Archive for the ‘Home Skills’ Category

How to equip your child now to run his or her own household as an adult.

Caring for Children

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Recently a friend told me that she was noticing a trend in the church nursery. On her weeks to work in the nursery, she saw older children come to help but without any idea of how to play with the toddlers or take care of the babies. She had to direct each older child and explain how to play or how to hold the little ones.

Among the home skills that our children need to prepare them for adulthood, caring for children should have a prominent place. So many tough decisions come with being a parent, our children would benefit from a good foundation in the basics of caring for their future children. If they already have experience with the fundamentals of caring for a child’s physical needs, they will have a great headstart as new parents.

Attitude to Foster

First and foremost, the right attitude is paramount. A caregiver might fulfill her obligations, but if she carries out her duties with a begrudging, condescending attitude, the children under her care will not thrive.

In child-care, as in so many other aspects of life, our oft-repeated motto applies yet again: “Respect the elder; protect the younger.” As a caregiver, an attitude of respect for the parent’s desires and protection for the child will carry you through many potentially puzzling situations.

This attitude will make all the difference in whether the caregiver spends the majority of his time texting his friends on his phone or interacting thoughtfully with the child in his charge. It will help solve the question of whether to allow the child to try to walk along the top of the picket fence. The motto of “Respect the elder; protect the younger” is a faithful guideline.

Skills to Develop

The best of intentions, however, can’t take the place of practical training in basic child-care skills. Here is a short list of basic skills that will help prepare your children to care for those younger than they are.

  1. Meeting needs — The physical needs of babies and young children basically boil down to “food in and food out” needs. Our children need to know that you don’t give a four-month-old a piece of steak and that babies seem to spit out as much as they take in. Also, as is prudent and possible, they need to learn the basics of changing a diaper and helping a toddler use the bathroom. (Please use discretion in mixing genders for the “food out” needs.)
  2. Reading books aloud — Work with your children to practice reading simple books aloud with a pleasant, interesting voice. Help them gain experience in using a picture book to teach names of objects patiently and clearly.
  3. Playing — This skill will vary depending on the age of the child being cared for. Playing with a three-month-old is vastly different from playing with a three-year-old. Try to make sure your children have experience playing with a variety of ages.
  4. Keeping safe — If they are following the “Protect the younger” motto, the children will most likely keep safety as a high priority. It might also be wise to make sure they have a grasp on some basic first-aid “just in case.” (The American Red Cross has a First Aid and Safety handbook that might be helpful.)

Opportunities to Learn

“That’s all well and good,” you might say. “But how can my children gain all this first-hand experience with younger children?” Glad you asked. Here are a few ideas to get things started. You’ll probably find many more opportunities around you.

  1. Younger siblings — Babies and young children in the house are prime opportunities for the older children to learn child-care skills firsthand. We just need to make sure older siblings are not so busy that they never spend time caring for the younger or playing with the younger.
  2. Adopt a younger family — Part of God’s plan for discipleship is that the older mothers mentor the younger mothers. So look around your church for a younger mom who has younger children and invite her to meet you at a park or to come spend some time at your house. Discipling is best done in everyday situations. Your time together doesn’t have to be spent studying a book or following a program. Form a friendship; encourage the younger mother; give counsel when requested. And coach your older children in caring for that mom’s younger children while you are together. Help them see it as part of your family’s ministry to brothers and sisters in the church.
  3. Baby-sit — It works well to transition into a solo baby-sitting job by starting first in your home. Have your older child offer to care for a younger child or baby at your house, rather than at the child’s house. Your older child will be responsible and do the care-giving, but you will be on hand to watch and coach as needed. Once your older child is comfortable and competent baby-sitting at your house, he or she can more confidently transition to giving care alone at the younger child’s house.
  4. Nanny position — We were blessed this past year with the opportunity for our oldest daughter, who has graduated from our home school, to nanny during the week. Under the supervision of two godly women, she gained valuable experience with child-caregiving and tutoring, while at the same time ministering to the moms and their families.

Children are a blessing. Let’s do all we can to prepare our children to be parents who welcome and know how to care for their little ones.

Cleaning and Laundry and Dishes (Oh, my!)

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Last Saturday I held a yard sale. It was not a giant affair, but it did require that I sit out on the driveway for the better part of the day. When I came back into the house that afternoon (after earning a whopping $10!), a clean house greeted me. The girls had done the Saturday cleaning. In the kitchen, no traces of lunch remained; they had done the dishes. And in the background I could hear the hum of the clothes dryer; they were doing laundry too.

Does that scenario sound like a fairy tale? I promise that it’s true, and what’s more, it’s possible for your family. Keep in mind that my girls are now ages 10-18. Saturday’s pleasantness was the outgrowth of years of habit training and practicing home skills related to housework.

Below I’ll try to outline for you how I went about teaching those three areas of home skills: cleaning, laundry, and dishes. Keep in mind that these skills are important for boys as well as for girls. Your sons will be able to minister to their future wives in wonderful ways if they have experience in these home skills, plus they will be learning good stewardship of household possessions.

As you read through the ideas below, you might also want to review the five steps of teaching a home skill that are posted on our blog.


