This is a reprint of an article I had published in a homeschooling magazine about 18 months ago. I based this article on this blog post, the first parenting blog post I wrote where I approached parenting from an Objectivist perspective. I'm reposting it in a couple of parts because I am out of town, and also because I've had a couple of people ask me about it.
At the time it was written, Ryan was about five-and-a-half, and Morgan was two-and-a-half. We took the photograph of me and the kids that accompanied the article on the day I found out Sean was coming.
And now, on to Part Two!
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We let the children participate as much or as little as they like, and in developmentally appropriate ways. Morgan can paint a wall with a little sponge brush and it still looks nice. She loves to sweep and wash dishes with soap and water. Ryan uses hedge clippers and hammers and folds towels and dishcloths with confidence.
They also learn important lessons beyond the skills they are picking up. They are discovering for themselves all the great feelings that go along with working productively and accomplishing tasks, particularly feelings of efficacy, confidence and pride.
Our kids participate in our work outside of the home, too. Once a week, while I'm off with the little one to a Mommy & Me music class, Ryan accompanies his father to his office. My husband is self-employed as a computer programmer. Being self-employed offers an advantage to involving our kids in many aspects of the business, although many traditional workplaces may allow visiting children, too. At my husband's office, Ryan has a tiny desk with a white board and markers down low within easy reach. Of course he cannot really help (yet!) with the actual programming, so we keep him involved in the administrative tasks of the business. He goes with us to the bank to make deposits. He helps with the mail. He loves to shop for office supplies. He takes pride in the fact that his dad is a Computer Programmer Peopleguy and loves to help out.
When we started a rental cabin business a year ago, Ryan expected that we would want his assistance and he has been involved every step of the way. Both kids came with us to the lawyer's office when we signed the paperwork to set up our rental company. We brought them to our meetings with the realtor and they accompanied us on our trips to look at properties. Ryan carried a small notebook and pencil and made notes about the cabins we saw, just as I did. He told us what he liked and disliked about each property, and discussed his opinions fully with the realtor. The kids were with us the day we met with the home inspector and followed him around, watching him do his job and asking lots of questions. The day we bought the house, the children were there in the closing attorney's office and proudly walked around our very own new property after the closing. They were integral in helping us fix up the home (by trying out the new furniture and foosball table) and giving tours of the house to friends and relatives who came to see it. He jumps up and down with me when we look on the rental calendar and discover that our property managers have secured us a new rental client.
An important aspect to our working together as a family is that my husband and I are able to share our happiness when we are working on productive activities. Sure, not every chore we tackle is met with a "Whistle While You Work" level of enthusiasm, but we do our best to explain what we are doing and why it is important to furthering our personal or family goals.
An example of this is going to the bank to make a deposit for one of our businesses. Now I find this thrilling in the extreme, because money in the bank is, well, money in the bank! To small children, going to the bank can be a very boring errand, especially if the lines are long. The phrase "money in the bank" doesn't mean much to a child who does not understand the concepts of money or savings or mortgages. So I talk about what we are doing and why it's important and why it makes me happy. Soon everyone else is a little happier, too.
This "sharing the happiness" idea works the other way, too. Folding laundry is decidedly not the activity in life that I enjoy most! But with some help from Ryan, it goes a bit quicker and he has pointed out more than once how excited he is to fold all the dishtowels. That enthusiasm and pride is contagious!
Our love of all things "peopleguys" extends beyond our nuclear family. One thing that we have happily noticed is how eager other adults are to share their work with our kids. From the friendly wave of the mail carrier to the conversations with our realtor, the vast majority of adults we encounter are more than willing to take time to answer the kids' questions and show them what they do. Sometimes this happens in a formal setting, such as the field trip to the fire station that we attended with our home school group last summer. But often we end up meeting and speaking with real peopleguys in a more casual way.
The local pizza store knows our kids by name, so the kids are often permitted to watch the Pizza-Maker Peopleguys putting pizzas in the oven and slicing them up. The owners of the store let them watch the cash register process, and the wait staff allow them to get extra napkins and silverware on their own. Ryan loves to help out in these little ways at the restaurant and was thrilled when we got him a shirt with their logo on it.
I think that one of the reasons that adults are so responsive to Ryan's questions is that he is very comfortable talking to adults. His interest is genuine and eager and he approaches adults with complete confidence that he will be listened to and taken seriously. Adults respond to his enthusiasm with enthusiasm of their own and will often take extra time to show him something.
It is important to my husband and me that our children explore this realm of adult work because they will one day join it. My father is an engineer; my mother has had several different occupations, but the one she worked in the most when I was a child was that of teacher. I knew what my friends' parents did for a living and I read about other occupations. But my real experience with adults working in the world was limited and the only occupations I really knew anything about were those of my parents.
Right now, in the toddler/young school years, we are able to take advantage of our children's natural love of imaginative play, dress-up, and pretend. But this is only the beginning of their exploration of the adult world. As my children get older, I am planning to take the children on "Peopleguy Tours" (as I currently call it in my head) so they can meet the peopleguys who are doing their jobs and enjoying themselves. And I'd like to not just merely visit these companies-if it's possible for them to participate, formally or informally, for money or as a volunteer, then even better! On-the-job experience is extremely valuable.
These experiences will be invaluable to them as they ponder the age-old question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Having a broad base of experience upon which to draw will help them answer that question. In some cases, they may even be able to work at their dream jobs while young.
Working productively in an occupation we enjoy is essential to our overall happiness. Childhood is the perfect time in which to explore all of the possibilities that lie ahead.