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.
All great advice. My kids are helping paint the trim work inside out house this summer. I am hoping they can take over after a few rooms.
That is AWESOME. I’m a little jealous. I’d love for my kids to take over—we have painting we need to get to around here, too.
My daughter and I were just discussing her plan on selling baked goods over the winter the other day. She’s going to research they types of things she’ll offer and what ingredients she’ll need. Then, once it’s not so hot outside, she’ll start the actual baking. She’s very excited. She’s also helped my husband build a computer tower, and she’s always making “meals” which are a little, um, strange sometimes, but she has so much fun doing it. (Salad with lettuce, grapes, strawberries, nuts, and French dressing anyone???)
That bakery plan sounds amazing. And I’d eat that salad … if I could swap out the French. 🙂
This reminds me of the book Do Hard Things, (extremely well) written by two young men who make the excellent point that in previous generations young people were often doing amazing things far earlier than they are allowed to today. For example, many of the Founding Fathers were barely in out of their teens by the time they were starting the businesses and doing the heroic deeds that got them noticed and tapped for a role in the Revolution. Why were they doing great things that young? Because they had started engaging in the “real world” (working at a family business, etc) when they were eight, ten or twelve! Thanks for posting this and encouraging other parents to recognize the importance of giving kids a chance to start early, even if only in small ways! 🙂
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I hadn’t heard of that book before. Thanks for the recommendation.
so many things that come to mind but it would take you week to read it all, this is a fantastic piece. Thank you for writing it.
I am a control freak !! which is not a good combination with homeschooling !! I tend to let go more with my 2 younger girls more, but Mr 12 never asks to do something anymore and I wonder If I have crushed his incentive a little by always trying to take over 🙁
I will start out by asking him to do a task for me that means something and try to re-light that desire in him.
Wishing you well … 🙂
Ok, ok…I just had to comment. YES, I love the idea of letting my kids do this stuff! I have been reading your blog and following along while waiting to get to the point where they are finally big enough to start schooling and taking on these kinds of tasks more, etc. Very cool!
BUT, here is my real point *personality geek* <<<<<right here<<<<<<< LOL…INFJ. Just had to say it! 😉 Not everyone gets it!
Hi five for the INF! That’s a rare type you have there. 🙂
Kate @ Mom's Radius
Great post! You are so right, giving kids responsibilities is so important. My son does little chores, but I really should start giving him larger tasks. I would love for him to cook for us when he’s older like your oldest does. He did run a lemonade stand a couple of weeks ago, which he thought was pretty cool. He did a good job making the lemonade, talking to customers, making change, etc. It was fun!
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That lemonade stand does sound like fun. Glad he made a success of it. 🙂
Great post! I have recently given the entire responsibility of washing and drying all our family’s laundry fully into the surprisingly capable hands of my 7yo son. (Everything is pre-sorted, he has a schedule worked out for the week, and I just fold/hang and put away.) Not only is this a huge help to me, but he feels very grown up to be contributing to our home and family in such an important way! He bragged to his grandma the other day that he is getting strong muscles from lifting all those heavy laundry baskets! 😉
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That sounds amazing! Major props to you and your son.
I don’t have kids of my own yet, so this advice may not be totally on point for me, but I can take a little from is as I am learning to let my soon to be step daughter take on some of the tasks in our house when she is with us. I do have a bit of trouble letting go of the control, and there is no reason for it, as she is totally capable of doing most things on her own. Thank you for the reminder to let her help, as it will help us both in the long run!
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Sounds good, hope it goes smoothly.
I love that you include specific examples. I hope when my kids are old enough, I’ll remember to let them take charge and take risks.
So true as parents giving our kids opportunity to do certain tasks can be challenging to us but definitely worth it.
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Yes to the “challenging”! But also yes to the “worth it.” 🙂
My daughter loves to cook supper and to bake things like muffins on her own. I just help with any heat-related things (eg. put in and take it out of the oven, dump the pasta into the collander, etc). I found the best way for her to learn to cook was for me to re-type out recipes in even simpler format (at first) so that she could have all the details. She was cooking supper at 8 years old.
That’s a great idea to re-type those recipes.
Since we’re deep in Little House love around here, this makes me think of Almanzo in Farmer boy when, instead of using his money to buy lemonade like the other boys, he bought the pig to raise so that he could earn money from it. Great post!
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Lisa @ This Pilgrim Life
I really love this Anne. I have a similar personality type so letting my kids work with me and then do their own thing does come easily to me as well. I really am so thankful that I have the opportunity to be home with them and that we have the free time and flexibility do things like this.
My kids do cook with me but they aren’t ready to cook solo just yet (the oldest is just 5). They are getting to be actually helpful, though, so I’m optimistic about the future. One thing that my older two (5 & 3) like to do is to “sew” with me. For now, my three-year-old just sticks pins into fabric scraps and is learning to use an embroidery hoop for simple stitching. My five-year-old, on the other hand, is starting to want to do projects more independently from me. Just a week or two ago, he cut a larger scrap of fabric and then cut out pockets and a handle. He pinned all the pieces in place where he wanted them and then used my machine (with help) to sew everything on. It is WONKY to be sure, but it is entirely his creation and I’m so proud of what he’s learning to do!
I also really like the idea of letting them plan a party! I think that I will add that to my list of things to do this summer 🙂
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Thank you for this blog entry. Something I need to remember! I’m INTP but although I’m quite relaxed, I sat no a lot because I know I’ll be the one cleaning up after!
I’d love it if my kids could help more and do more independently. (They are six and three). But it seems that every time I give them a task or the freedom to do an independent activity (like a craft) the end result is a fight I have to break up or a larger mess I get to clean up. My six year old does try sometimes but I can tell that she thinks it’s unfair that her brother has no motivation to do anything. (He’ll give up TV time rather than help clean up, so she does it all herself). I realize they are young, but it seems that every time I try to let them do things for themselves, disaster ensues. As much as my tendency is to be a little bit controlling (INFJ here), at 7 months pregnant, I don’t have the energy to do everything myself anymore. What kind of things were your kids able to do at that age?
Thank you for these very useful ideas. My twins are nine and I am finding that they often need additional meaningful work to keep them occupied and stimulated. After watching the junior bake off and junior master chef they have shown more interest in cooking especially my eldest son (9) who formerly stated that my his sister should help in the kitchen.
I am guilty of not allowing them to help; however, I find it hard work trying direct all three safe and the kitchen clean. I am working on letting go of the latter and enjoy the experience as they learn.
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