Forget the Flash-Cards: How To REALLY Help Your Pre-Schooler

It’s no secret that parents worried about how their kids are going to do in kindergarten are willing to work hard to help them make the grade. But a new study reported in Connect with Kids shows that teaching pre-schoolers the academic stuff — letters, numbers, etc. — may not be the best approach. What is?

Chores. Teaching them to listen to you, follow instructions and complete a task:

According to a study of 379 children published in the ‘Journal of Personality’, kids who had more responsibilities at age five, were more likely to have better grades and better behavior in school as 8-year-olds.

“When you get to school you have multiple step direction of things that children are expected to do,” explains Psychologist Laura Mee, Ph.D., “If they’ve been practicing that and listening to parents and following thing in a sequence at home for several years… I think it is more automatic for them.”She says simple chores also help a child develop a sense of confidence, independence. “And then feeling more self confidence that then helps you have more mastery in school,” says Dr. Mee.

She says if parents are paying attention, they’ll get cues from their child when they want to help out. “So if you can catch them when they want to do things independently, it’s a great time to encourage that and help them move forward,” says Dr. Mee.

I’m not saying I had my toddlers cleaning the house  — I’m pretty bad at that  myself (and always forget where the switch is on the vaccuum cleaner). But this study sure makes sense to me. Especially when we remember that until recently, children were always expected to help out their parents, not just the other way around.  — Lenore

52 Responses

  1. I’ve said it before…and I’ll say it again.

    Children – all children — want to feel that they have a purpose and a reason to be part of the family. They need to feel important and dependable. Why else would they clamor to sweep the classroom our clap out erasers?

    Ok, the eraser thing is dating me. Um…clean the white board?

    They need chores. They WANT chores.

    Good post.

  2. It’s good for them to feel like they can help.

    Heck, my (then) 5 year old potty trained his 2 year old sister.😀 And that’s what I tell people. He can be proud of that.

  3. Considering the conversation yesterday, I think this is a nice follow-up. Kids love helping out – when my boy was two, he got a gift certificate to a toystore. So we took him there to pick out a train set or a clay set. He saw a set of child-sized broom, mop, bucket, and dustbin. He clamored for that and refused to get anything else. He loves helping to clean using his tools – and even a year later, brags to Grandma on the phone about how he was going to help mop the kitchen.

    @silvermine – that totally rocks. how??

  4. […] 17, 2009 by joshthomas23 Always good stuff from Lenore. Happy Friday. A new study reported in Connect with Kids shows that teaching pre-schoolers the […]

  5. children that can dress themselves after PE would be nice

  6. Colour me totally unsurprised😉

  7. I found that my cordless, rechargable Eureka vaccuum, which is a glorified dustbuster with a removable handle, is the best $30 “toy” I ever bought. I use it too, but my daughter never fails to remind me that it’s HERS… I bought it for her when she was 3, because the big vaccuum was too heavy to manage. Since she was 5, she’s done almost all the vaccuuming… I never understood why parents bought those plastic Fisher-price toys that looked like a vaccuum, when for a few more dollars I got one that actually cleaned the carpets!

  8. I really like the book “Slow and Steady Get me Ready” with developmental games and tasks for every week of the first few years of a child’s life. No flash cards or academics, just little games and activities that help a child build all skills.

  9. I would include reading as a practical skill that gives kids confidence and independence. Our daughter was reading strongly by age 3 and it made the world a much less mysterious place for her. Now she reads books, street signs, food labels, T-shirts, storefronts–you name it. (The graffiti is a drawback, it’s true…)

  10. I remember helping with chores as soon as I could walk. When I was really young, my chores included “put your toys away” and “make sure all of your dirty clothes go in the basket”. As I grew older and more coordinated, I carried my basket to the laundry machine and helped take the dishes to the kitchen. As soon as I could reach the faucet, I was helping to wash dishes — and, as soon as I could reach the knobs and buttons, I did my own laundry (I think my mom set the detergent on the dryer when it was “my” laundry day, so we wouldn’t have to clean spilled detergent off of the floor and walls).
    (Also, kids who are given chores are less likely to live in disgusting dorm rooms or come home from a long weekend at college with multiple loads of dirty laundry for Mom. I’m the “old woman” in the dorm at 25, and I’ve noticed this very often!)

