Developing a culture of full participation in family life takes the pressure off the parents as taskmasters. Both parents establish the culture of shared responsibilities, working together cheerfully in cleaning and caring for the home they love, managing the meals, and taking care of the laundry. Having a special music playing or having a special snack to break up the period of work helps set a tone of good cheer and mutual effort. Parents draw the children into these activities from the beginning of their lives together, naturally including them into the flurry of shared activity by giving them detailed and exquisite presentations, one by one, on just how to do each aspect of the activity. They show the child a new aspect of an activity just at the point when he has mastered the old one and just when he is barely capable of struggling with a new one. This adds interest, respect and dignity to household responsibilities.

When children are very young they love learning to do new aspects of the tasks they see their parents carrying out. If when the children are young and fascinated by a task, they are shown in detail with precision how to do each step to carry out the task beautifully; they will learn the skills and feel the dignity and satisfaction of household responsibilities.

In Montessori schools and homes we call these tasks responsibilities, not chores. The word “chore” conveys an onerous tone, creating an unpleasant and off-putting response that causes a reaction of avoidance. The word “responsibility” is different. It carries dignity, reciprocity and satisfaction. Combined with the parents’ good cheer and thankfulness in having a lovely home to clean and care for as a family; good food to prepare, serve and clean up after together; and nice clothes to share in washing, drying and folding or hanging; the word responsibility can elevate the whole array of tasks to be done for family life!

From the earliest years the child’s responsibilities should be chosen by him, learned, practiced and mastered by him. The child’s choices of responsibilities should always be fresh, challenging and interesting. They should change as mastered by the child. The responsibilities offered for choice should not be monotonous and required. The child is not assigned a responsibility; he chooses it from among a challenging array for which he has been carefully prepared. He is allowed to carry out a responsibility in which he is interested. Each member of the family participates. The choice is never not to participate. Everyone participates. The choice lies in which one he chooses from among the responsibilities that are challenging for him and for which he has been well prepared.

The only required responsibilities should be the picking up and putting away of toys and clothing, first with the parent leading and doing most of the work; next with the parent and child working in full partnership, then with the child leading and being supported and assisted by the child; and finally by the child doing his own picking up and putting away with the parent there for companionship while s/he is doing his/her own work. This picking up and putting away should be done three times a day, before leaving the house in the morning, before a meal, and before going to bed.

Picking up and putting away only once a month, at the end of each week, or every day does not work for the child. The things left out are both too many and two distantly related to the child for him to feel responsible. When the transferred heat of the child’s body leaves the object or article of clothing, the child’s bond of responsibility cools.

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