Dr. Gattegno, originator of our Words in Color reading program and noted educator, would remind parents and teachers that we adults could better understand the problems confronting our children because we had been their ages. They, on the other hand, could not relate to our point of view because they had not yet lived our age! But it seems we so quickly forget what it was like being a kid. We forget what effect our parents’ form of discipline had on us, how we thought about it, what we wished it might have been. So what we need to do is to search our own personal history, our own childhoods, and try to get in touch with ourselves as children. Then perhaps we can better parent our offspring.
When we look at the lessons we want our children to learn, among them are the practical matters of common sense living. For instance, we know that in order to be a successful member of our society, children need to learn to postpone gratification. They must learn that they can’t have what they want right now. My husband used to have an unwritten rule about this. Whenever a child asked for something NOW, the answer was always, “no.” The children learned to stage their requests in advance to maximize their chances of getting what they wanted or even needed.
Children also need to learn that they don’t get to have everything they want. Some things just won’t be theirs. This isn’t so much a desire on our parts to raise children who aren’t greedy, but it is also to teach children that things don’t bring happiness, and having more doesn’t make life better.
Another lesson is that they must learn to do things they don’t want to do. Oh, that life could be only doing what we like to do! But that’s not reality for us or our children. This is a particularly interesting one for us Montessorians because we want all of our students to like all of their work! Montessori used to talk of enticing children with intriguing lessons so that they would fall in love with their work. Sometimes this works and at other times normal boredom appears, and children find that work can’t always be exciting and interesting but that it is sometimes just something we must do. Here children have the opportunity to learn self discipline. They must learn to lead themselves in areas of obligation to the completion of tasks. Of course this becomes more important as children grow older – they get assignments and homework. But it is something that can begin to be taught at an earlier age by having chores that everyone shares at home.
A chore is something all members of the family do for the welfare of all. There is no financial reward for chores. Jobs, on the other hand, do receive financial payment. The difference between chores and jobs are that chores are things that must be done with regularity to make daily living easier for all. Some examples of these are setting the table, taking out the trash, and washing the dishes. Jobs can be things like weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, or helping an adult fix something. Jobs get advertised while chores get assigned. All of this happens at weekly family meetings.
Mom or Dad announces at the family meeting that there are some chores that need doing. A list is produced of maybe six things that need doing daily. (These do not include cleaning one’s own room, making one’s own bed, or folding one’s own laundry. Those things one does for oneself, not for the welfare of others in the family.) Children may each choose a chore or two to do. The chore will be done for one or two weeks, then the chores will be rotated to other children. The children will discover that some chores are OK and some are not as much fun to do. This is part of the lesson. Remember ,we want to begin teaching our children that we all must do some things we don’t like. Children learn this isn’t so horrible, and they even learn strategies for getting the chores done. Some children will do the chores right away while others will wait until the last minute, but chores are a part of living responsibly in a family. Other things that children like to do, like having friends over for play dates or participating in after school activities, aren’t offered until the chores are completed.
If we want our children to be successful in our culture, we must set up situations through which they can learn the lessons. We need to make these situations as much like the real world as possible. In the real world none of us get to do just what we want all day long. Obligations are part of life. Children need to get these lessons besides the ones of multiplication and spelling!
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher