, and help put recycling and compost into their proper containers at night. And still have hours and hours of creative self-play, bike rides, nature walks, crafts, stories, etc. We constantly get comments on how confident, helpful, and polite they are and while I like to think they’re just naturally sweet (ha!), I really believe they understand that fun-time is a super fun (nearly constant) treat and not the expected and default way of life.

  59. I’m glad that I saw this. The ‘being a child doesn’t mean only having fun, total innocence and having a lack of responsibility or something’ sort of helped me out. It’s true, and it put it in better words (I had a vauge idea).
    My parents and grandparents are sort of amazed that I still only know how to cook a couple of easy foods. My mom said by 12 she could cook everything she knows now, and my stepmom was 9, (my grandma was sort of betrothed or married at 12, apparently). There is more responsibility on the kids in their/our country, but they do still play. My mom and her brother’s and sisters were expected to clean the house and not make a mess, and cook too, and do all of their homework, but they still had time to play soccer with the neighbourhood kids. This year I’m gonna make more of an effort to meet their standards. I need to be more responsible and know how to cook at least some basic food from ‘back home.’ ^_^

  60. My kids definitely saw chores as fun when they were younger, and were willing to help out. Now that they are 7 an 11, they are much more reticent. Well, in truth, they fight it constantly. We’ve tried many things – specific chores they are assigned; a list of chores that they can choose from before they are allowed computer or TV time, a weekly 1 hour “family clean” (this last has worked the best.) They DO the tasks at hand, but often not without a lot of complaining and nagging. And there no longer is the pride of “I did it myself” that there was when they were younger.

    What works for your school age kids? I read these posts of you all cooking dinner, doing laundry, etc, but for many of you it seems this started because of some stress in your family – financial, illness, divorce. Any ideas for a family with no particular crises?

    I have to admit that the adults in our famly are not the neatest people in the world and are “spur of the moment” type people, while our younger child thrives on routine. We are trying to structure our household to have more routine, including the area of chores.

    On a second note, I’m trying to figure out what the right amount of household responsibilities are for our older child. I totally want her to learn life skills, but she is getting to the age where homework becomes substantial. She gets home from school around 4:00, has homework, and is at an age where she actually needs more sleep than a younger child due to growth spurts. Her bedtime is 9:00, but 8:30 would probably be better for her. I do think she should have some time to read, visit friends, even watch TV (horrors!) How much time daily do your middle schoolers spend on household chores?

  61. I just say “Son, time to do the dishes’, then ignore the onslaught of complaints. Granted it helps that I’m Deaf LOL but he does his chores..complainingly haha. He knows if he doesn’t do them to MY satisfaction, he has to do it again and again and again until done just right.

    I look at it as training a future employee! He’ll be hard pressed to complain to his bosses in the future after having gone through me! lol

  62. back with another link! On NZ tv at the moment is a show called “The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show” but it might as well be subtitled “Free-Range Kids”

    the station blurb is here: http://tvnz.co.nz/the-politically-incorrect-parenting-show/show-2836538 . It might be hard getting a copy outside of NZ. But the show is getting a LOT of support here (and is sidesplittingly funny to boot)

    Now, in regards to the actual topic at hand, I teach at tertiary level, and have done so for the last ten years. I’ve noticed over that time a fairly steady decline in the ‘DIY’ capacities of the yearly intake. When faced with a challenge or something unfamiliar (but certainly within the realms of their ability), each year the class seems to be more and more nervous and fearful. They’re used to being spoonfed how to do things, or having someone else take responsibility. In talking to them, you get the feeling they were punished in the past for any sort of initiative or curiousity. BUT, once they get over their fear and start to learn, they’re like five year olds who have won a prize.

    I am told its the same thing at the halls of residence (in fact, one of the things they do in the halls these days is run ‘independent living’ courses – the halls are only for first years, and apparently most of them went into private/shared flats in second year unable to cook or clean or take care of themselves, and promptly crashed and burned).

    So whilst I wouldn’t want to turn kids into slave labour, overburdened with chores, I do think there is something in encouraging kids to take on incrementally more responsibility as they grow older. Because, when you’re 21, your mother should not have to fly in interstate to cook your meals, clean your sharehouse, and wash your clothes because you can’t manage doing that AND studying. (true story, unfortunately)

    Balance in all things, I suspect might be the key. And accepting that different kids will take on different chores with different aptitudes and at different times. Shocking, that🙂

  63. aki and others: Charles Percy, who was a US Senator from Illinois when I was growing up (he held the seat now held by Dick Durbin) made his first million dollars when he was in college by running a laundry service for students who didn’t know how to do their own laundry. This would have been over 60 years ago, so some things haven’t changed much (though in the 1940s, college students would have been disproportionately rich kids who’d be used to having maids do their household work).

  64. “Keeping a small herb garden? Takes 20 – 40 minutes out of the day. ”

    I doubt even that. An hour (at most) to prep one day, and hour (at most) to plant another day, and about five minutes a day for 20 kids to weed, water, and harvest. If you have twenty people tending a garden five or six days out of seven, how long could it possibly take? And since the USSR probably didn’t have American notions of class size, it was probably more than that.

