Six Tips for Teaching the Value of Work

by Kyndra Steinmann

The “Value of Work” Brain Reset

The children are very excited today. It started snowing around noon and has been coming down steadily for several hours. The weather forecaster reports that it should snow heavily in the early evening and continue through the night—and with temperatures as cold as they are, the snow should stick until the next snowfall. February in Massachusetts!

I’m pretty excited, too. I do enjoy sledding and will take the children this weekend, but I’m mostly happy because I have meaningful “heavy work” for the boys to do and we’ve been missing that.

I can see a definite decline in attention, attitude, and overall happiness when my boys go too long without meaningful, strenuous work. My daughter needs movement more than she needs a physically difficult task, so running laps around the house, practicing her dancing, and other similar activities work for her.

The boys need to throw themselves into hard work. They need difficult, seemingly impossible tasks that leave them physically tired. Since we live in town, they don’t have animal chores or wood to split—although I do intend to get our chimney lined at some point, so they will—and long, dark winter days of low physical challenge are hard for them.

This afternoon I’ve sent them outside to shovel the drive and walks and go up the block and shovel the elderly neighbor’s drive and walks. I expect them to come inside in a hour or so, soaking wet and physically tired enough to want to rest (at least for a bit!). If it snows through the night, they’ll need to do it all again tomorrow.

While they learn the value of work, lessons will go much more easily the next couple of days. Their bodies will be more ready to sit down for a bit, and having spent time working together at something difficult, they will be less likely to pick on each other.

So what ways do I have to give them the heavy work they need in the middle of winter?

  • Ask them to do all of the carrying of laundry and similar things up and down the stairs from the second floor to the basement laundry room. This is particularly the job of the four and seven year olds and you should see the excitement when they carry two baskets at once or an overflowing one!
  • Haul the trash cans to the curb every week and bring them back in.
  • Unload the cart at Aldi into the bins I keep in my trunk, bring the bins in, take the food downstairs, and put it all away.
  • Carry the library books to and from the car. (At 30-50 books a week, the weight adds up quickly!)
  • Move any furniture that needs to be moved. I usually spend some of my excess energy rearranging the house at this point in the year, so having the boys take the drawers out of things, slide the desks or whatever across the floor or down the stairs on a towel, and reassemble it all at the other end is helpful and hard work! Sometimes I even get to throw a history lesson in: “So guys, do you know how the Egyptians moved the stone for the pyramids?”
  • Participate in a homeschool “swim and gym” class at our local YMCA. The hour of the swimming lesson plus the hour of gym class makes for a very calm Thursday afternoon that usually carries over to Friday.
  • Keep in mind their needs when I make my weekly to-do lists, and assign anything that is strenuous to one or several boys

In all of this I try to keep two things in mind: the work needs to be hard in some way, and it needs to be meaningful or contribute to the family or neighbors somehow. The work must be valuable.

I occasionally read articles in which it is suggested that children in need of heavy work be given a backpack of books to carry around or be asked to move logs from one side of the yard to the other and then put them back. Those tasks do fulfill the criteria of hard work, but I hesitate to use them because I think they are also a false kind of labor.

There is no doubt in my mind that we humans are created to work and to tend—from the very beginning—and that the need to do so has only increased since the Fall. (Adam is given the garden to tend prior to the Fall, and afterwards he is told that his toil will increase and his work be harder.) Because of that created need to work, I think we must be very careful that the work we do–and give our children to do–be “true work” and not something intended just to fill up the time. As Isaac Watts said in his poem “How Doth the Little Busy, Bee”:

In works of labor or of skill,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day,
Some good account at last.The Apostle Paul instructs us also to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), and I think we need to understand that not only as doing work when work is called for, but also in teaching our children to do work that is redemptive, adding to the peace and goodness of the household and not just filling up the time.

So I will seize every opportunity to give my boys the kind of heavy work they need, while also seeing that the value of work they do is good for their souls. And on days when they have had a good physical challenge, I will rejoice as they are more able to apply themselves fruitfully to their mental labors as a result.

Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Facebook.


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