Written by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy.
Kids love to do real, meaningful work. The kind with actual value, risks, and consequences. Too often, they don’t get to — because as parents, we don’t let them.
Obviously not every kid is begging to make dinner, nor is every parent saying no. But both are happening, frequently, and it’s really too bad, because both kids and parents have so much to gain by letting the kids take control of a few “serious” tasks.
Giving up that control comes easier for some parents than others.
For example, I’m an INFP (that’s a Myers-Briggs personality type, for those of you who aren’t total personality geeks like me). That causes me plenty of problems (I tend to be permissive, I’m terrible at creating routines for my kids, etc.) but it also means it’s easy for me to let my kids take the reins.
If you have a hard time giving up control, recognize there’s a good reason why it doesn’t come naturally—then take a deep breath and do it anyway.
Kids have so much to gain from taking on real, meaningful tasks. They want to be able to admire their efforts, they want to feel the pride of accomplishment, and they want to experience the feeling of a job well done.
As a bonus: kids love learning when they’re working on their own self-directed projects.
All those skills that are abstract in the classroom—handwriting, fractions, biology—spring to life when a child needs that information to address a party invitation, calculate the cost of goods for a strawberry tart, or decide how often to water the garden. It’s the best kind of education.
Here are four ideas for practical, useful, and fun projects that kids can handle. Intervene as necessary—but not until your kids ask you to, or until it’s clear they need a grown-up’s help.
Many kids love to get cooking, and it’s great for everyone to get in the habit of helping with meal prep. But if they want to make family dinner (or breakfast, or lunch) all by themselves, why not let them? There’s very little to lose, and so much to gain.
(Hot tip: you might want to have a filling bedtime snack ready, just in case your child’s first attempt bombs.)
Plan a party
Last year, I let my two daughters (ages 9 and 6 at the time) plan my youngest daughter’s 7th birthday party. They made the invitations, and the guest list. They set the menu and put up the decorations. They created the agenda and planned the activities. They had a blast.
I did get a handful of amused comments about the hand-drawn invitations, but all in all, the girls loved it, their friends loved it, and I loved not being in charge of the birthday party planning. Win/win/win.
Since then, we’ve let the kids plan afternoon teas, cookouts, and pizza parties. They get a little savvier each time.
Start a business
Starting a business (or sometimes, “business”) is a fabulous way to let your kids put all that stuff they learned in the classroom (or perhaps in our cases, at the dining room table) into practice.
Our daughter had the idea to start a little bakery business over the winter, and she has learned so much: marketing and web design, brainstorming and product tweaking, how to use a spreadsheet to calculate price per baked good, how to double and half recipes (fractions!), planning and time management.
It’s been an amazing experience, even though she’s only selling to her grandparents.
There are kids who have Etsy shops and kids who write blogs, kids who babysit and kids who walk all their neighbors’ dogs. If your child has an idea, consider letting them try to bring it to life. There’s so much to learn by doing so.
Tend a garden
I’ve never been an enthusiastic gardener, mostly because I’ve never had results worth getting excited about. So when my kids asked if they could please pretty please plant a garden when we moved to a new-to-us house last year, I said yes—on one condition: they would take care of it.
I was pleasantly surprised when they actually did care for it, and even more surprised when the plants actually flourished.
It turns out we just needed better soil, which our new backyard had. The kids picked the plants at the beginning of the season; now they water, weed, and harvest, and we all get to enjoy the produce.
Do you give your kids free rein to tackle their own projects? I’d love to hear the details in comments.