Chore, not chore

The two young boys who live across the street spend most of their outdoor time either shoveling dirt or carrying water around in a watering can.  It’s not because they don’t have anything else to do; there are various “toys” and more traditional play options available.  They’re doing this by choice.  And it’s easy to see that they take it very seriously and also that they delight in it.  When under the burden of a probably oversized load of cargo, they’ll squeal cheerfully “This is so heavy!”

No one has told them yet that this is the kind of work we consider chore.  To them, it’s just one thing to do.  They do it because they’ve seen the adults around them doing it (in the course of tending yards and gardens), and found that when they do it themselves, they like it.  The digging and carrying feels good and purposeful.  (Or maybe just fun.)

I know several other young children with this kind of relationship to the types of tasks and activities that are generally understood to be a drag – one who loves sweeping and vacuuming, another who insists on being included in cooking and washing dishes, a third who always wants to be in charge of organizing.

We run the world and talk about it to kids as though there are fun things and not-fun things, chore things and not-chore things, work things and not-work things.  But we know it isn’t really like that.  We know that just as digging and hauling dirt is fun for one person while it’s boring drudgery for another, a 5-mile run is a dreaded chore for one and the best part of the day – a blissful rush of peace and fulfillment – for another.

So I wonder if we might be wise to stop teaching kids the age-old mantra that you have to do things you don’t want to because that’s the way life works.  Maybe things would actually work better, all around, if we let kids see us acknowledging and celebrating preference.  Maybe everyone would get to keep doing the things they were attracted to when they were young – the things that felt the most purposeful and fulfilling.  And maybe everything that there is to do – the art, the sport, the building, the teaching, the farming, even the accounting – could still get done.