How Kids Benefit From Real Responsibilities

hands on responsibilities for toddlers, household chores benefit kids,

Helping out early=long term success. (Image: 2.0 clogozm)

Years ago my two older kids, about seven and nine at the time, were getting ready to wash the floor. A neighbor girl knocked at the door asking to play. When my son told her he was going to wash the floor first she begged to be included. Although this girl had more monetary advantages than my children could have imagined (summer camp, private skating lessons, hundreds of TV channels) she was entranced. She’d never seen kids doing chores, let alone kids in charge of cleaning a floor. She pitched right in as they scooted furniture out of the way, then swept. I gave them a bucket of slightly soapy water and they went to work with rags, scooting across the wet floor on their knees like crabs, giggling as the floor got wetter and their scooting became sloshy sliding. Their method didn’t matter to me. I was holding the baby and diverting the toddler while peeling potatoes and finishing up a work-related call. I was pretty sure the floor would be somewhat cleaner when they were done. They dried it with towels, moved the furniture back with appropriate grunting and groaning, then slumped on the couch. They looked entirely relaxed, as people do when satisfied with a job well done. When I got off the phone I came in to thank them. They were admiring how the floor caught the light and cautioning our toddler to keep his sippy cup on the table.

After that day the neighbor girl asked if she could do chores every time she came over. It seemed funny at the time, but I think now that she recognized she’d been missing the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie found in working together.

The floors aren’t spotless in my house. The bathrooms are also far from perfect. But I’m totally at peace with this. That’s because my kids handle much of the cleaning around here. I’m happy to do the cooking (or more truthfully I have control issues about what goes into the food my family eats). And I don’t mind being the family laundry wench, although I know kids are capable of handling their own laundering tasks. But in the spirit of “we’re all in this together” I’ve expected my kids to handle a sizeable share of household (and farm) work ever since they were small. I still do.


Start your chefs early. (Image: woodleywonderworks)

Actually, starting young is the key. When toddlers beg to help fold laundry or wash the car with us it’s easier to send them off to play so we can get the job done ourselves. But this is exactly the time to foster a child’s natural helpfulness.

It’s also a powerful way to promote positive development in all sorts of areas. Research shows that children who participated in household tasks starting at age three or four were more likely to succeed in adulthood. I’m talking big success like educational completion, meeting career goals, and maintaining good relationships with family and friends. Even I.Q. scores had a weaker correlation with success than giving children early responsibilities.

And waiting until children were older can backfire. We tend to spend a lot on activities and products for our children assuming this enriches their lives but if they don’t get the chance to take on real responsibilities, we’re depriving them of key components of adult competency.

Young children clamor to be included. When a preschooler begs to help prepare dinner, he doesn’t want to play with cooking toys, he wants to participate in the real work that’s taking place. It slows us down to let him cut fresh mushrooms with a butter knife (and restraint to avoid criticizing or re-cutting), but a child recognizes his contribution toward dinner. He’s also more likely to eat it.

Movement and Hands-on Experience

how movement builds bodies and brains, chores=success,

Movement builds bodies and brains. (Image: spacecadet)

Helping out engages young children in activities that promote movement-cued development. This includes large motor activities like digging in the garden, carrying a watering can, putting away groceries, and sweeping with a broom. It also includes fine motor tasks like using a screwdriver and tearing lettuce for a salad.

Childhood is a period of major neuroplasticity, when learning actually changes the brain’s functional anatomy. Hands-on experiences are particularly vital at this time. In fact, the child who regularly engages with manipulatives (arranging veggies on a platter, setting the table, sorting socks) and applies real-world math (measuring and pouring coffee beans in the grinder, taking things apart and putting them together, following recipes) has a strong foundation of representational experience, which enables better understanding of abstract mathematical concepts when they are introduced later. These movement-based tasks are also closely linked to the brain development necessary for reading and writing. (Find out more about this in Sally Goddard Blythe’s wonderful book, The Well Balanced Child: Movement and Early Learning.)


