In part two, I mentioned building learning activities into everyday life and stewardship. I find that small people like to be actively engaged with the world around them, and want to know how to do useful things; there are tremendous learning opportunities that go along with just living a useful life! This post could get long, so I might even do a Part 4. Or Part 8. Keep in mind that all of these elementary-school-age learning activities tend to be done with a parent or older siblings as a companion and mentor, though as a child reaches four and five, you may find yourself the recipient of sweet little “secret services” undertaken quite independently.
In late toddlerhood, we let (and encourage) the kids fold washcloths, then kitchen towels, then pillowcases and their own clothing. By the time a child is five, they can pretty much handle folding their own clothing and putting it away, if the wardrobe is not terribly extensive and there is adequate storage space that they can safely reach. These are real, tangible contributions to the family, for which they can be genuinely thanked.
Starting in toddlerhood, our kids help gather and sort dirty laundry (differentiating between characteristics is a foundational reading skill), sort clean laundry into “people piles”, fold their own or another family member’s clothing, and hang laundry to dry in the summer (with a low laundry line, or handing items and pins to a taller assistant).
The educational skills mastered by simply participating in the household laundry contribute to:
- Developing large and fine motor skills
- Basic understandings of how shapes may be folded, which is a none-too-basic application of tangible geometry
- Differentiation between characteristics that can sometimes be quite subtle (ever try to mate socks for more than two people with similar-sized feet?)
- Completion of a step-by-step process on a recurrent basis
- A sense of self-respect and pride in accomplishment, as well as a real feeling of contribution and worth in the family dynamic. Too often, children are relegated to busy-work, and praised for things they sense inherently lack real-world value. Here’s a chance for real versus busy.
And usually, they’re the culprits who change clothing 42 times a day, and toss everything down the laundry chute anyhow. Make the little stinkers earn their keep.
We also involve the small children in the never-ending process of wardrobe-weeding. Again, there are tangible skills to learn!
- We do not have unlimited room. It’s important to choose which material items we value and use enough to grant them a place in our limited space.
- We are blessed richly. When we have excess, we can share those blessings with others, and be, in some small way, an instrument in the hands of our God to bless someone else. We can think about who might use and enjoy the things we do not have room to keep, or do not need any longer. We can act with charity and compassion.
- Our lives and needs change with time. It’s okay to let go of things and move forward. Letting go of things does not erase our memories or feelings.
- It’s okay to let things go, because if we do find ourselves in a position of need in the future, we can trust that God will make a way for us to work and attain the things we do need… and even quite a few things we want!
Children can be very short hoarders in a very short time if they are not taught to make choices! Making choices about clothing spills over to making choices about artwork, and toys, and books, and other “dear” items, in ways that do not feel forced or punitive. Donation and giving should be taught as a happy thing, not a punishment.
When we set about weeding, I gather the child’s entire current wardrobe on the bed, and we sort it into piles according to garment style. Then I walk them through the process of deciding what things are too small, what is too ragged to donate, what they’re tired of wearing, which pieces are still favorites, all with a goal of determining what can be passed along to the charity box.
I set limits on how many of each wardrobe item we can reasonably store, and help guide the choices by asking questions. Small children aren’t going to automatically know they’ll need to keep a sweatshirt in the wardrobe, even during summer, or that it’s important to have more than two pair of underpants.
The lay-it-all-out-and-talk-about-it process helps my children to really see the many blessings we have, and to consider how to share those blessings beyond our home. The process has worked very well for us, to the point that when Spicy was given three very large bags of hand-me-downs, she not only chose the pieces she needed to fill out her own wardrobe, she set aside particular clothes she was sure her slightly-smaller, two-week-younger cousin would like. She was so excited to “go shopping” for her cousin, and felt no need to hold onto every single garment in the bag. When we finished, we had parceled out the goodies for four different families beyond our own, and dropped the bags off with instructions to feel free to pass along the extras however they saw fit.
With the Eldest and The Boy, I can now send them to weed their own wardrobes with entire confidence, and ask them to make an inventory of items they need to round out their functional wardrobes. They look at their no-longer-needed items with an eye toward where they might be best put to use, and really enjoy getting to share our excess with others. Most personal finance courses do not think to start at the pre-school years, and most do not ever address these sorts of personal management. They’re key educational areas for a fully-realized adult, in my opinion.
These skills are a vital part of financial learning and abundant living, and can be started at such a young age! Learning to appreciate our material blessings, and having the ability to pass excess blessings along, changes a child’s entire attitude about money, wealth, material goods, and compassion. It’s a very cool process to watch.