    Knowing how to write, count, and identify numbers, letters, shapes, and colors is great for kids starting kindergarten — but so is knowing to follow directions and how to interact with others.

  11. Does anyone have suggestions of good chores for a 5 or 6 year old?

  12. Michael: vaccuuming (see above post: we used a small cordless vac), sweeping, dusting, putting dishes away, folding and putting away clean laundry are all good at that age. At 6, my daughter got a guinea pig so there are “chores” that are part of taking care of her: feeding, changing water, cleaning out the cage. She also carries in the groceries (we’ve just now gotten to the point that she can carry enough that between the two of us, we can usually get in from the car without a second trip). My friend’s daughter was 5 when she started making the coffee in the mornings😉 (it was ready, she turned it on, poured mom’s cup and fixed it with milk/sugar). Certainally a kid’s bedroom can be their own responsibility by 5 or 6, although my daughter is 7 now, and I still occasionally go in and clean out her closet or dressers when she’s not around… putting things away she can do, but actually getting RID of things is another story. My daughter was 6 before she started making her own lunch and the first time she cooked dinner herself, but I know others start those things younger.

    Outside chores are also good options: weeding flower beds, raking, shoveling snow, sweeping the deck or steps/walkway.

    Most standard household chores are within reach of a 6 year old… my daughter and I basically split them.

  13. I’ve never personally met a child who joyfully anticipates a sit down session with some flash cards.

    A four year old who gets to plant, pick, wash, cut and toss some tomatoes into a salad? Nothing fresher.

  14. My four year old has to help clean the house. She’s required to help clean the bedroom she shares with her sisters, but what’s more, she has a regular chore every day beyond that. She loves it when it’s her turn to do dishes. She feels so proud and grown up getting to load and unload the dishwasher, but her favorite part is handwashing because she gets to play in the water.😉 I do have to supervise her more than her older siblings, but it’s worth it in the long run.

  15. Does anyone have suggestions of good chores for a 5 or 6 year old?

    Dusting
    Sweeping
    Vacuuming
    Setting and clearing the table
    Helping wash dishes – you have to be there with them
    Cleaning their room
    Making their bed
    Washing surfaces with vinegar and water, and a rag (works better than commercial cleaners and is cheaper, too)
    Sorting laundry, both before and after washing
    Folding and putting away clothes
    Washing vegetables
    Taking salad greens that have been washed outside and spinning them in a pillowcase until they dry
    Putting scraps in the compost
    Sorting the recycling
    Helping with the cooking – at six, I’d expect a kid to be able to do EVERY part of cooking short of taking things out of the oven. My six year old niece chops veggies without help and flips things on the stove, we just have to be there to supervise
    Feeding the pets
    Weeding the garden
    Going outside and fetching herbs or vegetables from your garden
    Possibly – depends on your neighborhood – going on a short trip to the corner store to get one or two items
    Carrying a bag of groceries home from the store
    Putting away groceries
    Making coffee or tea

    Gosh, the more appropriate question would be “what can a 5 or 6 year old NOT do?”, wouldn’t it!

    Of course, you don’t have your kid do all these things at once.

  16. My Son has several chores:
    ~ He is responsible for feeding our fish.
    ~He puts away the silverware from the dishwasher. (And everything goes in its proper place unlike when my husband does it)
    ~He helps me to unload the dishwasher. (Not required, but he likes to do it)
    ~He is responsible for cleaning his toys out of every room of the house
    ~getting towels to clean up his messes with (He cleans all of his spills now)
    ~He also is responsible for putting his shoes and clothes in the correct area.

    I grocery shop once every two weeks and his jobs include:
    ~holding the shopping cart quarter for Aldi’s,
    ~Placing items from the cart onto the conveyer belt, ~helping bring in grocery bags from the car.
    He is also the one who brings them from the livingroom to the kitchen (One bag at a time while I put them away.)