Growing as a Person and a Family

chores build relationships,

Shared tasks build relationships. (Image: Appalachia Service Project)

Children accustomed to flashy toys and rapidly changing screen images may become so wired to this overstimulation that without it they’re bored. The slower pace of yard and household tasks can be an important antidote, especially when we’re willing to go at a child’s pace. Young children tend to balk when they’re hurried or left out. They show us, stubbornly and often loudly, that there’s nothing more important to them than the here and now. So whenever possible, slow down so you can make working together enjoyable. Letting a small child spread peanut butter, cut sandwiches, and pour milk into cups from a small pitcher affirms the value of the present moment. It also makes an ordinary lunch into a tea party.

The benefits don’t end for older children. Hands-on experience in all sorts of tasks and hobbies promotes learning, builds character, and helps to form the basis of our future selves. When neurologist Frank R. Wilson interviewed high achievers he found many credited their expertise to attributes learned through hands-on activities. In his book, The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, Wilson emphasizes that resourcefulness and self-definition arise from the use of our hands more than from the dictates of our educational system.

In a way, doing tasks together puts parent and child on more even ground. So often we parents are rushing to schlep our kids to practice or lessons or other kid-oriented events, making them the pivot around which a family’s activities revolve. Taking part in regular tasks together, even if we’re pulling weeds on opposite sides of the garden, affirms the sort of mutuality that advertisers tell us is only found in pricey vacations. Of course time afterwards for a nice game of hoops and some cold lemonade builds bonds too.

As our children grow, doing tasks together can continue to strengthen our relationships. Moments of meaningful interaction happen easily when washing dishes, folding laundry, fixing the car, or walking the dog together. Working on shared chores helps a child’s contemplative side emerge, prompting discussions that may never have happened otherwise. This is true between parent and child as well as between siblings. I remember my mother bemoaning the arrival of our dishwasher because we no longer took turns washing and drying, ending a relaxed half hour of post-dinner conversation each evening.

It’s easy to make these activities a tradition. Teenagers who have always helped out when a parent puts on snow tires, cleans out the basement for a yearly garage sale, or cans pickles may grumble when asked, but chances are they’d feel excluded if left out too. In part, who we are is defined by what we do. Growing up with hands-on lessons in taking initiative, practicing cooperation, and working towards a goal helps to shape character. And it transforms pickle-making from drudgery to an important family ritual.

Delayed Gratification

early responsibility for success in adulthood,

Labor’s fruits may seen a long way off. (Image: OakleyOriginals)

This is a biggie in the “you’ll thank me later” department because kids who are able to delay gratification are much more likely to do well as they grow up.

We model delayed gratification each time we choose to work for a later or larger goal. This includes saving, making do, and making it ourselves. We demonstrate it when the whole family pitches in to rake a neighbor’s leaves while she’s recovering from a broken hip. We teach it when we let a child see that if he doesn’t do the laundry when it’s his turn, there won’t be a clean team shirt to wear to the game. And we show that it’s expected every time our kids pitch in with the ordinary jobs necessary to run a household.

This may seem negative, particularly when popular culture constantly screams “have it now” and “get what you want.” But there are enormous positives. Our children become familiar with the pleasures of anticipation, which multiplies the eventual delight when a goal is reached. They also begin to internalize the ability to delay gratification.

This is pivotal for success. Multiple studies (cited in Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence) found that children who were able to defer gratification grew into teens and young adults who were more socially competent, better able to deal with frustration, more dependable, reached higher educational attainments, and were effectively able to make and reach long-term goals. Delayed gratification is also related to impulse control. Research shows that a child’s ability to control his or her impulses at an early age is predictive of success even decades later as a healthy, financially stable, and positive member of the community.

Expecting children and teens to take an active part in running a household gives them plenty of opportunity to gain the positive coping skills that help them control their impulses and delay gratification. It may seem like returning to the old adage, work first, play later, but the benefits can be extraordinary.

Skill building

give kids real work, make chores meaningful,

Loud chores are more awesome. (Image: Appalachia Service Project)

Regular tasks allow our children to see for themselves how the world works. They grasp principles of science and math as a seed becomes a tree, as boards are transformed into bookshelves, as flour and yeast turn into bread. They develop traits such as patience. They are motivated to apply what they’re learning to more challenging endeavors of their own. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to know what it takes to grow the tomatoes, make the sauce, and prepare the beans for tonight’s enchiladas. But more importantly, as our children become proficient at the jobs necessary to sustain their families, they also see themselves as capable. That perception transfers across all endeavors.

