purposeful work in the home with children
My own experience of purposeful work in the home came from my Mum and Nanna . As a child I would stand by my Nanna’s side and watch as she so delicately rubbed cubes of cold butter into flour to make pastry for her famous apple pie, I would have a go myself, I would peel the cooking apples and coat them in sugar. Elsewhere in the home I would make beds, shine the tiles of the bathroom with a clean cloth and sit and polish the array of brass ornaments until they shone like the sun, in the garden I had so much fun cutting the edge of the lawn to make it neat and tidy with a pair of kitchen scissors. At home and under the gentle care of my mum I had the opportunity to apply the skills I was absorbing in my Nanna’s home into the beauty of childhood and could be seen often play washing my dolls’ pram outdoors. I would go to work with my mum, a local fish and chip shop run by a Chinese family and watch as they prepared the chips for the days trading, I would help them scoop the chips from a vast tub of cold water into a bucket ready for the fryer, then I would go home, and with my best friend, wrap fresh privet cuttings in newspaper charging only a couple of stones a pack for the other children in the street.
Through all my childhood experiences, I remember these with a sense of fulfilment and pride, so when I became a mother 12 years ago, involving my children in the domestic tasks of the home came naturally to me, and just as I was, they were also naturally interested in imitating what they saw mummy do on a daily basis; baking, laundry, cleaning, sewing, mending and gardening.
Many years ago purposeful work in the home with children would have been common place, but as years have passed and as domestic life has been made easier through technology, as stereotypes in the home have been challenged and have shifted, as families have gone out to work so childhood has changed. It is no longer commonplace for childhood experiences to be rooted in the work of the home, instead they experienced separately, through an array of toys and products. In some cases modern childhood could be likened to a ‘Glass Box’ experience, a child living in but somewhat an observer of the world around them, detached from the real living world and from being full and active participants in the life of the home.
As parents we know how our children are hungry to take part in purposeful work in the home, and often the demands of modern life, the fear of accidents, of not getting things right, or even of not knowing where to begin in allowing children to become full participants in the life and work of their home, stops us.
the benefits of purposeful work in the home
‘Instruction does much, but encouragement EVERYTHING’
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Purposeful work alongside play is the foundation of learning in Waldorf Education. I’ve had many people ask me over the past couple of years, if purposeful work in a Waldorf sense is the same as ‘Practical Life’ work in Montessori. There is an inherent difference, not only in how Waldorf Education approaches purposeful work but in how purposeful work is seen as a key to a lifelong love of productivity as an adult and as a catalyst for imaginative play in the early years.
Purposeful work in the home just like in the Kindergarten, educates the child for their whole life not just their childhood. Tasks in the home, even those we would rather put aside, approached joyfully, wholeheartedly and with reverence, care and perseverance demonstrate to the child a wonderful life skill, that all jobs can be done and done well, and pleasure can be found in the smallest of tasks.
In a world where more and more is done by machine, through purposeful work children have the opportunity to see adults use their hands, to make bread, to wash and dry dishes. When children see and take part in this, it inspires rich industrious and imaginative play. Children are able to absorb and make sense of these processes and gestures as they incorporate them into their own work.
Children are natural ‘doers’ they are naturally active, and just like a lullaby, busy purposeful work can calm children and give them a sense of place and purpose. It can help redirect the most challenging behaviour into positively focused imitative behaviour and equally it can bring a child who prefers his/her own company into meaningful interaction with others.
how to bring purposeful work into your home
To allow purposeful work into the home, we must as parents trust our children. Trust that they are actually involving their whole being to a task and that they are doing the very best they can. We must trust that they are inherent learners and with love and imitation they will accomplish their goals. We must trust their judgement, allow them time to problem solve and deepen their own learning and experiences.
inviting children into purposeful work
“Children do not learn through instruction or admonition, but through imitation”
The key in purposeful work in a Waldorf inspired home is the adult, becoming a calm beacon of purpose and getting on with tasks at hand allows children to see that to be productive is positive. Its best children be invited and not instructed to purposeful work.
Rather than a ‘set task’ to do, it should speak to the child’s own willing (action from within the child). Simply saying “ I need help” or “I wonder how I can do this” rather than “Would you like to help?” Allows the child to make the decision, the will to help and join coming from within, enabling them to grow in self confidence.
Children may carry on playing do not worry about this, they notice everything and they will be taking in what you do, they may play beside you, checking in as you get on with the task, they may sit and watch until they decide they want to join in, they may get involved straight away. Remaining focused and calm in your work, moving and carrying tasks out with care will enable your child to absorb all you do, and they will join when they feel ready.
how purposeful work looks in our home
All my children enjoy getting involved in the work of the home, on their terms. Our little one who is coming up to two years in September has been involved in purposeful work since she was 12 months. We explored flour and the senses through bread baking, we explored dough through cooking, we explored digging through planting. As a younger child she didn’t partake in the whole processes of these things and would come and join and dip in and out of activity as it interested her – as children do however she absorbed everything and as she has grown loves more and more to see the whole processes through.
purposeful work with older children
Steiner defined three stages of childhood, 0-7 years defined by will, 7-14 years defined by feeling and age 14-21 years defined by thinking. What I have talked about above lends itself well to any group depending on the complexity of the task. With simple tasks of the home, I have found with my older children differing involvement which speaks to their stage of development is beneficial. My daughter is at the Feeling age, every thing is about senses to her, she loves making strawberry cake, with white chocolate because it smells, tastes and looks good, she loves gardening and is more involved in the spirit of the garden and the magic of growing rather than the complexities of science behind it. My twelve year old is starting to emerge into thinking, he wants to ‘create’ recipes and experiment with flavour, he logically thinks how to present food for example on a plate so its perceived as tasty and well made, he’s interested in the more scientific aspects of the garden such as companion planting. Bearing in mind these three stages, we can involve children of all ages in the work of the home in a way which speaks to their natural drive for learning.
ideas for calm and successful purposeful work
- Before starting a task with your child, make sure you have two of what you need, children learn by watching and imitating so if you are scrubbing vegetables, have two brushes to hand.
- Have a set day for set tasks, to build purposeful work into your rhythm, e.g laundry day, gardening day, baking day.
- Allow time, work should be joyful, careful and not rushed.
- Excite older children and intertwine purposeful work with handwork and craft, get the to knit a simple cloth for cleaning, or allow them to make a natural cleaner from orange peels and vinegar for example.
- Have a song, sing “its time to tidy away” if its tidy and clean time. “Baking bread” if you are about to bake, children respond to song with such enthusiasm and it will become a good transition for them into purposeful work. A simple song with a few words it enough.
- Have a project yourself to get along with, for example I knit, when I am busy my little one will go any play and have such valuable time to re-enact gestures from purposeful work into her own work of play. This process enables children to deeply absorb and make sense of the experiences they have.
Remember the goal isn’t about getting the task done in as quick a time as possible with no mess, its about enabling the child to sit in a space where they feel a sense of pleasure and respect for the work they have contributed. Feeling an essential and needed member of the family
Purposeful work is the work of the home, and can truly become the work of the family, it can bring everyone together in conversation, and creates a deep respect and care for the space we share together. Let us allow our children to be full participants of our family. Let is foster a deep trust and respect of children and their abilities, and educate them not just for now but for their whole lives.
This Journal Post was written by our dear friend Kelly – you can find her on instagram @thewaywewaldorf. Thank you so much Kelly! x
We have a beautiful selection of perfectly sized ‘real’ tools and equipment for children so that they can enjoy helping alongside you with purposeful work in your home.
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