Thursday, August 2, 2012

Training Children: Packing for a Trip

When he carried his suitcase upstairs, set it on his bed and unzipped it, I had no idea what I'd find.  Something about a week at camp can make a boy transform a feral animal, it seems.  I peered cautiously in, hoping not to find anything that should have been left out in nature.

"Ben, didn't you wear any of your clothes?"  I'm confused.  They're all there...folded neatly, just as when he left.

"Oh.  Well, I put them all in my dirty clothes bag, but then couldn't zip the zipper.  So I just folded them all and re-packed them."  I stared.  A suitcase full of folded dirty clothes?  Definitely not what I had expected to find.  After a moment, I began to laugh, lifting out shirt after shirt, pants, shorts, underwear and yes even socks, neatly balled into pairs.  I shook out his folding job and tossed the lot into the laundry basket.  At his door I turned  and said "Hey.  You did a great job with the folding.  So good, I thought I had done it!"

This week, we're heading out of town on a family trip - first to a wedding, then on to spend time with family. Packing 7 people for events of varying degrees in dress code could be a daunting task - and in some ways, it is.  I have to know who is just fine on socks and who needs a few new pair.  Who has shoes that need polishing and who needs a new pair altogether.  Beyond the logistics and list making, however, I'm enjoying using this process as yet another way to introduce my kids to some valuable life skills: packing for a trip.

As with most such lessons, it would undoubtedly be more efficient and less messy to just do the job myself.  But bypassing help from my children will only serve to handicap them in the long run.  So I gather them alongside and show them basic skills in keeping with their individual skill levels.  When I think of all the things my kids need to know, I think of the things I learned growing up - the opportunities for growth, independence and learning that I had - and I try to pass these same opportunities on.  Learning to fold laundry, pack, cook, clean, care for things - all important life skills.  Skills that, unfortunately, many of today's young adults seem to be lacking.

Time is short and the crush of expectations can be overwhelming - giving our kids opportunities in extra-curriculars, focusing on their faith walk and making sure their grades are up to par.  But we'd be remiss if we forgot to impart to them just how to get along with the every day tasks of living in the real world.  We won't be there to do their laundry for them when they move out, or pack them for trips.  We'll hope they know how to make themselves (and someone else!) dinner, how to clean a bathroom correctly, how to keep up with the dishes.  These things may not seem important, but giving our kids a leg up on them when they are small means that they will become habit by the time they are on their own.  These habits, well presented and adapted, are a gift of freedom to our future adult children.  This is why I place importance on these things now.

So, they help me pack.  Ben can fold and pack himself with minimal direction from me.  Dinah as well.  I fold the clothes for the younger ones and they carefully set them in the suitcase before making a check mark on the packing slip.  The little ones love helping Mom.  The big ones feel free and independent and all I have to do is check the finished product.  It takes a little more time, but it gets done.  And not just the packing:  the learning of new, valuable, whole life skills.

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  1. We're getting ready to leave the Netherlands for 3 weeks in the States on Sunday, and I love these ideas for having my kids help with the packing!

  2. I so agree. My little man loves to help me with simple daily tasks, and yes when he does it takes a little longer. But the look of pride on his face when he has finished and succeeded in a task is truly amazing. And the life lessons he learns along the way are a huge bonus.

  3. Love this sentiment - "But bypassing help from my children will only serve to handicap them in the long run." - and definitely need to learn to put it into practice more often. Thank you for the inspiration!


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