One of my favorite images of an empowered toddler: dressing herself (snow pants backwards, coat upside-down!) and so proud!
As a child, I wasn’t big on chores. Yet as I look back, I’m grateful to my mom for teaching me how to care for my space and giving me a sense that such care is important. I view children as active members of our community from birth. At every age, their ability to contribute meaningfully to the workings of our group are supported and encouraged. Here’s why:
- A group where everyone helps just works – the tasks are completed quicker, the spirit is one of working with and cooperation, and we all look to support each other’s needs.
- Empathy grows as capable and still-learning peers join together to complete a task.
- Children learn skills of self-care and care for space that will travel with them as they grow.
The biggest reason is this: children who feel empowered to care for their space and their surroundings gain a sense of agency that paves the way for lifelong success. In the wonderful book, In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids’ Inner Wildness by Chris Mercogliano, a study (from the University of Minnesota) is cited that refers to the long-term impact of household chores on a child’s success. The conclusions?
The best predictor of a child’s success – not using drugs, having high-quality relationships with others, finishing school, and getting a good start in a career – is helping with household chores beginning at age three or four. The study went on to find that early participation in household chores was more important to adults’ success than any other factor – including IQ. (55)
Here’s what this looks like in action. In this clip, one of the children in our group has spilled her water cup. Three peers have jumped to her aid – bringing paper towels to soak up water on the floor. Noticing her cup was empty, Desmond (20 months old) picks it up, and heads for the sink to refill it. I was able to catch a quick video of Desmond managing the cup. Take a look:
Here are some easy ways to empower young children to care for their space:
1. Keep child-friendly cleaning supplies (spray bottles with water, paper towels, and clean, dry rags) in low baskets so children can use them when a spill happens. Yes, paper towels get used in excess, but part of the way children learn how many paper towels is enough for a given job is to practice.
2. Involve children in the “adult” jobs. Children resent always doing the picking up while we get to do all the fun stuff like sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, and cleaning the toilet. They feel powerful and needed when they get to enter the world of adults. Keeping small, child-sized tools around, or providing step stools, can equip young ones to contribute.
3. Clean up as a group. This includes adults. “But it’s not my mess, why do I need to clean it up??” While “divide-and conquer” may seem more efficient, children really benefit from a more cooperative model. An environment where only the offenders clean up their messes jeopardizes the depth of play possible. If I knew I was going to be the only one cleaning up my messes, I would make smaller messes. Also, we send a message about the importance of play when we validate it through our support in the clean up process. We all help each other is the mantra around here.
4. Trust. Children are capable. The more they practice being capable, the more they will believe it.
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