Work Consistently and Cheerfully with Your Children: Vehicles of Work



I wrote in an earlier post how  the book, “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression” by Mildred Armstrong Kalish affected me. The author chronicles the work she did as a child in a family that lived on a farm in Iowa during the Great Depression. The duties and chores are vast and overwhelming without indoor plumbing and electricity.  Her mother was a single mother with four children. In the summers they lived on this farm that her grandfather owned and in the winter they lived in town so they could attend school. The daily chores were:


  • Make beds
  • Do dishes
  • Sweep, dust, mop floors
  • Set and clear the table 3 times a day
  • Wash, dry and store the dishes, 3 times a day
  • Get wood and corn cobs up from the cellar or from the woodpile
  • Carry cooking and drinking water in from the woodmill
  • Fill the reservoir with soft water from the cistern
  • Carry out the slop
  • Pick and wash the vegetables from the garden
  • Clean the milk separator twice a day ( Completely disassembled, including 40 cone-shaped metal disks, taken apart and reassembled. Can you imagine?)


Those were the daily chores! Think about that the next time you use your dishwasher or grab a gallon of milk out of your refrigerator. And if that wasn’t enough, the list below were other chores they did as a family.

“Group Endeavors”

  • Pull milkweed, morning-glory and button weeds out of the oat, corn and bean fields.
  • Handpick green beans for the canning factory in Vinton, Iowa. (Could only pick in the sun because dew would dry to rust on the beans)
  • Shock oats
  • Can meat
  • Wash clothes (it took the whole day)
  • Make apple or plum butter and jam
  • Churn regular butter
  • Harvest red and white clover, timothy and alfalfa
  • Cut and store hay
  • Catch and kill chickens
  • Clean windows
  • Can a good supply of food for the winter

Mildred Armstrong goes on to say,

“It is no longer practical to cure and smoke your own hams or make your own bacon or your own butter or headcheese, much less your own marshmallows. However, I do feel that the knowledge of how to fry potatoes, make a pie crust and dress a chicken encourages self –sufficiency and creates a sense of confidence in one’s ability to cope with life. Indeed, I want my own family to be aware of the foods, the ingenuity, the knowledge, the skills, and above all, the everlasting work that was required to survive when resources and supplies were limited.” “Developing a sense of responsibility? Building character? Yes of course, we were.”

As modern parents we get the rolled eyes when almost anything is asked. You can change that in your family. You can have children that will jump up when you ask, or become really good at being “notice-ers”. The more you praise and reinforce this positive behavior, the more you will see it. The more you do familywork together, the easier it will get.

Use Vehicles to Work Together

When I was in college studying to be an elementary school teacher, one of my professors taught us about “vehicles” to teach concepts instead of lecturing endlessly or teaching subjects by rote. A vehicle could be a mural painted on the subject studied, a special notebook made, a diorama or something else to make the subject more interesting. The idea was that children were learning the subject while painting, cutting, drawing etc. and making the work enjoyable.

Similarly, you can do the same when you figure out how to do familywork in your family. You find “vehicles” or methods that help work be more fun. One friend does “Five from Top to Bottom.” The family races from room to room, each person putting 5 things away in every room of the house. She said, “Even my four-year old can put 5 things away.” They race through making it fun to put things away rather than hard.

In my family, some of our “vehicles” are “5 minute clean-up” where after a meal where we sit down together, the whole family helps the person on dishes for 5 minutes. More than half or three-quarter of the dishes get done that way in that little space of time and then the child on duty can finish up easily by himself.

Another vehicle for us is when we often “March through Georgia” where everyone marches through the house like the Union army and cleans up. The power of a ten minute focus with many helpers working is amazing. I yell this out when last-minute visitors are coming, or I look around and there is so much clutter we all just need to pitch in and put things away.

Work together as a family, even if it may be faster and easier to do the job ourselves. Talk with our sons and daughters as we work together.”

Next post I will talk about one of enduring, favorite vehicles, the “Hour of Power”. What vehicles do you use when you work together as a family? Please share in the comments section!





One thought on “Work Consistently and Cheerfully with Your Children: Vehicles of Work

  1. I think being enthusiastic and giving something a fun title definitely helps. When we had to sort through all the old movies and figure out what to get rid of, I told the kids we were having a “Vote for Videos” night. I also used to tell them we were having an “Under the Bed Party” — I’d take off their mattress and they’d have to clean out everything that had been under the bed. Maybe we’d have refreshments afterwards. It was great for younger kids! (Teens are a bit harder to motivate.)


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