Child Labor

I love listening to my grandfather’s stories.  He grew up on a farm in OK, during the Dustbowl and Great Depression.  I’ve come to notice though, that most of those stories revolved somehow around the labor he did on the farm.

He tells me about how he and an older brother were responsible for the daily milking of the dairy herd. “A dairy herd, now, that was steady money for a farm, everything else had a season, a rise and a fall of prices, but dairy prices stayed fairly steady.” So, his daddy had about 20 head of dairy cows and those 2 boys did the twice daily milking. Grampa noted that he really didn’t remember a time before he was milking.  He also noted that as soon as he went away to college his father sold that herd of dairy. :-D

Another worker – I read somewhere recently that in most countries, a child can bring in more money than it costs to feed them, usually by age 9.  I’m sure in my grandpa’s case that was true. Whether it’s by collecting or processing farm products, or lending their labor to other farms/families in return for trade items, children’s work shouldn’t be overlooked. A responsible babysitter will soon find their time in great demand. A nimble fingered youth can help with tedious tasks, freeing more skilled labor for tasks that can’t be done by a 9 year old.  With my grandpa it was cows, but all sorts of smaller animals can be raised by children.  Rabbits, fowl, goats, just to name a few.

Done wrong – This is not to be confused as an endorsement of practices that damage a child physically or emotionally.  Children loosing fingers or lungs in sweatshops, not cool.  Children shouldn’t be expected to do an adult’s work in terms of weight or speed or endurance, not until they have put on most of their adult growth.  While it might not kill them, I’ve seen the damage that can be done, and it’s cruel.

Lead, don’t push –  Show children that work is rewarded and that team work can yield greater results; that is the best way to get them interested in economy.  Don’t underestimate chores.  Done right they can show a child many aspects of life and general labor so they can find something they really like doing.  Learning the inputs and outputs of the household economy can be helpful too.  Let children who need math practice balance the books with you for a couple of months. Or let a child try their hand at the weekly grocery shopping, complete with list and budget and calculator.

Toddlers –  When he’s focused, my 2 year old can be helpful.  I save a lot of seed, and he has figured out the gist of it.  Usually a dried stalk/shell that needs to be crushed/opened.  Done over a bowl, I can then easily separate the chaff from the seed.   He sat in my lap and helped me shell green beans for 20 minutes once.   He often stands on a stool and helps dry dishes. Yea, it eventually loses focus and devolves into play, but it’s still help, and often makes a task less tedious.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir for most of you, got any chores from your youth that stand out in memories or stories?  Is your 10 year old a plus or a minus on your monthly budget? :-D (Not that you’ll love them any less either way.)

– Calamity Jane


14 comments… add one
  • Jarhead Survivor December 6, 2011, 8:34 am

    It’s interesting you say that about your two year old. A few weeks ago I was cutting up a tree that had fallen over and my little boy (2 1/2) started picking up wood after watching me for awhile and put it in the lawnmower trailer I was using to transport it with. He filled the cart up twice all by himself and some of that wood was pretty heavy for his size. He seemed to get a lot of satisfaction out of being able to contribute. Of course I kept saying, “Great job, my man!” and stuff like that. It was nice watching him help out.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. December 6, 2011, 8:50 am

    Mom was raised during the Depression, and her family of 12 were migrant farm workers. She was picking cotton and other field crops by age 5, her Mom was the only one who stayed home, well her and her infant children. But you grew up fast back then – kids were very responsible, for the most part.

    Down in interior of Mexico, you still see children working in small Mom and Pop shops. Children even running the till (sometimes just a cigar box!), making change – try that here in America, those kids weren’t using calculators either!

  • Spook45 December 6, 2011, 9:28 am

    I wrk with troubled children everyday. I can tell you from first hand experiance that kids who WORK and make thier own money and do for themselves are more resposable at a younger age and have less trouble out in the world. This is te key, work is how we begin to teach our kids resonsability and dedication. They learn quikly that if they do a good job they get rewarded and make more money. Kids who dont work place no value on anything and have no respect for others work. Also, people way under estimate kids ability to think. They have little minds of thier own and a lot of kids would jump at the chance to have a job of some kind and make thier own money. I understand child labor laws to protect from exploitation, but not allowing kids enough leigh weigh to have jobs is a problem that will carry into the future and it is manifesting itself right now as we speak.