At our house we have a Weekly cleaning list: dust, vacuum, mop, clean bathrooms, change sheets. Your list may look different, and that’s okay. When the children were younger, our list looked a little different from what it does today. We would have several “walk through” times each day for tidying up toys (before lunch, before snacks, before supper, and before bedtime story). And we would do one cleaning task each day. With just the one task, I could concentrate on teaching the children how to do that skill and feel like we got something accomplished. The down-side was that there was never a day that the whole house was clean. On Mondays it would get vacuumed, but the mopping didn’t get done until Tuesdays, and the bathrooms didn’t get done until Thursdays. But for that season of life, the important thing was training the children.

Now that they all know how to do all the tasks, we can “divide and conquer” the whole house’s weekly cleaning in just a couple of hours. You will get to that point too if you are faithful in teaching your little ones every week.

Don’t overlook occasional cleaning jobs also. You might want to make three lists for these: monthly, seasonal, and yearly. Monthly cleaning tasks might include larger jobs like cleaning out the refrigerator or the van. Seasonal jobs could include items that we do for “Spring House-cleaning” or “Fall House-cleaning”: washing baseboards, cleaning light fixtures, washing curtains, organizing closets, and swapping out spring and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. Yearly tasks might include cleaning the garage or organizing the basement or attic. A book that helped me think through those occasional jobs is The Family Manager’s Everyday Survival Guide by Kathy Peel.

Each mom or dad’s cleaning lists will look different because we all have different comfort levels. Some want bathrooms to be cleaned every day; others are happy with once a week. Some wash windows every month; others try to remember to do it once a year. The point is not necessarily which cleaning tasks you do when, the point is to teach and train your children to do those tasks safely and carefully.


Here is the order in which I taught the girls to do the different parts of laundry:

  1. Sorting—Children who are learning their colors can help you sort laundry. Since we have a household full of girls, we have a separate load for all the pink and red items. Little ones who know “red” think it’s great fun to pull out the red clothes and put them in a “red” pile. You can do the same with whites and other colors or kinds of clothing (like jeans).
  2. Fold towels—Even small children can fold a washcloth nicely. Hand towels are a little larger, and I usually save bath towels for older children to do so the size doesn’t frustrate the young ones. Since wrinkled towels are not a huge issue, I start the children folding linens first.
  3. Wash and dry towels and sheets—As with wrinkled towels, if a red washcloth gets in a load of white sheets, it’s not a huge deal. So I let the children practice their laundry skills on linens before moving to clothes, which are a little more noticeable.
  4. Wash and dry clothes—If the children are used to doing the linens, they need only expand on those skills now to include checking for stains that might need treating and determining which washer cycle to use for various types of clothing.
  5. Fold clothes—At our house we try to hang up or fold clothes as they come out of the dryer in order to save on ironing time. Two skills are added at this point: listening for the dryer to buzz and responding in short order, and folding the clothes neatly enough to avoid ironing them.
  6. Ironing—Though we try to avoid clothes that require ironing, I still consider it important that our children know how to iron. They use that skill in sewing and quilting also, and they need to know how to use the iron when needed.


As with laundry, I have a sequence in mind that moves from easiest to more difficult skills:

  1. Set the table—Even young children can learn to put one plate at each place. You can stack the plates at one end of the table so the child doesn’t have to hold the heavy stack, and he can simply take a plate off the top and set it in place. You can also put the knives, forks, and spoons in piles for the child to distribute. One clever mom I know made placemats with outlines of where the silverware should go, so the child was able to place the fork in the fork-shaped outline and successfully set the table like a little puzzle.
  2. Clear the table—To me, clearing the table is harder than setting it because you have to watch out for drips, spills, and accidents that happen when the plate is not held level in transit. So clearing the table comes later, after setting the table is mastered.
  3. Unload the dishwasher—Smaller children can start with stacking the clean dishes on the clean countertop for Mom to put into the upper cabinets. However, as soon as he can use a small step-stool safely, a child can also put dishes in those upper cabinets.
  4. Load the dishwasher—I find loading the dishwashing somewhat like doing a puzzle with lots of variables. Some items are consistent, but it’s more complicated than just taking clean dishes out, so this task comes farther down on the list.
  5. Dry the dishes—Again, it’s easier to deal with clean dishes first before moving on to messing with the dirty ones.
  6. Wash the dishes—Slippery, soapy water and crusted-on food create lots of room for error, so I hold off on this step until last. Besides, we rarely have dishes that aren’t put in the dishwasher, so it’s not a big issue at our house. If your house has no dishwasher, simply skip 3. and 4. above.

Whew! I didn’t mean to write such a long post. I hope these little tidbits help you think through how you want to approach the home skill of housework with your children. Training now will lay a wonderful foundation for your children’s futures, plus you’ll reap the benefits of a shared workload and maybe even a profitable day of yard sale.

Hey, Mom, What’s For Supper?

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

“Hey, Mom, what’s for supper?” Have you ever stopped to consider all that is involved in your reply to that question? If you have supper already planned (and some days that’s asking a lot!), you have most likely incorporated these meal-planning skills:

  • balancing the food groups,
  • encouraging good nutrition,
  • adjusting for any activities that may affect upcoming meals or meal times,
  • determining how much to buy and make for the number of people eating,
  • deciding which food items to keep on hand as staples,
  • keeping track of which food items you need to create all the dishes on the menu,
  • remembering where to find those food items, and
  • whether they will fit within your budget.

Those are all home skills that we need to pass along to our children. And a lot of them are best taught by example and working together. Let your children help you plan, shop for, and prepare meals. Talk them through what you are thinking as you make those plans and that grocery list.

