Now What Can I Do?
February 1985

“Now What Can I Do?” Ensign, Feb. 1985, 68

“Now What Can I Do?”

Do your children complain they have nothing to do, even though they have toys enough to keep them occupied? I have found that my children would much rather do “real” things—help me around the house or create their own useful objects—than play with toys.

I discovered early that my children enjoy feeling that they are contributing to the family. When I bake, the little children grease the pans. It is just as creative as finger painting and it keeps them busy while I mix the ingredients. It is a necessary part of the operation, so they feel good because they have been useful. When I make bread, each child has a piece of dough to shape and bake. It is more fun than working with modeling clay and it results in something we can all enjoy.

The children help with other cooking, too. They sometimes mix a meat loaf with their hands while I add ingredients. They also wash potatoes, shuck corn, and tear lettuce for salads. It takes them longer than it would take me to do these things, but by the time they are old enough to start school they can fix a meal. (An added benefit is that they are not fussy about what there is to eat because they have cooked it.)

During canning season the children stem cherries, pit apricots and prunes, peel apples, and slip the skins off peaches, beets, and tomatoes. We write their names on the lids of the jars they fill so they can survey their work when they are done. While we are canning, we tell stories, make up songs, and just enjoy being together.

Instead of buying building blocks for our children, we get wood scraps from cabinet shops and saw mills. The kids help us stack the wood, and then play with it until we have burned it all in the fireplace.

We teach the younger children to help around the house by playing games. Sometimes I say, “I’m thinking of a particular toy. Whoever happens to put it away gets a surprise.” Or I’ll say, “Your ticket for dinner is a spoon,” or whatever else needs to be picked up.

We also use real-life situations to help our children learn academic subjects. I told one of our daughters who had a hard time learning to read that she could cook as soon as she could read the recipes. By the time she was eight, she was making cakes and cookies from scratch without my help. She also learned math from cooking. We always have to double or triple a recipe; soon she was making the necessary calculations with ease.

We encourage family members to develop new skills and talents. Our older children are involved in making slide shows for their grandparents for Christmas and birthdays. They write their own poems and songs and plan to submit them for publication.

When children’s learning activities are part of real life, they feel confident about their abilities and can begin planning their own activities. They don’t need us to tell them what to do. And they feel secure in trying new things because they have succeeded in the past. Above all, they don’t have to spend time preparing for life, because they have already been living it. Mary James, Orem, Utah

Illustrated by Scott Knudsen and Richard Hull