Confidence contributes to lifelong learning

March 10, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

"Mommy, can I help you make dinner?"

I smiled as my 7-year-old came skipping around the corner, her ponytail swinging from side to side.

"Of course, you may help me prepare dinner," I replied, thinking that I'd never refuse a helping hand. Granted, a child's help tends to create more messes and lengthens the time it takes to complete a job, but the companionship makes up for any shortage on efficiency.

And with that, a half-hour of fun-filled instruction began.

When my children help with daily chores, the joy in our household increases.

Not only does the load lighten a bit for my husband and me, but our children are bound to learn something in the process. Plus, we're spending time together doing something constructive.

On a recent evening, before she had even started measuring and mixing, my daughter received a gentle English lesson. (She wasn't really asking me if she had the ability to help with supper - "Can I?" - she was asking for permission to help - "May I?")


We talk about measuring to the line and how it's important to be precise if we want a recipe to turn out as intended. Later, we talked about the same principle as she was measuring lines on a math worksheet. Sloppy work leads to sloppy results.

Typically, while we are working on dinner, my 10-year-old son is unloading the dishwasher, building pyramids with the clean plastic ware as he dries it with a towel. Which shapes work well together and how well does the silverware balance on top? It's a challenge he gives himself each evening as he completes this task.

They have found ways to make their chores interesting, and I think that's a good thing. We should all try to make work interesting because it is such a big part of life. The sooner children learn that, the better off they'll be.

Whenever I work with a group of children for an extended period of time, the conversation invariably turns to their lifestyles at home. We'll talk about chores and their responsibilities within the family structure.

I ask, "How many of you have chores that you do each day or each week?" I can usually predict which hands will go up at this point. These are the children who can work independently and who volunteer to help in the classroom or Sunday school room or club meeting.

"How many of you have no chores at home?" When I ask this question, the response is not surprising, either. The children who respond are the ones who typically have trouble staying on task, who show little initiative and who tend to think that life is boring.

Work can give life meaning and purpose when it is approached in the right way. It's not only in completing the task that we can find fulfillment but in completing the task well.

Who doesn't like a challenge? For the past couple of years, I've done what I can to encourage my kids to think while they work. For example, each time we decide to have homemade waffles on Saturday morning, my son knows he'll be facing a fraction-filled early morning. We double the recipe so we can put extra waffles in the freezer to pop in the microwave on weekday mornings.

He's had this duty for so long that he barely looks up from his task as I ask him to double 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour.

"You need 3 1/2, Mom."

Eight tablespoons of butter?

"That's 16 tablespoons, or two sticks."

Is he being pushed to work too hard? I don't think so. If the truth be told, I think he would be disappointed if I didn't "depend" on him for the answers. This little exercise has also built his math confidence over the years.

That's truly what parenting is all about, isn't it? We all want to help our children become confident life-long learners.

The trick is to start early, make it fun, add a little at a time and keep it going as they grow older.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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