Kids in the Kitchen

When our kids turn nine they receive a cookbook and a night of the week to cook.  The cookbook is homemade and includes ten menus (main dish and side dishes) that this child will learn to cook and all the recipes other kids already have in their cookbooks (yes, we add the ten new recipes to the older children’s cookbooks as well).  I also add a few recipes that are family traditions: Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake, Pop Pop’s Crepes, Mamaw’s Coffee Cake, Mom Mom’s Cream Eggs, Grandma’s Butternut Squash Casserole… you know, the important stuff.

I use a small binder and plastic page protectors and it is arranged alphabetically, not by category.  Maybe we’ll add categories later, but for now alphabetical order works for us.

cookbooks

Initially, I work with the child in the kitchen, instructing and guiding.  At some point we transition to a place where I oversee, later I’m nearby as a resource.  Eventually they can cook the whole meal alone and I can be away, if needed.

The ten menus are ones my child has selected from recipes we already enjoy.

Why ten?  If I rotate through their recipes, one per week, we aren’t repeating anything any more often than once every ten weeks.  In reality, with birthdays, holidays, vacations, and other departures from the schedule, it amounts to about once per quarter.  That is often enough to gain mastery over their recipes, but not so often we become sick of eating their favorite foods.

Why menus we already enjoy?  I learned this the hard way – with our first child I went online and picked several “5 Ingredient Recipes.”  They were simple to make, that was true.  But they often used foods we were not used to buying and tended to incorporate a lot of processed foods that were high in salt and more expensive than from-scratch versions.  We also didn’t really enjoy the outcome, though one or two of the recipes did become favorites.

Most important, I realized my child was probably not going to set up house as an adult making “Chicken in a Sleeping Bag” with crescent rolls, deli ham, and dinosaur nuggets.  It’s a fun recipe we might pull out again if we have a dinosaur-themed sleepover, but I decided it wasn’t a recipe that would make it over the long haul.

That’s when I decided we needed to pick “real” recipes.  Recipes of foods we already enjoy at our house or when we visit family and friends.  I pick recipes that also allow for a growing set of kitchen skills.  Sloppy Joes for instance – following a recipe, opening cans, browning meat, draining grease, measuring, turning a cook top on and off,  etc. We serve them with hamburger buns, Fritos Scoops, cold veggies and Ranch Dip. The veggies and ranch dip require preparation, too.  Washing, peeling, cutting, measuring, mixing well…  I bet you never realized how many skills are required for a simple meal like Sloppy Joes.  I didn’t either!

We don’t always eat Sloppy Joes.  Actually, eating them once a quarter is an increase for us.  My kids also make things like Chicken Pot Pie, Beef Burgundy in Bread Bowls with Spinach Salad, Tenderloin Salad, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chili, French Dip Roast, and Beef Stroganoff.  We have broiled fish, grilled steaks, and fried pork chops.  We also make pizza, grilled sandwiches, a variety of soups, and 7-Layer Dip.  Every meal isn’t a “company meal,” but each child has a couple of meals that work well for company.  Since we do a lot of freezer cooking, I can buy in bulk, which helps keep it all affordable.  And yes, if they are nine or older, they help with freezer cooking, too.  Each child learns to prepare their recipes from scratch or to the point where we freeze it, and then from frozen.

My kids enjoy helping in the kitchen long before they turn nine, so I was surprised by how much initial instruction my children needed in little things that I take for granted.  And I am surprised all over again every time one of our kids turns nine.

Based upon my experience with our first four nine-year olds, I created the following list of needed kitchen skills.  It is by no means exhaustive, though it is a little exhausting to think about! But remember, they are going to learn these things little by little as their skills grow, and they may already have mastered many of them.

Needed Kitchen Skills (in alphabetical order, not order of importance or introduction):

