A parent handout from grade-one teacher Murielle Richard has the usual news about gym days, peanut-free snacks and name tags, plus an interesting piece of advice. This is an age, Richard suggests, when kids are eager to take on new responsibilities and “prove how ‘grown-up’ they are.” It’s a good time to introduce age-appropriate responsibilities such as emptying their lunch bag at the end of the day or packing their homework and school supplies into their backpack.
Richard recognizes that parents still need to help young school-aged kids handle their responsibilities. She’s not talking about leaving it all up to them, but about playing the supporting, rather than the starring, role in managing tasks.
Creating a routine
Rather than rummaging through your child’s backpack for notes from the teacher, Richard suggests, build in a routine (perhaps just before dinner) when you can ask, “Any notes or permission forms today?” Then it’s up to your child to look through her bag. Similarly, you can supervise your child as she packs up her work for school the next day, prompting with questions like “Is there anything you are forgetting?” The idea is to let your child “own” her own belongings and work, while providing the routines and reminders to help her succeed.
If children this age are ready to take charge of their own school tasks, what about taking on more responsibility at home as well? It’s certainly true that being “in charge” of something genuinely useful and mastering new skills are both satisfying self-esteem builders for six- to eight-year-olds.
But before you start loading on the chores, remember that starting elementary school already adds a lot of new responsibilities and pressures. Many kids, especially those in grade one, come home really tired and more than a little stressed from their long day at work. So make sure your young student gets the downtime (and even a little babying) he needs to recharge his batteries before asking him to take on more challenges.
Mary Salegio, executive director of the Parent Resource Centre in Ottawa, thinks a key thing to teach here is the idea of shared responsibility or interdependence. “It’s about responsibility to each other,” she says, “about everyone contributing to the work of the family.”
In Salegio’s family, she introduced a weekend job jar containing age-appropriate jobs. “Then everybody would pull out their job and we would do our work as a family, then have a family activity when we were finished: play a board game or go tobogganing. The idea is there’s a responsibility to share the work, but also to spend time with each other.”
Salegio is not talking about a big, onerous cleaning spree here. “At this age, I mean everyone pulls out one job,” she explains. “And you have to remember it’s a six-year-old — it’s not going to be to adult standards, but the goal is to have the child understand that, as a family, we all take care of each other.”
Cynthia Prelle has two girls, aged seven and nine. She says they’ve been helping out around the house for several years, starting with “games” when they were really little. Some chores, like setting or clearing the table or stripping their own bedsheets, the girls might do alone or with each other. Others, like writing the grocery list or helping to shop, would be done with an adult, while still others (shovelling snow or raking leaves) could be part of a family effort.
“We don’t expect them to do all of these things on a schedule,” says Prelle. “Their contributions change from week to week, depending on what needs to be done. We have tried to teach them that living together as a family means that we all have to pitch in.”
Prelle is careful not to overload the girls, especially at times when they are busy with extra activities, but she thinks it’s good for them to learn how to operate the washing machine and dryer, clean a sink and use the self-checkout at the grocery store (which they love).
“They are learning valuable life skills,” she says. “ I think we do our children a great disservice when we do everything for them.”