Every winter, when the snow comes down on our Colorado home, it doesn’t take long for my little ones to scramble in search of their snow gear, put on layers of fleece and their water-proof boots, and head outside. There is often snowman building and snow angel making, but every time, they head to the garage to get their plastic snow shovels, and start shoveling the driveway. Their little shovels crunch through the snow and they lift as much as they can, tossing it to the side. Not much progress is made, but it’s the process that they love.
The task that many adults would rather pay someone to do for them than do themselves is my children’s favorite form of snow play. To grown-ups, this is work.
To my children, this is good work.
Work is often associated with drudgery. We bemoan the dishes to be washed or the early wake-up that getting to a job requires. It often seems like a punishment (and it is sometimes used as one!)
But Genesis chapter 2, before the fall of man, uses the word “work” three times.
“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. ” Genesis 2:2-3
Adam was called to till the land, to work it, before sin separated him from the glory of God. Work was not a punishment. Work was part of a perfect world.
Better Get Used to It
“Life is tough, and you better get used it” is a timeless, although misguided phrase that adults often tell their children. It is applied to any unpleasant circumstance, but especially work.
This phrase is used to justify terribly boring learning assignments, grueling activities (no matter how developmentally inappropriate they may be) and everyday household chores.
“You don’t like the assignment, Junior? You better get used to it! Life is FULL of things you don’t enjoy doing!”
“You don’t want to clean your room? Too bad! You will be cleaning for the rest of your life!”
Author Alfie Kohn calls this the “Better Get Used To It” principle, or BGUTI. While Mr. Kohn often takes on a disparaging and very political stance against Christians, this is an idea that I appreciated. Why do we tell children, from a very young age, that work and other areas of life should be unpleasant?
Finding Joy in Work
Charlotte Mason’s philosophy does not include the “Better Get Used To It” principle. The lessons of her philosophy are enjoyable, because they respect a child as a person. The books we read are beautiful. What we write on paper is meaningful. Art and music enrich our lives. Math is kept exciting with quickly-paced lessons and brevity.
Education should be enjoyable.
This week, I was reminded of a favorite Charlotte Mason quote. In my head, I call this my Monday quote, because it inspires me to enter my week with my mind and emotions in place, enjoying it rather than just checking boxes off of my to-do list:
Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious pass of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking– the strain would be too great– but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.” School Education, 170
In context, this passage describes how we should give children a full life, with meaningful learning experiences, to build their interest in many areas. Having a wide world opened up in front of children offers them a life filled with the riches of an engaged mind.
But the process of learning these riches should also be enjoyable. The “Better Get Used to It” principle should be replaced with “Children are born persons,” and “Education is a life.” What if we honor Charlotte Mason’s 11th principle-
“But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas…”
and her 12th principle:
“‘Education is the science of relations’; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
“Those first-born affinities
“That fit our new existence to existing things.”
Setting the Tone
What we think becomes what we say (Proverbs 4:23) and so filling our children with the idea that their work is worthy, whether it is school work or daily chores, most likely begins with our own thoughts.
How we approach this work with our children will shape how they learn to think about it. If they show a negative attitude towards their lessons, we could say, “I know, but we’re almost done!” Or, we could stop and say, “I am so thankful to be learning this with you right now! I am so interested in this book!”
We could say, “I don’t like to do chores either, but it’s something we just have to do!” or we can turn it around and say, “God provided this house for us, and I am so thankful that I can take care of it.”
As I write this post, it’s a Monday morning and I can hear my little ones waking up in their beds. I am so thankful for them! This will be another day of making meals and cleaning them up, changing clothes, and then changing them again. How I view this day matters. I choose to approach it fully living, with the mindset that I’m thankful to do this for my children, rather than “I better get used to this- and through this.”