  • imageAssemble and use a hand mixer
  • Assemble and use a stand mixer – including adding ingredients in stages without dusting the kitchen with flour 🙂
  • Baste
  • Blanche
  • Braise
  • Brown meat
  • Change the position of an oven rack
  • Choose a position for the oven rack
  • Choose a cooking temperature for oven or cook top
  • Cook pasta (boil water first, then add pasta)
  • Cook potatoes (baked, fried, boiled – and boiled whole vs. sliced vs. diced)
  • Core fruit
  • Crack an egg
  • Crumble soft cheeses
  • Drain fat from meat
  • Drain water from a pan/use a colander
  • Food safety guidelines (cooking temperatures, how long food can sit out, how many days it can last, freezer rules)
  • Grate/shred cheese and other foods
  • Grease a pan
  • Grease and flour/sugar a pan
  • Hard boil eggs
  • Identify heat-tolerant utensils (wooden spoons, silicone vs. rubber scrapers, metal/plastic spatulas, etc.)
  • Identify non-stick cookware and “dark or coated pans,” and utensils which are safe to use with each
  • Knead
  • Knife skills (which side is the blade, how to hold, sharpening, keeping fingers out of the way, cut across the grain vs. with the grain, slice, dice, chunk, chop)
  • Know which dishes are oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe
  • Line baking pan with parchment paper
  • Measure accurately
  • Open cans (pop top, with electric can opener, hand opener, biscuit cans, etc.)
  • Pan fry foods (fried chicken, pork chops, cutlets for other recipes)
  • Peel fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, kiwi – they all require different skills)
  • Peel hard-boiled eggs
  • Poach eggs
  • Preheat an oven
  • Properly seal with a Food Saver, if you have one
  • imagePut something in the oven
  • Read a recipe
  • Recognize boil, simmer, scald, and room temperature
  • Recognize different kinds of bakeware (baking sheet, jelly roll pan, cake pan, glass baking dishes, souffle dishes, casserole dishes, pie plates, etc.)
  • Recognize different kinds of pans (skillet, sauce pan, stock pot, griddle, dutch oven, cast iron, etc.) and how to find the size of the pan
  • Remove something from the heat.
  • Rinse blades from blender/food processor/slicers, etc.
  • Roll dough, cookies, pastry
  • Saute meat
  • Skillet cook eggs (scramble, fry, over easy, sunny side up, omelet, etc.)
  • Soft boil eggs
  • Spray a pan with the appropriate amount of cooking oil
  • Take something out of the oven
  • Test food for doneness (cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, bread, meat, casseroles/lasagna, etc.)
  • Turn on/off the cook top (gas and electric require different techniques)
  • Use a blender and/or food processor
  • Use a cheese slicer
  • Use a crock pot, if you have one
  • Use a microwave, if you have one
  • Use a toaster oven, if you have one
  • Use a pop-up toaster, if you have one
  • Use a vegetable peeler
  • Use a waffle maker, if you have one
  • Use an egg/mushroom slicer
  • Use an electric skillet or griddle, if you have one
  • Use kitchen thermometers (oven, meat, candy, etc.)
  • Use saran wrap, foil, and zipper close bags
  • Use the broiler (gas and electric differ in significant ways)
  • Use trivets, hot pads, and oven mitts
  • Washing fruit & vegetables (apples, berries, potatoes, carrots, etc.)

If you are looking for ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen – pick a few skills from the list above to get you started.  Then pay attention when you are cooking to recipes that use some of the other skills.  Invite your kids to join you as you cook, and remember to verbalize what you are doing, and why.  Oh – and keep it fun.  🙂

Julia Sets (Periodic Chore Planning)

I am a mathematician at heart.  I love numbers.  I love number theory.  I delight in understanding and playing with the relationships between numbers.  As an undergrad, I focused on theoretical rather than applied mathematics.  My senior project was on chaos theory and fractals. This branch of mathematics deals a lot with irrational numbers.

From your math days, you may remember that rational numbers have recognizable repeating patterns (2.33333) and irrational numbers are those numbers which have no repeating pattern (π=3.1415926535897932384626433832795…).  Rational numbers can be written as a ratio.  Irrational numbers cannot (the ever popular 22/7 as a representation of π is an approximation, not accurate).

Enough of the math lesson for now.  I want you to see what irrational numbers look like.

Bright Julia Sets

Isn’t that beautiful?

OK, one more math fact:  that is a picture of a modified inverse iteration of a Julia set – named for Gaston Julia, I’m not that good. lol.

I would LOVE it if chores with no recognizable repeating pattern produced a home that beautiful.  Unfortunately, when I put my number toys away and come back to the real world, I realize my failure to have a repeating chore pattern looks more like this:

Garage clutter

Our garage a month ago. Not so beautiful.

I have my own “Julia sets” a.k.a. chore plans.  They are very rational and serve to push back chaos in our home.  Less chaos at home = more time to play.  That is beautiful.

