“She has a knife!!!” – my friend was shouting with fear in her voice. In the first second my muscles tightened ready to neutralize the obviously imminent threat to everybody’s life. And then I heard a soft voice of my daughter saying “Mom, I want to cut my banana”. My muscles relaxed again. Nothing major – it’s just my 3-year old daughter with a chef’s knife cutting her banana because she likes to eat it piece-by-piece with a fork, instead of just biting it.
No, I am not a total reckless idiot (at least I want to believe that): she knows how to do it, as she’s been doing it for a year already, besides I am next to her anyway. My daughter helps me to cook, she knows how to use a potato peeler, she knows how to use a knife, how to use a kitchen scale (and what do those numbers mean). In that way it was more fun to learn the numbers after all. Also counting down she learned with the help of a kitchen appliance – the microwave. She knows how to make coffee with my coffee maker and with my percolator. And yes, she knows what a percolator is! For those who don’t, it’s a type of special pot for making coffee – I am a coffee addict and I have a lot of that special stuff. She also knows how to sort laundry and is currently successfully teaching that to her 1,9-year old brother, who is simply trembling to pour in the washing liquid and finally push “Start”, shouting “yeeeeeeeah!”. She is closing the buttons of her father’s shirts (those non-iron ones that I am hanging to dry). She helps me fold dry laundry and put everything in the rightful spots. Yes, sometimes I have to refold but it happens less and less nowadays, and we do have some issues with “the rightful spots” from time to time. Also, she wipes the floor with a “Swiffer”; well, now not anymore as this has been delegated to her little brother. They both love to use a vacuum-cleaner and a steam-mop. She knows how to use a screw-driver and scissors… I could probably continue boasting (LOL) but I guess you are more interested in the “how the hell do you achieve that?”
It could be that I just pulled a lucky ticket with both of them, but since I hear the stories of successfully involving kids in household chores from some other mothers as well, I would like to believe that I did something right in my approach.
First and the most important is that my kids are allowed to make mistakes. Like – truly allowed. Actually I cannot stress it hard enough – not being afraid of making mistakes is according to me an extremely important quality that I hope they will be able to keep when they grow up, as that would help them a lot. Practically, what do I mean by it? I will tell you a story. The first time my daughter wanted to use a vacuum-cleaner, I looked around and quickly understood that all these Lego blocks will end up in the bowl of my “Dyson”. Probably that’s also the fate awaiting my necklace that’s lying on the table and probably those chalks and everything else but the actual dust. The easiest solution would be to do it myself and reply to her – “It is not a toy. When you will grow up…”
Yes, I had to take out those Lego blocks and wash them, my necklace survived against all odds and the chalks were partially affected. But also with some guidance miraculously the dust got cleaned. The point is everybody learns by making mistakes and it’s OK, and it is not that difficult to wash Lego blocks after all. If she screws up I am never commenting anything like “why did you do that again?!”, “can’t you do anything right?!” or alike with the same message. She is learning. I must admit that I am also learning, as it is really difficult to restrain yourself not to comment.
Second, almost everything is allowed (within reasonable limits and with certain precautions of course). If my kids want to use a knife they don’t get a Montessori wooden one to “cut” a wooden banana. I find those types of toys a total waste of money. My kids get a real knife. First – a small and less sharp one, then – just any normal knife. Undoubtedly I have to explain and I have to supervise, and probably a finger will be cut at one point in time. Well, I don’t give them a machete! There are also nice tools out there to protect little fingers while they are cutting – check out Opinel Le Petit chef set. And let me repeat once again – you have to explain. When I am at home with kids I am talking a lot: explaining what am I doing, what am I using, why, what for, and so on. And it doesn’t really matter if they don’t understand everything yet, or don’t remember. One day they will. And it’s good for their language development, especially since they are raised bilingual Russian-Dutch with a passive English (that I am speaking with my husband).
Third, is the motivation. Pure human psychology here. If you force somebody to do something you are likely to face a resistance. If you are asking for help, you are likely to get one. So – “little one, can you please help me, I can’t do it myself” works much more efficient than “do-this, do-that”. People in general, but little ones in particular, are willing to help others, they also want to feel themselves useful and significant (“I am such a big girl/boy, I did that myself!”). I personally use that. That allows not only to develop respective motor skills, but also develops their emotional intelligence.
Fourth, another trick that works for me – arouse interest! “Do you want to help me bake a new cake?” (especially if I stress the word “new”), “Do you want to plug-in the blender in the socket yourself?” (and stress on – yourself – as much as you can!), “Can you find all the matching socks?”, “Let’s see who can fold these towels faster! Whoever wins gets a candy!” You can turn a lot of chores into a game or a contest with a bit of creativity. And like with everything it’s not going to just magically work the first time, but one day it will work. Magically!
I can only hope that my kids will keep the same enthusiasm vis-a-vis helping their mother when they grow up, but at least now: 1. they learn a lot using just everyday items; 2. they are involved and they feel involved; and – most important selfish point – 3. I get help.
P.S. Chocolate brownies that are in the featured image for this post we made together with my daughter yesterday. Some ingredients were of course gone before they reached the cooking bowl, but overall she did pretty well – at least breaking eggs into the mixture she does much better than her mommy…