    It is not burdening education to have kids take turns running a mop over the floor and a dust rag over the shelves at the end of the day. It’s not like they’re frying food in the classroom and cleaning up after the grease and food-borne organisms. And an entire school full of kids picking up garbage can’t possibly take more than five minutes if they do it every day, unless people are in the habit of using the schoolyard as a public dump.

    There was a lot, a lot, a LOT wrong with the USSR, but what’s being described here is hardly more than SOP in American schools a century ago. And farther back than that, the kids used to have to light the fires shovel the coal, and clean up after the mess THAT made.

  65. My first chores were setting the table, folding laundry, and helping with my younger brother– all well within the capacity of a five-year-old. I think I also fed the fish, or maybe we let my brother do that.

    My parents divorced soon after that, and I grew up in two households. In my mother’s household, I had many chores, somewhat haphazardly and chaotically apportioned; in my father’s household, my only chore was to wash the supper dishes under close adult supervision. Neither system was ideal, but the latter (few chores and excessive supervision) was worse. I particularly resented not being allowed to do laundry; in my mother’s household, I was doing most of the family laundry by the time I was about nine, but in my father’s household, I wasn’t even trusted to fold my own clothes, much less operate the washer or dryer. The messages that I derived from this were, first, that I was incompetent and, second, that I just wasn’t needed. I resented both.

    I never resented the quantity of housework I did in my mother’s household, but I did resent the fluctuating expectations, the way in which she might suddenly announce on Saturday morning– when I was in the middle of a school project or a good book– that everyone must drop everything because we were going to clean the house this minute. With children over the age of 8 or so, I think it’s important to set expectations in advance, and then let the child perform the assigned chores on the schedule that suits him (with a deadline, of course) and, if it’s safe, with minimal adult supervision. Giving the child more control will help him feel more invested in the work.

  66. Yeah, SWPUT, I was trying to fit it into a “class period” view. Come to think of it, we don’t do ANYthing with our herb garden, and we have more than we know what to do with, including some perennials that are *supposed* to be annuals in this area!

  67. My kids go to a Russian-run ballet school in the U.S. I love that they have this same mindset here. The kids are definitely kids, having fun; however they are expected to be responsible and respectful. The teachers come from the finest Russian ballet schools (the Bolshoi and the Vaganova Academy) and the school is considered to be one of the best in North America, but a big part of their success is that they really do consider the kids to be able to be fully responsible at 10. Most of the 8-year-old can put their own hair in buns; the 9-11-year-olds that went on pointe last summer were shown and guided once in how to sew the ribbons on their pointe shoes; take care of them and break them in, and then were expected to take full charge of them. That age group is to take charge of their own stretching and warmups; hang up and take care of their own costumes at performances and competitions.

    As a result, they are very professional, even at young ages. They’ve been taught to assess the stage wherever they perform and adjust their spacing without being told; when the music stopped at an outreach performance this summer with a huge crowd watching, they froze and not a single child moved a muscle until the sound guy got it figure out and the artistic director came out to tell them where to go. No one was gesturing from the wings to tell them what to do. They just knew to hold their positions and freeze until the director came out.

    It fits in very well with how I’m trying to raise my kids. I get guff sometimes from relatives and friends who think it’s terrible that my 10-year-old ballerina could do omelettes at 6 and just about anything at 9–she’s a Food Network junkie. She’s ticked she can’t use fondant on her 4-H cakes until high school. They’re ticked that her brother sometimes hires her to make him a favorite gourmet meal, or lava cakes. Or that he’s been doing his own laundry since he was 9. We have a washer and dryer; it’s not like he’s heading down to the river to bang clothes on rocks! But then I watch them making sandwiches for their 17-year-olds who are lounging on the couch, which they’ll probably still be doing 10 years from now. Whereas I hope mine 10 years from now will be able to do whatever their hearts desire.

  68. Kids can do alot they just dont get to show it always.

  69. I grew up in grade schools in suburban canada, and we were expected to pick up schoolyard litter ( at least 2x a year to mostly demonstrate a point) and put our chairs up on our desks at end of day so the janitorial crew could easily mop. We had our chores. I don’t think it was a hardship.

    Interestingly, one of my schools abutted a military range, and huge park, and we had very regular instances of them drilling into our heads to NEVER ever ever touch anything that looks like unexploded ordinance. It made for an interesting childhood and a great story now. “they put your school WHERE?”

    Seriously, without teaching kids and letting them interact with adults, do people expect at 18 that kids magically become gifted with adult skills? I’m not so very old ( 35) myself, and I don’t get this whole extended innocent happy responsibility free childhood.

    I read a book about a couple that raised 2 daughters on a boat, and how they were given basic motor maintenance, boat maintenance ( vacuuming, polishing) fishing chores and rigging chores to help keep the family home afloat and they wrote how wonderful it was to feel part of the bigger picture and pride in their work.

    My own 4 year old nephew LOVES to imitate grandpa and help him, and if they made kiddie sized vacuums, he’d be ecstatic.

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