So how do I do it?

First, I sit down and make a list of absolutely everything I want to have cleaned or maintained in our home.  I put each item on its own line.  (One exception:  Laundry.  All laundry in our house happens on a parallel schedule.  I’ve had several questions about laundry in particular, so I’ll handle that in a different post.  But you need to realize all of what follows completely ignores the laundry question.)

Second, I go through the list and make a note of how often I think the item should be cleaned.  For instance, I want the floors vacuumed every week, but I only want to rub the dining room table with lemon oil once per month.  I want to vacuum the dryer vents every six months, but I the trash cans in key bathrooms need to be emptied twice per week and I will need to cut rolls of paper towels in half every other month.

Third, I divide the list into groups by frequency.  I literally cut the list into strips of paper that I can move around.

Fourth, I start scheduling chores.

Sounds easy, right?  Well, if I am honest, it’s not that easy.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, but having made them, I won’t have to think about it again for quite a while, so it is worth it.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

  1. How often do I want to clean?  At some points we’ve had a 30 minute block each morning for cleaning.  Right now we are cleaning only on Thursday’s.  We’ve also had phases where we’d divide the cleaning into three or four days per week.  I think about what is most likely to be successful with my family with all we have going on right now.  Often our cleaning schedule looks different when we are out of school than during the school year.
  2. How long do I want to clean when we clean?  If we are doing a little each day, I want to schedule a short cleaning session.  If we are only cleaning once per week, I should expect it will take longer.
  3. How long will each job take to complete?  Always over estimate.  It is important to set realistic expectations or when it comes time to work I will be frustrated by either taking too much time to get things done or by not being able to get to some things because we cannot take extra time.  Either way I am setting myself up  for failure – or worse, tempting myself to a little adult temper tantrum that leaves a bigger mess to clean up than the undone chores.  If we get done early, we celebrate: dance, have candy, play a game, or go do something fun.
  4. Look at the set of chores with the least frequency and divide them into piles by month.  When do they need to occur?  For us, leaves need to be to the roadside in November and January if we want our tax dollars to pay for their removal, but the exterior windows are better cleaned in late spring or early fall.  These jobs tend to be ones that take the longest, so I will want to balance the times they occur with less chores in other areas.  I call these chores “deep cleaning.”
  5. I continue through the remaining sets of chores that occur less often than monthly, assigning each to a month.
  6. When I have everything assigned to a month, I can start looking at monthly chores.  Since our calendar doesn’t cooperate with a nice neat number of weeks per month, I decide on a number of weeks that I’m calling a month.  Historically I’ve chosen four, but the last time I did this, I decided to allow five weeks per month.  I use this number of weeks to schedule chores in a repeating cycle.  Right now we are using a 5-week rotation, which means some things only get done once every five weeks.  This isn’t rocket science.  I went to five weeks because one of our tasks is a trip to a wholesale club for bulk items and five weeks worth of juice is all that will fit in my pantry.  Adding the extra week to the rotation also decreased the time we have to spend each week on cleaning, since jobs are distributed over a longer time period.
  7. Divide the chores over the number of weeks in my month.  I try to distribute them so that no one cleaning day will be too heavy (which means we all dread it or avoid it).  I know I’ve got a list of weekly tasks sitting there waiting to be added to my weekly list.  I can’t ignore it forever, but it’s pretty obvious those things will occur every week.  I usually choose one of the weeks to include the “deep cleaning” chores.  Another week will focus on cleaning and stocking the pantry (including our trip to a wholesale club).  I distribute all the other jobs over the remaining weeks in our schedule.
  8. Add the weekly chores to any given week – and make adjustments where needed.  Sometimes I’m just taking a quick weekly job to a different level.  For instance, once per month I want to move the sofas and vacuum behind them.  I don’t need to have “vacuum the living room” on that list in addition to this deep cleaning version of vacuuming the living room.
  9. Double check the weekly lists to see if they can be accomplished in the time committed to cleaning.  If I’ve allowed two hours per week and the lists amount to 3-1/2 hours per week, I need to cut something.  Keep in mind, sometimes with lots of cleaning helpers tasks can be done simultaneously.  But I need to expect that sometimes bad attitudes and broken vacuum cleaner belts will happen.
  10. If I am cleaning on a weekly basis, I am pretty much done with the decision making at this point.  If I want to divide the weekly tasks into smaller portions to do each day, I need to sort the jobs into sets that will fit the time I have to work on a daily basis.
  11. When I’ve divided and distributed all the jobs across the weeks/days I plan to clean, I make a final list.
  • This list can take many forms, but I need to be able to work from it on a weekly basis.
    • In the past we have had them on index cards and dealt them like playing cards to all the “players.”
    • When we did daily cleaning, I drew our floor plan on paper and color coded the sections of the house we’d clean on any given day.  The jobs were listed right on the floor plan.
    • For a while we had a small box of note cards with jobs sorted by the age of the person who could do them.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by day of the week.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by level of cleaning.
    • Once I got an attendance chart from a school supply, wrote all the jobs across the top and our names down the side.  I laminated it and we used re-positionable stickers to mark when jobs were completed.  It was a race to see who could get the most stickers.
    • I saw exactly one episode of “Eighteen Kids and Counting” and got the idea to assign each child a jurisdiction to maintain.  We might revisit that as our kids get older, but with four kids under five it was a bit premature.
    • Right now I have checklists divided up by person on my computer.  There are five different lists and I print them out in batches and keep them in a file to pull out on the appropriate week.
    • Someday I would like to get them into a shared notebook in Evernote so that everyone in our house with an iDevice can see it and we can save paper, ink, and the planet.  🙂

