Teaching kids to work

Tony Woodlief wants to develop his four sons’ work ethic “Humans need work, and they need to see that their work has a purpose,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal.

One summer I installed stairs and flooring in our stifling-hot attic. My oldest son, 4 at the time, insisted on donning his little work belt to help. I situated him in a corner with his tiny hammer and watercolor paint, where he spent hours hammering and painting while I nailed floorboards. Months later, out of the blue, he took my hand and asked when we could do that again. Focused on the heat and the weight of those boards, I’d found the work miserable. But to my son it was blissful. We now had a “secret room.” And he had worked with his daddy.

Children often don’t have the opportunity to see their parents work, much less to work with them.

About Joanne


  1. I remember my mom “letting” me dust as a child. And I remember begging to help her in the garden. Or to help my dad paint. I think what Woodlief says is true.

  2. Nels Nelson says:

    It must be nice to be so wealthy that your kids don’t know what work is.

  3. I like the story and I completely agree. Children enjoy these projects. My daughters have helped me paint rooms, rake the yard, garden, fold the laundry, and other tasks. They love it and it is fun for me to have them around.

    Of course, I still can’t get them to put away their toys after playing with them, but I think that it is because there is no “end” for those tasks, but endless repitition. I however, see endless repetition in laundry folding and other tasks, but I guess they are far enough separated that the kids don’t see the pattern.

  4. I agree with the story. My son never fails to help with projects around the house when asked. I enjoy listening to his ideas when we encounter a problem that needs solved; sometimes I measure once and cut twice instead of the opposite.

  5. Am I the only one that thinks the kid didn’t do any work? As described, it sounds like he simply played. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t know that a four year old should work, beyond perhaps a few chores, and I’m not sure that a four year old is capable of work, in any meaningful sense. And I am not criticizing pretend play, or companionate activities among parents and children. I just don’t see that there is anything in this scenario that has anything to do with teaching kids to work.

    I agree completely that it is important for parents to teach their kids to work. But for a four year old that’s all in the future. How it is best done, I’m not sure, though I am a parent and have some experience. Certainly taking responsibility for appropriate chores is part of it. And developing good school work habits and values is a part of it. And having some opportunity to do actual work for pay, under a boss who is not pretending, is part of it.

    I applaud everything Tony Woodleif did in this scenario, except for calling it work. Actually learning to work is much too important to confuse it with with play or pretense.