Chores..... I bet that word conjures up all sorts of reactions in your family.
I propose that we re-frame the word we use and instead call it a task. According to Mirriam-Webster, chore is defined as "a small job done regularly" and "a dull, unpleasant, or difficult job or experience". In my mind, a task is more manageable to consider.
Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to meet with four different groups of parents- so fun! One of the topics that comes up is "chores" and allowances. A father shared how his family handled chores in his house when he was growing up. Everyone has chores/tasks to complete every day, simply because they are a member of the family. These chores/tasks are not attached to money. They did them because that was the expectation. They had an allowance, but it was not dependent on their chore/task.
I love this idea. Every person contributes to the running of the household as is appropriate. Let't talk about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation--- Intrinsic motivation: I do the right thing/contribute/help out because that is the right thing to do. Extrinsic motivation: I do the right thing because I am going to get some reward for doing what you want me to do. Rewards could be food, money, experiences. It is a slippery slope on that path, my friends!
When we raise the bar in terms of expectations, and also check ourselves to make sure we are showing respect for our children, they will rise to the occasion. My 3 year old son loves to help fold the laundry. His folding skills are not quite there yet, but he loves sitting with us as we fold and put clothes into piles. And he LOVES to put the clothes into the bag, help carry it upstairs and then take it out of the bag and help put it away!
Maria Montessori said "If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them into those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves.." (The Discovery of the Child, p. 57)
A search on Google or Pinterest will give you loads of suggestions on age-appropriate tasks for your child. The key is to start small, have the correct child-size tools for the task, and model/show how the task is to be completed. Understand that in the beginning, when your child is washing the windows or mirrors with a squeegee and spray bottle of water and vinegar, there will be lots of clean-up. When your child is setting the table, they might skip something. Give them grace to figure it out. Be there for support, but trust them. Be consistent, remain calm, and trust your child (and yourself!).
If you choose to give an allowance, that is a great time to talk about money and budgeting. Introduce a tiered approach- saving for something, donating to a charity, and spending. There is a great article about the importance of talking about money awareness beginning at age 3- check out Bankrate for this article. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/financial-literacy/4-money-lessons-for-children-to-master-1.aspx
Have 3 separate containers for the money- a save container, a spend container and a donate container. This helps the child begin to develop critical thinking skills about the value of money, and also underscoring the fact that it is not just about them. We are raising our son to see that we are part of a larger community, and that we are all connected. We help other people and the earth in our small ways by the choices we make, every single day.
Montessori stated that "It is a mental chemistry that takes place in the child, producing a chemical transformation. These impressions not only penetrate the mind of the child, they form it; they become incarnated, for the child makes his own 'mental flesh' in using the things that are in his environment. We have called this type of mind the 'absorbent mind' and it is difficult for us to conceive the magnitude of its powers." -Education for a New World, p. 14
More time inside, more opportunities for play dates.... which in theory sound AWESOME- kids play and mamas get to catch up.... right??!!!
So here is where we will begin-- respect. I tell my son that we are going to someone else's home and they are sharing their toys with us. We treat their things with care and we help clean up when it is time to go. Have I had to have conversations with our son before about breaking a toy (even on accident)- yes- but the point is- we have the conversation. He understands that we are guests in someone else's home, and that there are natural consequences if his behavior gets out of control. If he isn't listening or being respectful of the friend and their things, the playdate is over. Period. No bargaining. Even if he is crying and says he is very cross with me (he is a Thomas fan!), my message and expectation remains consistent.
When we host playdates, he may choose to put some of his toys away that will not be available, but the rule is that if it is out, it is available for a friend to use.
I also know that within my circle of friends, we all have a similar understanding/way that we handle the situation. We are still able to catch up, but it is not a free for all romper room!
That changes when your child's circle of friends expand and you and your child are invited over to someone else's home for a play date. They might not have the same expectations, so I suggest having a conversation before the playdate so that everyone is on the same page. Talk about what their "rules of the house" are, and then make sure to convey that information in a way that your child is able to understand.
I recall vividly the first playdate that our son had- I wasn't teaching full time anymore and I felt so awkward. I didn't want to step on the rules of the home we were in, but I also wanted to make sure that my son was being respectful. This mom (who has become a dear friend) was understanding and put me at ease.
* Talk about expectations/house rules with host mom ahead of time
* Talk with your child about those rules and remind them about respect
* Allow your child to have fun and play, but be available for support if the children need assistance working through a situation
* Help your child clean up at the end of the play date.
* Show appreciation and gratitude to the host family- say thank you so that your child sees that is how we show grace and courtesy.
The Absorbent Mind.... I recall sitting in my Montessori Philosophy class many years ago and my professor Carol Woods (who I look to as a mentor now) explained the concept of the absorbent mind. It sounded so mystical and I had a hard time imagining anything other than the image of a sponge in my mind.
Once I was in the classroom and working with children, I understood what Dr. Maria Montessori meant when she wrote and lectured about the absorbent mind. The child takes in everything in their environment. Every detail. That is why Montessori classrooms are so precise and orderly, and if you know a Montessori teacher, we are so protective of the physical space that the children engage in. Every aspect, down to the smallest detail doesn't go unnoticed by the child, and often times they are not aware of this observational skill. But here is the thing about the absorbent mind, it isn't just the physical "stuff"- it is also everything that children are exposed to. The music, the words that they hear, the food they eat. Everything.