    He is 3.

    We are currently working on him clearing/empting dishes and placing them in the dishwasher.

    I think the dust buster is a great idea, I may get him one.

    He is capable of following 3 part commands such as Place your spoon in the sink and the yogurt cup in the trash and bring me a towel to clean your face with.

    If we are at certain places I allow him outside on his own or with other children for short periods of time unsupervised. At my home, we are right on a busy intersection so I have not yet done it here, but he knows very well what his boundaries are and I can let him play outside while cleaning my car out, or while I cross the street to check the mail, without worrying about where he is.

    He takes his own baths, I close the curtain and he picks his own temperature, fills the tub, turns off the water at an appropriate level, Washes himself (with his presoaped rag, I scrub him good once a week) He plays until he is content and unplugs the tub, cleans up his toys grabs his towel and comes to us.

    We are always within hearing range seeing as the bathroom is less than five feet from the livingroom and as soon as it is quiet we are checking on him.

    If my three year old can do all of these things on his own I think a 6 year old should be able to do just about anything.

  17. I should mention, I get strange looks when he puts thew quarter in the cart and one woman actually told me I was being irresponsible because he could swallow it. I just shrug it off.

    I know parents who don’t let thier 8 year olds bath unattended. I just guess I am next on the Worst Mommy ever list.

    I also know parents who are shocked when we visit and My son puts his things away before we leave. They can’t understand why thier much older children see incapable of doing it.

    I have been told at church that my son is a big help to the nursery workers, that he is great about cleaning up and helps other children figure out what to do.

  18. My 5 and 6 year olds bring the recycling out to the curb, haul and sort laundry, clear and set the table, scrub floors and other surfaces, clean mirrors and windows, feed pets, walk the dog (we have a small one they can manage), haul groceries in from the car, keep their rooms clean, and help tidy the house. They’re old enough to do most chores I’m willing to take the time to teach them, though they don’t cook yet without close adult supervision, since we have an old, somewhat unpredictable gas stove.

  19. OK. Yes, chores are a good thing for the youngins. I just hope this doesn’t turn out to be another arena of parental competition.

    “You should the dusting job my kid does! The Naval Academy would be proud.”

    “That’s nice, but my kid doesn’t have time to dust. He’s got a solid 12-hours of daily chores, starting with a pre-dawn stroll across the lawn with a push-reel mower.”

    On second thought, this could get entertaining.

  20. You know, I love the idea here, but I have to wonder if this is a correlation/causation thing. My 2-year-old helps put away the dishes, and always busses my mug at the coffeehouse…but it’s not because I have some philosophical thing where I figured I’d better teach her about chores; it’s because she’s bizarrely orderly (seriously, she did not inherit that from either of us) and laid-back and adult-pleasing, so I figured I’d be able to exploit that to get some dishes done. Kid loves putting stuff away.

    Now, obviously I have no idea how she’ll do in school when she’s 8, but I assume that characteristics like orderliness, meticulousness, cheerfulness, etc. will be assets (at least in terms of the culture of school, if not also the academics).

    What I’m saying here is — maybe kids are more likely to be doing chores when little if they already have the skills that predispose them to future school success. Maybe parents are more likely to be willing to train them if they think they’ll succeed. Maybe parents are more likely to postpone chores when kids are lacking those skills.

    Hard to run good, controlled experiments on this one. Be nice to see the study methodology.

    On a different note, here’s a great free range news story: http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2009/07/17/17_year_old_sailor_completes_solo_journey_around_world/

  21. […] Forget the Flash-Cards: How To REALLY Help Your Pre-Schooler It’s no secret that parents worried about how their kids are going to do in kindergarten are willing to work hard […] […]

  22. Book: “Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less”

    I cringe whenever I see the commercial (infomercial?) for the “Your Baby Can Read” DVD or something gross like that. It is painful to watch the babies sitting in their high chairs with mom or dad showing them flashcards and having them truly reading the words etc. To me, there is nothing exciting about that. More along the lines of torture, perhaps. I guess I just have to ask a parent who buys into that garbage, “what are you trying to accomplish? will little Johnny be certain for a Harvard future since he is reading the word ball in his highchair at the age of 10 months?” Why oh why has education become such a race where (parents think) the prize goes to the one who finishes first?

