Can I help?

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I have written a few posts recently about requesting help and the difficulty many of us experience in doing so. It’s a topic that is oft repeated. Not only do many have difficulty in asking for help, we are often unsure about when to offer help, how to help, and whether any assistance will be beneficial.

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In a comment on one of those posts Anne Goodwin, who blogs at Annecdotal, said that the way our first cries for help are responded to in infancy influences our attitudes to asking for help later in life. I suggest that the way we are responded to when offering to help in those early years also influences our attitudes later.

In an earlier post entitled Lending a helping hand, I asserted that

 “Little ones love to help and hate to be helped in almost equal measure. “Let me do it!” and “I can do it myself!” are two frequently heard phrases in households with little ones. Opportunities for both are essential for their developing sense of self, independence and confidence. Both require a great deal of patience on the part of parents and a larger allocation of time than one would normally feel necessary.”

Sometimes, when young children ask, “Can I help?”, parents are reluctant to involve them because of the additional time required, and often the extra effort it takes to clean up the mess that may also be created. However, I recommend that the time and energy expended are more than compensated for by the benefits to the parent-child relationship, as well as to the child’s development of knowledge and skills.

Nor and Bec reading

© Norah Colvin

Just as time to play together and read together is factored into the family routine, it is important to set aside time for tasks such as cooking and cleaning that help to develop independence and life skills.

With cleaning, as with other tasks, it is important to provide guidance and encouragement, and to accept the result. Don’t expect the child’s efforts to match yours. You can always finish off the task later, if you must, when the child is out of sight. Expecting too high a standard or being too critical will discourage a child’s willingness to try again.

As at home, in the classroom children can take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves and working together to keep the room organised and tidy on a daily basis. It may take a little longer to establish good habits initially, but the benefits are reaped throughout the year.

When I was in the classroom I provided children with a number of strategies to help them develop organisation skills.

  • At the beginning of the year I showed them how to organise their belongings in their tidy trays so that they could easily find what they were looking for. I made a photo display to provide visual as well as verbal reminders.
  • Throughout the day I would play music or transition games to help them move from one activity to another, and to indicate how much time remained until they were to be ready for the next activity.
  • We had a wonderful programme called You Can Do it! which helped children develop personal and social skills, one of which is organisation. We had a great set of songs to support development of the skills. At the end of each day when it was time to pack up, I would play the organisation song. The children would happily sing along and have the room neat and tidy and themselves ready for home by the time the song ended.

These simple strategies helped the day run smoothly and required a minimum of instructions and reminders.

cooking banner

© Norah Colvin

Cooking, or more specifically food preparation not necessarily requiring heat, in the classroom requires additional planning which will be influenced by the facilities and support available. Whenever possible I organised cooking experiences for small groups with the assistance of an aide or parent volunteer. This gave children more opportunities for discussion and involvement.

© Norah Colvin 2016

© Norah Colvin 2016

I always organised for the healthy smiley face sandwich to be made in small groups.

kebab 1

© Norah Colvin

Cutting up fruit and making fruit kebabs is suitable for small groups too. Children can be asked to bring in a serve of fruit to contribute to the choices. We used to have a daily mid-morning fruit snack so it did not require any extra effort on the part of parents, just scheduling on my part.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

One of my favourite cakes to cook with children is a moon cake. It is both fun to make and delicious to eat, and provides many opportunities for discussion. It is just as suitable for making in the classroom as it is for home. I have prepared a guided recipe which will be available on my readilearn website.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I recently made the recipe with my grandchildren. They were eager to help and took turns to add and mix the ingredients. There are sufficient things to do to give everyone in a small group an opportunity of being involved. However, it is also suitable to do with the whole class observing while individual children do different tasks.

tasks to do

Making the cake provides great opportunities for observing, turn taking, vocabulary development, curiosity, and development of science knowledge. All of these contribute to life skills and experiences. And then there’s the treat at the end!