There are lots of ways to do it, but kids thrive when they know what to expect.  I like thriving.

It is REALLY important to remember that the cleaning cards, list, spinner, box, floor plan, app, whatever are not the stone tablets God wrote on and gave to Moses.

It is a plan that promotes good stewardship of our homes.  But it is just a plan.  I can always veer from the plan when needed, but it his helpful for me to have a plan.  It frees me to choose something different.  It’s actually very powerful to respond in stead of react.  For example:

  • Right now we are cleaning weekly.  If we have company on cleaning day – or over several opportunities to reschedule cleaning day – we skip it.  We’ll just pull that list out the next time.
  • If we have sports or extracurricular activities on cleaning day for two months, we switch the cleaning day for two months.
  • If we only have one hour to clean one week, then we hit the highlights and call it a day.
  • If someone is sick they don’t clean. (Of course, chronic illness on cleaning day would require some remedy.)
  • If we need to help someone outside of our family, we do it.
  • Maybe cleaning day turns out to be the only sunny day in weeks – go play outside.  The cleaning will be there another day.

I constantly have to remind myself that some cleaning is better than no cleaning.  With a well-planned, rotating schedule, it’ll all come around again eventually.  Eternity is not hanging in the balance with changing the water filter in our refrigerator.  But I am training hearts (mine and those of my children) for eternity as I go about changing the water filter.  As C.S. Lewis said,

[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

__________
Julia Set Photo by Adam majewski [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Consider the Ant (Daily Chores)

Ant Silhouette

Proverbs 6:6  Got to the ant… consider her ways…

I am not a big fan of ants.  Sometimes it seems like ants are my lot in life.  Every house we have lived in has had an ant problem.  Maybe God is trying to draw my attention to the ant.  But my response has been to add “exterminator” as a line item to our family budget. I like that the verse says “Go to the ant” rather than “Let the ants come to you (and live in your kitchen)….”

Even better still, I live in a time where I can go to Wikipedia to consider the ant.  In that safe online environment,  ants are amazing.  Ants communicate, learn, construct and defend nests, navigate long distances, cooperate with kin, compete with other colonies, and enter into beneficial relationships with a variety of other creatures.   There are even ants that cultivate little fungus gardens in their nests rather than forage for food.  Ant societies are characterized by division of labor, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems.  No wonder scripture instructs us to “consider her ways.”

One thing I recently learned about ants was that ants grow into their roles in the colony.  Ants are sort of born with a blank slate.  They try different jobs until they settle on one.  If an ant isn’t good at foraging, they stop trying that and learn a different way to contribute to the colony.  If they aren’t good at caring for eggs, they find a different specialty.

Bringing that home, we can weave this knowledge of ants with what we know to be true about work from scripture into the fabric of our daily life.  We can try out different ways to contribute to our family – and give our kids the opportunity to do the same thing.  We can divide the labor, communicate well, and solve problems.

So, a couple of  weeks ago I gave you a huge list of chores for kids of all ages.  (I know, so the 0-to-2-year olds got off a little easy…

So, what now?  What do you do with a list like that?

