How I Teach My Children To Enjoy Work

Hello, again History Lovers,

In March of 1923, The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women published a letter from Mrs. Haring who enthusiastically shares her tips on how to teach children to work and to enjoy doing it. She starts when the children are young and always adds an “element of fun” to the tasks assigned. Her home sounds like a happy one in contrast with the home of her friend.

Enjoy!

Jessie Willcox Smith, American Illustrator, 1863–1935

Combining Work With Play

“Dishwashing is usually one of the first tasks delegated to the young daughter of the family and this common duty often is done by her with reluctance and under protest. In our family we have helped to solve this difficulty, however, for Jane, my little eight-year-old daughter and I, combine our work with play.

Eleanor Smith’s Music Primer furnishes us with a variety of simple childlike songs. We select songs that Jane will probably sing at school and then proceed to learn them together. With the book propped up on a shelf over the kitchen sink, Jane and I can easily refer to it while the silver is finding its way into the rinsing pan or while the glassware is being polished. The rhythm of the music unconsciously produces an activity that Jane enjoys as well as I and which helps to convert an otherwise tedious task into a joyful half hour.

When we have memorized the words and music, we have a game. Jane and I are both to sing the song. If one of us makes a mistake, a forfeit must be paid to the other. What joy Jane experiences when Mother fails to strike the right note or forgets a word and has to pay her a penny.

Bed making, too, has its charms. Sometimes we imagine the coverings to be Indian blankets of wonderous colorings; at other times we are building a nest for a tree swallow and lining his home of grass with downy feathers. This performance leads to all sorts of questions and enables me to arouse Jane’s interest in the work which she will have at school at the same time as we are accomplishing a necessary task.

Jane has had her own room for over a year. The whole responsibility of the care of it is left to her and each morning finds her conscientiously putting it in order before she leaves for school. We worked out together the furnishings for her room and their arrangement. Her interest is kept keen in it by the constant addition of new and simple things and her ideas are always respected in regard to any changes which she may wish to make. She is unconsciously learning color schemes and household arrangements at this early age and her sense of responsibility, order, and neatness is being cultivated through her sense of ownership.

Dusting was an arduous task and many times had to be done over because Jane so disliked doing it. Choice victrola records are now being kept for this particular piece of work and are played at no other time. Since they are ones which Jane loves, she forgets the fact that she is having to work and hums the tune to the music of the record, while the dust disappears from tables, chair rounds, and window ledges.

Jessie Willcox Smith, American Illustrator, 1863–1935

Cake making, table setting, and the preparation of meals have been accomplished by her through the thought of pride in doing work that “grownups” can do.

My little son, an active youngster of five, is also learning how to work joyously. When Mother needs wood, she calls on the wood fairy who alone knows the secret places in the woodshed where the best pieces are kept. He has already learned the names of the trees from which the wood comes and knows that the kinds which will make the hottest fires will furnish heat to bake a tiny pie, animal cookies, or a gingerbread man. These may be made with little trouble when larger pies, cakes, and cookies are being baked and reward the fairy in a way that interests him to bring more wood.

Jessie Willcox Smith, American Illustrator, 1863–1935

He brings vegetables and fruits from the cellar and garden with an interest and enthusiasm that indicated to me that he is already realizing his responsibility in the development of our family life.

Jessie Willcox Smith, American Illustrator, 1863–1935

A playroom equipped with a table, cupboard, blackboard, desk, and small chairs always suggests work. Through this channel is an opportunity for teaching many lessons in arrangement and order and also in providing entertainment for them for an hour or so at a time. The finding of some old toy gives a new interest bringing with it happiness which seems only to come through activity.

The country store is but a few rods from our house and occasionally there is a need for some article to be procured quickly. The children are, of course, the natural ones to do the errand. As with all children a fat ice cream cone, a lollipop or a stick of gum is their first thought and a request is made to use some of their money for the purchase of one of these articles. Of course, they may if they like but they must consider that once in a while we have a shopping trip or go to see some interesting moving picture and if no money is saved, these wonderful trips cannot be. They finally decide to spend one penny each and as they have been taught not to linger along the way and to bring their purchases home to enjoy them, the errand is soon joyfully finished.

My children are enthusiastic egg hunters. Not many are missed because one egg from each dozen belongs to them—not one-twelfth of the egg income—oh no! Those particular eggs are put in a separate basket and counted about six times each night. Jane puts her fourth-grade arithmetic into practice and knows the exact amount of egg money coming to them each week.

A few days ago, a friend remarked at the happy way in which the children were doing a piece of work. She said, “I don’t see how you do it! I can’t get Martha to do a single thing without grumbling. She is actually lazy.”

Well, if I thought my children were lazy, I should not admit it. I should simply get to work to correct the fault and be sure it was my fault too. I do not believe that a happy, normal child is ever lazy. Perhaps the work has been made so unattractive, that interest has been lost. Anyway, I am sure that loving tact and a sympathetic understanding of the child is sufficient to win out, whatever the problem along this line may be.

Sometimes when there is a murmur over a task which they are asked to do, I simply look at them in wonder and they shamefacedly go quickly about it. Sometimes Son asks, “Mother, are you mad to me?” and I say, “No, Son, I am only surprised.” I am not a superior elder with a threatening attitude but a pal who is ever interested in their work and their play.

Each child has his daily work to do and enjoys it as a privilege because there is always something of interest connected with it. There are many ways of solving this problem; I have outlined the way that has seemed best in my experience. Perhaps because children are naturally observing, the best example we can set them is through our own right living. If we complain over difficult pieces of work, we must expect the same expression from our children over the things which seem difficult to them. It might, then, be the reasonable thing for us to learn to enjoy all sorts of work which we need to do before we can intelligently teach the same to our children.

Through the realization of what service is, these little folks are learning to combine their work with play and are happy while they are learning lessons which are fundamental principles on which the larger lessons of life are built.

I realize, too that I am doing more for my children than it appears when I instill the principle of enjoyment in work. All success in life depends upon whether the light of joy—zest—enthusiasm—permeates the mind of the worker. The old saying about “all work and no play” covers a deep truth. The more one’s work is play, the happier one will be.”–Laura T. Haring

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 379′; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

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