    I just don’t get it. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

  23. Great NY Times article: Kindergarten Cram

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html?_r=1

  24. Yep. I said it in an earlier post… Children are way smarter than allot of adults give them credit for.

    This makes sense.. learning to follow the steps in a chore :run the water, rinse the dishes, place them in the dishwasher properly, close dishwasher, wipe off counters, rinse out sink, sweep kitchen floor.. so on and so forth: really goes a long way toward being able to follow directions, figure out ways around and through a problem, making their brain WORK for them, as opposed to just mindless activities.

    With my daughter, I am big on ‘first, we will clean you room, second, we will make your bed, third…” you get the point. Now she knows proper method and/or steps to doing something and remembering the way to do it. She gets really proud of herself when she accomplishes it on her own without asking me what was the next step. Kids doing chores have more of a feeling of accomplishment, and ‘I’m a big kid now’ than kids who played a game. WHY? because they see their parents do those very same things, and it helps them to relate better with their older siblings and other adults around them.

  25. Thanks for your post, Andromeda. Temperament and innate ability are definitely part of the equation here. Heck, unloading the dishwasher is a privilege my three-year-old earns, but is way too stressful for my incredibly perfectionistic six-year-old.

    That six-year-old loves to mail things/check the mail at our cluster mailboxes, though. Our cluster is around the corner out of sight of the house, and she gives a visible shiver of delight just before she goes around the corner.

    And soon she’s going to have to make me coffee. What a brilliant idea!

  26. In his wonderful novel, “Hard Times,” Dickens wrote of the soul-killing nature of cramming kids with facts and taking them away from the world around them–and certainly not encouraging the imagination.

    We constantly watch young kids with very expensive learning toys who can parrot letters and numbers (sometimes even in Spanish) when they are playing with the toy, but they cannot transfer what they say into the real world. Thus, though the child can say the “a” sound, many are baffled when you say, “Look around and show me something in this room that begins with that sound.” Ideally a parent will be playing with the child and do that, so the parent (not the toy) is doing the teaching. But guess what? It’s pretty boring for everyone involved, so it doesn’t often happen.

    But when you’re doing chores with the child, the caregiver can make up games. How many forks are there? What rhymes with cup? Make up a sweeping song, or a take out the trash song. This puts imagination and fun in everything–and opens the door to communication and interactive learning.

    One thing we’ve learned–call it the Cinderella Corollary–chores should never be used as punishment. Chores work best when they are made part of the home/school/church and the child is acknowledged for being a valuable member of whatever community for taking part. In addition to learning; in addition to taking on responsibility; it contributes to the formation of a positive sense of self.

  27. This is very affirming for me! My son is close to 2 yrs old, and unlike some other kids I know his age, he’s not reciting all his colors, or the alphabet, nor can he point out a cow versus a chicken. Because, well, we don’t sit around for hours a day specifically learning these things. Then I remember that when I ask him to (and he’s in the mood, lol) he can help me unload the dishwasher, grab the remote, find his cup or bowl and bring it to me, and search around for desired toys. He’s not unintelligent in the least, I just feel he has his whole life ahead of him to memorize nouns!

  28. @Andromeda – Great post! I have one child whose innate personality is to go against the grain. Whatever he thinks he’s “supposed” to like, he “hates.” Our neighbor, a special ed teacher, says it might be something called something like Oppositional Defiance Disorder, but many of us, including our doctor, think he’s just incredibly stubborn. (One of my brothers has a remarkably similiar personality, so we know where it comes from!)

    I have to admit, at times when my energy level is low, I have caught myself doing things that I know he is capable of doing himself solely because I know it is going to take a lot of time and mental effort on figuring out the best way to deal with him without resorting to yelling or threats.

    And I also agree with the comment that we need to be careful not to turn this chore thing into yet another parenting competition. If it’s one thing my son has taught me, it’s to be less judgemental of other people’s parenting choices. There is often a lot more going on behind-the-scenes than we are aware of.