There are a couple of categories of jobs to be done around the house.  There are the every day things like cooking meals, making beds, and cleaning up the kitchen.  And then there are the weekly/monthly/quarterly things like vacuuming carpets, cleaning the oven, raking leaves, and  planting the garden.

Today let’s talk about daily things.  Next week we can talk about periodic things.

In the Quillen house we live by routines.  This may sound boring – but it keeps the stuff that we need to do to live in a supporting role rather than becoming the star of the show.  By having well established routines, we are able to accomplish what needs to happen (eating, clean clothes, devotions/worship) in a consistent way that then frees up the rest of the day for the things we want to happen (school, work, play).

A Day in the Life of the Quillens

Rise & Shine

  • Get up
  • Make bed
  • Go potty
  • Devotions (when our kids turn 9 we start them with morning or evening devotions)
  • Get Dressed (older kids shower first)
  • Put away PJ’s
  • Brush teeth, do hair
  • Swish & Swipe
  • Sort recycle, unload dishwasher, take out the trash, change hand towels, set the table
  • Pour drinks and set out needed medicines.

Breakfast

  • Eat
  • Kitchen jobs
    • Clear the table and counters, put away food, dry & put away dishes
    • Rinse dishes and load dishwasher, hand wash any needed dishes, run disposal, wash sink
    • Wipe placemats, table, counters, change dish towels.
    • Sweep the floor in the kitchen, dining, entry
    • Set the table for the next meal, set out cups and glasses.
  • Practice piano, violin, guitar, etc.
  • Put away laundry

Then we go to school and work or pursue other activities of interest.

After school/work/etc.

  • Homework, free time, naps, sports/extra-curricular activities
  • Set the table if needed
  • Cook dinner, get drinks

After Dinner

  • All the same Kitchen Jobs
  • Sports/extra-curricular activities
  • Baths, pj’s, brush teeth
  • Start laundry
  • Family time/free time
  • Family prayers & worship
  • Bedtime for littles
  • Devotions (older kids who don’t do this in the morning)
  • Time for bigs with parents
  • Bedtime for bigs

Except for the “school/work” part, we do this pretty much every day.  Sunday’s we skip a few of the morning chores (emphasizing the day of rest from usual work idea) and meals are mostly prepared on Saturday.  As a ministry family, our “days off” are Thursday and Saturday.  Instead of school and work we fill that part of the day with periodic chores, play time, and larger projects (more on that next week).  And of course, holidays and breaks from school change what we do in that “school/work” portion of our day.

Scheduling routines is like choreographing a dance with allowances for each of the dancers to move freely while synchronized with the other dancers.  Sometimes I realize their timing is a little off or I have orchestrated their moves poorly, so dancers collide – but we can work with it.  The important thing is for everyone (especially the mama) to remain flexible.  And trust me; my kids give me ample opportunity to stretch!

The first step is to evaluate what is habit-worthy.

Our daily schedule likely includes most of the things other families do every day.  We may be missing some things like caring for pets, packing lunches, or exercise programs.  Some families may not do everything we do either.  Not everyone needs to unload the dishwasher every.single.morning or start laundry every.single.night.  Most people probably don’t change the hand towels in their bathrooms every day (though I will say our cold/flu episodes have decreased since we started doing this!).  The important thing is to take the time to think through the times in your day and the tasks that must get done.

The second step is to establish those habits.

I like things to be black and white.  Establishing habits isn’t a black and white kind of thing.  It has been really hard for me to learn that there are lots of right ways to establish habits and we may need to use a combination of those at any given moment.

Most people are familiar with chore charts since they are commercially available in physical and digital formats almost everywhere.  Chore Charts are a great way to help our kids visualize what needs to be done and to hold them accountable.