The Five-Step Approach

Remember, talking through the process one time with your children is not enough to make it an engrafted home skill. Use the five-step process we discussed way back at the beginning:

    1. Watch – The child watches you do the skill.
    2. Help – The child helps you do the skill.
    3. Work side-by-side – The child works with you as you do the skill together.
    4. Do – The child does the skill while you watch.
    5. Inspect – The child does the skill alone, then you inspect the work.

Practical Ideas

Here are some practical ideas about meal planning that I’ve picked up over the years.

  1. Meal planning, preparation, and eating times are all ripe (no pun intended) for talking about food groups and nutrition. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the main topic of every meal, but do try to include it when appropriate.
  2. One mom I know assigns her older children one meal per week to plan and cook. The children get to decide what they want to serve at the meal and are responsible to give her a list of all the food items they need. She is available to coach, but they are responsible for the meal. Keep in mind that this arrangement is possible only because she took the time to teach them these skills along the way.
  3. Here’s a list that I posted on the refrigerator recently to help guide in selecting nutritious, balanced meals.
    A Meal = Protein + Complex carb + Simple carb
    Protein: Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, fish, crab, shrimp, turkey, chicken, beef, pork, beans, peanut butter
    Complex Carbs: Millet, bread, cereal, crackers, rice cakes, oats, pasta, rice, tortillas, corn, peas, potatoes, turnips, squash
    Simple Carbs: Fruit, fruit juice, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, green beans, mushrooms, onions, snow peas, summer squash, tomatoes, zucchini
  4. Another mom I know plans enough meals for two weeks then reuses that same plan over and over. So every other Tuesday her family knows that they are eating spaghetti for supper. And every other Friday they can expect tacos. (Hmmmm, might cut down on that “What’s for supper?” question!)
  5. Another way to plan meals is to use an index card box. Label three dividers: Main Dish, Side Dish, Dessert, writing each title in a different color. (I suppose you could label them Protein, Complex Card, Simple Carb if you want to follow the terms in 3. above.) Cut some index cards into thirds and color code them to correspond to your three dividers. Now go through your favorite cookbooks or cooking Web sites and start listing one dish per color-matching mini-card. You might also want to note where that recipe is. (I suppose you could use a whole index card per dish instead of a third of a card, but usually a dish’s title isn’t long enough to warrant a whole card.) When it’s time to plan meals, just start matching up one main dish card with one or two side dish cards and set them aside for a meal’s menu. Throw in an occasional dessert card and you’ll have the planning done in no time. The beauty of this system is that you can mix and match for different combinations, plus you can continue to add new cards to the sections as you discover new recipes. (There is probably software that does this for you, but this is the low-tech version.)

Preparing to Minister

Planning and preparing good, nutritious meals is just one way that we can equip our children for ministry to others. Think about how often the opportunity arises to serve with a meal — family members, unsaved neighbors or relatives, Christian brothers and sisters, new mothers in the church family, grieving families, and more. If we can teach and train our children to plan ahead for those opportunities, which might occur at short notice, they will be well equipped for service.

How do you do meal planning? Got any ideas for involving the children in the process? Leave a comment; let’s share ideas.

Teaching Your Child to Cook

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

When I got married I knew how to make two hot dishes: canned chunky soup over rice and macaroni and cheese from a box. And one time I forgot to drain the macaroni.

What a blessing to have a patient husband! I well remember the first time I tried to make egg salad and I misread the recipe. I put one tablespoon of pepper in, instead of one teaspoon. Have you ever seen gray egg salad? Bless his heart, he actually took two bites while I quit after one bite.

That first year of marriage is hard enough without having the added stress of floundering in the kitchen every day! And if your child does not get married, he has even more of a reason to know how to cook for himself! Cooking can also be a wonderful act of ministry within the Body of believers, as well as a great service to family members. In short, we will be doing our children a favor if we make it a priority to give them the Home Skill of cooking.

How, you ask? Simply invite your child into the kitchen as you cook and bake. What do you do once they get there? Let’s review the five steps of learning any Home Skill.

  1. Watch – The child watches you do the skill.
  2. Help – The child helps you do the skill.
  3. Work side-by-side – The child works with you as you do the skill together.
  4. Do – The child does the skill while you watch.
  5. Inspect – The child does the skill alone, then you inspect the work.

“But what dishes should we make?” you may be wondering. Relax. You don’t need all of those fancy children’s cookbooks or purchased curriculum on Home Economics. As with any Home Skill, just let the child help you and use common sense as you progress from easy to more difficult and dangerous. Common sense is crucial because most cooking involves heat (sometimes with open flames) or sharp knives. Safety must be our first concern.

So here is a little list of suggestions to help you think through how you might progress from easiest and safest to more difficult and responsible. When you think about it, you can actually do a lot in the kitchen before you introduce knives.

Stage One: The Countertop Stage

Introduce easy countertop activities first that use a spoon, a whisk, or a table knife. Possibilities in this stage can include making peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey sandwiches; adding liquid and stirring things like frozen concentrated juice, jello, or instant pudding; measuring; arranging food on a serving plate; spreading frosting or other spreadables; spooning; sprinkling. You get the idea — safe and easy activities that involve no fire or sharp instruments.

