The Value of Work

If you have children old enough to take on household chores, you’re probably familiar with the uphill battle that often results when you try to enforce a child’s responsibility to the family group. Perhaps you have even given up trying. If so, you wouldn’t be alone. A 2014 survey of U.S. adults showed that 82% had performed regular chores growing up, but only 28% now required their own children to do them. Parents frequently cite the demands of school and extracurricular activities—piano lessons, soccer practices, Mandarin classes, tutoring sessions—as the reason chores have fallen by the wayside.

And yet it’s no surprise that chores have proven to have a positive effect on adolescent development. In a study of over 700 teenagers from Asian, Latin American, and European backgrounds in the Los Angeles area, those who spent more time helping their family with chores, even when they felt burdened by those chores, nevertheless reported “significantly more happiness and positivity on a daily basis.” The study also found evidence that assisting the family provided immunological benefits.

Taking a cue from family studies like these, in addition to the robust evidence from work programs at the Mountain School in Vermont, the Northwest School in Seattle, and the Hershey Montessori School in Ohio, we will invite Millennium School students into the practice of caring for their school environment. Over the course of a year, students will rotate through various occupations, developing dependability, competence, empathy, and pride in a job well done.

Take the “Kitchen Committee,” for example. Because community building often revolves around food, we’ve designed a student-created communal lunch into our schedule one day each week. Each term, a small set of students will be on the Kitchen Committee, charged with managing the kitchen budget, ordering food, and preparing it. They’ll quickly discover the complexity of this process, calculating how to ensure their budget lasts the whole term and feeds everyone well, buying food and perhaps negotiating for bulk discounts from vendors, organizing volunteers to help them with their kitchen duties, etc. In completing this “chore,” they see clearly how their efforts support their community, and at the same time they build skills in collaboration, planning and executive function, and mathematics, among others. Not to mention, imagine the empathy students will feel for those who prepare their food the other days of the week.

In addition to the kitchen committee tasks, there could be many other occupations through which students could rotate. For example, students could organize events, assist with school accounting, install and maintain technology, or work on repair projects with our operations manager. They could run a student store or cafe, curate the visual environment, or blog about school news. The possibilities are endless. At a school in Golden, Colorado, students even run their own bicycle repair shop that the whole town uses. No matter how many ideas we come up with, we know students will come up with even better ones.

We look forward to rolling up our sleeves with our first cohort next fall!