  • For a while we used a laminated chart with reusable garage-sale stickers.  Kids love stickers.
  • We’ve had charts on foam-core board with little laminated check marks to Velcro to the board when a task was done.
  • I’ve printed checklists and used a ball point pen to mark off completed chores.
  • We even had an app that assigned chores by child and they could earn reward games by completing their chores. This lasted less than a week for us because there was so much competition for the iPod and we quickly felt “entitled” to screen time.  I’ll write more on things to think about with respect to allowances and rewards in an upcoming post.
  • One notable version of a chore chart is the idea of Chore Packs, created and sold by the Maxwell family as Managers of Their Chores.  (I love a lot of the concepts in these materials, but I don’t embrace everything this family articulates.).  Chore packs are essentially cards with individual chores listed on them, placed in a name-tag pouch that either clips to a child’s clothing or hangs around their neck.  The child rotates through the cards in order until all are completed.  Then they turn in the cards for a parent to inspect and receive their next set of cards or the freedom to move on to another activity.  We liked this variation of a chore chart for a while because the little dangling packet served as a reminder that there was something to be done when our more forgetful children left the room.  (Seriously, sometimes it seems like there’s a memory-wiping fog at the entrance to the hallway and as soon as the kids pass through it the best of intentions to “go brush your teeth” are wiped clear and replaced with “tackle your brother” or “must find tiara.”  The physical presence of the Chore Pack helped with that.)

Whatever the method, the idea is to provide what our kids need to remember to do what is expected.

Now some people do think that this is an artificial support – a crutch of sorts – that prevents our kids from learning self-discipline and independence.  It is external regulation and won’t develop the internal drive necessary to be successful later in life.

I am a big proponent of starting habits early with a view to how it will play out in adulthood.  I hate having to re-train children because I failed to recognize the potential outcome of a behavior, so much so that I often expect adult-like behavior from my kids.  It is important for me to remember my kids are not adults and there are many ways to develop good, life-long habits.  And in all honesty, I use a similar crutch, as do most “successful” adults.

I am pretty organized and reliable.  I’m not saying that to boast – it’s rather annoying really – especially for people who know me.  Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses, and I am certainly proof of that (I’ll appeal to my husband and kids to verify that statement!).

But I use a crutch.  We lovingly call it my “trusted system,” a term borrowed from David Allen who authored Getting Things Done.  My “trusted system” consists of a my physical tickler file tied to a digital calendar and to-do app with robust reminder capabilities.  My kids know how much I trust this system – they’ll ask me to put things that are important to them into it.  They’ll actually say, “Mommy, can you put down painting my nails in your trusted system?” or “Mommy, is signing up for soccer in your trusted system?” or “Will you put teaching me to knit into your trusted system for our next school break?”

I’m beyond using a chore chart or chore packs, but I am not beyond needing them.

Chore charts, in any variation, are the entry port to a good trusted system.  By instituting this version of a “trusted system” for my kids, I am modeling and training them with skills to keep what is important in front of them.  That is a great life skill.  I need them to know they don’t have to go it alone.  There are systems and people to come alongside of them and help them do what they are called to do.

The beauty of my “trusted system” is that if I really fill it with everything that I need (and want) to get done, I can trust that I am doing exactly what I need to do at any given moment. I will know when I am done. I will be free to move on to something else. And I can rest easy because I know there will be time later to do all the things that keep popping into my head now, including “paint nails” or “sign up for soccer”  or “write blog post,” if that is important to me.

God knows we cannot remember everything.  That’s why he instructed the Israelites to put his word on their doorposts and to talk about it as they walked and sat together.  It’s why Jews wore scripture on their foreheads and attached to the hem of their garments.

OK, so maybe they had such a strong habit of making cheese on Friday’s that they didn’t need a chore chart, but the lowing of cattle surely acted as a reminder to milk them and the sight of ripe grapes on the vine cued them to make wine.  Days and seasons are a reminder of sorts – as are the ebeneezers Jacob set down with stones and the rainbow God set in the clouds.

The need for reminders is intrinsically human.

So, call it a crutch if you must, but also realize we are broken by sin and require crutches.  Then provide the best set of crutches available for you and your children to be able to walk in the way you should go.

 __________
Photo credit:  By ജസ്റ്റിൻ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Spoonful of Sugar

Baking soda.  The wonder of wonders.  It helps food to rise, settles the upset stomach, gets crayon off of walls, removes odors from anything from sneakers to refrigerators, softens skin, and makes a great cleanser for the tub.  But I can tell you from experience, that if you misread “teaspoon” to say “tablespoon” in a recipe, the food will taste like soap. It will leave a horrible taste in your mouth.  (And, no, slathering warm scones with butter and heaping on extra sugar won’t help.  Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

Sugar can’t cure everything, but it can make a lot of things better.

We need to think of training and correction as the “baking soda,” of work,  while praise, accountability, variety, and fun are the “sugar.”  Just like scones, you need just enough training and correction to help work to rise, but praise, accountability, variety, and fun cannot overcome the caustic flavor if you get too much.