    I know a woman who is a mother of 4, and a much more competent mother than I am. She, too, has a child with a willful personality. She seems so calm and easy-going, but she commented to me the other day that she is so tired of hearing other parents tell her, “You should just expect him to do such-and-such, and he will.” Or “we give our children parameters and responsibilities.” I know she does, but some kids are more naturally helpful, independent, ordered, etc., etc, than others. Just because your kid can cook a 4 course meal and clean up after it doesn’t mean the parents of those who can’t are negligent. Heck, I don’t know if any of the adults I work with can do that. (And most of them are close to retirement age, not the “coddled” younger generation.)

  29. Christopher: also, though this applies more to teachers than to parents, academic work should never be assigned as a punishment either; it teaches that learning is an unpleasant task best kept to a minimum (note that requiring a kid who’s made a mess to clean it up, or requiring a kid who’s, say, made a racist remark to research the history of why it’s such a bad thing, is not a punishment in my book).

  30. I really enjoyed this post and reading all the comments. My children are age 3 and 1 1/2 years old. Both girls have been helping me around the house since they were able to walk. They love to help. I have made their chores seem less like chores and more like things that just need to be done. It is just a part of life . They come running when they hear me open up the dishwasher. They want to be there helping.
    My girls help:
    Load and unload the dishwasher
    Set and clear the table
    Put groceries away
    Load and unload the washing machine and dryer
    Put away their laundry
    Make their beds
    Feed the dog
    General cleaning and dusting

  31. I think it’s important to remember that a balanced life is good for everyone, children and adults. My kids (ages 5 and 6) have chores to do. They have structured time. And they have plenty of free time to play. All those things are important for them as they grow up.

    And I just can’t agree that children don’t like to learn to read early or memorize facts. Certainly forcing a child to do those things is going to be counterproductive. However, my parents used the “Teach Your Baby to Read” method with me (I could read by age 2) and it was one of the best gifts they gave me. Reading gave me the ability the learn about and explore my world in a self-directed way from a very young age. My own son, though not an extremely early reader, adores chemistry and physics. At age five he loves to discuss things like the chemical composition of the earth and what it might tell us about the origins of our planet.

    The trick seems to be adjusting to each individual child, and providing opportunities for the child to grow in a number of areas. And this includes both freedom to play and learn by oneself, as well as the lesson that there are some tasks that aren’t fun in the moment but still worth knowing how to do. That balance is what will, I hope, make my children happy, productive adults.

  32. Long time reader, first time commenter. My five year old has chores and an allowance, my friends think I’m nuts, and he’s too young to be expected to do chores. He’s not expected to do anything too much. He “makes” his bed (kind of), picks up his dirty clothes and puts them in his basket, sorts his lights and darks, puts his dishes on the counter. . .etc. He really enjoys helping out and earning his allowance. He gets $2 a week, $1 he has to put in the bank, and the other he can save for whatever. He loves to be independent and I believe gains a lot of confidence doing these little things by himself. It is also teaching him about money, he is starting to think twice about what he wants to spend his money on.

  33. OK, chore-assigning folks, I do have one question … how do you find time/energy to do this? I believe my son (2 + 3 mo.s) should help with stuff and I do involve him in doing so (e.g. he can dump the dog food in the bowls after I hand him the cupfull and can place the bowls where they go; he can put laundry in the washer; he can hand me clean dishes from the dishwasher). But … honestly? Often I prefer to (and sometimes I do) just do it myself. Am I the only one who feels this way? Because, yes, he can place the dogfood bowls where they go, but there’s a non-zero probability he’ll dump the food in their water bowl before he puts the bowls down …

  34. OK, chore-assigning folks, I do have one question … how do you find time/energy to do this?

    Same way you find time to go out of the house – you remember that it takes longer and you make plans for that. Also, you plan to quietly fix most of what they’ve done (out of their sight, or a discreet time later), or do the bulk while they work on their small part.

    It gets easier as they get bigger.

    As for Kate, your friends are the crazy ones.

