I read an article in the Washington Post recently about a family that exercises together under the guidance of their grandmother, Margie Weiss, a personal trainer. "You like what you're used to," says the former competitive gymnast. "It's just what we do." Her son Michael Weiss (two-time Olympic champion in figure skating) says the key to getting kids to move is to do it with them. "I never say, 'You go do this.' It's always, 'Let's go do this,'" says Michael.
This struck me as both simple and profound, and applicable to many things you might want children to do. It is an important nugget to keep in mind, whether you are a preschool teacher or parent. Rather than lament, "She refuses to do xyz!" or "I can't get him to do anything!" or "Did you see them take off as soon as I said they needed to....?!," dare to work alongside them. Show them how. Most importantly, show them that it interests you, that it is worth doing.
If you want children to learn to clean, you need to clean alongside them. Telling preschoolers to clean while you stand by and watch strikes me as futile. They will learn best with you modeling how, they will learn best when they have your adult companionship, they will learn best when they realize cleaning is important to you and not simply something that is relegated to them. In my classroom, clean up is a game. I say, "Wow! Look at this room! Do we think we can get it straightened up before the song ends?" Then, we race to clean the room before the end of Sweet Honey in the Rock's "Oh My Goodness, Look at this Mess!" At home, when my boys were young, we often had "60 minutes" of cleaning frenzy on Saturday mornings - we would confer first about what areas of the house most needed cleaning; then we would put on our favorite rock and roll songs and everyone would run around cleaning. When the boys were very young, we would have them work as a pair with my husband or myself. The five of us could get a great deal done in an hour, and, in general, we had a lot of fun doing it.
If you want young children to do their homework (hopefully, this is NOT an issue with preschoolers!!), you should consider setting them up at the dining room table with you, as you work through bills or your own office work. Giving children this studious example is very wise - you are modeling how to focus, how to work quietly. You are available to help them through their frustrations and mental roadblocks. You may convey a real love of learning - how important is that?
If you want children to learn to cook, you need to have them working alongside you when you are in the kitchen. I remember vividly how much my boys enjoyed playing at the sink, washing/rinsing potatoes for me in a sinkful of water, when they were all of 2 years old. Now, my youngest is 15 - and check out these delicious chocolate cookies he decided he just had to make from scratch! Of course, now I'm practicing my own self-regulation skills by avoiding these yummy chocolate treats.
The next couple of weeks will bring lots of family togetherness, with schools closing for winter break and holidays. What a great opportunity to be alongside your children, doing something together that you hope they will find engaging...something that will be so automatic and acceptable to them in later years that they will say, "It's just what we do!"