Our unschool day is defined by our flexibility, willingness to follow our own path and a great desire for my children to feel in control of their lives. Today was an especially busy day swimming and tubing with our Wild + Free group at a local freshwater spring. The day began early with lots of cooking and endlessly continues as Mr.3 is wide awake at 9:00pm after a nap on the car ride home. I love busy days until I don’t. My ‘go go’ attitude eventually exhausts me and recovery is needed with slow days at home.
But these slow day and these busy days all have a common denominator — chores that must be completed. These chores include mountains of laundry, too many dirty dishes, a very sandy floor to sweep and of course, lots and lots of real food to cook. After keeping kids safe, cooking is top priority in our house. If I don’t cook, we don’t eat so other chores might slide but I always stay on top of the food situation. Over the years, I found my laundry groove and folding clean clothes is no longer my crippling handicap. Even the dishes have become a non-issue with a functioning dishwasher and an easy dish routine.
Of course, if you dropped by my house on any given day, it might not look like the household chores are running smoothly but 3 little unschoolers make messes and that’s ok. Those 3 messy little unschoolers also help clean up their messes. At least, most of the time.
I’ll be honest. My desire for my children to do chores is selfishly motivated. My concern lies not with ingraining home skills and hard work. I am most interested in receiving help because I didn’t dump out a puzzle, dirty 5 shirts in a day, use a different water cup every time I was thirsty or track wet sand all over the living room floor. I might not feel pinned down under daunting chores anymore but I want the kids to work and I would prefer they do it with a smile on their face.
We have friends who use chore charts, utilize chore rotations between the kids, have volunteer family jobs, pay the kids for their chores and beyond. I enjoy conversations about what makes families tick and I’m especially drawn to convos about chores. I like knowing what works and what doesn’t work for our friends because honestly, our experiments with organized chores have never fared well. If it’s been suggested, I’ve probably tried it. Notable flops include: withholding privileges until the work is done, requiring kids to participate in my current chore and that cutesy chore chart that was quickly despised.
I know my kids and I clearly see my children do poorly with unconditional requirements. It simply does not work for me to create a rule and insist everyone do as I say just because I say so. Trust me, I’ve tried. An unconditional rule might work for a few days but compliance will weaken until it is shelved and forgotten.
But what about the puzzle pieces all over the floor, too many dirty shirts, a million water cups on the counter and wet sand on the floor? It’s pretty easy these days — I just ask the kids to help. Mr.8 is eager to please and enjoys making messy things neat again. He is quick to help, except when he isn’t… Ms.6 is her own leader. She works on her personal timeframe and loudly resents interruptions that do not fill her cup. But, she loves spending time with me and a little cajoling usually results in her working by my side. Mr.3 is a crapshoot. Some days he is endlessly helpful and some days he prefers for me to be his robot and do everything for him.
The bottom line, you ask? I expect my kids to help when I ask for help. But, what if they don’t want to help? How does refusal play into our Positive Discipline day? My answer is simple: I ask question and I listen to answers. Why don’t you want to help me? What would you rather do instead? Would you rather help me later or do a different chore? Would it help if we did the chore together? I ask question after question until I feel confident I see the big picture, rather than seeing a lazy kid who doesn’t want to help. At that point, it is easy to offer alternatives that work for everybody. The conversation continues until unschool kid and unschool mom are satisfied. Best case scenario involve smiles while helping around the house. Worst case scenario is the job goes undone because nobody wants to do it, me included. It feels good to complete a task and internal motivation is a keystone for getting kids to want to help out!
Happy chore time in our house includes:
- Ask for help rather than demand compliance.
- Create an environment where kids feel safe to express their feelings.
- Remain flexible but firm that children are important members of the family and must participate in family responsibilities.
- Set a positive example that chore time can be fun — blast music at top volume, sing silly songs, create speed competitions, etc.