  35. I agree with most of this article and the comments, however, I don’t quite understand why we cannot do both. I hope to teach my daughter her abc’s in a fun and interactive way all the while sweeping the floor and making her bed. I think if they looked further into studies like this they would mostly find that children who have parents who spend time with them do better in school. I expect that my husband and I will enjoy multi-tasking on the teaching front (i.e. What colour is this soap? What letter does fork start with – “fffff” what does “ffff” sound like?…)

    I also expect that raising my children will make me a more deliberate and responsible person. I’ve already noticed that it is much more fun to do chores when I can tell I am teaching the most amazing person I’ve ever met how to do everything! It’s the greatest feeling in the world!!! Who knows, maybe I’ll even learn to enjoy dusting and sing a silly song while cleaning the toilet…nope, on second thought, I think I’ll leave that to my husband to teach our kids:-)

  36. Casey, I might suggest that instead of asking what letter fork starts with, and then asking what sound it makes, you go the other way around. It’s easier for small children to figure out what SOUND starts the word, and THEN what letter makes that sound.

  37. This makes me feel better about making my 3 year old pick up her toys everyday. She begs to help with things, even dinner. So I try to modify so she can help. I just want her to be able to take care of herself, so doing better in school is a good perk.

  38. Casey-

    There’s certainly not anything wrong with talking about letters and such from a young age. The problem is when parents and teachers then expect the kids to perform. Reading is a really abstract process, and some kids are ready for it at two, but some aren’t until seven. Doesn’t mean will be any smarter than the other at 25. I would rather have my three year old be able to tell me a story that he makes up, or understand about “beginning, middle, and end”, or make his own bed, than have him be able to read a bunch of words (not that there aren’t plenty of kids who can do both).

  39. This made me feel so much better this morning. I have a 20 month old daughter who is not very interested in talking and just had the weekend at my father’s house with another child the same age who is talking and knows the letters of her name. There seemed to be a constant comparison that my daughter wasn’t as advanced as the other child. So I laughed this morning when I remembered my daughter this weekend also pulling all the wipes out of her diaper bag and scrubbing the stairs and the walls. She had “helped” me with this chore earlier in the week and I guess she felt it needed doing again so we “cleaned ” the stairs and walls again last night. I guess she will be fine after all.

  40. Michael you can get smaller brooms and dust pans it wont be perfect but it was done.

  41. @Alexicographer – I totally understand where you’re coming from! Just do the best you can when they are young. Maybe just have your son do one job until he can do it well, then move on to the next.

    I remember when I had a preschooler and a very needy infant, it was all I could do to get through each day. Uly’s suggestion of allowing more time is a good one, but sometimes not possible. In those days, both my husband and I were late to work several times a week, and that was just doing the absolute basics – making sure we all had food, clothes and paying the bills.

    Don’t beat yourself up over this. It will get easier! Also, each kid’s skills develop at a different rate. I have a first grader who still can’t tie his shoes, although it’s not for lack of trying! His fine motor skills are just behind others of his age. I think part of Free Range parenting is to go with the flow of YOUR child and YOUR family, and not worry too much about what others are doing at the same age or what the books say you should be doing.

  42. Susan, if you want to REALLY not beat yourself up over things, I wasn’t tying my shoes until I was… uh… 12. And it *still* requires a bit of thought on my part!

    But my fine motor skills were so crappy at that point….

  43. ULY.. that brings a GREAT point! Karate Kid!!!!!

    This comment brings to mind the movie “Karate Kid” from back in the 80’s. When the Kid (forgive me I don’t recollect their names) wanted to learn Karate, what did his teacher have him do? CHORES! Painting, washing windows, washing floors, gardening, all sorts of CHORES! When it came time, he was then able to put those motions to work for him as Karate moves!

    Chores help a child with their fine motor skills. It helps connect their brains to the motions they will later make as they get older. It encourages the thought process, makes movement automatic and instinctive. It really makes sense!

