Thursday, January 13, 2011

Working Outside with Kids

Outside chores are valuable because they give a child the opportunity to expend energy in a useful and purposeful way.  Exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of contribution to the family all result from age-appropriate tasks in the yard or garden.  Sometimes a parent might assign jobs outside simply because they need done and they think kids should do them.  I can remember stories in books that were written to develop character in children.  Often they were a variation of the same theme; a child who was supposed to hoe three rows of corn before they went to play, but got bored with the task and simply covered the weeds with fresh dirt.  In not time at all, the weeds took over the garden and their lack of diligence was made known.  Although there is nothing wrong with assigning rows of weeding, outside chores can be so much more!  They can be fulfilling, interesting, and even fun!  When a family works together in the yard or garden, a sense of teamwork and accomplishment result.  Weeding a flower bed with a sibling, or raking leaves with dad can create memories of companionship that will stay with a child for life.  Routines, incentives, and traditions also help children develop an enjoyment for working outside.  Over time, the skills learned can be applied to gainful employment as they reach the age that they can work for neighbors or others in the community, thus earning pocket-money of their own.  Here are some tips for working with children outside:

1.  Generally outside chores are done simply because a child lives in the home.  They are a part of their contribution to the family.  Sometimes extra chores are required outdoors, and those that are above and beyond routine maintenance can be compensated for with a reasonable amount of pay. 

2.  Traditions can make outdoor work meaningful.  In our family, it was tradition for Grandmother to come visit for a week during spring break.  During that week she would help her grandchildren till the soil for individual gardens, then take them to buy plants and seeds.  Together they would plant the gardens, adding whirligig, little fences, and pathways through the gardens.  After she went home, the gardens were carefully tended by the children because they had meaning to them.

3.  Payment for extra jobs provides incentive.  Weeding a flower bed can be a daunting task — unless mother pays 5 cents a weed for each one pulled up by the roots!  If a flower garden is too weedy and mother would go broke by paying that much per weed, another type of payment system could be used.  Twenty-five cents per section (marked by little flags or stakes) is good incentive.  Generally, it is not recommended that young children be paid an hourly rate for pulling weeds.  They will enjoy the experience more if they are allowed to work at their own pace, and mother will not feel the urge to be prodding them on constantly at their task.

4.  Sometimes tasks are not appreciated until something is taken away for a while.   In our family, mowing the lawn was the boys job once they became of appropriate age.  Sometimes dad would mow around the trees and edges, but the main lawn was a job the boys took turns doing.  Dad would follow-up with the weed eating.  Because dad had grown up with an old-fashioned push mower and a five acre lawn, he felt he was honoring his boys by providing them with a nice John Deere lawn mower and a lawn of less than two acres.  But, since they hadn’t experienced the push mower and larger lawn for themselves, they weren’t too impressed.  One day, the eldest decided that mowing the lawn was a task he did not want to do, and much grumbling took place.  Instead of lecturing and choosing a punishment that simply grounded him or took away a privilege, father decided that an object lesson would work the best.  He quietly, yet firmly removed the keys from the riding lawn mower and prepped the push-mower for action.  The son was set to work mowing the lawn by pushing rather than riding the lawn mower.  It was an effective lesson and the eldest never again complained about mowing the lawn. 

5.  A family afternoon of pruning shrubs and trees can be fun!  Hauling the branches to a place where they can dry or be dealt with later is interesting if they can be hauled with the riding lawn mower and attached trailer.  Burning branches that have dried creates a great campfire for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows as the evening nears.  Mixing work with pleasure can make a task less tedious.

6.  Giving a child task that shows them that a parent values their abilities lets them know you have confidence in them.  Giving them tools and instruction for replacing broken sprinkler heads or repairing a broken sprinkler pipe can relay the message that you value their capabilities and input.

7.  Simple jobs, like picking flowers and arranging them in a vase can provide beauty to the home and joy in the heart!

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