I invite children to stand on chairs at the sink, sponges in hand. The water is filling the sink and the smell of citrusy dish soap is in the air. Earlier I had asked if they were interested in washing dishes, and a cheer went up before they hurried into the kitchen. An outsider might have heard their excitement and expected an offer of something sweet, but this is often the reaction I receive when I invite children to activities based on caring for their environment.
I began to offer the opportunity for children to join me washing dishes when I was in a hurry. I needed to get the dishes done, no other adult was available, and left to their own devices in the classroom chaos would have definitely ensued. On a whim I suggested they join me at the sink in the kitchen, and much to my pleasant surprise, they happily accepted. Sponges in hand I set each child to a task. One would wash with me, while the other rinsed off the soap. Half-way through I realized how well this was going, and that my washer was truly washing the dishes, not simply manipulating the water and soap on the sponge, as I would expect. I made the decision to step back, and the process continued without me for well over 10 minutes.
This observation inspired me to continue this idea of including the children into the maintenance of our kitchen and classroom environment. Folding laundry was the next step, which got me thinking about an entire new set of concepts that the children are working on as they tidy and clean. Washing dishes is a repetitive patter, including a fairly complex series of steps, leading to an expected outcome. This sounded like the basis for logical sequencing which is found in mathematics, geometry and even language. Folding laundry involves visual discrimination and sorting, playing to the child's strong need for order in their environment as they returns things to where they belong. Refinement of the hand is practiced as different items are folded in different ways, and hand eye coordination is employed when placing things in neat stacks.
My thought process got really excited then. How else could the children help out? What would it take for them to become independent with these things? I set up an area in the classroom dedicated to supporting the children's growing ability of noticing something that needs care and I stocked it with tools for them to use. By giving the children permission by offering appropriate tools, they found joy in caring for their environment and often preferred these 'chores' to the toys on our shelves, while they honed life-long skills that they can apply in various ways.