Many children love to start helping in the kitchen when they are only two or three years old. For those young ones, it’s a good idea to have a sturdy stool that makes the child tall enough to reach into a large bowl on the countertop. Make sure the stool has feet that grip the floor, so it won’t slip out from under the child, and slip-proof steps. Also, keep in mind that children at this age have a varying attention span. Some days they might stay and help you cook for an hour; other days they may be done after five minutes. That’s OK. If Michele wants to stir the cookie dough only once and then leave, let her. The important thing is to keep a positive attitude and make cooking fun.

Stage Two: The Simple Stovetop Stage

Once your child is tall enough to reach the stovetop comfortably and can easily lift a saucepan of water, you can move on to Stage Two activities. These activities are done on the stovetop but require minimal interaction. In this stage you can teach your child to make pasta and rice. You can also have him make soup (with ingredients that you have already chopped, as needed).

Stage Three: The Progressing Stovetop Stage

Once the child is comfortable with simple stovetop activities, you can introduce some that require more constant attention, activities like browning meat, making gravy, and mixing and cooking pancakes.

Stage Four: The “Stick It In and Forget It” Oven Stage

Introduce oven activities once the child is tall enough to reach into the oven over the open door without getting burned and strong enough to lift a heavy dish in that position. It might be easiest to start with foods that require a long baking time, so the child accesses the oven only a couple of times while making that dish. These long-baking-time foods can include casseroles (again, with already-chopped ingredients), baked potatoes, a roast, quick breads, cakes, and pies. This stage would also be a great time to start learning how to make yeast breads.

Stage Five: The “Pay Attention” Oven Stage

Now your child can advance to foods that require paying more attention and checking more often to make sure they don’t burn. Foods that use a shorter baking time can include biscuits, pizza dough, and cookies. With cookies, the child will be reaching into a hot oven several times, so don’t introduce this activity too soon.

Stage Six: Finally, Knives!

Did you ever think that you could teach your child how to make all of those dishes listed above without ever giving her a sharp knife? I hadn’t realized it until I made this list! By the time your child has advanced through Stage Five activities, he should be old enough and responsible enough to learn how to handle a sharp knife safely. At that point you can introduce peeling and chunking potatoes for mashed potatoes, and chopping and slicing his own ingredients for soups and casseroles.

It’s such a blessing and a relief to have two other chefs in the house at this season of our life! Yes, it took time. No, it wasn’t always easy. (I remember when my oldest daughter went through an experimental stage that included adding food coloring to make green scrambled eggs.) But it was well worth it! I encourage you to intentionally give your child the Home Skill of cooking. You’ll be glad you did.

Q & A

Q: How can I teach my child to cook if I don’t know how?

A: That was pretty much my situation too. (Remember the macaroni I forgot to drain?) But I determined that it was a skill I needed to learn in order to minister to my family. I didn’t have any ambitions to be a gourmet chef, but I did want to feel comfortable in the kitchen and know how to prepare a number of dishes. So I opened the step-by-step cookbook I had gotten as a wedding present and started following the instructions. Little by little I learned.

As with any Home Skill that you don’t know yourself, you can find ways to teach yourself with the resources around you. Check your local library or search the Internet for easy step-by-step recipes and try one or two a week. Of course, you can also look around for an experienced cook who would take some time to teach you (and your children). This idea is lots of fun even after you know how to do basic cooking. For example, we’ve enjoyed learning how to make German dishes when a friend’s mother comes to visit each year. And another friend gives us great recipes and samples of Jewish foods.

Q: At what age should a child be able to follow a recipe?

A: As soon as a child can read and follow instructions, she can learn to follow a recipe. Have the child read the instructions on the box of pudding or from the cookbook or on the recipe card and help her follow them. It may be easier for you just to throw together a dish, paying little heed to any written recipe, but it will help the child if she grows up familiar with recipes and how to use them.

Now, for all of you who like to do the “a little of this and maybe some of that” style of cooking, I’m not saying that you have to go strictly by the letter for every dish, but please make sure you have an ample helping of recipe-following in your shared cooking times.

Budgeting through the Years

Saturday, April 1st, 2006

It’s fun to watch the different ways our children approach money management. One child will spend freely in real life but hoard cash when participating in a game that involves play money. Another child is content to watch her cash balance grow over time; she’s in no hurry to spend, whether in real life or in a game. She’s not selfish; she’s just selective. Another child loves to spend her money on gifts for others.

Different personalities and different comfort levels are revealed in the different faces of our children, but all should be operating within the framework of the four main financial principles we have already talked about.

Financial Principles

  1. Do not live beyond your income.
  2. Plan ahead for upcoming expenses.
  3. Impulsive buying can lead to problems.
  4. Budgeting can help you handle your money wisely.

Our children need to learn to operate within these principles whether they are entrusted with thirty cents or thirty-thousand dollars. Let’s talk today about some practical ways to reinforce those principles as the children grow.

Budgeting Basics

Probably the easiest way to introduce budgeting is to use the give-save-spend approach. Teach the child from his first allowance to divide his money between those three categories.

If, as the child gets older, you notice that she is having trouble planning ahead, you could create two sub-categories called “save a little” and “save a lot.” The Save a Little category would be for short-term goals, like upcoming gifts or events. The Save a Lot category would become the long-term savings for future household or education expenses.

As the child masters the concept of dividing his income between categories and grows in his understanding of math, you can introduce percentages. Help the child calculate what percentage of his income he should allocate to each category. We like to break it down into ten percent for giving, twenty-five percent for saving, and sixty-five percent for spending. If you’re using the two sub-categories, the breakdown might be ten percent for giving, twenty-five percent for Save a Little, twenty-five percent for Save a Lot, and forty percent for spending.