    I like the person who said Chores shouldn’t be used as punishment. I agree with this to a point: daily chores, such as cleaning their room, picking up their clothes, cleaning up the bathroom, should not be used for punishment. However, something they don’t normally do, like mopping the floor, raking the leaves, washing the cars inside and out, can be used. It would give them time to think about what they did and why they are being punished.

  44. LOL. Thanks, folks. I’ll admit I was slightly playing devil’s advocate, as some of the anti-chore posts seem to have an “oh you lazy bum!” tone toward parents who do assign chores, as if this were a labor-saving tool for the parents. Not with a little kid (one for whom alphabet flashcards would be appropriate) it’s not. That said, I do appreciate the pointers. I’m grateful every. single. day. that I get to be a mom and yes, my son brings much joy into my life. But I’m not like Casey (no offense to Casey intended!) in finding that it’s “much more fun to do chores when I can tell I am teaching the most amazing person I’ve ever met how to do everything!” Often I just want to get stuff done so I can get on to … other stuff I need to get done! Or to spending time with my family (or without my family) in other ways. So keeping things simple and identifying ways to engage DS that don’t (too) dramatically slow things down is a plus.

  45. It does take work to teach them to do chores. Just like it’s work to potty train, or whatever else you need to teach them. But if you start young and are very consistent, they actually *are* helpful!

    I swear, my son potty trained my daughter. It was great! You know how kids are, when they are being potty trained… they wait until you’re in the middle of dinner, or you have your hands dirty with potting soil, or you’re in the middle of something and you really don’t want to stop… but they suddenly yell “I HAVE TO GO POTTY NOW!”. Well, my son would go help, and I got an extra minute or two to finish what I was doing.🙂 It was great!

    They can pick up toys for 5-10 minutes and get the floor decently clean. My son wipes off the table after meals (if I ask him). They both love mopping the floor! They don’t do a perfect job, but it’s one thing I don’t have to worry about that second.

    My son is also great at running downstairs and getting things for me, and my daughter can always be asked to take something to the trash. Say, you’re in the middle of cleaning, and you find trash, instead of having to walk across the room, she’s my little runner. Yay!

    It does take time at first though. But it’s really quite worth it.🙂

  46. It looks like I set myself up for some good-natured ribbing with my last post. (I’m the one whose first grader can’t tie his shoes.) I’m fine with that, but I am starting to get a little frustrated with the overall tenor of the comments on this blog. (Not really on this particular topic, but in general. I just happen to be right here, right now.) Many comments sound even more rigid, fear-mongering and self-righteous than the attitudes this blog was created to question. Sometimes it sounds as though people are saying that if parents don’t follow free-range principles, their kids are doomed to a life of failure, and I truly don’t think that’s true.

    For instance, my brother has a mild disability similar to that of my son – he took forever to tie his shoes, never learned how to ride a bike, and even today can’t handle minor home repairs or car maintenance. My parents did not spend a lot of time teaching him to become self-sufficient in these ways. Yet he’s managed to move away from home, finish graduate school, start a career, own a home, and get married. He even survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with limited emotional damage – something many of his more independent friends and neighbors did not. I think today’s “coddled” generation will, for the most part, find their way just like my brother did.

    I started reading this blog to gain positive support and practical advice. I already leaned toward free-range parenting, and was looking for reasonable input on how to do more of this, just like I do in my off-line life. For example, I live in a nicer neighborhood in a small city with a fair amount of crime. I let my older child wander the neighborhood fairly freely during daylight hours, but there is evidence that limited gang activity may be taking place in adjacent neighborhoods. Rather than immediately limiting my child’s freedom, I talk to our Community Police Officer and attend neighborhood meetings to inform my decisions. I was hoping this blog would provide me with similar input on other free-range issues – how to promote a free-range lifestyle when your child is faced with a lot of school responsibilties (homework, practice tests, “enrichment” ), factors to consider when deciding whether your kid IS ready to take her younger siblings to the mall, what age children can physically be expected to safely handle a power mower (well, we don’t have one, but you get the idea).

