I photograph four year olds who prefer to help Mum with dinner prep instead of watching TV. I met a 15-month old toddler that puts her bottle in the sink when she finishes the milk, no need to ask. Where does this attitude, the idea of taking action and being proud of doing it, come from? Why do I encounter school kids blurting out “I am thirsty” while I am in conversation with their parents, expecting to get a drink (which they do…). Where does their idea of entitlement come from? I get it… parents are afraid to let kids suffer, be sad or angry, but … big BUT!

Having lived abroad for years and having traveled the world extensively, I am fascinated by age appropriated responsibilities and chores in different cultures. One aspect of the Japanese culture that struck me was the idea that all family members play a part in taking care of one another – each to their own capability and no matter how old or who they are. Having their kids do chores is believed to be a way to stay close. What I love even more about it is that Japanese parents and teachers have faith that kids are capable, and believe pitching in nurtures belonging and responsibility.

Sure you have to play to a child’s skill level and make responsibilities age-appropriate. But I see it over and over again: kids love to help. They want to help. But often enough their enthusiasm is extinguished because it would require slowing down for their parents. When toddlers beg to help fold laundry or wash the car with us it’s easier to send them off to play so we can get the job done quicker. But this is exactly the time to foster a child’s natural helpfulness. Actually, starting young is the key. Young children clamor to be included. When a preschooler begs to help prepare dinner, he doesn’t want to play with cooking toys, he wants to participate in the real work that’s taking place.

It slows us down to let him cut fresh mushrooms with a butter knife, but a child recognizes his contribution toward dinner. There is this priceless sense of accomplishment and camaraderie found in working together. To them, chores don’t feel like work. As children participate along with adults, they feel the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something that has meaning, purpose and value. When learning is connected to something truly purposeful, it can’t help but kindle motivation. Children feel honored to be included in real work that includes real challenges.

Moments of meaningful interaction happen easily when washing dishes, folding laundry, fixing the car, or walking the dog together. Letting a small child spread peanut butter, cut sandwiches, and pour milk into cups from a small pitcher affirms the value of the present moment. It also makes an ordinary lunch into a tea party with everybody looking entirely relaxed, as people do when satisfied with a job well done.

And that makes for fabulous images.


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