Some families even teach their children about taxes by having a family fund that each child is required to contribute a certain percentage or amount toward. Those funds are then used for a project or event that benefits every member of the family. We, personally, don’t use this approach, but it’s an interesting concept.

Increasing Responsibility

As the child shows proficiency in handling the money he is given, you might consider increasing the amount given while also increasing the child’s responsibility. For example, you could give your child the responsibility to buy his own clothing. Simply increase his allowance the amount that you usually spend on his clothing, add a Clothing category to his budget, and go shopping with him until he learns how to spend clothes money wisely. From that point on, the financial principles take on even more meaning as he learns to plan ahead for still another necessity and, possibly, learns again the consequences of impulse buying.

Remember, if the child yields to impulsive buying, then discovers he doesn’t have enough money left for what he had planned or for an unexpected expense, don’t bail him out. Better that he learns this lesson now than when he has a family to support.

Near the end of your child’s training, as she nears adulthood, give her the assignment and responsibility to be the family bookkeeping for six months. She becomes responsible to pay all bills, handle all deposits, balance the checkbook, enter all credit card purchases from receipts, and any other financial activity that she would encounter as an adult in her own household. Of course, you will look over her shoulder for the first few months to demonstrate, encourage, and double check. This type of responsibility can give your child many adulthood advantages. She will

  • practice keeping track of bills and paying them on time;
  • appreciate the amount of money it takes to run a household;
  • get a feel for how much various services and consumables cost; plus,
  • learn more advanced features of the budgeting software.

Please don’t neglect this important home skill of teaching your children how to manage money. You can do it by modeling good financial stewardship yourself, helping them budget an allowance through the years, and increasing their responsibility as they consistently adhere to the four financial principles.

Q & A

Q: What should I do if my daughter doesn’t have enough money to buy a gift for someone?

A: A large part of the answer to this question depends on the reason she doesn’t have enough money. If it’s a matter of poor money management, don’t bail her out. Instead, offer some alternative ideas to help preserve her dignity yet stay within her means. For example, she could give a less-expensive handcrafted gift or give one or more certificates for services she could perform (like backrubs, cookie deliveries, dog-walking, house-cleaning, etc.).

If the reason she doesn’t have enough money is that she has handled her money wisely but simply is not receiving enough allowance to buy personal gifts, offer to go together on a family gift. She can contribute as much as she is able, and you will include her name on the card. Then have fun discussing what that family gift could be and shopping together.

Q: How do you have the right amount of cash for each child’s allowance each week?

A: When the children are young, we give them coins out of a pocket-change jar. Once they get old enough to understand addition and subtraction and basic computer skills, we use a software program to track their receiving, spending, and balance. So we don’t have to give them cash; they simply keep the accounts. Whenever a child makes a purchase, I pay for it and she makes a corresponding expense entry in her account. Whenever a child is supposed to receive an allowance or receives a gift of money, she makes the corresponding income entry in her account.

Two great advantages come with using financial software: (1) I don’t have to keep track of cash; and (2) the children are learning to use the same tool I use to track our family finances.

A 30-Cent Allowance Can Be Priceless

Saturday, October 1st, 2005

It was Sunday morning. A few minutes before we left for church we performed the weekly ritual. Four-year-old Sarah came into our room and asked, “May I have my allowance?”

“Yes, you may,” we replied. “Just a minute.”

We went to the coin jar and dug around until we found three dimes. These we carried to her room and handed to her one at a time. One went into the purple and pink ceramic turtle bank for savings. One went into a little Tupperware container that had a handwritten label taped on the top: Spending. The last one went into a little plastic coin purse that was sitting on top of her Bible. This dime would accompany her to church because it was for giving.

From ceramic turtle banks and plastic coin purses grow great lessons. It doesn’t matter how much money a person has; if he doesn’t know how to handle it wisely, he’ll soon be in trouble. Intentional parents must give their children the gift of financial know-how, and it’s best to learn money principles at a young age so those principles can become habits.

One of the easiest ways to start is with an allowance — an amount of money that you regularly allow the child to have as part of his or her training process. Allowances are not mad money to be spent as the child indulges a whim. An allowance is a tool for financial training. This tool can help you teach you children at least four financial principles.

  1. Do not live beyond your income.

    Having a set allowance limits the amount of money your child has to spend on things he wants. He learns that there are alternatives to running to the store every time he thinks he needs something. He can exercise his creativity and make something comparable, or he can embrace the Biblical principle of contentment.

    And by the way, one huge way you can help your child practice contentment is to throw away those pesky catalogs that come in the mail. I vividly recall one year asking the children what they wanted for Christmas and watching them pull out a huge department store catalog, leaf through its pages, and say, “I want that and that and that . . . ” The next year I intercepted that catalog when it arrived and threw it in the trash. When I asked the children what they wanted for Christmas that year, they had to think a long time before they gave me a couple of possibilities.

    Creativity and contentment can help you live within your income.

  2. Plan ahead for upcoming expenses.

    Allowances can also teach children to plan ahead financially. Help the children think through any upcoming expenses, such as gifts or financial responsibilities you have given them. (For example, when the girls grew older we gave them the responsibility of buying fish food for their pet fish.) Work out the figures with the child, taking into account how much spending money she receives each week and how many weeks will go by before the expense happens. Help her calculate how much money she will have when the day arrives and how much — if any — extra money she will have left or need to earn by doing extra jobs around the house.

