Craft­ing a home cur­ricu­lum for your kids

Par­ents must de­cide life skills to teach

Thornhill Post - - Kids -

I did well in school. My kids did well in school. They went to good schools and so did I.

But none of us found mean­ing in school. It was a means to an end. Get good grades so you can get into a good univer­sity. School pre­sented the chal­lenge of do­ing the least pos­si­ble work in or­der to achieve the de­sired out­come, which was high grades. Giv­ing the grown-ups what they wanted to keep them off your case.

It was akin to my ly­ing to the or­tho­don­tist. At ev­ery ap­point­ment he’d ask if I was wear­ing my head­gear ev­ery night. I’d an­swer yes. This was al­ways a lie. He’d nod hap­pily.

School and orthodon­tic com­pli­ance had this in com­mon: That they could be scammed.

Which is why I’m sug­gest­ing that par­ents de­velop a “home cur­ricu­lum” of stuff you want your kids to learn. This cur­ricu­lum will change as they grow up.

Start­ing when my kids were about five, I wanted them to learn to cook and clean the kitchen. My think­ing was that the deeper learn­ings un­der­ly­ing those two im­por­tant skills would be tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for them­selves, in­de­pen­dence and hav­ing a habit of work. Given the de­ci­sion to adopt the “home cur­ricu­lum” of cook­ing and clean­ing the kitchen, we had to fig­ure out how to get them to do it. Be­cause what kid will choose to cook din­ner and clean the kitchen ev­ery night?

One kid was in­ter­ested in cook­ing but not clean­ing. So teach­ing her to cook was easy. The other one was will­ing to do nei­ther. Here’s what pre-din­ner­time sounded like in our house when that be­came clear:

Me: “Do you want to cook or clean up?” Him: “Nei­ther.” Me: “That’s ok, I’m not that hun­gry. I don’t need din­ner.” His dad and I held out. You have to.

Af­ter two or three nights of that, the con­ver­sa­tion sounded like this:

Me: “Do you want to cook or clean up?” Him, sul­lenly: “I’ll cook.” And so be­gan the nightly cook­ing lessons. And this part was shock­ing: af­ter a few goes at it, my son turned into an en­thu­si­as­tic par­tic­i­pant. Get­ting to wield a sharp knife was pretty ex­cit­ing for a young boy. Be­ing lav­ishly com­pli­mented on his home­made mac and cheese was fun. Mak­ing it for his friends even more so. It turned out that béchamel sauce had some ca­chet in the un­der-10 set, if you stirred in enough ched­dar and mixed it with el­bow noo­dles.

By the time they were ado­les­cents, both kids fig­ured out that cook­ing gave them so­cial power. Be­ing able to go to Loblaws, buy food and cook it seemed — to them and their friends — very grown-up and cool. The friends gath­ered round.

Part Two of the early years “home cur­ricu­lum” was clean­ing the kitchen. No­body wanted to do that. I’d heard ter­ri­ble sto­ries of par­ents nag­ging kids to do their chores. Didn’t want to nag, it’s such a pow­er­less ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion. My mother nagged. I ig­nored her.

So we adopted an al­lowance strat­egy. Each of them got an al­lowance. They were told that they had to clean the kitchen ev­ery night from Sun­day to Thurs­day af­ter din­ner, and that for any day when we en­tered the kitchen at 7 a.m. and it was dirty from din­ner the night be­fore, both of them would lose $5 off their next al­lowance. Why both? To learn to share re­spon­si­bil­ity. It worked like a charm. I think we had to charge them once.

The next item on the “home cur­ricu­lum” was man­ag­ing money, start­ing at age 12. Clearly a core life skill. Also fre­quent fam­ily fod­der for con­flict. We wanted to delete the con­flict and off­load the re­spon­si­bil­ity onto the kids, so they’d learn how to take it. So we fig­ured out how much money a kid needed, mi­nus es­sen­tials, and set that as their weekly amount. Not in­cluded were win­ter coats and boots, camp and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar items and school sup­plies — be­cause if the child messes up, we still need them to have those things. But ev­ery­thing else — en­ter­tain­ment, clothes, fun snacks — had to come out of their al­lowance. If they ran out, too bad. We wanted nat­u­ral con­se­quences. They worked.

The bot­tom line is to be in­ten­tional and strate­gic and use re­verse en­gi­neer­ing to plan the home cur­ricu­lum. This means ask­ing what out­come we de­sire, and then fig­ur­ing out how to get it. We do this all the time at work, call­ing it pro­ject man­age­ment. That same thought­ful­ness brought to bear on child-rear­ing bears sweet fruit.

Fig­ure out the know-how you want your kids to have

Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the di­rec­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park. JOANNE KATES

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