Apprenticing Your Child

Parents who do not take the time to teach their children practical skills are cheating their children and themselves.

Diane Crosby is a freelance writer living in Kingsport, Tennessee. This article appeared in Home Life. Used with permission. 

Parents who do not take the time to teach their children practical skills are cheating their children and themselves.

Most of us send our children to school to learn the basics: reading, writing, social studies, science, and math. Then we go off to our own workplaces. Whether we love this arrangement or merely suffer through it, it is the modern way.

Yet there is so much children don’t learn in school. Cooking, sewing, household repairs, gardening, baking, purchasing, banking, cleaning, hobbies, recreational activities—these lessons are often left behind in our fast-paced society. It is far easier for a busy mom to plant the flowers than to teach her daughter how to do it. Baking cupcakes (or buying them!) is quicker than showing a child how to bake and help him or her clean up afterward.

But “apprenticing” our children is far more important than perfect cupcakes or a showcase garden. Once a vital part of the American educational system, the art of apprenticeship is disappearing rapidly. Fewer children are learning at their parents’ sides.

Not many parents feel capable of teaching their children physics or English literature. But parents from all walks of life have skills to pass along to their progeny. Special interests, job skills, and chores can be shared daily with children. And kids love it!

What is apprenticeship?

What does it mean to apprentice your child? 

Certainly, it is much more than doling out chores. Chores should be the tasks children already know how to do. Apprenticeship, on the other hand, is teaching a skill as you work side by side with someone.

My eldest, age 10, takes out the garbage regularly. Had I attempted to entice him to take out the trash without first showing him how, he never would have made it. So the first few times he did this chore some years ago, I did it with him, step by step, explaining as we went.

Perhaps that seems like a simple concept. It is! At the time, I could have done it much quicker myself. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that the rewards of apprenticing are well worth the effort.

Step by step

Apprenticeship begins when you allow your child to help you with a chore: “Please bring me two eggs.” “Can you go get the hammer for me?” Younger children love to help, even in the smallest ways. But that’s just the beginning. Apprenticeship means actually teaching a child how to do a task. With small children the task can be as simple as setting the table. Or you may apprentice your child with a complicated task like painting a room. Whatever the job, don’t just give the child a job and walk away. That’s not teaching.

Just because children have seen us wash dishes hundreds of times (maybe thousands!) doesn’t mean they can wash dishes on their own without instruction. The hierarchy of learning tells us that we learn poorly by hearing, somewhat better by watching, and incredibly well by doing.

First, we parents must dem­onstrate the skill, explaining as we go. Then we do the job with them, side by side. When children have begun to learn a task, we can watch, prompting verbally as they work.

Be patient. Repetition and review may be necessary. If the job appears too difficult, save it for another time.

More complicated jobs can be broken into steps. This method, called “task analysis,” suggests breaking jobs into separate learning steps. You teach one or two steps at a time. When all steps are learned, then you teach children to put the steps together.

For instance, one day you might teach your child to remember which drawers contain which clothes. He can practice by finding a pair of socks or a shirt. Later, he can learn to put clean socks in the sock drawer. Then he can take each pile of sorted clothes to the correct drawers. Soon he’ll be capable of carrying a basket full of his sorted clothes to his room and putting them away on his own. Remember to teach tasks in steps.

Older children may benefit from task cards on which you have written reminders of the steps. These can be kept in a small file box and used as the other children grow up. When children begin to read well, encourage them to follow other written directions, such as those on packages.

Older children may also be included in your own professional skills, if appropriate. After-hours visits to the workplace can give kids a special appreciation for their parents’ roles away from home.

The rewards

Kids and parents gain a great deal from apprenticeship. New skills are learned, and children will be better prepared for independent living when they leave the nest. Some of the jobs you teach your children will become their permanent chores.

The rewards go beyond the practical. Self-confidence and appreciation for the craft are by-products. Trust, enthusiasm for learning, and closeness all blossom between parents and children who apprentice.

Worried about quality time? This is a way to have quality and quantity time! Plus, teaching your child can be great fun for both of you.

We do children no favors by waiting on them hand and foot. Teach them to cook easy snacks. Show them how to run the dryer. Instruct them how to use a telephone, and especially about 911. Help them learn to tidy a room. You’ll be laying the foundation for your children’s growth into able adults.

Remember, to include children in family finances, as appropriate. Children who begin handling small amounts of money early learn valuable stewardship lessons.

The sacrifices

Don’t fret when the job your child does isn’t done correctly. Don’t frown when the task isn’t carried out as well as you could have done it. Perfection is not the purpose of apprenticeship; education is the goal.

Certainly a perfect flower bed or beautiful pie is a delight. But the glee from a child who creates a lopsided garden or a sunken pie is immeasurable. Don’t do the job over. Don’t criticize. Instead, sing praises for the effort and a job completed!

You can’t hurry learning. Apprenticing your child takes time. Taking the time to teach a child a job you already do well is a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice worth making.

Diane Crosby is a freelance writer living in Kingsport, Tennessee. This article appeared in Home Life. Used with permission.