  3. Impulsive buying can lead to problems.

    Another important financial principle your child will learn is the perils that come from impulsive buying. You might consider the two-week-wait rule of thumb: when the child thinks he must buy a certain item, tell him to wait two weeks first. At the end of those two weeks ask the child whether he still thinks he must buy the item. Some times he will say yes; many times he will have lost interest in that impulse buy. This simple exercise can nip impulsive buying in the bud.

    As the child learns to make intentional, rather than impulsive, purchases, he will also be ready to learn about comparison pricing. Set the example of knowing what you’re planning to purchase before you leave home and doing your homework to find the best price. Then talk your child through your reasoning as you consider what would be the best value.

    And if the child yields to impulsive buying, then discovers he doesn’t have enough money left for what he had planned or for an unexpected expense, don’t bail him out. Better that he learns this lesson now than when he has a family to support.

  4. Budgeting can help you handle your money wisely.

    We all have to manage the tug on our money from various directions: necessities, gifts, savings, sales, mail offers, giving opportunities, not-so-necessities. An allowance can be a great tool for teaching your child the principles of budgeting. We started our children with a simple three-category budget: Saving, Giving, Spending. Whenever we gave them their allowances, they divided that money into the three containers that represented those three categories. Then as they grew, we could introduce sub-categories to further detail their budgets. We’ll talk more in a future e-letter about budgeting and how teaching financial principles can develop as the children grow older.

For now, keep in mind that a thirty-cent allowance may seem trivial, but it can be used to teach tremendously important financial principles. After all, the same principles apply whether it’s thirty cents or thirty-thousand dollars.

Q & A

Q: Do you give allowances based on completed chores?

A: Yes and no — allow me to explain. Each child receives a set amount of money weekly that is not tied to completion of chores. Chores are simply one way of serving fellow family members; they will always be around and should become a habit, not a motivation for money. (I don’t remember getting paid for the thousands of meals I’ve cooked, truckloads of dishes I’ve washed, mountains of laundry I’ve folded, and miles of carpet I’ve vacuumed. Do you?) However, we do post a list of extra chores that the children can choose to complete for extra money. These are chores that need to be done only once in a while, not every week — for example, cleaning the refrigerator or vacuuming the inside of the van.

So to summarize, the children have chores that they are required to do simply because they are part of the family. They do not get paid for those chores. They receive an allowance each week independent of those chores. They may, however, earn extra money by completing incidental chores that we have listed along with the amounts we will pay for a job well done. Those extra chores are not required; they are simply available if the child wants some way to earn extra money.

Q: How much money should an allowance be and at what ages?

A: First, let’s talk about "at what ages." That decision is based on when the child can comprehend the value and use of money. My seven-year-old, who has autism, doesn’t yet comprehend the concept of money. With the other children, I think we started around age four or five. So don’t get caught up in any particular age, watch for readiness.

Now, for the "how much." When we started, we gave the child three dimes each week. One went into a savings container, one went to church for giving, and one went into a spending container. We would increase to three quarters at around age seven or eight. We just found it easier to accomplish the visual budgeting with three similar coins instead of trying to teach a preschooler about percentages.

Once they reached age ten and up, we started teaching them to use budgeting software on the computer, introduced percentages, and stopped giving them the actual cash. At that point, we simply supervised their entering the weekly amounts into the correct ledgers (Spending, Giving, Saving) and oversaw the "keeping of accounts."

Don’t get hung up on the amounts we used. The amount of allowance you give your child depends on your financial situation as a family and what you expect the child to use the allowance for. Some families give their children larger allowances but expect them to use part of it to pay for their own clothes. We usually keep the amount small but are ready to partner with the children in purchasing significant gifts (or supplies to make significant gifts) so as not to frustrate or embarrass them.

The Value of Chores

Friday, April 1st, 2005

What great timing! When I was tucking my third daughter into bed last night, she asked, “Mom, when will I be able to learn some different chores?” Little did she know that I was writing this e-letter about chores. She was ready to take on more responsibility, and, in the process, learn more about running her own household someday. In fact, she told me (as if she had to convince me), “I think it would be good for me to learn how to do some other chores so I’ll know what to do when I have my own house.”

Of course, I went right to the computer and started making changes to the chore chart. I also discussed with the older girls that they needed to be ready over the next few weeks to teach the ins and outs of their assigned chores and that responsibilities would be shifting.

Probably most of you had chores to do when you were growing up. You certainly have chores and responsibilities around the house now! Unfortunately, the word “chores” often brings about groans and feelings of being “dumped on.” But chores can and should be a wonderful opportunity for you to teach and train your children in character and home skills.

Consider the following three benefits of teaching your children to do chores around the house.

  1. Chores are a great way to develop character traits such as diligence, responsibility, and initiative. The child learns that the family is counting on him to accomplish his chore whether he feels like doing it or not. If he neglects his responsibility or does it sloppily, the whole household reaps the consequences.
  2. Chores train your children to serve the family members in practical ways. A child who has been assigned to clear the table after meals can easily see how she is helping her parents and siblings. And a child who habitually clears the table after a meal, will find it easy to do the same at a church gathering. Service will become a way of life.
  3. Chores are the training and practice grounds for home skills. Our goal is to intentionally teach the child the proper way to do a home skill, then see that he practices it until it becomes a habit. Yes, that takes a lot of time and effort; that’s why household chores should start when children are young. As they master the skills and grow older, they can add new ones that may be more difficult. By the time they are ready to establish their own homes, they should have acquired the needed skills to make a smooth transition.

