Are your children team players? People who happily help out at home and include others at school? Kids who know not just how to lead but, when it’s required, to follow?
There are plenty of reasons to teach your children how to be more of a “Go team!” and less of an “I am the center of the universe” kind of kid. Children in the habit of sharing responsibilities and working with others — whether at home or at school — tend to be less self-centered and more respectful, responsible, cooperative, resilient, and self-sufficient. Research on kids and chores done in 2003 by Marty Rossmann, emeritus associate professor of family education at the University of Minnesota, found that those who regularly do household chores from an early age are far more likely to be successful young adults.
But teaching kids the value of teamwork doesn’t have to be a wag-your-finger “Do this now!” exercise (unless you’re prepared to deal with the requisite moans and groans of “That’s not fair!” and “I don’t want to”).
Here are four activities to give kids practice at being part of a team:
Chart a course
To get every family member’s buy-in for household teamwork, create a chore chart. Before making the chart, hold a family meeting and brainstorm about what needs to be done around the house. Kids will be more enthusiastic about doing their share if they’re asked to contribute their ideas and opinions. Include parental “chores” too, so everyone can see how each person is pitching in. Ask questions like: “Who should earn the money to pay the rent?” “Who should put away toys?” “Who should pick up dirty clothes and put them in the hamper?”
On a sheet of paper — ideally one with horizontal and vertical lines to create squares — write the chores (for example, do the dishes, fold the laundry, feed the dog) vertically down the left side of the paper, and write the days of the week horizontally across the top of the page. Then fill in the family member’s name in the corresponding square. (You could also print out a pre-made chore chart, like this.)
A tip: To help make housework more fun and less of a grind, change the chart every so often and do several chores as a family team — or create chore teams with competitions: The parents versus the kids.
Teamwork lesson: The discussion, chart, and chores serve as regular reminders that pitching in is simply part of life — at home, at school, and at work.
Bag the drama
Have a small group of kids put on a short play or skit. Give them a grocery bag filled with different items — a hat, an old necklace, a ruler, and an apple, for example — and have them think up a story using all the items.
The kids get to decide who should play what role. They can all perform in the show, but remind them that they’ll also need someone to be in charge of making programs, ensuring there are chairs for the audience, introducing the show, and serving refreshments. Set a time limit (“The play has to start in one hour from now!”) to add a fun element of pressure to “opening night” and an extra sense of how teamwork is necessary to meet a deadline.
Teamwork lesson: You often create something spectacular by working as a group, with everyone contributing ideas and talents.
Trust the guide
In this game, one player wears a blindfold and the other is the seeing-eye “guide.” The guide leads the blindfolded player around the house, through the yard, or around a simple and safe obstacle course by directing him or her — with words only — toward a specific spot, without bumping into anything.
With bigger groups, divide the kids into teams of three or four. The blindfolded player will have to listen to directions from the whole group — and the group will have to coordinate directions for the blindfolded person. Everyone should take turns in both roles to see what it’s like to meet different needs in a team.
Teamwork lesson: To be part of a team, you have to follow — as well as lead — and learn to trust and depend on others.
Open a family restaurant
Have kids design and operate a “restaurant” in your house and then serve you a meal for the “grand opening.” First ask them to come up with the restaurant’s name and what meal it will serve. Next they’ll need to make a menu and decorate the restaurant. When it comes to preparing the food, depending on the children’s ages, you may need to lend a hand (especially when working with fire and knives). But let them do what they can, and be patient with their mistakes.
Younger kids can serve something simple, like sandwiches, while older ones can try cooking on their own and managing the younger ones. But everyone will have to figure out his or her role.
Teamwork lesson: Every person’s help is required to make any business run successfully.