Monday, April 9, 2012

Training Children to Serve

This morning was rough. Whether a result from our busy weekend of traveling, or just the Monday morning blahs, we needed some attitude adjustments.

After a lunch accented with more whines, I assigned each of the children several jobs, decreed a ban on complaints, turned on some loud march music, and we whirled around setting the house back in order after a busy homeschool morning.

Then we all went outside, and I haven't heard a sign of the grumps since.

I'm always amazed at the benefit of working together with my children.

I shouldn't be surprised. My parents did a great job in training us nine children to work together on the farm. When my mom was overwhelmed with tasks, my dad would often tell her that she was not utilizing her resources. Many times I have heard my mom encourage young mothers to work together with their children and train their children to take responsibility to help around the house.

But training my own children has been a challenge. Dealing with the bad attitudes, sloppy work, and uncoordinated, inexperienced hands was far more frustrating than doing the work myself. So I thought.

I know how much I appreciate my parent's efforts to teach me good work skills, and want to give the same to my children. I want them to know the joy in serving others unselfishly and contributing to the well being of the home.

I've tried several kinds of job charts but never was disciplined to stick with anything for long. What has worked best is attaching specific jobs with meal times, especially lunch. If each child has their job that they do each day, such as vacuuming under the table, or washing dishes, eventually it becomes habit and I nag less.

The last few months we have started what we call "kitchen servants."

When I was a teen, my parents started a "servant of the day." We were never a quiet family and with eleven people jumping up to get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it, meal times were crazy. Breakfast was especially bad. Every time the toast popped, half a dozen persons would jump for it. Add in someone who wanted honey instead of jelly, another going for milk instead of the juice on the table, and there were too many people colliding in the kitchen.

My parents gave each of the older children a day of the week that was their day to be the "servant." When meal time began, the servant was the only child allowed to get off their seat. If anyone wanted something not on the table, they had to kindly ask the servant to get it for them. It worked beautifully. As we older ones married, one of the younger ones became servant on our day. I believe they still have a servant of the day these many years later.

I decided to adapt the "servant of the day" to meet my needs. I gave my three oldest children each a meal to be the kitchen servant. For their meal, the servant is responsible to help me in any way needed. They may help with meal prep, set the table, or wash dishes.

The children have (mostly) taken on their new role with pride. No longer do I ask someone to set the table only to hear complaints that they always have to set the table. They know that this time it is their turn; a sibling will be asked at the next meal. My just-turned-five-year-old was given breakfast since he is our early bird. Most mornings he is out in the kitchen asking what he can do to help before I call him.

There is many other areas of my household that I need to improve upon, but our kitchen servant has been a blessing to our meal times.

I'd love to hear your ideas on training children to help at home.


  1. I have been thinking of doing something like this. When I went to summer camp we had a similar concept and I remember how much I liked it s a child. I can see how it would be beneficial. We are in the process of revamping the family routine and school schedule to make the house run more smoothly. Thanks for this helpful post!

  2. I love the "servant for a day" or "servant for a meal" idea, Gina! I'll have to incorporate that as my girls are getting older.
    Thanks for sharing all your tips and ideas - it certainly helps me in my parenting!


  3. When my girls (three of them, one year apart) were pre-teens and teens, I really didn't like them to idle during the non-school months. So, I started, during that summer off-time a chore week for each of them. One had the responsibility of laundry, gathering, washing, drying and folding. A second teen was in charge of planning a menu with a certain dollar amount limit, baking and preparation of meals. The third was in charge of clean-ups, such as making sure the folded clothes were put away, washing any food prep dishes, straightening of rooms, etc. Each girl had a these chores for a week and then they would switch. I hoped to have them hone their homemaking skills by allowing each to have a chance at different areas. When our fourth girl reached an age appropriate for more responsibility, we gave her weekly chores also. The boys had their chores also, but this is what I did with the older girls.

  4. Thanks so much for the ideas, Helen! What wonderful practice in homemaking skills your daughters were able to acquire!

  5. Your servant for each meal sounds like a great plan. When my children were all at home we had a job wheel. The wheel turned a notch each week and the child whose name was by that chore did the corresponding tasks for the week. We also rotated places in the car each week so there wasn't as much complaining about who had to sit where. :)

  6. How old are your children? When we were 8, we were added to the 'chore rotation'. Each of us had a family job that we did every day (trash, tidying the living room, straightening the bathroom, feeding the pets, doing dinner dishes). The person with dishes checked that everyone's job was completed at 5pm. If you hadn't done your job, you got to do the dishes instead of that person. This was in addition to doing our own laundry and dusting/vacuuming/keeping clean our own rooms. It sounds like you're doing a great job.

  7. I love hearing all your ideas!

    Melissa, my children are 8, 6, 5, and 3. I'm sure as they get older, it will be easier to have a chore rotation. Right now there are things that the younger ones can't do.


