I had actually started writing this blog a while ago, but put it aside due to a personal health crisis. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have finished writing it and the blog seems a perfect fit for what all parents of elementary school age kids are having to live right now… and yeah, the current crisis in our world is doing a good job of reminding us that being a parent is a lot of work. Although parenting also has amazing rewards!
I love looking at my dad’s old pictures from the 1930s. I used to also love listening to his stories about growing up as a kid. So much freedom, yet so much hardship and responsibility. My dad grew up with seven other siblings. His mom passed away from breast cancer when he was six years old. The youngest was four at that time. His father (my grandfather) had to raise all eight kids on his own with very little money. He suffered from hysterical blindness for months after his wife’s death. Life was unbelievably difficult for this farm family who constantly moved from house to house.
Having a steady job in the farming industry during the great depression was very difficult. Kids at that time worked with their parents picking fruit in the orchards because one person could not make enough money for the entire family. My father used to reminisce about how he used a large knife to cut apricots when he was only six years old. He never once cut himself or anyone else. Dangerous sharp knives were commonly seen in the hands of young boys who used them in the orchards for work or to carve wooden toy figurines. There was never any money to actually buy new toys.
My father often spent his time outdoors. Since there were not many toys to play with inside the house, most of the play was done outside. His brothers and sisters spent time on bicycles or tricycles. They also played with equipment used for plowing fields. My grandpa helped the kids make bows and arrows out of wood and the kids would shoot them in the yard. Kids climbed apricot trees and yes, injuries did happen, but they were few and far between. The kids were educated by their older siblings about how to play on the trees safely.
How They Used To Raise Kids
Parents in farming families did not over-indulge their kids with toys and clothing. A typical farming kid owned maybe two or three toys and one or two pairs of clothes (one pair of shoes). They earned money from working on the farm with the adults. When kids earned their own money to keep, they bought their own toys and candy.
Many farming families at that time had multiple kids. The older kids had a lot of responsibilities helping the younger ones. Parents were never criticized for asking the older kids to take care of younger kids, because it was impossible to be at the service of all your children all the time in a family of ten. That’s just the way it was and families survived doing things this way. Not only did children survive, but they thrived. Every one of my father’s brothers and sisters lived happily and successfully later on in life, despite having lived through such hardships for so long. All the kids in that family grew up with a love for learning new things and worked hard to become successful without the aid of a fancy university. My dad, for example, graduated junior college with and Associates of Arts degree and then went into the military where he learned hands on skills like piloting airplanes and flight mechanics.
With no TVs, iPads, computers or video games available in the 1930s, parents and older siblings had to teach younger siblings how to entertain themselves. This required a lot of parent-child and sibling-child interaction from the older kids. Every interaction was also a learning experience. Even through play, children learned manners, communication skills, mathematics, engineering (making bows and arrows for example) and physics from family members. Children back in that era were exposed to constant human interactive learning throughout the day. Any down time was spent reading, sewing, knitting, or cooking. At the same time, children had the freedom to wonder about on their own a bit, learning life long skills without an adult hovering over them the entire time.
How We Can Learn from Them
Manners were a big deal back in the 1930s. Parents worked hard to have well mannered children. Why? Community pressure. If a parent did not have a well mannered child back in those days, everyone knew and that family would be criticized for it. As a parent today, I’m trying to be aware of my kids manners while eating at the dinner table, going to the store, searching for books in the library, asking for things, etc… It’s exhausting! I have to constantly remind them to say please and thank you for things. How did parents back then do it?
What I’m Incorporating From The Past Generation:
Going to a restaurant is a great opportunity to teach my kids math, or reading, word searches or art! I put the electronics away. My husband and I don’t allow cell phones or iPads at the table. Any opportunity to sit and talk and interact with our kids is a valuable one and we don’t want to spoil it by putting an electronic device in their hands.
We Try Hard Limit the Electronics, Including The TV in General
Not an easy thing to do these days, especially when we are all “Sheltering-in-Place.” My prediction is that young kids will start getting a little bored of electronics at some point and resort to entertaining themselves in better ways… at least that’s my hope. Remember kids in the 1930s didn’t have electronics. I’m sure parents at that time sometimes felt like they never got a break. But kids were better at entertaining themselves in that era. They did things like play pretend outside, ride bikes, build forts, play sports, carve figurines out of sticks, played card games, help with the cooking and baking, read books, and some practiced an instrument. All of these activities helped develop really important skills.
I’ve learned to turn the TV off after a certain time period that the kids and I agree upon. There are some days when the TV does not go on at all. We also have days when the TV is on almost all day…but those days are rare and special.
Teach Kids to Stay Entertained
How do you get your kids to play more with their toys? Here’s a secret: Kids get bored of their toys pretty quickly. I put some toys in our front room within reach (some LEGO projects stay out on a coffee table we hardly use 24/7). We also have cubbies with toys, however quite a few of the favorite toys stay out of sight and out of mind in the garage. When the kids get bored, I pull one set of toys out and the kids play with it as if it were a new and exciting toy. Then it goes back in the garage for several weeks.
Finally, Kids Learn Skills Through Guided Activities That Lead to Independence
I’ve learned that sometimes kids have to learn how to play with certain toys in a certain way. This is especially true for games. Turn taking, rules and game etiquette don’t come naturally. Appropriate play with toys does not come naturally either. Playing has to be modeled and taught by either adults or older children. Same goes for cell phone etiquette for teenagers for example. I hear parents of teenagers tell me how important it is to keep an eye on the phone usage. Logic on phones just does not come naturally to teens.
Count The Positive Interactions
Challenge for parent readers: Count how many learning opportunities you provide to your child everyday for one week. You might be surprised to find out you do this a lot more than you thought, or perhaps, not enough. Just five minutes of parent/child or parent/teen interaction per day will make a huge difference in your relationship with your child, while building those important life skills they need to develop as they grow.
You Are Not Alone Right Now
Sheltering-in-Place is emotionally tiring but hang in there and enjoy the time you have with your children. I’ll give you permission to have a big glass of wine at the end of each week :)-