How to Introduce Meaningful Work to Children and Why It’s So Beneficial (for Both of You!)

Family play areas at New Shoots Children's Centres are great for role playing meaningful work.
Photo by Amanda Aitken Photography

Have you ever noticed your toddler’s eyes light up as they watch you scramble eggs or unload the dishwasher?

For adults, these daily tasks can be boring and repetitive, but to young children, these are magical actions full of wonder, mystery, skill and precision.

Sometimes, we get so busy that we miss the opportunity to involve our young children in jobs around the house. We plonk them down with a toy so we can prepare dinner or wash the dishes, not realising these tasks are what they’d love to do the most!

Unsure where to start? We have created this guide to help you get toddlers involved in meaningful work around the house.

Getting your child to help you with the dishes is a great way to encourage meaningful work and spend quality time together

Why are purposeful activities so valuable for children?

Getting to mix the cake batter is the real-life version of what your toddler is doing in their toy kitchen. This is what they’ve been practising for! But while helping out with hands-on activities is certainly fun for toddlers, it is also incredibly beneficial.

Improves coordination and motor skills:

Tasks with end goals help children develop their motor skills in a way that toys cannot. They learn to alter their pressure, increase their accuracy and improve hand-eye coordination.

Enhances communication:

Meaningful work will help develop your little helper’s language and non-verbal communication. A whole world of words will open up to them as you describe your task. At the same time, they will observe your subtle body language as you work together towards a common goal.

Boosts self confidence:

It feels pretty good when you master a task, doesn’t it? Toddlers feel this too, and giving them a job to try, experiment with and perfect gives them feelings of purpose and pride, boosting their self-esteem.

How to get started with meaningful work – Tasks for beginners

Start small, including your children in fairly simple tasks. In an early childhood education setting, we are well prepared for a mess; at home, you may want to contain the mess by having your toddler sit in a high chair, on the kitchen floor or on the ground outside. Some initial things to try are:

  • Whisking eggs
  • Spreading butter on toast
  • Washing dishes in a bucket
  • Pulling weeds out of the garden
Advanced work for little hands:

Once you and your toddler have some experience under your belts, move on to these advanced jobs which require more coordination, improved accuracy, and possibly additional patience on your end!

  • Put groceries away
  • Unload the dishwasher
  • Pour a glass of water
  • Sand a piece of wood
Expert level toddler tasks:

Some of these activities require closer supervision as there’s opportunity for injury. Others rely on both you and your toddler being emotionally ready, so go gently and ease off if it’s too soon.

  • Grate a carrot
  • Bang nails into a piece of wood
  • Make the bed
  • Fold the washing
At New Shoots Children's Centres, one way we promote meaningful work is buy letting the children pour their own water
Photo by Amanda Aitken Photography

Tips for meaningful work at home

 At New Shoots, we love nothing more than sharing meaningful work with children, but we should also caution you to be realistic! Toddlers have not mastered the physical world and sometimes tasks don’t go to plan.

 Here are some tips from our early childhood teachers when taking on jobs at home:

  • Go with the flow: what excites toddlers one day might not the next. Be flexible and adjust your expectations both for yourself and your child.
  • Be patient and don’t expect perfection – these tasks can require a huge amount of patience. Let children take their time with a new skill and value the process over the end product.
  • Messes will happen – remember, their coordination will not match their eagerness!
  • Grow naturally – this is about having fun, experiencing the real world and sharing a moment. Enjoy it, start small and build up naturally to bigger and more complicated tasks together.

You’ll benefit too!

Despite the inevitable mess that will arise from giving your toddler real-life, hands-on tasks around the house, you will benefit too.

It will give you a new way to connect with your child, distinct from the blocks, cars and dolls you may have tired of. Meaningful work is ever-changing, dynamic and necessary, so these jobs won’t feel repetitive the way playing with toys might.

You’ll also start to see the world through your toddlers’ eyes and take pleasure in seeing how happy they get when they try something new. Hands-on activities are a cornerstone at New Shoots. Learn more about the philosophies and frameworks that make up our curriculum here.

Let’s get moving

Start your child’s journey

Enrolment Conditions

New Shoots operates as a full day service and do not offer short days or sessions;
Our fees include high quality teacher ratios above Ministry of Education Standards;
Minimum enrolment is two days per week; A $50 enrolment fee will be due upon enrolment to confirm your place;
Two weeks notice is required when terminating enrolment; 10% discount is applicable to your eldest child’s fees if you have two or more children attending New Shoots full time;
Nappies and food are provided; and Formula is not provided – this must be brought in from home if required. 

To be read in conjunction with the Fee Policy.
Fees effective from 1st April 2022.