Childhood is a time for learning through play and real world experiences.
For example, when a child waters a garden she can see, smell, and feel the plants, earth, and water; she can ponder and imagine how the plants grow from a seed; she can exercise her ability to balance the watering can and initiate a conversation about her observations. It is through simple daily activities such as this that children build strong, flexible neural pathways.
Summer is approaching and for many of us that means 2 months of finding ways to keep our children engaged while they are at home. Parents often find that the simplest solution is to turn on the TV or hand over a tablet. Understandably, for parents with young children there are times during the day (i.e. meal prep) when eliminating electronic media seems nearly impossible.
Would it surprise you to know that the time children 8 and younger spend on mobile devices has tripled in four years? In today’s digital world, families are exposed to more screen time than ever before. Smartphones, tablets, television, YouTube, and many popular video games are just a few of the many sources of electronic connection that vie for time and attention from both parents and children.
More and more research shows the detrimental effects of electronic media on young children which range from rising levels of obesity to low reading levels and hyperactivity.
It is quite tempting to park your child in front of the TV or tablet when you have housework to do. Besides, it can get done a lot faster and then you'll be able to go and do other things. However, one of the foundations of LifeWays inspired childcare is gracefully including your child in what is called the domestic arts.
It is this concept that explains why your child washes their own snack dishes, helps to fold laundry, helps to tidy up the Cottage and play yard, helps to set the table, makes their own huck-a-buck bread and assists the teachers with many other tasks during their days at school.
In her book "Life is the Curriculum", LifeWays founder Cynthia Aldinger writes:
"...we provide for them a model of life where the adults are fully engaged in those activities that 'make life work.' Whether or not the children participate directly, they participate inwardly, experiencing the purposefulness, presence and interest of the adults."
An important benefit of including your child in your chores is that it teaches your child about processes. Often times parents find themselves exasperated when their child tries on a clean shirt and then places it in the dirty clothes rather than folding it and putting it back into the drawer. Do they think that clean clothes just magically appear in their drawers? Well, if the tasks of sorting, cleaning, and folding clothes is done when the child is not home or parked in front of an electronic device, the answer is an understandable, "yes"! By including your child in the processes, rather than them just benefiting from the product, an appreciation for things as simple as clean laundry begins to take root in a child.
This all sounds pretty great, huh? So how does it actually work? How can you involve your child in the domestic arts so that they can feel what we all want to feel: competent, capable, and like they are contributing to their home and family?
Here are some tips to get you started so that you and your child can work together and both benefit from each other's attention and efforts:
*Be realistic. Instead of expecting your child to do tasks without you, plan on doing these things with them. A child is much more likely to help straighten their room if a parent is in the room with them to help guide them and interact with them.
Which leads to...
*Be ready to help! As Faith Collins mentions in her book Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers, a request is only realistic if the adult is willing to help the child if necessary. In other words, expecting your young child to fold a whole load of laundry by themselves is somewhat unrealistic, but being willing to help them turns this request into a realistic one.
*Staying with the example of laundry (but these suggestions can be applied to many other tasks), expect your child to flow into and out of the space while the task is being completed. For example, while folding the laundry they may wander off into another room or become distracted by something else, but the important part is for you to stay focused on the task until it is completed. In other words, if a request for a snack is made while you are folding the laundry (or dusting or paying bills or....) then you may let your child know that your "hands are busy at the moment", but you will help them to get a snack when you are done. By doing this you are validating the importance of the task instead of quickly abandoning it when another need arises.
*Be patient. Little hands that are learning a new task will take longer than our own. When you start a task with the intention of including your child, make sure that it is done when there is time for learning and not something that needs to be done quickly.
*Find joy in your child's new found skills and abilities! Washing dishes is made considerably more enjoyable for an adult when it is done with a young child who truly enjoys the warm water, the bubbles and the reward of a shiny, clean dish! Allow your child to remind you of the joy that can be found in the process and not just the product.
*Remember to thank your child for their help. Just as you like to be thanked for your efforts, so does your child. And as Steiner stated, "The child is a perfect mimic; thus it is our task to make ourselves worthy of imitation."
"The person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure."
Miss Natalie and Miss Anna