  • JeanneS December 6, 2011, 2:17 pm

    I’ve always wondered how parents expect kids to manage their own households when they leave home if they aren’t taught to do the work! My biggest regret in raising my grown daughters is that I didn’t have them do MORE household chores and repairs, although I have always been a proponent of having even the youngest child (2 & up) help with whatever age-appropriate housework possible. I was actually criticized for making my preschool-aged kids fold washcloths and put away all their own toys & books, as well as teaching them to cook as soon as they were old enough to deal with a stove safely (about age 6, with constant supervision). When you teach self-sufficiency, you may wind up with a 9-year-old like mine was, who decided to walk 5 miles across a good-sized city to visit a friend (after “getting permission” from her 13-year-old sister who thought it would be a great joke), but at least she didn’t get lost! And that child, 10 years later, is now working full-time as a nanny, makes gourmet meals & fancy cakes for family birthdays & holidays, bargain-shops like a pro, crochets gifts for friends, and is learning to sew. (She also knows her way around technology that leaves me scratching my head in confusion.)

    I highly encourage all parents of children still living at home to put them to work around the house; children live up to expectations, and we don’t expect nearly enough of them these days! A century ago, it was expected that a 14-year-old (or younger!) should be able to run his or her parents’ household for a week or longer in their absence, in the event that a family emergency came up. If you haven’t read the Little House on the Prairie books recently, you might be astonished to discover just how much BASIC household duties were expected of what we now consider “small” children. From a prepper standpoint, we owe it to our kids to teach them everything they’re capable of learning.

    • Jason December 7, 2011, 4:47 am

      You are right on the money! How lame that you were criticized for teaching preschool aged kids to actually work. I was taught to cook at 7 & by 9 I was an excellent omelet maker & could actually flip the omelet over in the air & never used a spatula – still do to this day. (BTW, my son learned at the same age & does the same today).

      I was taught to iron all of my own clothes & today I have an executive job & starch & press my own shirts & silk ties better than any dry cleaner in the known world. In fact, I can iron anything and any type of fabric in no time flat. Amazing what nearly 5 decades of practice can do.

      When I was 9, I began to either walk or ride my bike to the beach, which was 10 miles from my house most days of the summer – after chores of course. Today’s teens want a ride or a car if it’s more than 3 blocks away.

      Good for you & thank you for sharing.

      • PS December 7, 2011, 4:51 am

        Mom taught me to iron & cook right & left handed because she said it was faster than repositioning the article or your body.

  • Kathy December 6, 2011, 4:35 pm

    That comment about kids being able to make change reminds me of how when I was seven my Dad was adamant about teaching me how to count change back to someone (breaking a $20 and so on). It came in handy while working fast food in high school. When the registers went down and my manager was ready to put the close sign on the door, I told her that I could easily make change without a register. But forget that now, most teens I see at fast food places don’t know how to make change unless the register tells them too.

    My daughter (age 8) has always had chores, she grumbles a little, but for the most part she is happy to help. I often tell her that being an only child no one else is going to take care of her when we are gone so she has to learn to do things for herself. So far so good. But the big responsibility will come when she gets a paper route in 2 years. (She tried applying last summer but they said no one under 10 can do it). She is already saying she wants to save money for her own car! Love that kid!

  • Juliette December 6, 2011, 9:54 pm

    My brother and I were born into a Oklahoma farm family in the 1940s-50s, and we certainly worked. My jobs were to take care of the chickens, sheep and calves, wash dishes (after heating the water from the well, hand-pumped, naturally) and hang out clothes, fold them and iron them. None of it was back-breaking and I wasn’t over-worked, but I was very strong from throwing hay bales and lugging five-gallon buckets of well water back and forth to the livestock or the house. My mom taught me to cook about age 10, and by 11, I could also cook for harvest hands. This is a good thing. I have seven granddaughters and none of them can (or will) do anything, for which I blame my children. They are all busy with activities but they don’t actually DO anything useful, and can’t take care of themselves for a minute. Our kids grew up thinking we were hopelessly old-fashioned and by today’s low standards, we were. However, they learned many things, none of which they consider valuable. Think they will want to know this stuff later, but it may be too late.