“But what chores should I require?” many parents ask. Below is an incomplete list of possibilities, just to get you started thinking. Look around your house. Make a list of what you do each week to keep your household running smoothly. Make a list of what you wish you could do more often but don’t seem to have time to keep your household running smoothly. Use those lists as your goals, then back up and break those goals into incremental steps that your children can accomplish as they mature.

Obviously, you will need to invest time training the children in these skills, but keep a long-term mentality. You will gain back that time and much more as the children are able to take on more and more responsibility.

  • Starters: Sort laundry; fold washcloths and hand towels; feed pets; set the table; strip beds; scrub floors; make beds; scrub walls, doors, and baseboards
  • Intermediates: Vacuum; dust; clear the table; unload the dishwasher; put clean sheets on beds; fold bath towels; fold laundry; empty wastebaskets; sweep floors; wipe table; clean computer and TV monitors; dry dishes
  • Accomplished: Load the dishwasher; clean bathrooms; do the laundry; take out the trash; wash windows; clean out and vacuum the vehicles; clean out and wash the refrigerator; mop floors; wash dishes
  • Advanced: Fix meals; wash the vehicles; remove, wash, and replace light fixtures; spot-clean carpets; machine-clean carpets and upholstery; change furnace filters; clean out closets and cupboards

I recently overheard my husband explaining to a friend how he appreciated the time we had put into teaching and training our children to do chores as a habit. When circumstances took Mom out of the picture for a day or two, the household ran smoothly because the children continued to do their chores and do them well.

Chores are a win-win opportunity for the intentional parent. The children gain valuable training and experience; the parents gain valuable time; and both gain the comfort of a smooth-running, comfortable, clean household.

Q & A

Q: How do I know at what age to introduce which chores?

A: Good question. Probably the best way to figure out chore assignments is to look at skills. Ask yourself, What skills are needed to accomplish this chore? Then look at the child’s skill level. If a child has the necessary skills, teach him the chore IF it can be done safely. If the chore involves the use of sharp objects, heat, or chemicals, take the child’s maturity level into consideration as well as his skills. Also take a look at physical requirements. For example, you might want to think twice before assigning a short child, who cannot easily reach the kitchen faucet, to rinse the dishes. Can she do it? Probably, yes. But safety and frustration would both come into play with that match up.

Many of our young children can do a lot more than we think they can. Try to think in terms of “How young can I teach my child to do this chore?” rather than “How old should I wait for him to be before teaching him this chore?”

Q: Do you have a practical way to keep chores organized with several children?

A: I’ve always used charts posted on the refrigerator. The charts have changed over the years as skill levels change, chore assignments change, and younger children are added to the mix. When we first started with assigned chores, I made one chart for each child with her duties listed down the left side and the days of the week along the top. As she did her chores each day, we added a sticker to each appropriate box.

The next version of the chart came when the two oldest girls could do enough chores to divide the workload between them. I set up a document on my computer with two lists of chores. I put one girl’s name at the top of each column, along with the date for that week. A little farther down on the paper I put the next week’s date and copied the lists, but then I switched the girls’ names at the top of those columns so they would alternate chores each week. Of course, some chores applied to both girls and remained on both lists both weeks.

(Just as a side note, I noticed that on this chart the words “come” and “go” are typed beside each name, alternating weeks. This practice started when they were arguing over who got to sit in a certain seat whenever we drove anywhere. With the designation written on the chore chart, I didn’t have to remember who had gotten the privilege last time; I just told them to check the chart.)

The third version of the chart is similar to the second, but I added a short list of extra chores that I would pay money to have done every two weeks. These were chores that didn’t need to be done each day or even each week, and beside each is the amount of money I would pay upon approval. They are listed once on each sheet that holds two weeks’ worth of chore lists. Once a money chore was completed during those two weeks, the child initialed it and it was no longer available until the next sheet was posted.

The fourth version of the chart added another child into the mix, so it has three columns and three lists of alternating chores, two weeks’ worth on a sheet, along with the money chores at the bottom. At this point I finally figured out that if I worked up six weeks’ worth of charts (three sheets), the three children would cycle all the way through the alternating chores and I wouldn’t have to keep cutting, pasting, and rearranging the chores to create a new chart. So now all I have to do is once every six weeks change the dates at the top, print the three sheets, and post them.

A Five-Step Process

Friday, October 1st, 2004

As Lynne transferred the dirty clothes from the hamper in the boys’ room to the laundry basket at her feet, she noticed David watching — again. David loved to follow Lynne around the house, watching everything she did. A thought popped into Lynne’s head: “I wonder if he could learn to sort this laundry. It’s certainly not heavy or dangerous work, and it would reinforce his learning the different colors.”

So Lynne invited David to take one side of the laundry basket and help her lug it to the larger bathroom, where she usually sorted the clothes. She sorted about half of the basketful, making sure that she had a pile for each category she usually used. Then she handed David a white T-shirt from the basket and said, “This shirt is white; it belongs in the white pile.” She pointed to the pile of whites on the floor and watched as he happily dropped it in place. “Good job! Thank you, David,” she beamed at him. “Do you want to do another one?” David nodded and smiled.