There’s no denying that children who participate pick up useful skills. They see that maintenance is easier than waiting till the car or laptop breaks. They can set the table, toss a salad, make a sandwich, and boil pasta. Not right away, but eventually. While they are making real contributions to running the household they’re actively learning how to cook, launder, clean, make repairs, maintain a vehicle, budget expenses, and handle other tasks which are essential for an independent life once they’re adults. Wonderful lessons in cause and effect are reinforced when children complete work and benefit from the results. Seeing oneself as an agent of useful change, priceless.

They also learn from the examples we show them, such as how to handle pressure and ways to learn from mistakes. Whether we’re four or 40, gaining competency feels good. It doesn’t hurt to give credit where it’s due. So if your child has been busy chopping mangoes, strawberries, and pineapple into tasty chunks, try renaming the result “Sophie’s Special Fruit Salad” for extra reinforcement.


meaningful chores for kids, finding purpose in chores, raising responsible kids, teaching delayed gratification, building impulse control,

Wring some meaning from work. (Image: Pink Sherbet Photography)

When we stack firewood to prepare for the upcoming winter, make a gift to celebrate a friend’s good news, or change a favorite recipe to accommodate Grandpa’s diabetes, our efforts have purpose and value. As our children participate along with us, they feel the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something that has meaning.

So many educational tasks put before our children serve no purpose other than to instruct. But when learning is connected to something truly purposeful, it can’t help but kindle motivation.

Children feel honored to be included in real work that includes real challenges. If we pay attention, we see that’s just what they pretend to do when they play.

Beyond Chores

teaching impulse control, delaying gratification, families working together,

The way we do things in our family. (Image: Evil Erin)

I’m not fond of the word “chores.” It implies that kids and adults have tasks that are set apart from the rest of our lives. Making work around the house and yard a regular part of our lives together seems more natural.

I think it’s valuable to get work done together as much as possible. For me, the simplest way to respond to grumbling has always been, “that’s just how we do it in our family,” without engaging in arguments on the topic. And of course balance is essential. Children and teens (well, all of us) need time for daydreaming, play, socializing, relaxation, projects, and all of life’s other joys.

My kids have their own chores, which they sometimes rotate. They haven’t always done them well or on time by any means. Accepting a floor as clean as a child will get it is part of having children participate. And I’m pretty laid back about things like clean bedrooms. (I remind them we try to adhere to the Firefighter Rule: Could emergency workers navigate a bedroom if necessary?) I understand that kids put less energy into tasks that don’t seem to have much importance. They recognize that a clean bedroom doesn’t affect our family’s functioning, while they know for sure that cutting and stacking firewood will keep our house warm. Hence, the firewood is done right while their rooms are often just short of scandalous.

We’ve never given them an allowance, mostly because we haven’t been able to afford it. Families have counted on children throughout history for work that was reliable and essential. Today we are fortunate that we don’t have to rely on our kids to survive, but we can expect them to contribute. The tasks may not be fun or interesting but they are necessary. They demonstrate to every child that he or she is a valuable contributor to the well-being of the family. And hearing, “Thanks, we couldn’t have done it without you,” feels good too.

I’m pretty sure growing up this way has contributed to how super responsible my kids are now in their teen and young adult years. They see a pile of boxes I need to load for our food co-op and carry them, never waiting for me to ask. They gladly stop whatever they’re doing to pitch in for an hour or all day when help is needed in the garage or barn or back yard. They are incredibly capable people who are far more astute and skilled than I’ll ever be. They can milk cows, fix tractors and cars, cut and bale hay, install plumbing, make meals, diagnose a sick chicken, hang drywall, identify spiders, back up their political opinions, weld, put on a roof, well, you get the idea. Sure, they have busy social lives and enjoy keeping their faces aimed at screens just like everyone else. But they recently spent an entire weekend helping a family member pack, move, and make repairs. They worked hard and displayed nothing but their usual good cheer. After exhausting 14 hour days I asked if they’d rather have skipped this particular task. Every one of them affirmed that it was no big deal. And I heard my words come back to me, “It’s just the way we do things in our family.”

Portions of this article were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

25 Ways To Spread Some Kindness

Image: SweetOnVeg’s flickr photostream

1. Take your compliments about an employee to management. Chances are you’ll never see the impact. Chances are, it’ll be greater than you imagine.