Now let's think about how this concept of the absorbent mind translates to your child at home. Think about their bedroom and their playspace. Think about the experiences that you provide for your child (classes, time in nature, the people that are in your life and your child's life). That is a lot to think about! I would love to talk with you about the absorbent mind- send me a message and we can talk! Now that I am a mom, I have a whole new understanding about the depth of this concept, and a whole new level of responsibility.
In our home, we believe in free play. Lots of time spent creating and imagining. Often times when people ask what I do, there is a misconception that my home is always pristine and there is never a mess. That is far from the truth! Mess is where learning happens, but we have systems in place to help our son have order and put things away once he is done creating.
"Mess is where learning occurs"-- and by learning, I mean healthy brain growth. Where connections are made and children are engaged in problem solving skills. I am teaching two cognitive development courses this semester, so my mind has been swirling around some of the ideas in current brain research--- if you haven't read Mind In the Making by Ellen Galinsky I highly suggest it. Another favorite is John Medina- I was hooked after reading his book Brain Rules and have been enjoying his newer version- Brain Rules for Baby. He asserts that giving children simple objects (boxes, crayons, tape, etc) and giving children the space and time to just play is where it is at..."This kind of open-ended play was fertilizing their brains with the behavioral equivalent of Miracle-Gro" I LOVE that phrase. That is why we will have what feels like an obstacle course set up with Legos, train track, cars under the bridges of the track, blankets serving as the "depot".
Medina goes on to share that research has found that children who are allowed to play in this way are more creative, better at language, better at problem solving, less stressed, better at memory and more socially skilled.
Bring on the boxes and tape and everything else! These toys don't have batteries. They don't light up or talk to you. The child is the one creating and using the toy/block/paper roll tube however they imagine. THIS!!! And guess what? They cost LESS!
During these colder winter days, please, I implore you- give your children space. Don't direct their play. Let them figure things out. Allow them to struggle a bit trying to figure out how to make the train track go the way they are imagining in their mind. When they invite you to join them, go all in! Enjoy playing with your child in a different way!
Let's talk about meal planning for a minute.... I know, I know.... I get it. Let me share a little secret about myself- I didn't like meal planning because I felt too restricted, like if we didn't stick to the schedule why even bother to do it?
Game changer for us-- online grocery shopping! Our local grocery store now offers a service where you order your groceries online, can load digital coupons on your card, and choose the date/time for pickup. You drive up and park in one of the special spaces and then they roll your groceries out to you. They swipe your card, load your groceries and you are out in about five minutes!
We save time, which is huge, but we also save money and stay on budget. Grocery shopping with my son can be tricky at times, so having this option is wonderful. We just tried this service and my husband is picking our groceries up on the way home tonight, so I will let you know how it goes with produce.
Saving time and money is huge-- we can redirect that hour plus spent wandering the aisles and thinking about what to make for dinner and for lunches and instead get home, and play with our son! Win, win, win.
Have you tried anything like this out where you live? How has it changed your family life?
Today is the day many people begin resolutions- I am going to challenge you to think of resolutions in another way. Often times we make "New Year's Resolutions", declarations that we are going to lose weight, or that we are going to go to the gym, or that we are going to eat healthier, or ........ (fill in the blank). The thing with this type of declaration is that we often choose ideals and goals without having a plan. The definition of the word resolution (according to Webster's)- "The act or PROCESS of resolving... an answer or solution to something"
I want to focus on that word PROCESS. We are all in process, but it has been my experience that I have made these declarations in the past in great sweeping gestures and with great gusto. The first week or so of January everyone is committed to these declarations (hence a packed gym!), but then by the time February hits, the resolutions are long gone and there is a sense of guilt that we didn't stick with it.
If we look at this concept of resolution as a process, it gives us the grace and space to take our time and make real change, instead of a quick fix.
When I go into a home and work with families to declutter and create spaces for their children, it is a process. I can leave after decluttering and designing a space that seems like it will work, but ultimately, it is up to the family to stay in process and continue evolving. Each and every choice brings you closer to your process or takes you away from that process. If your goal is to have a clear, simple space for your children, where the focus is back on family connection and time together, then you will think about the commitments that you make to maintain that goal. I just started watching the show "Fixer Upper" on HGTV and I love the connection that that family has. They made a conscious decision about what was important to them (family) and every decision serves that goal. When mom has to work late staging a home, dad brings the kids and food to her and they all have a few moments together. That is commitment. We all have things in our life that are non-negotiables that we can't change, but if we are creative in thinking about how to maintain our focus, we can make it work.
We are excited to announce a new partnership with another mom run business- Rhea Lana's of North Cincinnati (http://northcincinnati.rhealana.com). This business collects your gently used clothing/furniture/gear/toys for consignment, then hosts a huge sale twice a year. As a parent, you should know about these sales! What our partnership offers is a way to clear out the clutter with me (2 hour declutter package for $100), then you will become a VIP with Rhea Lana's- I will take your stuff to their store, they will log it and tag it, then after the sale (March 13-17) you will receive a check from your sales. Super easy! No trying to sell things on Craigslist, or setting up a garage sale. All the work is done for you.
Call me now to schedule your 2 hour decluttering session- January is filling up fast!
My best to you as you begin your process and create the life that you and your family crave.
Beth is a mom first and foremost. She is also a trained Montessori teacher who is passionate about making the lofty ideals of the Montessori philosophy more real and manageable for families.