Lynne held up a navy sock. “OK, here’s a sock. What color is it?”

David said, “Blue.”

“That’s right,” agreed Lynne. “So let’s put it in the pile with the blues and greens and other dark colors.” She pointed to the correct pile again.

David deposited the shirt in the correct pile, glad that he was helping. They continued the process until the basket was empty, long before David got tired of “the game.”

“Thank you for helping me sort the laundry, David. You did a great job!” Lynne affirmed when they were done.

As David continued to grow and learn, Lynne soon let him grab items from the basket and toss them into the correct piles while she did the same. She kept watch out of the corner of her eye to catch any incorrect placements, but David got to the point where he rarely put an item in the wrong pile.

Soon Lynne let David sort the whole basketful by himself while she stood nearby watching or cleaning. The situation ironically reminded her of that first morning when David had been standing nearby, watching her. She answered any questions David had about unusual items of clothing, but her confidence in his skill grew stronger each laundry day.

One day she simply said, “David, will you please sort the laundry for me?” and continued working in the kitchen. David obeyed, and in a few minutes came back to tell her that he was done. Lynne accompanied him to the sorted piles to see his work. “Great work, David. Everything looks good, and you saved me a lot of time. Thank you!”

Lynne used a simple five-step approach to teach David how to sort laundry. You can use the same five steps to teach just about any home skill to your children. The five steps are:

  1. Watch – The child watches you do the skill.
  2. Help – The child helps you do the skill.
  3. Work side-by-side – The child works with you as you do the skill together.
  4. Do – The child does the skill while you watch.
  5. Inspect – The child does the skill alone, then you inspect the work.

Use these steps to teach your child how to empty the wastebaskets, load the dishwasher, sew on a button, cook a roast, feed the fish, search the Web, paint a room, mow the lawn, wash the windows, set the table, track expenses, wipe the counters, clean the bathroom, bake cookies, change a diaper — you name it.

This five-step process is a natural learning cycle. Most young children follow Mom around the house, watching; then when they get big enough, they eagerly want to help. Take advantage of that innate desire to learn home skills.

Yes, it will take a large investment of your time to begin with. Of course, it will be easier and quicker for you simply to do the skill or task yourself. But intentional parents don’t base their decisions on what is easiest or quickest. Intentional parents think long-term. Time invested now will reap big dividends when your children are able to do much of the day-to-day housework for you, and when they can enter their own households thoroughly equipped with the skills you have taught them.

Q & A

Q: Shouldn’t we be teaching our children how to serve in the church? What do home skills have to do with ministry?

A: Home skills have everything to do with ministry. A simple clarification should make the picture fall into place. When people refer to “the church,” most of the time, unfortunately, they are referring to the building and the meetings that occur inside it. But the Biblical definition of the church is a group of believers — people. We should be teaching our children how to minister to, or serve, other people — and especially those of the household of faith.

Ministering to the church means providing acts of service to the believers with whom we fellowship. Service and ministry should be a way of life — all day, every day. Please don’t restrict ministry to only certain actions that occur within a certain building and only on certain days. When your children have been trained in home skills like cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, doing laundry, painting, fixing appliances, formatting and repairing computers, sewing, and more, their opportunities to serve are virtually unlimited!

In younger years they can help you prepare and carry out acts of service to other believers within your church family. For example, as you bake a casserole and make a card for a newly-widowed saint, the children will practice cooking and craft skills. (Notice how many Enjoyable Pastimes can be used for ministry, as well.) As they go with you to deliver the items, they will observe how you interact with the person to whom you are ministering.

As the children become proficient, they can do the preparation tasks themselves. For example, older children could gather the painting supplies and load them in the van so everything will be ready when Dad says it’s time to go. By this time in their training, they’ve probably seen him gather the supplies many times and they know what is needed. Then they can go with Dad to minister by painting a fellow believer’s house.

When they become older teens, if they have been faithfully trained in home skills, they can be sent to represent your family in acts of ministry to other believers in need. For example, think what a blessing your family would bestow if two of your well-prepared-in-home-skills teenage daughters stayed in the home of a new mother in your church family for several days. Imagine all the ministry your daughters could do to serve that sister-in-Christ: cooking, cleaning, child care, laundry, encouragement, laughter! Think how well your son could serve a family with a terminally ill child. He could do the yard work, run errands, do Web research, and play with the other children while the child’s mom and dad navigate those never-ending doctor appointments or hospital stays.

Sending your children out to represent your family by serving reminds me of Psalm 127:4 and 5. The psalmist paints the word picture of children’s being arrows in the hand of a mighty man. A mighty man would shoot his arrows in various directions to accomplish his purpose. In the same way, a parent can send children who are well trained in home skills in various directions to accomplish abundant ministry within the church family.

Yes, home skills are fundamentals that provide a multitude of ministry opportunities.

Q: Which home skills would you recommend starting with?

A: Start with home skills that can be done with the least amount of danger. Do not start with skills that involve chemicals, sustained heavy lifting, sharp utensils, fire or heat, or machinery. At our house, we started with sorting laundry, folding washcloths and towels, feeding the dog, and lots of stirring (cold items off the stove, like juice, Jell-o, and pudding). We also encouraged skills like planting seeds in the garden, picking blueberries or strawberries, and setting the plates on the table (adding forks and knives later).