2. Give up a great parking space for the car behind you. Parking farther away simply gives you more exercise.

3. Call an elderly relative or neighbor once a week to chat. You may think you’re enriching that person’s life. They’re enriching yours too.

4. Hold the door open for the person behind you.

5. Write a thank you note. To see the powerful impact this practice can have, check out A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life.

6. Write an anti-thank you. Sure, it seems counter-intuitive but it’s a way of using a  negative experience to help others.

7. Leave money in vending machines, especially in hospitals and detention centers.

8. Leave a positive review for a local business on Merchant Circle, ThinkLocal, or Yelp.

9. Listen. You know how it feels when someone really listens to you. They look into your eyes, they react to your words, and you feel understood. Check your listening skills against the Scale of Attuned Responses.

10. Research shows that newborns bond with parents using scent. Help out by knitting or crocheting a crib blanket via Blankets For Deployed Daddies. The new dad transfers his scent by sleeping with it in his pillowcase for several nights, then sends it home in a sealed bag.

11. Give genuine compliments. You might want to challenge yourself to give compliments to five or ten people a day. It keeps you on the lookout for truth and beauty. Tell a clerk she has a lovely voice, a child that his smile made your day, a loved one that their eyes are beautiful.

12. That kid who keeps hanging around, looking as you grill dinner or wanting to talk while you wash the car? He may be longing for encouragement. Even a few kind words may be the kind of mentoring he needs.

13. Help budding entrepreners through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Make your money go farther by lending to a Kiva project.

14. Greet new people on your street with a small gift such as a houseplant or plate of cookies. The neighbors you’ve never met? Try online resources to connect such as i-neighbors or front porch forum.

15. Give gifts that do some good.

16. See an act of aggression? Get involved even if it seems like none of your business. That’s a kindness too.

17. Set books free. Donate them to a good cause (a nearby school, your library’s book sale?) or leave them ala Book Crossing to find new readers.

18. Donate pet food to the nearest animal shelter. While you’re there, offer to walk a few dogs.

19. Patronize kids’ car washes and lemonade stands.

20. Be aware of newcomers to your workplace, school, church or other organization. Make a point of greeting them and introducing them to others.

21. Keep duplicates of your child’s toys and books in the diaper bag. When you encounter fussy children, offer an extra to their parents.

22. Smile. Find out 10 ways this face stretcher benefits you as well as those on the receiving end.

23. Donate blood. One pint of blood can save up to three lives.  

24. Designate a tiny container as your family’s Pass It Forward box. Tuck it somewhere one member of the family will find it (under the bed pillow works) with a little surprise inside (a loving note, a handmade coupon for an unexpected perk, some chocolates, a drawing, a map of a place you’re going that day, a compliment). That person is expected to put something else in the box and leave it for another family member, so kindness can circle around and around.

25. Set a good example, be kind to yourself.


Life Lists

life lists, journaling, paying attention,

What do you want to remember?

The most avid bird watchers keep Life Lists, tracking the first time they sight a bird. They write down information like order, genus, and species. Usually they note much more. Things like date and place the bird was spotted. The more detail, the more a birder’s Life List becomes something greater than a factual log of avian sightings. Years later the pages can return that person to an afternoon standing in the dappled sunlight of a New England forest when a blue, orange, and yellow flash heralded the arrival of a Painted Bunting. It can evoke a remarkable trip to Mexico where along a riverbank three distinctive wavery notes of a Great Tinamou were heard, and all the rest of that day bird after bird was sighted until darkness arrived. It can bring back time spent with dear friends in whispered conversation waiting hours for a glimpse of a single Black-Capped Vireo.

I’m no birder. I appreciate but know next to nothing about our feathery friends. But I am intrigued by the Life List concept. Life Lists keep birders motivated. The lists also alert them to a wavelength most of us ignore. A wavelength sensitive to birdsong, flight, and the faint hush of a wings on a nearby branch. Keeping track of any one thing is entirely unnecessary but such lists cue us to a chosen frequency.

What do you want to notice and cultivate in your life? Here are some possible Life Lists to consider.

Books That Made A Difference   I’ve often thought of books that changed my worldview or opened doors inside me with their insights. Do I remember the titles and authors? Only sometimes. I truly believe there are pivotal books that make us who we are. I started such a list years ago but let it lapse.