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Although involving children in tasks like cooking and cleaning at home or at school involves extra organisation and time, it is well worth it for the long-term, as well as immediate, benefits.

Do you have any recollections of helping with tasks at home or at school? How did you feel about it? How has it influenced your current attitudes?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Can I help?

  1. annadelconte

    Hi Norah,
    Mum always worked long hours but when she did cook we children were at her elbow licking the beaters and ‘having a go’. She actually encouraged us to be independent from a very young age and taught us to make cups of tea or coffee. We loved bringing them to her in the morning to help her to get up out of bed.
    My kids were great at pulling chairs up to the kitchen bench and helping with whatever I was cooking. They would all be there if it was time to make cookies and decorate cakes.
    The grandchildren are now at the bench watching and helping when they’re over. Precious times.
    Thanks for helping me to remember.
    Anne

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    1. Norah Post author

      Precious times indeed! How lovely to hear of the tradition being passed from generation to generation in the family. It is such a wonderful activity to do together. I remember when my mum was making the Christmas cake, we would all have a stir to mix in a smile. We used to fight over who would get the beaters and spoons to lick. My children did too. Now I can’t let the grandchildren lick the spoons and beaters if the mixture has uncooked egg in it. What a tragedy! But not as great a tragedy as salmonella poisoning!
      Thank you for triggering a few more memories for me too. 🙂

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  2. robinettercleave

    Thanks for the memories, Nor! Ah, those precious early years with our kids are so special, aren’t they! My Jess and Laura loved to help when they were wee littlies. They helped me with so many things. One time, however, Jess asked me if she could help me sew with my machine. I didn’t think it would be a good idea, (I really didn’t want to have to try to get a sewing machine needle out of her finger!) so my reply to her was, “You can when you’re older.” She accepted my answer graciously but just stood beside me looking like she was in deep thought. After a few seconds, she said, “I’m older now, Mum. Can I help now?”!!! LOL

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Robin. Thanks for joining in the conversation. Those early years are very special. I’d love to be able to live them all over again! (Perhaps I’d do a better job!)
      I remember your telling me about Jess and the sewing machine. What a wonderfully behaved little girl. I remember when I was about the same age and my mother moved away from her sewing machine, instructing me not to touch it. Guess what I did! Of course I inserted the needle into my finger didn’t it? I wasn’t as clever as Jessie to wait until I was “older”. That is so cute. 🙂
      I read a book many years ago entitled, “What would happen if I said ‘yes'” about dealing with things children ask to do. One of the things was telling them they could when they were older, just as you did with Jessie. I used it once or twice when discussing body piercing and a few other things with Bec. It is an effective strategy. 🙂

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  3. Annecdotist

    Hah, at the beginning of your post, Norah, when you so kindly acknowledged my comment on your previous post, I started to panic as I thought you were going on to say that the baby can help! LoL, but I guess that was just how it was for me!
    But you’re right about this later stage of development – young children should be encouraged to help, although at the beginning I suppose it just feels for them as if they’re being independent rather than doing what the other person needs (hopefully). And earlier than that, it’s more a case of the parent chatting to the baby so that they feel involved and valued – but does require a lot of patience on the part of the parent, and an ability to give up a lot of control. Great, as ever, that you’re advocating for this.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne, I’m sorry to have panicked you! That’s an interesting thought though. I wonder what I could get the baby to help out with! LOL. Do you mean that you had to help out when you were a baby?
      You are right. The children’s participation, right from the beginning, is just being included and involved in the day’s activities. What the parents are doing is what the children want to do. Then they want to be independent. As they get older, they revert to wanting somebody else to do it for them!
      Thank you for your support. Always appreciated. 🙂

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  4. Sarah Brentyn

    Ugh. I am so bad about this. I have good intentions but it is SO easy to just do it myself rather than wait on those cute, little slow-pokes (who are also, yes, very messy) to “help”. *sigh* I know all the benefits and hope to one day soon have them do a lot more on their own. It’s easier said than done. But must be done.

    And this…this is so true: “the way we are responded to when offering to help in those early years also influences our attitudes later.” Absolutely. And so I shall try harder when they offer.
    Also, this holds true outside the home. When my kids offer to help someone pick up something they dropped, hold the door, reach something on a bottom shelf, etc. I know it’s shaping them each and every time they offer and get a reaction from someone. They feel so good (and say so) when some reacts positively and we talk a lot about why someone may have responded negatively. Which does happen but not as much so…yay! 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for joining in the conversation, Sarah. I can’t imagine you being bad at this, but it is definitely easier, on many occasions, to refuse help and do it ourselves. Trouble is, if they are constantly knocked back, or not invited, many learn it’s not worth the effort to try. Parents often wonder why their teenagers won’t help out around the home. It’s a complex issue and there are many contributing factors, but sometimes the “you’re not doing it well enough” response has curbed their enthusiasm.
      I can just imagine your boys helping out in the ways you have described. That positive response is so rewarding and encourages them to repeat the effort. Discussing the different ways in which people respond is a good thing. Thank you. 🙂

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        Yes. “That positive response is so rewarding…” It really is. Now I need to do that more inside the home. *sigh* It’s so much easier and quicker to do it myself than spend a half hour making/cleaning/fixing something they’ve “helped” with. But you have brought this to the forefront of my mind and I will work extra hard to notice when they offer and to say “Yes”. 🙂 Thanks.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Sarah, we must prioritise in our lives. We can’t do everything. My intention was not to put another “should” on you. You do so many wonderful things. Don’t kick yourself for one you don’t. I’d be black and blue, I’d have to kick myself so much I wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week! 🙂

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  5. Louise

    Emily says she doesn’t remember you making mooncake with her. LOL Yes I agree with all you have said above. I remember how organised you were with you little students. Now working in childcare I see all you have mentioned. Our OSHC kids love to help with things around the centre and it is encouraged. We do cooking at OSHC some afternoons and the kids love it, even if they only get to do a small bit, I think maybe they like to eat it at the end. We let them help clean up if they ask and some do. I read somewhere , that in Japan the children clean and look after the school themselves there are no cleaners.
    As my girls were growing up I did try to let my girls help with different things if they asked, we did cooking, gardening and yes they would when they were little ask to do housework but my scrapbooking pages I just couldn’t let them help , so instead I gave them resources to do a page themselves. I have always encouraged my children to ask for help but my eldest daughter has always has had trouble doing this, to the point that now that she is 17 she nearly failed senior because she would not ask teachers for help,and because she is in high school the majority of teachers won’t ask her if she needs help. I don’t know what else to do with her, I have tried tough love caring love and anything inbetween to make her that confident young woman who can ask for help. I just have to hope that as she gets a little older she will learn from her upbringing that it is alright to ask for help.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh no, I lied! Poor Emily. I can’t remember if I made the moon cake with her class either, but I’m sure we did lots of other fun things. Didn’t we?
      Hi Louise, Thank you for joining in the conversation and reminding me of the wonderful contribution you made to my years at school, as a parent volunteer in the classroom and school in general. And as for your two lovely girls. What a great package your family was. I was fortunate to work with you all. 🙂
      It’s great that your children at OSHC get to cook, and help clean up. I’m not sure about cleaning the school as you have mentioned in Japan. I’d have to know more about it. That sounds a bit like child labour, which is quite different from the helping that you and I are talking about.
      You scrapbooking work is beautiful, and your children benefited by having their own pages to decorate. If I recall correctly, they are both rather artistic. 🙂
      I don’t like to hear of Emily nearly failing senior because she wouldn’t ask for help. I wonder what we teachers can do to let our students know that it is okay to ask for help. Maybe Emily would have some suggestions. I hope that soon she will realise that is okay to ask for help. Nothing bad will happen if a request is made. The worst that can happen is that they won’t help, but if that happens the situation is no worse that it already is. But imagine how much better it would be to have the help! Best wishes to you all. I appreciate hearing from you. 🙂

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