So far we have assigned meaningful work and provided the training and tools needed to do the job.  Today we’ll continue talking about how to inspect work, and promote children to new jobs.  And we’ll talk about specific ways to add fun.

Inspect Expecting to Praise

Praise is an amazing motivator.  Children need to hear praise.  Don’t we all?  Isn’t part of the promise of heaven hearing those beautiful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:14-30)?

Accountability is another good motivator.  I have learned that I can expect what I inspect. If I do not take the time to see and praise the good job they have done, my kids lose the desire to do a good job.  If I don’t correct them when a job is not well done, they learn that “not well done” is good enough.

This does not mean I expect them to do the job as well as I could do it.

I need to praise them liberally right where they are while I build excitement for learning the next part.  (And that means not doing it over when they are not looking.  They will notice.  And what does that communicate?!?)  So, napkins may be balled up for a while, but if we can get the balls increasingly flatter and consistently on the left side of the placemat, then we’ve accomplished something.

This is where I fail most often.  I am not naturally gifted at praise.  But that does not give me an excuse.  I am the adult in our house.  It is my responsibility to model Christlike habits.  It is my job to demonstrate what it looks like to put off the natural and put on the supernatural.  I have to be intentional.  I must find ways to develop the habit of praising my kids.

Promote Good Workers

There is a very real temptation to ask the most competent child to perform a task.  Doing so will almost always direct you to your oldest children.  The problem?  Eventually we rely on the oldest children for everything while the younger ones have little or no responsibility.

As kids grow into teens, they are not only the most capable workers in the house, they also have the most demanding school work, the most complex relationships, the fastest growing responsibilities outside the home, and have an increasing need for sleep on a different schedule.

Several years ago someone advised us to ask the youngest child capable of doing a task to do it.  That simple rule of thumb has revolutionized the distribution of work in our house.

With seven kids we seem to have a never ending supply of children ready to receive the baton from an older child.  Whether you have one child or many, it is your responsibility to ensure each one is trained in the skills they will need when they no longer live under your roof.  In a large family the work can be distributed among children and parents based upon maturity.  In a smaller family, it may not be as obvious – you’ll need to be more deliberate about giving tasks to your child and taking them back as your own when you promote them to new ones.

Mary Poppins

A Spoonful of Sugar…

Making work fun is a worthy goal.  We accomplish this in a variety of ways.

  • With younger children we take a page from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s book… we’ll pretend the dirty witch is coming and will gobble them up if she finds any dirt in the house.  A few snarly looks and wicked cackles gets them squealing and cleaning in a hurry.
  • Loud, fun, energizing music blasting through the house invites loud, fun, energetic cleaning.  If nothing else, it’ll drown out the complaining and whining.
  • Work as a team to tackle a room together.  We may start with a, “Ready, Set, Go!” and see how fast Team Quillen can clean the room together.
  • Divide the shopping into multiple lists and race through the store (being careful and courteous to other customers) to see who can complete their portion of the list first.

In our home, with kids close in age, we often have several people capable of doing the same set of chores.  There are lots of fun ways to sort this out.

  • Once they are all proficient at several jobs that are roughly equal in the time required, we write the jobs on cards.  When it is time to do the jobs, we “deal” the cards to see what God has assigned to that child for the day.*
  • I have a friend who divvies up chores with a rotating wheel.
  • Another rotates by day of the week.
  • Still others use dice or a game spinner.
  • When we had fewer children, we used a folded paper decision maker (also called Fortune Teller). We used names instead of “fortunes” and let the child who “won” pick jobs written on slips of paper from a plastic bin. Again, we help our kids to see that God controls who wins this “game of chance.”
  • There is an Apple App called “Decision Maker” that allows you to enter options and the app chooses from among them.  It’s this generation’s version of casting lots.  It is free in the App Store.

The options are only limited by your imagination (and your ability to use Google!).

*Note the emphasis on God doing the choosing.  We remind our kids that the lot is in the hand of the Lord (Proverbs 16:33, Proverbs 18:18).  This takes away a lot of grumbling in our house.  It is somehow easier to complain against God’s agent (i.e. Mommy) choosing chores for the day than it is to complain against God.  It also creates a frame of reference for understanding God is in control and he is in the details.

