As adults, we understand that yard work is a necessary (and frequently unpleasant) chore associated with home ownership. But to children, it can be a fun adventure. The challenge is to keep the kiddos interested in helping after the novelty has worn off.
Laura Dunkin, of Kansas City, Miss. and Cindy Lang, of Dallas, Texas have never met and live far apart from one another, but they both pride themselves on living a green lifestyle and involving their children in the great outdoors. Here they share their tips for turning yard work into kid-friendly fun.
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Getting children involved in family chores is easiest when they want to help mom and dad. Lang admits to directing her 2-year-old's "I can do it myself" attitude toward chore completion. "Nothing gets Chloe to help out faster than me suggesting one of her older siblings can help her if the job is too hard," says Lang.
Assign jobs according to ages. Little ones might excel at digging holes in the dirt, while older kids can do "big kid" chores like raking or mowing.
Once a child has done the job and been praised, their pride and confidence will soar. They will never have to be asked if the job is too big or hard because they have proved to themselves they can do it.
Keep it Simple
But getting your child to participate in a task is seldom as hard as keeping them interested. One way Dunkin keeps her four helpers whine-free is by making sure the job is simple enough to complete in 30 minutes. Their family does most of their chores in 15-minute cycles.
First, she explains everyone's task. Then, the kids get to their chore location and Dunkin sets a timer for 15 minutes. For those 15 minutes, everyone works to get as much completed as possible.
When the buzzer goes off, they reset it for a 15-minute "silly break" and then it's back to the chore for the second 15 minutes. Dunkin says when doing lawn work, the kids favorite break is to run through the sprinkler before getting back to the chores.
It is also important to keep the chore's difficulty in line with your child's ability. Jobs each child can handle and understand are more likely to be completed correctly.
Explain the Connection
Lawn care and gardening are year-round projects. Teaching your children how the garden works and how the plants need help to grow will help keep them interested in each step. While planting bulbs may not be all that exciting, helping to choose the type of flowers, colors and planting locations will keep kids interested in the entire process. They will also be more motivated to help with watering and keeping the flower bed weed-free down the line.
Lang says she tries to reinforce the connection to what they grow, starting with composting the kitchen scraps to adding it to vegetable garden.
Reap the Rewards
While eating cherry tomatoes off the vine is an obvious reward of gardening, basic lawn work doesn't offer the same type of delight. Dunkin uses photos to teach her kids what hard work produces. "Every year I add a page or two to each of their scrapbooks that emphasizes their outside contributions" the busy mom explains. "Last year my daughter had an 'evolution of the greatest jack-o-lantern' page, which covered her planting the seeds, tending the growing pumpkin, and helping Dad carve it, before posing next to the carved masterpiece!" Other pages have highlighted planting trees, making a rock garden, keeping the walkway beautiful and putting in a pond. Dunkin added, "the kids love looking back at their accomplishments and talking about what we will do next!"
Every homeowner will have a long list of garden chores and yard work to face. Make the job more enjoyable -- and educational -- by keeping your kids involved in each step. Praise and rewards mixed with pure satisfaction will keep them interested year after year.
Kristy Stevens-Young is a freelance writer in Seattle, Washington. Her work can be found here.