If you keep such a list, add more than title and author. Include a quote or two, some quibbles you have with the text, questions you’d like to ask the author, why this book came at the right time for you, where you were when you read it, what it means to you. Many people are keeping their book lists on GoodReads and Library Thing.

Wildlife Seen  Like a hugely expanded birder’s list, this could be open to all species or your own particular fascination, perhaps spiders (that would keep you busy with something like 38,000 species). And like a birder’s list, you could note species, location, description, your impressions, and much more.

Trips Taken  My mother made an effort to write about the long summer trips my family took, filling spiral notebooks with destinations and mileage and her impressions. I cherish them now, even if those trips left me with the wrong kind of lust.

If you keep such a list, fill it with photos and memorabilia. Make notes about your expectations and how they were fulfilled, about sights and sounds and tastes, about conversations and funny moments.

Favorite Movies (or Movies Seen)  This can be remarkably helpful if, like me, you find yourself starting to watch a movie that sounds good only to realize you’ve seen it. A list of movies seen, with details about favorites, is something I marginally keep up on Netflix just to keep myself from re-watching something I didn’t enjoy in the first place. I have friends who attend yearly film festivals, keeping extensive notes that they share with non-festival goers like me when those movies are released. Again, the more details the better. Write down who you were with when you saw the movie, where you saw it, snippets of meme-worthy dialogue, your favorite scene, actors you predict will go places, and your review.

People Who Have Influenced You  So many people flit in and out of our lives. Sometimes we don’t realize their impact until years later when we see they served as role models (like the woman I met during my brief espionage career) or anti-role models (a surprisingly important motivator). This is one of the few lists that can be made retroactively. Think of neighbors, friends, classmates as well as public figures. Note what they did and said along with behaviors that contributed to that influence. Once you start writing these observations down you may be more attuned to daily influences of people in your life, from the spirit-lifting cheer of a clerk to the resolutely calm example of a friend in trouble.

Dream List  Sure, you could write a bucket list and cross off each experience. But I’m talking about keeping a list of dreams you remember. I’ve written down only my most memorable and startling dreams for years, usually the ones that refuse to leave my mind. There are potent messages in dreams, coming to us from deep places where wisdom waits to inform us. If you want to more fully remember your dreams, try this. Before falling asleep, remind yourself to remember and understand your dreams. As you waken, pull the threads of your dreams into your conscious awareness. Whenever possible, write them down. It helps to take the images in the dream (ladder, teacher, highway, blue car) and note what each means to you. Look back at your dream list every now and then, you may find themes unspooling into new awareness.

Paths Hiked  There’s something about coming upon new vistas along the trail that prompt reflection. Those musings might be interesting to record along with hike data like location, distance traveled, terrain, weather, and date. Note who you hiked with and maybe what you talked about or laughed over. Include photos. Some folks contribute their photos and thoughts on Tumblr sites or blogs.

Words That Cut To The Center   This is a list I’ve kept on and off since I was a teenager. I find a quote or poem that distills meaning to the essence and write it in a journal (or now, on a Word doc). I’ve lost several of these lists, only to find them years later and catch a glimpse of what occupied my heart during those times. I’ve also found such lists remarkably useful, perfect when I want to share a poem or quote with a friend.

Gratitude List    This is a popular one, even recommended by mental health experts. I’ve learned it’s possible to look past what we label “good” and “bad” to appreciate mistakes, doubt, and crisis. I’m sure a gratitude list filled with sweetness and light can lift a mood. But I suspect a gratitude list more fully fleshed out might lift our spirits into a realm of blessed understanding.

Belly Laughs, Inside Jokes, Made-Up Words  Laughter is good for us, but we rarely remember what caused us to laugh ourselves into tears. I wish I’d started a list years ago with just a few notes about who, where, and particularly what we found so funny. I suspect I’d laugh all over again.

I’d also love a list of all the inside jokes and words unique to my family and friends. Some trigger us to laugh, some promote a feeling of solidarity because they remind us of shared experiences. How easily we forget.