Next Up…

Daily chores.  Yay!

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By Trailer screenshot (w:en:Mary Poppins (film) Trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whistle While You Work

Seven Dwarves

Whistle While you Work
From “Snow White and the seven dwarfs”
Music and Lyrics by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey

Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place
So hum a merry tune
It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace

And as you sweep the room
Imagine that the broom is someone that you love
And soon you’ll find you’re dancing to the tune
When hearts are high the time will fly
So whistle while you work

That’s what Disney has to say about chores, and it’s not half bad.  Especially since it reveals the biblical principle of rejoicing in our work (Ecclesiastes 3:22) and all things (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; Deuteronomy 12:7; and Psalm 118:24).

But what else do we know about work from scripture?

  1. Well, God dignified Adam with meaningful work before the fall. Work was not part of the curse (Genesis 1:27-31; Genesis 2:5-15).
  2. Their work was not self serving, Adam and Eve were part of a global community even before that term was popularized. They were given charge over the good of the land and the creatures (Genesis 1:28).  And God stayed with them as they did their work (Genesis 2:19).
  3. Frustration in our work was (and is) part of the curse (Genesis 3:17-19).
  4. They were accountable to God for their work.  Adam was in constant relationship with God as he named the animals – we know this because God was there as Adam discovered that there was no helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18-20).  Later in Scripture, we learn that those who do well are rewarded with increasing responsibility (Luke 19:12-27).

As we structure “chores” in our home, we base our plans on the work ethic God established.  We assign meaningful work, provide the training and tools needed to do the job, inspect for opportunity to encourage, praise, or correct, and promote them to new jobs.  And we try to do all of this with a happy heart and a little whistle.  🙂

Assign Meaningful Work

Last week I published a huge list of possible jobs for children of any age.  Based upon that list and a given child’s ability, we assign tasks to our children.

Provide Training and Tools

When a child is learning a new skill, we demonstrate the skill, talk them through their first attempt, observe them doing it on their own (sometimes we observe them for many iterations over an extended period of time), and then give them the freedom to perform the skill with creativity.  Once they have gotten the hang of it, we simply assign the task and inspect it after they complete it.

Part of the training process is taking into account what they can reasonably be expected to do, while pointing them to the time when they will be able to do more.

You can do this with any task, but if we think about setting the table with an older toddler, it goes something like this, “Right now I want you to learn to fold the napkins.  When you are done, I want you to put them here, on the left side of the placemat.  One placemat for every person.  One napkin friend for every place mat.  Put the napkin right here on every one.  Great job!  When you are really good at napkins, I’ll show you how to add the silverware in just the right spots, too!  And do you know that someday you’ll be able to set the whole table – place mats, napkins, silverware, dishes, cups, trivets – well,  the whole thing ALL BY YOURSELF?!?”  So, I’m demonstrating the job I want done, allowing the child to do what he/she is capable of doing, and building an expectation that there is more to come.

Later we can add a specific goal, like, “If you can fold the napkin nice and flat like this (show them) then I can let you put the forks on the table, too.  See how the fork won’t lay flat on the ball you made?  That’s why we need it flat, like this.  You can fold a rectangle or a triangle.  Watch! (show them) Which way will you fold them today?”  I’ve just added the freedom to do the job creatively.

There is also flexibility in whether they fold all the napkins and then distribute them or take the pile around and fold each napkin as they place it.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but the freedom to choose how to do the job and to add their own flair is HUGE in developing a dignifying work ethic that includes significance, problem solving, initiative, creativity, and joy. (Ha!  I just noticed an acronym can be made from those attributes: SPICY – how fun is that?!  Who wouldn’t love a SPICY job?)

We also make sure they have the tools they need to do the job – sized right for little hands.  For instance, removing a section from the handle of a Swiffer sweeper makes it the perfect tool for a young child to use.

What’s Next?As you begin (or modify) your chore habits, I’d encourage you to pray about where your kids need training.  It will take longer to teach them to do a task – even for them to perform the task – than it would take you.  There is no question about that!  But there is more than just time in question here.

Next week we’ll get to inspecting, promoting, and doing it all with a happy heart.

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Photo Credit: This image is a screenshot made by Petrusbarbygere from a public domain movie’s trailer. Trailers for movies released before 1964 are in the Public Domain because they were never separately copyrighted.  licence : http://www.sabucat.com/?pg=copyright