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