Teaching Children to Enjoy Helping

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt

Children are such willing learners. If we are doing something, they want to be right in there “helping.”  A friend recently told me about her son’s enthusiasm for making coffee. He had been watching his dad fill the coffee maker with water and add the aromatic coffee to the little paper cone – and he wanted to help. So after a few “lessons,” Dad let him try it on his own. Within a week, the little boy was making the coffee each evening for his dad – with supervision, of course. Oh – did I mention that the little boy was just two years old?

During my preschool years my parents built a lovely two-story Cape Cod-style house. This was in the 1940s and Dad didn’t have any power tools to assist his efforts, so the house was built the old-fashioned way – using only hand tools. We lived in what would become the garage while the house was being built, and I was always under foot and wanting to “help.” What I remember most fondly about that time period was being Dad’s go-fer – finding the hammer, crescent wrench, nail set or flat-head screw driver, wherever it had been used last and left. At four years old, I could identify the different kinds of screw drivers and wrenches, and enjoyed the job of being Dad’s special helper.

I am wondering if we take the opportunity often enough to teach our children to enjoy helping and thus learning the skills that keep a home (and community) running and thriving. Sure, if you live on a farm there are eggs to collect and other useful chores. But what meaningful jobs can suburban kids do on a regular basis? Making a bed, filling the dishwasher and taking out the trash are good skills to know, but don’t always give children the feeling that they are contributing to the necessities of life. On the other hand, gardening, cooking and sorting the recyclables are tasks that just about any child can participate in. (It has been said that kids are more apt to eat the vegetables that they help to grow and pick.) And kids can learn about tools and how to be part of a team, just like I did, by helping to put up a garden fence, change the oil in the car or build a backyard tool shed.

The bottom line is that our children are our future. The skills they learn and learn to enjoy when they are young will stay with them their whole lives. What we all want is a world of folks for whom sustainability is a goal – living a life that is kind to the Earth and fosters wise use of its resources – including its people.