You know the saying, “You give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You teach a man to fish and he eats for a life.” Well, if you teach a man to love fishing, you’ve made him a very happy and successful adult. I mean, obviously the fishing has to represent work and self-sufficiency, because most actual fishing is just an excuse to not work.
Life is work. All of it. There is some playing that we can squeeze into it, but ultimately, we are here to eat bread by the sweat of our face. I taught five-year olds in church this week and one new kindergartner needed to vent about how hard it was to wake up “so so so early! Every day!” I broke it to her. “It will be like that for the rest of your life.”
I tell my kids often that learning to love work is the best way to embrace the reality of life. They spend enough time avoiding jobs, chores, homework, practicing to do them twice over. As my older kids get more experience with a finished job, or a cleaned room, or a learned song, it is easier for them to commence with the next task.
I have learned a little secret about this process: You don’t teach kids to love work by giving them chores. You have to give them projects.
Chores are repetitive, daily things. Things that get undone. Beds get messed up and need to be made, every day. Dishes get dirty and need to be washed, every day. Not many people really like chores. Of course, chores have to be done. I’m not advocating that we don’t do them–but if you want kids to learn to love and appreciate work, don’t only give them chores. There isn’t much gratification in doing something that is destined to return to chaos immediately.
We don’t like chores because they seem to take soooooo long. But without the avoidence techniques and shoving closets full of toys and doing it half-way before doing it right–chores can be done quickly. I’ve been training my kids to clean the house in 15 minutes. They each take a “zone” and work on it. If we all work simultaneously, we can all get our zones done in about 15 minutes. Granted, I am doing quite a lot of “Hurry up” and “FOCUS!” during those 15 minutes, but afterwards, I always talk to them about how these chores don’t have to take all day. We can do them quickly and they are done. Putting chores into perspective of 5 minute increments through the day is less overwhelming for the kids, and gives you time to do more than nag about unfinished chores. If someone is dragging their feet, refusing to take out the garbage or unload the dishwasher–set a timer. Then show them that it only actually took 45 seconds to take that bag out to the garbage can, or 3 minutes to unload the dishwasher. The next time, you can say “can you take 45 seconds to take the garbage out?” I’ll bet they do it in 40 seconds.
Projects are different. They are planned out, with a start and a finish and something created. They are exciting and sometimes require learning new skills. Projects inside the house could be: Rearranging furniture in a room, exchanging rooms (giving kids a new room is a great way to de-clutter and re-organize), organizing a space (like a closet, a drawer, or a whole storage room), painting a room or a wall, sewing a quilt or a Halloween costume, hosting a party or a dinner with a menu and candles and appetizers, etc. Indoor projects are bursting out of every room. If you have a child who is allergic to chores, have them plan out a project (redecorating or rearranging their bedroom is always a good place to start). Paper and pencil, ideas on pinterest–as they get excited, the “work” will seem more like fun, and a finished product will be deeply satisfying. Making sure they finish is key. Push until the project is done. (If I am losing motivation to finish, I find a different project that I am really excited about–then I don’t let myself start the new one until the first one is done.)
Outdoor projects are even more varied–putting in garden beds, planting them, creating fire pits or orchards or water structures. Planting a patio garden. Training an animal. Collecting seeds to use in next year’s garden. Building a tree house or fort. Building anything! These projects are really satisfying because not only will you reap the benefits of finishing a project and learning new skills, but you and your kids will get to do it in the fresh air. (And you don’t have to live in the mess while the project is underway.)
Use your entire workforce
The cleanest person I know, Sarah, grew up in a family of 10 children and her mom would tell them often that she didn’t want her house to look like she had 10 children, so they cleaned the entire house every day. Windows, bathrooms, floors–all of it! All of them. Which is why Sarah is so clean. With 12 people working on the daily chore, it went really quickly. Parents who aren’t using their full work force will find themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed. Realizing that you have a little group of workers, and that they should be responsible for helping around the house and yard multiplies what’s possible for the family to accomplish. It’s not mean to make them work. It’s mean to let them sit around and do nothing, and have them totally unprepared for real life.
Projects should be somewhat continuous–starting one when you’ve finished another. Getting kids involved in the planning, researching and execution of them gives them ownership over the job and helps them feel even more satisfaction when it is complete. Our kids’ confidence will grow each time they finish a project. Our surroundings will be improved. They will learn to love the process of work, and look for ways to contribute to their own well-being, with confidence that they can learn to do anything. That is the definition of a successful adult.
Alright! Turn off this screen and go start a project!