break it down

girl cutting

This image by Insights Unspoken is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from Flikr.

As adults we take for granted all the tasks we can do with ease. For you little ones, the simplest task requires a lot of thought, many (in order) steps, and a lot of patience.

Take, for instance, a simple school task like gluing two pieces of paper together. You and I can do it in mere seconds, but a young child can take up to 5 minutes to complete the job because of the sheer number of steps required. Break it down and look at all that you’re asking a child to do:

  1. get the glue stick
  2. take off the top
  3. put the top on the table flat so it doesn’t roll away
    • if it does roll away, you need to find it
  4. twist the bottom of the glue stick to release some of the glue
    • but if you unscrew it too much, you have to twist the other way to put the extra glue away
  5. hold down the paper with one hand
  6. position the glue stick in your hand so it touches the paper flat
  7. roll the glue across your paper
    • don’t push too hard or too light… you have to rub it just right
  8. now you can finally stick something to your paper
  9. tidy up after yourself


9 steps! Ridiculous, right? So why do we adults not just take the silly glue out of their hands and do it for them?

By doing menial tasks for our children, we’re telling them they are not big enough, not capable enough, or not good enough to do it themselves. And that’s not the message we’re trying to send.

So here’s today’s teacher pro-tip: slow down and let your child do the job themselves. You will need to show, teach, model, and reteach again and again and again, but once they get it, they’ll feel accomplished. And you will save yourself time as well.

Here are some of the things you can teach (and then expect) your 3-4 year old to do:

  • “make” the bed (not well, but they can pull up the blankets and make it “look” tidy–you can come back later and do it properly)
  • put on their clothes (with some support)
  • brush their teeth
  • go to the toilet (including taking off/on clothes, sitting/standing, flushing, and washing hands)
  • tidy up their toys
  • take their plate to the sink
  • put dirty clothes in the laundry basket
  • help set the table

My tweens are able to do all of the above and:

  • do laundry (wash, dry, fold, and put away)
  • make a balanced dinner for the family
  • make a healthy lunch for school
  • write a blog post or vlog to YouTube to teach the world something new
  • take out the trash
  • help take care of a pet
  • babysit a neighbors toddlers

So now the question is, what are you going to task your children with today? Start slowly by introducing one task at a time. If you want to know more about what you can expect your child to do at each developmental stage (from toddler to teenager), read about what the experts say.

You can thank me later.




homework hell


This image by lourdesnique is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from Pixabay.

You woke up early, made a wholesome breakfast, organized the Pinterest-inspired first day of school photos, and loaded your kids up with their dream back pack, and freshly sharpened pencils. You don’t know how you did it, but you got your crew in the car and to school on time. Once you kiss them all and send them off you realize there was one thing you have forgotten in this otherwise perfect day:

Tonight. Begins. The. Homework. Saga.


For so many parents, memories about our educational experience include homework: writing or diagraming sentences, math problems, spelling lists, and reading comprehension questions. And even though we despise the practice of having our kids do homework, one of the first things teachers are asked during Back to School Night is, “Can you explain your homework policy?”


Most teachers hate to give homework. Even more teacher hate to receive homework. And many teachers are happy to do away with the practice all together.

So why are our kids still doing homework?

The simplest answer is–many schools maintain a homework policy to keep the parents happy. Despite the deep-hidden angst about homework, some parents push their feelings aside in lieu of homework’s “rewards: naturally setting boundaries, helping students practice learned skills, building study habits, and (let’s be honest… these are our favorite excuses nowadays) homework keeps kids off devices or away from bickering with siblings.

But the truth is our children can still achieve all of those goals without homework. Jessica Smock wrote about the 31 Things Your Kids Should Do Instead of Homework and I think today’s teachers should send that home as a weekly to-do list rather than a spelling list.

Though the homework debate is sure to continue well in to my retirement, I urge you to advocate for your child’s body and mind. Just like this teacher urged, spend your children’s “homework time” doing something more meaningful like: playing outside, cooking together, or learning about something you’re passionate about… their minds, their body, and your sanity will thank me later.