Now that the Bat is 4, he's ready for tasks that are more involved than just fetching things or putting things away for me. Even the ways in which he disobeys or misbehaves tell me he craves bigger responsibilities. Sure, he may resist when I tell him to do something, but we all have a much better day when he has satisfying work to do.
It's another reminder that children, however small, have a lot of the same needs and desires as the rest of us--even when they don't know how to talk about it.
The Bat doesn't get the dust pan for me anymore. The Eel has grown into that task. In a few more months, the Bat will be ready to learn how to sweep. He has the coordination, but he's just not ready for that kind of thinking yet.
He still fetches things for me out of the fridge, and we're working on his helping me put things back in the fridge too. Otherwise, his brother has taken over most of the fetching tasks--eagerly too!
The Bat's big, new responsibility is laundry. He and his brother now share their own hamper, separate from the one for the rest of the household. Once a week, we dump out this hamper, and I supervise as the Bat puts the laundry in our front loading machine, puts detergent in the compartment, and starts the load. When the load is done, he helps me carry the wet clothes to the drying rack, and helps hang them up. I'm also working on teaching him how to out folded clothes away, but I think that's going to be a longer term project.
I'll grant that it doesn't save me any time yet, but it is handy not to have to bend over to load the wash myself for one load per week. It's also cut down on our overall laundry to have the boys' clothes sorted out into their own load.
Whoever is handy also helps me put stain treated clothes into the wash for our weekly bleach loads, and the Bat always starts the machine for me. Again, not having to bend over right now is a blessing, even if the task takes longer.
I'm also introducing table chores, but that's forcing me to re-imagine our mealtime routine. We it at a table in a small kitchen, and I dish up plates before everyone sits down. I also usually do dishes just once a day, so incorporating the boys in table chores in a meaningful way is a little complicated.
I recently bought a plastic dish tub. The Eel wants to be able to put dishes in the sink, but can't quite reach. I've also discouraged the Bat from putting dishes in the sink, because he is too rough. Instead, I now put the tub on the table and have the boys put our dishes in the tub after meals. They work together, and then the Bat carries the tub to me to put on the counter.
It's a bit challenging teaching the Bat to be gentle with the dishes, and I'm having a little trouble incorporating this tub into my dish washing routine, but the work is definitely satisfying to both boys.
As I watch the Bat learn and take satisfaction in his work, I've noticed a greater benefit: his chores have turned his eyes to the future. As he brings me ingredients from the fridge and watches me make meals, and sees himself involved in cleaning up after meals, he eagerly talks about the day when he will learn to help me prepare the food. With the laundry, he dreams of being tall enough to hang all his clothes to dry, or being big enough to handle the detergent by himself. He also watches his brother, and sees where he himself has been. And he anticipates the Eel growing into bigger responsibilities, too.
As the Bat helped me unpack and sort baby clothes this afternoon, he even started a conversation about how his new brother will help and work, just like he and the Eel do--something he anticipates without ever having met the new baby.
Moms talk a lot about the importance of instilling work ethic and teaching life skills. We even talk about making sure that kids have work so that they are included as productive members of the household. Working with the Bat and the Eel as they grow in their abilities and responsibilities is also teaching me the much more subtle purpose of communicating continuity, goal setting, and even life cycle. The work even teaches them about being brothers, as they take turns, take ownership, cooperate, and eventually pass the baton.
This post has been linked to Welcome Home at Raising Arrows, Busy Monday at A Pinch of Joy, Beautiful Family Friday at Holy Spirit-led Homeschooling, and Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.