If you walk into a Montessori classroom of any age group you will likely observe some of the following: a child sweeping, a child window washing, a child serving others a snack, a child cleaning up after him or herself, and other mundane yet important daily duties. If you ask these children what they are getting paid or earning for these chores you will likely get a very odd look in response. Although by definition these tasks are indeed “chores” the Montessori classroom treats them instead as an integral part of the classroom community.
This concept of community is one of the many things that attracts me to Montessori at home. It is a shift in mindset from “we are a family unit with two leaders and two subordinates” to “we are a family with four community members that individually and collectively have valuable roles to play”. Our family works best when all community members are contributing. Based on this philosophy my children do not do “chores”. They do not get paid for doing things around the house because they are expected to help for the benefit of our family exactly like my husband and me.
If I didn’t feel so strongly about this topic it would be very easy to be sucked into extrinsic motivations for completing chores. Chore chart ideas are everywhere from Pinterest to parenting magazines and admittedly they are aesthetically adorable. There are also apps (APPS!) that allow children to log chore “points” to earn virtual prizes like monsters and passes to an online carnival. While I don’t fault parents for trying everything they can to get their children to contribute to the family duties, the message that you must earn something for doing the expected concerns me. Last time I did a few loads of laundry, I was not rewarded with money or gifts despite how great that might be. There are no boxes to check or clothes pins to move from “To Do” to “Done” and yet my children still manage to add value to our community and here is how…
At 3 and 5 my children are expected to contribute in the following ways:
- Emptying the dishwasher of at least their dishes, most of the time they also put away the pots and pans. This is typically done with myself or Dad putting away our dishes at the same time.
- Sweeping up after meals. At least twice a week, one or both of the kids help Dad to sweep under the table. They use their broom and hand sweeper with dustpan.
- Daily cleaning of his/her room. Each child is responsible for putting away all belongings and generally straightening his/her room before starting his/her shower. They may ask for help if they feel the job is too big.
- Laundry. I have discussed this in a separate post, but I am happy that the kids now recognize when their laundry needs to be done and will often let me know that they are going to start their load instead of by my suggestion.
- General cleaning of the house. When Dad or I clean an area of the house the children are invited to help and more often then not happily contribute. They love to dust in particular and my son (3 year old) just this week was excited to learn how to use the handle attachment on the vacuum to get into corners.
A note before you think we lead some “perfect” life where our children are always gladly scrubbing floors: They complain regularly about some of the above expectations. My daughter is particularly keen on the saying “Didn’t we empty the dishwasher yesterday?” Yep, we sure did and we will likely do it again tomorrow. Room cleaning is often done with a heavy sigh, but it is still done. Children rise to and are ready to meet our expectations so complaining or the slow walk to complete some less desirable tasks doesn’t bother me. I too have been known to get quite the sour face when confronted with a sink full of dirty dishes. Taking care of our community is not always our preferred activity at any given time, but there is always a sense of (intrinsic) satisfaction when the job is done!