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Growing Happier and Smarter with "Chores"

Household tasks stimulate the brain and give children a sense of responsibility and self-reliance.


"What do you think about chores?" "Hmmm...I don't like them." ~ Diane, age 7

I don't recall my children using the term chore. They referred to home tasks by their name; dusting, sweeping, washing, etc. "Chores" at our home are simply sustainable tasks designed to preserve OUR home environment. We work together to keep our living space clean and orderly because WE live in it.


Yet, the Merriam-Webster defines chore as a difficult or disagreeable task.


Just imagine if children grew up with the understanding that household work was as essential and natural as preparing meal. No big deal, right? Big or small every household task makes OUR lives better, so every member in the family has a stake.


When children are able to appreciate household tasks in this way, they don't need coins, stars, or sticker rewards. More importantly, they are are less likely to engage in power struggles.


Young children appear to have an intrinsic motivation to help, and extrinsic rewards seem to undermine it. ~ Psychologists Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello

Working together to keep the home environment clean and orderly is better than going at it alone. Many families have dedicated times during the day or weekend when they tackle housework. Sharing the load helps develop a collaborative, team mentality.


While very young children are always ready to save the day when it comes to work, teenagers are not usually in any hurry to leave their nesting place. Knowing in advance when their help is needed will likely avoid a strike.


There is a sense of pride gained when the family works together for the common good. Not to mention, a deep sense of accomplishment: "I did it myself!"


Regardless of the age, be cautious not to exert abundance of control. Instead, foster independence and enthusiasm. Provide clear directions and model multi-step tasks.

Do not do for the child what they can do themselves. ~ Maria Montessori


Growing Smarter


The first three years are important for the child's learning and development. More than 1 million neural connections are formed in the brain every second during this time; faster than at any other time in adulthood.


80% of the brain's growth occurs by age three.

Neurons and synapsis in the child's brain are constantly firing and making new connections via each sensory experience— what they see, feel, touch, hear and taste. This process of neuroplasticity runs in overdrive during infancy and childhood, when learning is actually changing the brain's functional anatomy.


The critical period for sensory and language development also takes place during the child's first years of life. Critical period refers to a narrow window for optimal learning. Other areas such as memory, decision making, and emotion continue to develop well into childhood.


When parents facilitate sensory and other brain-boosting activities, children grow smarter. Doing so is not as difficult as you may think.



Frances, age 3

At age 3, Frances had mastered the task of mopping. Through this experience, she activated the parts of her brain responsible for vital neuromotor and neurocognitive functions such as problem solving, organization, interpretation, language-speech, sensation, attention, and visual processing.


So how did Frances become such a smart mopper?


Dad gave Frances a mopping lesson on her 3rd birthday. And what a birthday gift this was! Initially, he showed Frances how to mop inside a 12X12 square marked by painters tape along the edges.


Caring for their environment begins at home. Teach your child to see this work as an important contribution to the household.

Frances practiced mopping multiple times per day. Once she mastered the art of mopping inside the marked square, her dad removed the tape so Frances could mop and in the full kitchen space. Mopping was one of Frances' favorite activities!


Many parts of the brain are engaged in the process of learning a new experience.

By gently guiding the child towards caring for their environment, we promote a sense of independence, and therefore, happiness wins!

Here is a helpful chart with some tasks and language suggestions you can use at various stages of development. Keep in mind, every child is different and some activities may be better suited for some children than others. Observe and modify as needed.

© Illumina Learning Center


Growing Responsible


Research conducted by Marty Rossmann from the University of Minnesota showed that overtime, involving children in chores can develop a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that remains with the child throughout their lives. Rossman found that:

Children whose parents gave them chores starting at ages 3-4 were more successful during their mid-20’s, had better relationships, and were better adjusted.

While I have taught many children who have been successful without ever having responsibilities at home, I have observed they often lack the motivation and work ethic that comes from having other responsibilities besides homework. These students often struggle with time management and long-term projects.


This brings me to my pet-peeve point— No Sore Charts...I meant to say,



Don't get me wrong, I LOVE checklists! Actually, I thrive on them like my life depends on it. But I am an autonomous adult who makes her own decisions. Would I like someone to write a list of chores for me to do? No. Likewise, children are in the process of developing their independence and sense of identity. A chore chart can send the message that parents are in charge; they are in control.

In the world of a child, where so much is decided for them, we need to find ways to promote freedom of choice.

The only exception in which I have found success with chore/task charts is with children that need high levels of structure, have a compromised level of awareness, or significant memory issues. In this case, charts may help the child compensate with positive results.


Whether you opt in or out, keep an eye on signs of resentment or resistance to chores. A modest dose of motivation, encouragement, and acknowledgement goes a long way. Thank you feels good in the soul.


Sometimes chore charts can make children feel as if they failed before they even got started; especially if they forgot to check the chart or missed their target. Self-esteem issues can arise from these feelings of inadequacy. Again, it is important to closely monitor the effectiveness of the system you put in place and tweak it as needed.


A great alternative to chore charts for teens is to invite them to partake in family meetings were everyone offers ideas to keep the household clean and well-maintained. Another idea is to divvy-up the tasks from a list fairly and openly.


Create small windows during the week or weekend in which the entire family works together on individual or shared tasks. With younger children, you can incorporate games; they can dip their hand to find their secret fortune task or try their luck with the roll of a dice.


Growing Closer


I remember the days when I bucked my feet and squeezed my lips purple just to be told, "No sleepover until you..." But reality is my parents, weren't skilled in creating a space of dialogue. It was do or die. Even though the dying part never actually happened.


As parents we learn how to be the parents we want to be. This process is ongoing throughout our lives and far from perfect. But we all want to have a positive influence in our child's life and help them become their best self. Teaching children how care for their environment early on can bring priceless bonding experiences.

You guide me, I will follow.

By helping at home, children are given the opportunity to contribute to the greater cause and gain a deeper sense of appreciation and support towards the family as a unit. Empathy can grow roots through this experience.


These organically-grown empathizers of the world are the students that typically volunteer to help when needed or take leadership roles in the classroom without any prompting whatsoever. They have an intuitive understanding and respect for the needs of others.

Empathy can not be shared unless it is experienced.

Beyond caring for our home, my family enjoys just-for-fun projects. Actually, some of the most hilarious memories involve projects we did together. Projects taught us a great deal about ourselves and each other; like the time we did THIS textured art project— the creative in the family painted the top row, the KING of optimism did the second, the third row...well, my hubby ran out of ideas and drew a triangle in the middle (meant to say, heart), and the last row, life is better at the beach.


This projects hangs on our living room wall ❤️





Resources:


Children (3-6 years) - All by Myself (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer's Little Critter wants to show you all the things he can do for himself in this classic, funny, and heartwarming book. Whether he's tying his shoes, coloring a picture, or riding his bike, both parents and children alike will relate to this beloved story. A perfect way to teach children about independence!


Parents

Chores Without Wars: Turning Housework Into Teamwork by Lynn Lott and Riki Intner

With wisdom and humor, this practical, step-by-step guide gives readers the techniques they need to enlist the support and cooperation of their families to make life easier.


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