When we read Moses’s instructions to teach God’s commands to our children and talk of them consistently (Deuteronomy 6:7), this means more than simply doing family devotions.
It also includes showing them how to live as Christians in the world, and in the world of work.
The Challenges of Teaching Kids about Work
Since I work in an office outside of my home, it is sometimes difficult to show my children what work looks like. It is important that I find ways to illustrate for my children what it means to work diligently to avoid being improperly dependent on others (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).
To my son, work is Dad leaving the house in the morning with a full lunchbox and coming home with an empty one. So much of what I do is intangible, too. I answer e-mails, work with spreadsheets, and create reports which are sometimes never read on paper. This means it is hard to show them what I do so they understand its value.
My wife provides a clearer example of what work looks like on a daily basis as she teaches our children and does many of the household chores while I’m at the office. However, the kids have figured out that I get paid for what I do, while my wife does not. As a result, work remains somewhat puzzling.
Using History to Teach Kids about the Value of Work
Recently we had an opportunity as a family to visit Tryon Palace in North Carolina on a day when they were demonstrating what work looked like in the late 18th century in the American colonies.
It turned into a great opportunity to expose the kids to several different vocations. It was even more significant for them because they saw vocations that were not aided by much, if any, technology.
- The highlight of the day was the doctor. This was, in part, due to the reenactor’s personality, but also because he was talking about gross stuff. It was amazing to my kids to hear about limbs being amputated instead of cast when they got broken. Even more amazing to them was hearing that a good doctor could take off a limb in about two minutes. An important skill in that day, but a shocking metric. Everyone walked away with an appreciation for modern medicine.
- When we went into the kitchen, the sheer amount of the work impressed us. Meals that can be cooked in an hour in our home took all day in a colonial kitchen, since any meal had to begin from the most basic steps.
- Behind the kitchen were tubs used for the laundry. The tubs loaded from the top, but the similarity with our white metal washer stopped there. The idea that you had to heat the water over the fire place, beat your clothes with a paddle, and scrub them by hand against the washing board to get them clean was novel for my kids.
- The reality of technological progress really hit home when we went to see the reenactors make chocolate. Candy is something that kids can understand. When they realized that in a fourteen hour day, a person could only make about four to six pounds of chocolate, they were surprised. When I informed them that the labor that went into chocolate would have made it more expensive than we could have afforded to have, except on the most occasional basis, they were shocked. Realizing what went into a favorite treat helped to bring home the value of the labor and technology that went into it.
This was the point I was hoping to drive home to my kids.
I’d like them to grow up to recognize the value in a quality product and to appreciate the world we live in with its (relatively) inexpensive clothes and food.
I want them to appreciate that a well-trained doctor with excellent medical technology is a recent phenomenon.
I hope they will realize the importance of what goes into the products we purchase, before these products go under cellophane on the grocery store shelf.
In short, I want them to value work.
Understanding the connection between the product on the shelf and the process that made it, especially the historical, labor intensive process, is becoming more important in a world of specialization where many of us never see a tangible result from our work.
I’m hopeful that our latest adventure, and future trips like it, will cement those images in my children’s minds and help them value the miracle of contemporary society.
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