Real Tools, Real Work for Children

How do parents help their children develop a sense of purpose and significance in our entertainment-oriented world?  Learn how to teach your children to use real tools to do real work which enriches their own lives and the lives of others.  Yes, we are talking about hammers and nails, needles and thread, eggbeaters, brooms and garden rakes.  Work is a four-letter word with purpose!

So why bother struggling to teach your children to learn to use real tools (not those plastic rakes and hammers at the Dollar Store!) to do real work in the family setting?  Real work gives children (and adults for that matter) a sense of purpose, an affirmation of one’s value as an essential member of the family or community.  This is especially important for special needs kids who may feel that everyone else in the world exists to serve them or that they are a burden to the family as they get older.

Regular participation in meaningful work contributes to life-long character building – real work develops a sense of duty, perseverance, honesty, reliability, and work ethic.  And routine chores ease the burden of work within a family by distributing the duties among all family members, and builds competence in life skills which our children will need to survive in the real world.

And in our entertainment-oriented culture, expectations that children will be engaged in doing work around the home reduces the “Oh poor me!  I am so helpless!” syndrome by expecting that our children will be able to master new skills and become productive contributors to the family and community.  With real work, other people truly are counting on the child to do the task, and everybody is affected if the child gets lazy and doesn’t do the job right.

So how does a parent go about teaching children specific skills for tasks around the house and community?  Here are a few thoughts to get you started.  Teach the necessary tool skills in advance through fun games and activities.  Demonstrate a skill, using simple verbal instructions, then have your child use the tool himself for the same task, using similar words to “talk himself through.”  Break the project down into small, manageable chunks based on your child’s individual abilities, attention span and special needs.  Each segment should provide some sense of accomplishment, whether it takes 5 minutes or an hour to complete.  Praise each small step of progress.  “You did a fine job driving that nail into the board today!  Or, “Look how nice and even your cross-stitch rows are!”

You can adapt tools to make them easier for children to use by cutting long handles shorter (brooms, rakes, shovels); buy small versions of real tools (hammers, screw drivers, garden trowels, paint brushes, kids’ gloves); use child safe scissors with blunt ends, hand tools rather than electric ones (cook with wooden spoons and whisks rather than electric beaters).

Would love to hear what you have tried in teaching your children to do meaningful work, and how that has translated into community volunteer work and eventually paid jobs for your young people.