Chores: an Unschooling Perspective
The following responses came from a question asked about how unschoolers handle chores on the Unschool Australia Facebook group.
I think everyone has to work out what the essential chores are for them. We gave up chores that we really didn't need to do but which were expected to be done by extended family members, friends, society, culture.
Simplifying our lifestyle helped a lot too, as did living in a small house (two years in a caravan and annexe, four years in a converted garage).
Making tasks easier to do helped. Labels (words and pictures) meant the children could enjoy a measure of independence, which we encouraged. Where I could easily delegate tasks to them I did: a doona makes making the bed easy for toddlers; bins for clothes eliminates the need to fold or get help to hang in the wardrobe; each child has his or her own laundry basket or there is one in the bathroom - wherever they take off their clothes.
We eliminated the size and scope of chores by organising our living space to be efficient. I preferred open shelves because it meant we tidied as we went rather than cramming things in cupboards (and hence collecting more stuff we didn't really need).
I questioned most things we did each day: were they really necessary, and why were we doing them. If we couldn't come up with answers that were meaningful to whoever had to do the chore or task then it was okay not to do it. Sometimes that meant copping the consequences. And that was okay too.
I also found that if I wanted the children to do a task, particularly before their teens, helping them to do the task was more effective and efficient than nagging them and feeling resentful or frustrated. The more I helped them the more cooperative and willing they became.
My youngest child rewarded me awesomely during his early teens by naturally and happily adopting a range of daily chores - chopping the firewood, setting the fire, feeding the animals, getting in the washing, etc - without being asked. He saw it as part of his responsibility for living within a family, 'doing his bit'. It took me about a dozen years to learn how to approach the issue of chores in our family but I got there eventually!
I come from a Montessori background where every task serves a purpose and that play and work are not separate but intertwined. Making a useful and valued contribution to the family is something missing for many children in today's family (and school) life and I feel it disempowers them e.g. it makes them subject to adults to satisfy their needs. Seeing the maintenance of a the household as a family responsibility instead empowers children, makes them independent and self reliant but still within the loving safety of a family environment. I think it also changes how we as adults see them and helps us to avoid the mindset that having children is a burden (that society likes to say continues on into their 20s and 30s).
My two (10 and 13) have a daily list and are expected to complete it. We talk about family responsibilities and living together and that everyone contributes. In our home we are all contributors with tasks and responsibilities and expectations that match our size, age and abilities.
Generally once a week we have a big tidy up and clean all the communal living areas. Their own rooms...they can clean or not as they please. I of course help the younger ones.
When approaching chores I don't speak about them in the "you need to help me" way...that implies the chores are mine! I say that 'x' needs doing.
Also instead of asking (or telling) them to pick up their leggo, or asking them to help me pick up their leggo...I will say "Do you need a hand to pick up your leggo?"
The way we speak to our kids and about chores really can make a difference to how our kids view them.
We all do chores together and take turns doing different things. I help them learn to do different chores as they get physically big enough to do them and we trade off with the ickier ones, so no one's always stuck. We basically treat it as a natural part of sharing responsibility for being a member of a household/community and I don't ask them to do anything I'm not willing to take a turn at doing myself too.
In my household we work as a team. So if and when I need help with anything who ever is there husband and or kids, they help. For example, if in the morning I wake and the house needs tidying and vacuumed, I'll ask for help and let them choose from wha t needs to be done. From memory, they have never said no, if they question why, I answer and they help. I think giving them the choice and creating a team environment works really well as no one feels obligated to anything, everyone feels helpful to each other in all situations.
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