One of our favorite sayings during the day is, “We’re a team in this household. We help each other out.” From this has come the dawn of responsibility for the now almost 15, 13, and 9 year olds. They’ve come to learn that they need to be responsible for their actions and take responsibility for the chores of daily living. You see, at the end of this homeschool journey, I want my kids to be responsible self-starters who get done the things that need to be done. I want them to be kind and compassionate, curious and creative, funny and passionate about life, but I want them to understand that they are responsible for their actions.
The Basic Five of Responsibility
So, how does this desire for responsibility morph into everyday practice? It’s simple really – it’s all about chores. Now, I’m not talking about washing the windows and dusting the baseboards on a daily basis (although how lovely would that be?!).
What I’m referring to is the basic five: laundry, dishes, pet care, meals, and self-care.
If they can master these five everyday elements of life, I have no fear that they’ll be able to take care of themselves long after our homeschool life is through. Let’s break it down, shall we?
From the time my kids could lift their clothes in their arms, they’ve been helping with laundry. When they were littles, I would let them help separate and toss the clothes in the washing machine. As they got older, they would help me transfer the clothes from the washer to dryer and clean out the lint filter. Now, the older two carry their laundry baskets downstairs on their own, wash and dry, fold and put away their clothes all without being asked. The youngest still needs help carrying her basket up and down the stairs and help reaching to the bottom of the washing machine tub, but she does the rest.
This act of teaching them how to wash and be responsible for their own clothing is a basic, but necessary skill. I don’t want them calling me from college not knowing how to do laundry!
One of the things you have to give a bit on when you’re teaching kids responsibility is that they’re not going to be perfect and chances are they’re not going to do as good of a job at certain things as you do. You have to be okay with that – especially if you’re going to introduce the dish washing and drying chore. Yes, you absolutely must set a certain standard, but realize that there’s a learning curve for sure.
Start them off with drying dishes and slowly move up to washing them. Always remove knives and sharp objects from the sink before having them attempt to wash! As they get older, they’ll be washing and drying in no time flat. Working together is just what a team does and when the dishes have to be done, they have to be done.
We have a lot of pets. A lot. And really, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because it taught the kids how to be responsible and take care of things other than themselves. They are responsible for feeding them, making sure they have water, cleaning litter boxes, and picking up dog waste in the backyard. Again, it took a little while to get them to the point where they could do all of the chores, but they now do them naturally.
As a side note, because the older two are so good with our dogs, our neighbor has hired them to watch her dogs when she’s out of town. They’ve made quite a bit of dog sitting money this year and were super responsible for making sure the pups were cared for. It made my mama’s heart proud. =)
Besides laundry and dishes and pets, I want my children to learn the basics of figuring out and preparing meals. Since I am not a particularly great cook, my soon-to-be 13 year old son calls it self-preservation vs. a chore. Since he has developed into a marvelous cook, I’m not about to argue with him over semantics.
We started small with this chore, as well. Teaching the kids how to pour their own milk or get a glass of water came first. Learning how to open the refrigerator and grab a prepared (by me) snack bag of broccoli or carrots was the next step. Slowly, we’ve gone to where the older two are making complete meals and desserts with the most basic of supervision.
The thing about responsibility and trust is that it’s earned, and they’ve demonstrated they know what they’re doing time and again. No, I don’t leave them to fend for themselves in the kitchen, but I know that the almost 15 year old can put sweet potatoes in the oven to bake without me standing over his shoulder. The best part about this particular responsibility is that they love coming up with new meal ideas and cooking for extended family. My brother has even helped inspire their love for all things cooking by recruiting them to come over on Thanksgiving morning and help him prep the turkey and cook the side dishes. They look forward to it every year.
Need a shower? Then take one! Teeth need to be brushed? Then brush them! Need to step away from your school work to just take a break for 10 minutes? Then take it! Learning how to take care of their responsibilities around the house is one thing, but learning how to take care of themselves is a completely different animal. I’ll admit that a couple of them were more resistant to showering as frequently as they should for awhile, but now they manage to get their showers in without any hesitation. Again, I don’t want them calling from college not knowing how to floss or trim their toe nails. 😉
Teaching children about responsibility begins with simple, small tasks. It’s not about forcing responsibility all at once, it’s about teaching them that when they do take responsibility, they feel better, their environment is cleaner, they have contributed to helping our family function better. Start small, mama. They’ll get the hang of it!
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