Work Ethic: That’s Not My Job!

I’ve been pondering the work ethic topic lately: at what point or at what age do we need to tell our children that certain things are their responsibility and we will no longer carry the burden for them? We love our children—and we want them to succeed!—but where does our helpfulness in reminding them to do or complete tasks become unhelpfulness as it trains them to let other people be their memory and sense of responsibility?
I’ve been thinking about this since we started co-op a couple of weeks ago. I teach two science classes and the students have research assignments and projects to complete at home. Since all three of my big kids are in those classes, I have to figure out how much help to give them as they complete the work at home and how much I need to leave up to them.

Teaching a Work Ethic

The answer is, I think, a bit different for each child, because of different ages and personalities and different needs in character development. The second grader generally remembers to do his work from co-op, but he is more enthusiastic than thorough in the way he does it. His class is on insects, and he happily collects various creatures from the yard, but doesn’t always remember to bring his bug catching kit inside or remember to actually bring the bugs he has caught to class! His bookwork gets done, but often needs some adjustment in terms of neatness and legibility.
I have chosen to remind him to clean up his bug kit and to bring his catch to class, but only to do so a couple of times. Coming to class with nothing to show will be a good way for this very social child to learn to remember his things. When he works in his notebook, I go over it for neatness and have him correct things, but I will also give him an interim report and a final grade to go over with Papa.

The fifth grader is happy to do any of the work she considers interesting, but doesn’t want to do the parts that require effort. Since this is an area we are focusing on this year, I am being very careful to follow up and make sure she has done all the work and not just the “fun” parts. 

Since co-op is on Mondays, I put the assignments on her assignment sheet and then follow up to make sure at least part of the work is done each day. I don’t correct the work or comment on neatness, but leave that for after she has turned the work in to me on class days. I’ll be doing interim reports and final grades for the whole class and will have her go over those with Papa.

The sixth grader is making great progress this year with responsibility. He seems to be figuring out that progress in school involves working on the harder things as well as doing the more enjoyable things so I am limiting my involvement to putting the co-op assignments on his weekly assignment sheet and assisting with things like spelling as I’m asked. He hands in lessons to me along with the rest of the class at co-op, and I hand them back with comments just as I do for the other students.

All of this stepping back is hard to do for Mama! I want them to succeed, and I know that if I stay very involved in all aspects of their work, the work will be done well. In reality, though, that level of involvement from me means that they are not learning to discipline themselves to do the things they find less pleasant and more difficult, and I am not working myself out of a job!

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 and Pinterest.

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