  8. Love this idea Gina! Now if only I had a couple of children to rotate chores with. :) Hopefully I'll remember this idea when that time comes.

  9. What an excellent, helpful post! We do use a job chart sort of (I posted on it here:

    But I also train my children to do other tasks. I don't have much of a method for that, except that I'm trying to share the load, yes, and I see how much they love meaningful work. My daughter (age 6) irons all our hankies and napkins now. She is working on learning to wash the bathroom floor (loves water!), dry dishes, and vacuum a room. My son is almost 4, but he can do many helpful things around the house.

    The most important factor for me has been my attitude. If I prepare myself first, things go smoothly.

  10. Thank you for this idea, Gina! As a child, I was never taught responsibility in the home. I knew before having children, I wanted them to know what is was to be a vital, responsible, and needed part of a family home. We call it team work. My husband is gone a lot during the week so most outside and inside duties fall on me. My children have grown to be eager helpers. We talk a lot about being a team and helping each other. As the children grow older, their responsibilities grow. Their ages are 6 and 3. They work together to empty the dishwasher and compete to see who will be the one to sweep the kitchen floor (It's not always as well as I like, but at least they are learning the responsibility of being a contributing member! That is my goal for now. I can go back and get any missed spots.) My six-year-old puts away her own laundry, folds towels and makes her own bed. She has also started asking to wipe down the counters after some meals. My three-year-old is learning to put away his laundry. Each has been taught our system of putting dirty clothes into the correct laundry bag at the end of the day, and they both clean their own room each day. (Hanging from my laundry room folding table/shelf are four mesh bags. There is one for towels, one for cold clothes, one for warm clothes, and one for white clothes. The oldest is able to read the tag in her clothes to determine the correct bag. My youngest has a "C" or "W" marked on the tag of his clothes. He can match it to the letter above the bag. This saves me so much time when I have to wash clothes!) They also put away their own dishes after each meal. Keeping the house straight throughout the day is an all-day process! They also dust, gather eggs, and take care or the rabbits together. They love doing the last three jobs. They both love to help in the kitchen so that isn't as much a chore as a fun time with Mama! Even if Mama does end up with a stress headache! :) As a former teacher, I know how eager little ones are to to help and please. I just translated that to my own children, letting them help as they were willing, and giving lots of praise and thanks when they did. The more praise they received the more they wanted to help and do. "Chores" have just become a system and habit that they don't really think about anymore- except for cleaning his/her bedroom. Does any child do that willingly without complaint? :) They are children and do get distracted easily, so they do require reminders, but they do know exactly what to do and how to do it when reminded. I feel so thankful and blessed that I am able to give these life skills that I was never taught as a child to my own children.

  11. Hi Gina, love your recipes, hope to make sour dough muffins. Yesterday made crumpets, sour dough bread and olive rolls also sourdough starter pancakes which are just divine
    Thanking you for inspiration

  12. Grumping over chores just seems to be a natural with children doesn't it?
    I was inspired to help my children do better in this, thanks Gina!

  13. I love hearing how other moms approach training little ones to love to work. I, too, grew up on a farm and we all had to work. I'm thankful for that now.
    One thing that has worked good for now with our children, the ones aged 7, 9, and 11 each have a room of the house downstairs that is "their room" for 2 months. They are responsible to pick up and straighten that room at least once a day, sweep floors and take out trash when needed, and general upkeep. (They still need to pick up after themselves!) Then on Fridays they are responsible to clean that room. They also rotate washing and putting away dishes and setting the table.
    Right now I am realizing that our 4 and 3 year olds have not had enough work to do. I'm not sure how to give them more, I am taking some of the older ones work, but then the older ones get bored, so I need to find more challenging jobs for them! Right now our 11 year old son is teaching our 4 year old daughter how to care for his "room of the month", so maybe he can pass on that job!

  14. Gina, I always tell young mothers, "a vacuum cleaner is the ultimate boy toy: it is loud, rolls on wheels and has a motor." I used to have my then five year old son vacuum everyday while his younger brother salivated, waiting for his turn.

  15. When we were helping my mom with various tasks, she taught us to always ask "What's next" upon completing a task rather than just wandering off. Even if she didn't need anything else, she would hunt us down and bring us back to ask "what's next" before excusing us. My mom did a great job teaching us how to do things and I'm very grateful that I learned so many skills. More importantly, I'm grateful that she taught me to work.

  16. We talked about this over dinner last night, and were amused that we aren't the only ones who had to deal with the "jumping jack" thing at mealtime. I also would encourage those with very young children to let them do small jobs. My 2 year old can already help sort silverware! By the way...we have six children, ages 16, 15, 11, 8, 6, and 2.....lots of work for lots of helpers!

  17. Ah, so were not the only ones that get complaints and grumbles! Today we canned several jars of meat and there were a few attitudes that had to be adjusted occasionally, mine included!


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