  • Chef Bear58 December 7, 2011, 2:53 am

    I remember “standard” chores everyday when I was a kid… Dishes, laundry, cleaning room/bathroom, making bed, etc. Most summers my brother and I would take the break from school to visit family. At my Dad’s parents house in Maryland we would have to help out with the farm… feed the animals, get eggs from the chicken/turkey coup, collect honey & beeswax from the hives, pick fruit/veg from the garden as it ripens (they had the best white-raspberries!), canning- mostly fruit (mulberries, rapberries, strawberries, asain pears, apples, etc) and some of the extra veg from the garden (tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, snap-beans, field peas, corn, etc), Nanny has THE BEST recipe for hom-made pickles EVER. At my Mom’s parents place in Treasure-Island Florida we would have the standard daily-chores, and I would usually cook our meals; We would also go fishing just about everyday because they lived right beside the channel on the side of the island that faced the mainland (we would clean whatever we caught and have it for dinner), we would also pick/preserve fruit from nearby trees (asain plums, key-limes, mandarin oranges, fig, grapefruit and coconut)… I miss being able to go in the yard and pick fresh grapefruit for breakfast!

    Personally I started working when I was 14. My first job was working as a “landscape technitian”, I started off doing all the “grunt work” (lifting 80lb bags of mulch, digging holes for plants, digging trenches for automated sprinkler systems, etc.), and moved up (over several years) to supervise my own crew. I particularly enjoyed installing automated sprinkler systems, especially when they were drawing water from a nearby watersource like a pond/lake/river, because that ment I had to “go for a swim” to set-up the inlet for the pump that would draw the water into the system. I learned a lot at that job, developed a VERY strong work ethic, learned dicipline, got MUCH stronger due to the manual labor, met some interesting people and I got to experience some pretty awesome things that many folks don’t get a chance to (like driving a Plymoth Prowler, Dodge Viper, REAL GT500 & an all origional ’66 Shelby Cobra; also developed friendships with some of the customers, which has allowed me access to some of the best private hunting lands in VA, and got me some pretty cool folks to hang-out with!)

    I know I sound like an old guy, rocking away on my front porch when I say this, but it seems like the younger folks these days haven’t learned the value of a hard days work. It seems like I see more & more younger folks lining up to get a handout from the government in the VA Employment Com. building (where the welfare/unemployment checks sre issued). I went there the other day (I injured my spine a few years ago and have been looking for a job in Culinary Arts that is light-duty…. almost impossible to find!) I saw several kids that couldn’t have been 18/19, standing in line for unemployment checks! I can’t wrap my head around why KIDS would be drawing unemployment! When I inquired about them being on unemployment, the first one called me an A-hole, but the second said he had been on unemployment for 6mo and was only looking for work so that he would continue to recieve unemployment… He had no intention of returning to work until his unemployment “dried up”… I had to try and hide my jaw dropping to the floor!

  • Geoff December 7, 2011, 3:36 am

    This concept can solve a good portion of our illegal immigration problem as well. They say Americans have gotten soft, that it is cruel to have a child learn to work, and that Americans refuse to do field labor, odd jobs, etc. Well I know a whole lot of kids that could use a lesson on work ethic and the lesson could save our future.

    • Chef Bear58 December 7, 2011, 3:59 am

      Excellent point Geoff, seems almost to simple… Folks on capitol hill will never think of it!

  • Jason December 7, 2011, 4:21 am

    My how we marvel at stories from our grandparents or parents (mine in their mid 80’s) and how they worked. My dad had to come home from school, go to his dad’s coffee shop and peel a barrel of potatoes – by hand, everyday before doing homework & playing. It was an unpaid job & needed to be done, pure AND simple. Wow, how awful to subject a child to such torture!

