The Wall Street Journal published a provocative piece this week on the state of middle-class children in the U.S. It was prompted by research done by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families. I urge you to read the article. Shirley Wang does an excellent job of summarizing the research and bringing up some key concerns about what the research might indicate for our children.
For me personally, with kids who had an academic start in Montessori and then moved to unschooling, I have serious concerns about the dumbing-down of our children. As parents, we are have been conditioned to be so quick to do for our children that I wonder if we are raising them to become incapable of doing for themselves.
Is it unreasonable to teach a preschooler how to make toast? Or fold laundry? Maria Montessori didn't think so. Neither do I.
Is there any reason why a child can't use a proper glass or silverware when eating rather than cartoonish plastic dishes? Our children do, and they manage just fine. In fact, we've found glass drinkware is more stable than the plastic cups. They're also learning to clear their dishes, load the dishwasher, and put away their clean clothes. The older kids learned to do their own laundry around the second grade. They each got a laundry basket and instructions on how to do laundry. Why? It's a life skill. Just like learning to read, do math, and all of those other important subjects we focus on in school, why do we then assume our children are incapable of such basic life skills in the home?
As they've gotten older, I've involved them in other life skills as they've become physically and mentally capable. I want children who can make decisions and understand natural consequences long before they leave my home. If I helicopter overhead, that will never happen.
When my daughter decided to start public school for the first time in her life this year, I supported her decision. I do not ask her to do her homework. Ever. She does it because she choses to. She gets it done. She gets an A average in school. Why? Because she wants to get those grades. She earns them, not me. All of the pride associated with that achievement is hers to own. I can be proud because she is a responsible person who makes good choices, and I feel like I helped foster that within her.
There's not only a sense of pride when children are responsible for taking care of their family and their environment, but also a realization that things don't just magically happen. Clean clothes don't magically appear (so, you might not want to toss every little thing into the hamper). Food tastes better when you participate in cooking it. It takes a family—all of us, working together, to make a household run well. We are each important members who have something special to offer, each with unique strengths, complementary skills, and working together, we can be successful.