    When I started reading this blog, it seemed to me to be much more of a friendly forum that provided the sort of encouraging and practical advice I was looking for. Lately, when readers post concerns or questions about a free-range-related issue, more and more of the comments seem to be of the “My 5-year-old crosses the Amazon on a raft she created herself while carrying two infants on her back and feeding her crew from wild vegetation she finds. You’re wondering whether your kid should ride the city bus? What a weenie!” variety.

    So I guess I’ll end this rant by stating that a while back Lenore asked what we would like to see in this blog. I guess I’d like to see more affirmation, encouragement and an exchange of ideas in the comments and fewer militant and judgmental comments, but I don’t have any brilliant ideas on how to do that at the moment.

    Well, off my soapbox now🙂 Feel free to blast away if you think I’m totally in left field with my recent impressions of the blog.

  47. I completely agree Susan! Lenore mentioned this in one of her more recent posts (about the mom who sent her kids to the mall) and she mentioned that we ought to take a more friendly agree-to-disagree tone with our comments. I am not really sure when calm and healthy debate was traded for “I’ll rip your eyes out if you don’t agree with me” arguments. Has it always been that way? In any case, I really hope we can resolve that because I’d like to be able to use this site in the same way as you – to be affirmed and encouraged and to be able to exchange ideas!

    Thank you for your post:-)

  48. When I started reading this blog, it seemed to me to be much more of a friendly forum that provided the sort of encouraging and practical advice I was looking for. Lately, when readers post concerns or questions about a free-range-related issue, more and more of the comments seem to be of the “My 5-year-old crosses the Amazon on a raft she created herself while carrying two infants on her back and feeding her crew from wild vegetation she finds. You’re wondering whether your kid should ride the city bus? What a weenie!” variety.

    Combination of the comfort zone and a feedback loop.

    1. When you’re speaking with like-minded people on a particular subject – especially one that’s not mainstream! – you feel more free to discuss it than if you were with the people who disagree with you. So you do… which means that you get some one-upmanship and whatever that comes with “OMG! We’re so not mainstream!”

    2. A lot of the people who disagree, they don’t come here to talk respectfully about it. They come here to yell and scream and be annoying. Sooner or later, nobody wants to be nice to them. (And they oneup each other to show how THEIR method totally works, despite the haters.) This expands to not being particularly nice to anybody who disagrees, even if they start out being nice (for a change).

    When you combine 2 with 1 you get what you’re seeing now, right down to calls for everybody to be nice again.

  49. One easy chore that my kids do is put away their clean laundry. I have a small basket for each of them that I fill as I pull it off the line, then they’re in charge of taking them to their rooms and putting away. Love this, especially, because it’s one chore I hate to do.

    On the topic of whether or not to teach academics, I also love the Einstein Never Used Flashcards book. Here are a couple of other interesting articles that talk about how kids are actually going to get much more out of free play than academic direction from adults:

    http://journal.naeyc.org/btj/200507/01Blaustein.pdf

    http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/marcon.html

  50. I’ve got a far better idea than giving the kids chores etc. How about you just stop worrying about it and let them be kids. And stop worrying about how well they are doing in kindergarten – it actually isn’t all that important. Funnily enough, the same actually applies to school. The most important thing for kids – adults even – is to be happy. You can be a doctor or a lawyer and have a million dollars and be miserable, and/or you can be a construction worker and be the happiest person in the world. I know what I would rather have for my kids.

  51. Well, yea. But I’m happy when I learn (and so are my kids) and I’m happy when things are clean.😀 (and so are my kids).

  52. The most important thing for kids – adults even – is to be happy.

    I have to say, I disagree. Happiness is nice, but I think it’s more important to be as productive and useful a member of society as possible – which you can be if you’re a construction worker or a doctor or a homemaker.

    Furthermore, I think for most people happiness comes when they’re contributing, rather than when they’re useless. Children don’t like being thought of as a burden, do they? I certainly don’t.

    So doing chores is necessary because it gives children importance NOW as a contributing member of society, and it teaches them to take care of themselves when they are grown. School is important because it gives them options so they can be a doctor or a lawyer if they want (not that we really need more lawyers), or they can be a plumber and make a fortune. Whatever🙂

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