Being children, and only human, the boys definitely prefer the decorative bits of home economics. It’s never hard to persuade them to decorate biscuits!
I want to teach them useful life skills as well, however, so once a week we do an hour of housework. I try and vary the tasks for the boys, and I try to find things that they enjoy. At the moment, this is a list of what they can do, in order of preference:
1) Polishing the bannister,
2) Putting a load of washing on,
3) Cleaning windows,
4) Cleaning the bathroom,
5) Cleaning the table,
6) Getting the washing off the line,
7) Putting the washing on the line,
9) Tidying up!
They may not always be as thorough as me, but I love watching them learn useful skills, and they love feeling genuinely helpful! They both enjoy telling family and visitors all about how hard they work.
To help maintain enthusiasm for tasks, I let the boys help choose cleaning supplies. There are loads of scents available as well as the choices if foams or liquids, spray bottles or pouring bottles. They are always excited about using something they chose. Being pretty relaxed about these things myself probably helps. I don’t really care which bathroom cleaner we use, so they boys may as well pick one with a fun name or a bright orange squeezy trigger.
We have a similar approach to cooking. They enjoy having done it a lot more than they enjoy actually doing it! And they have another clear hierarchy of the desirability of tasks. Stirring is more fun than chopping. Grinding pepper is more fun than pouring milk. Turning the oven on is more fun than measuring ingredients. And tasting is the most fun of all!
I often involve the children in cooking dinner, because fairy cakes are not the main stay of a healthy diet. I think if you’re going to cook with your children, you should cook real food. Last week we made spinach and riccota cannelloni (particularly fun because we got to harvest spinach from the garden before we cooked!). Making meals without using a recipe book are a big part of our cooking lessons. It won’t help them get jobs as chefs, but it will mean that once they have a kitchen of their own, they should have some idea of how to make a meal. I showed them how to mix riccota, spinach, grated cheddar, salt and pepper; then stuff it all into cannelloni tubes and lay them in chopped tomato sauce; throw on a few handfuls of grated cheddar and parmesan; then bake. They are already used to me saying ‘oh, we don’t have enough of this, that’s ok we can use that instead’. A bit of bread flour when we run out of plain, a can of kidney beans when there isn’t enough mince, caster sugar instead of granulated, brown sugar instead of caster . . . The substitutions are endless! I’m not aiming for Michelin star cookery, just an ability to feed themselves.
Sometimes we do really lazy cooking, or make something from a box. Like this creme caramel.
It may not be really clever cooking, but it involves reading and following directions and measuring. Plus, they can do it all by themselves! They really enjoy the few dishes they can prepare independently (salads and Angel Delight!). They like to experiment with different seasonings (lots of tasting involved there) and adore taking ownership of ‘their’ recipes.
I think they learn lots of practical skills, as well as an appreciation of all the work that goes into running the house. In these lessons more than in any other, I find I have one eye on the independent men I hope they will become. I imagine them leaving home and needing to make healthy meals for themselves, and keep their own places at least a little bit clean. I think about the lives they will live, and hope to prepare them as well as I can. Sometimes it seems like one of our most important and serious lessons.
But every now and again, we just decorate biscuits!