    You grossly underestimate a child’s ability & willingness to work. When starting with them at an early age they have an innate sense to work and help & that fire should be fueled not controlled. It is all in how you instruct or lead them. Watch their limits not yours or what you think is their limits. It is totally normal for toddlers to get distracted so give them jobs that fit within their focus limit then start expanding their focus periods – they can do it. If they can only do 5 minutes at a time give them a purposeful 5 minute job. Pretty soon they will ask for more.

    What many American parents have lost is the art of training children to work. Instead, many go for the electronic babysitters then wonder why their kids are the unruly ones in the grocery store. I shut the TV & any electrical devices off when my older two were 3 & 5 and they began doing work around the house. I bought my son tools & he labored until he was tired. My daughter did the same.

    Today at 17 & 18 they are the best employees at their work & found jobs in less than a week. Funny thing is their bosses praise & promote them and I am not surprised because the competition is fairly non-existant. They don’t bitch about what they don’t have or world injustices, they earn their way.

    Do yourself a favor & remove the thought that some tasks are tedious because kids pick it up – guaranteed. Tasks are just tasks, nothing more.

  • izzy December 7, 2011, 8:16 pm

    Kids will be kids, and I think some adults forget that they are often still “learning responsibilities” – figuring out actions & consequences & timely behavior. So when they mess up or let things go, you can’t take it personally, just continue to show them a better way (better now than later!)
    That said, children have always wanted to do what they see adults do. That’s why there are toy-size tools! I think it is good to let them “help out”. I hear stories of some dysfunctional moms who can’t figure out how to cook dinner and take care of their kids at the same time – so they buy junk food every night. When we were growing up, we were our mom’s appliances – mixing, mashing, & c. When we got older and didn’t like the menu, Mom said “well you fix dinner!” and we did, which definitely made her happier.

    • Chef Bear58 December 7, 2011, 11:53 pm

      I don’t understand how kids get away with being so picky these days; I remember when I was a kid, there was no “I don’t like that” when it came to meals. When we lived in Central America (Panama), there were several months (almost a full year), where the commissary couldn’t get deliveries because of problems with the Panamanian military/police, we had to eat whatever Ma was able to get there, which made for some interesting meals at times. There were at least a few times that I remember all we could get was rice, so my brother and I would go out and catch land-crabs, snakes, iguana’s and fish to provide some protein for us and our neighbors… Like I said, it made for some “interesting” meals… I also remember my friend from down the street and his Dad managed to catch & dispatch a large caymen (think a cross between a gator & a crocodile, with a MUCH meaner disposition), they were origionally from Louisiana, (his Dad said he used to hunt gators all the time when he was a kid) I remember helping him butcher the caymen and running pices of meat (with instructions on how to prepare it) to all the families on our base; I miss that sense of community there always seemed to be on base! Your neighbors were always watching out for you, everyone seemed to be there for eachother no matter what, it was that attitude that helped us all get through those tough times back there!

      For a while we couldn’t get anything in the commissary, we actually lived off old MRE’s (that had been sitting in a warehouse for several years) for at least several weeks. Dad was in charge of logistics for the military throughout the entire country, and most of South/Central America, so he would send a squad of his subordinates to each of the bases in the “Canal Zone”, they would pull-up in a M2 (deuce-and-a-half) filled with cases and cases of MRE’s and bottled water (escorted by several M113’s and a couple Bradley fighting vehicles), they would drive through the neighborhood and deliver a few cases of each to each home. I ditinctly remember fighting with my brother over the different entee selections (I would usually saddle him with the ones I didn’t like, such as “tuna with noodles”, “dehydrated pork patty” &”chicken a-la king”). Anyway, I remember that we were NEVER given the option of cooking something different for a meal… we would have to eat what was put in front of us for dinner, or we would get it for breakfast, and lunch, and so on until it was gone… after a while not eating isn’t an option, so you learn to suck-it-up and choke it down!


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