Here’s one my family still uses, “You no see big thing like train?”  A friend drove a truck for a business started by an immigrant whose English wasn’t easy to understand. The business made money in part because of the owner’s extreme frugality, he barely even maintained the truck. One day the friend was making a delivery when the truck’s brakes failed. Unfortunately they failed as he was approaching railroad tracks where a train was stopped. It was a large truck and much as he tried, he only managed to slow down. He crashed into the train. He was fine, the truck was not. He called his boss to explain. The boss yelled, “What, you no see big thing like train?” This line has proven itself handy in many circumstances, thankfully none involving real trains or failed brakes.

Tastings  Savoring the good things is a tasty reason to start a list.  Consider wines, beer, cheeses, chocolate, or heck, start a list of Chomping Something From Every Street Cart I Can Find. Take notes on subtle flavors, good pairings, and circumstances such as where you were and who you were with. Highlight the very best. Hmmm, I like that street cart idea…

Perfect Moments   We live in a happiness-chasing culture, perhaps because advertisers tell us in every possible way that it’s easily purchased. But if we pay attention we find that perfect moments happen all by themselves. It’s a father rocking a baby to sleep, a calf taking first tottering steps in a pasture, a turn on the dance floor made of movement and beat and sheer exuberance.  These moments aren’t easily remembered. They enlarge our lives only briefly before drifting into fragments of memory. Taking time to sketch a perfect moment is an unexpectedly rich way to capture it (try these drawing hacks for non-artists). You might also draw a mind map or write a poem. Who said lists have to be list-like?

Juncture List  You know those junctures when a decision is made that shifts the course of your life. Sometimes we realize something big is about to happen: picking which college to attend or starting a job or ending a relationship.  Sometimes the choices seem minor at the time, like not answering the phone or telling a white lie or ignoring a symptom. This is another list that is more easily written while looking back. It may not seem valuable to parse out where things changed, but it helps us see larger patterns, feel synchronicity’s strange power, and appreciate the mysterious paths we’ve taken to arrive at this moment.

It's about paying attention.

Raising Aspiring Emigrants

Kids are their own people. Any of us can see this is an underlying theme in drama (in books, on the screen, and in real life dramas).  It’s obvious from a quick look at how much our friends differ from their own parents. Years ago I joked that my anti-establishment neighbor’s son might just grow up to be a conservative stockbroker and that my frantically risk-averse friend could end up with a thrill-seeking daughter. I learned pretty quickly such jokes are not appreciated.

But I thought I understood that kids go their own way reasonably well. I’ve managed to celebrate the unique passions my own kids pursue, even though their interests are nothing like mine. I’m glad to see that we’re largely in sync on bigger issues. My kids and I tend to agree on politics and religion, we share a disinterest in most sports, and we’re all somewhat introverted. What we don’t share? A desire to stay close to our roots, geographically speaking. I’ve tried to raise them to be global citizens. Is it possible to take that too far? I’ve always lived close to my hometown and extended family. One or two of my four kids may not have that gene.

One of my sons is entranced by Finland. I think it started while chatting with online Finnish friends. Hankering to drive, he told me that kids in Finland are encouraged to get driving experience starting at a very young age and given training to handle slippery and hazardous road conditions (ice + moose, for example). The licensing requirements are some of the strictest in the world, he explained, a pointed contrast to the jerk on the road in front of us at the time who was cutting off cars and weaving across lanes.

My son also has a thing for Finnish music, starting with the now iconic band Apocalyptica formed by classically trained cellists.

Finnish musicians offer plenty of diversity, including partially submerged folk singers

and dancing puffballs.

And he is inspired by the Finnish spirit. He sees it in their traditions and history (I never thought I’d hear so much about the Winter War). Finnish character is said to have a lot to do with the term sisu. This doesn’t translate easily. It’s related to inner will and the determination to persist despite the odds. This spirit, as my son sees it, also has to do with the Finnish way of doing things. That includes summer competitions that Finns call “world championships” in swamp soccer, mobile phone throwing, and wife carrying. Or a recent proposal in Parliament to extend the annual four-week paid holiday by another week, for a “love holiday.”

Browsing around the web, I can see the allure. The country has stunning beauty and cultural richness. Newsweek ranked Finland the world’s best country in 2010 based on high life expectancy, high literacy rates, minimal income gap, excellent access to health care, and a good work-leisure balance. In The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World it was noted that people in Finland are remarkably content. Of course we’ve all heard about Finland’s world-class school system. Their educational approach says quite a bit about the country. Schools there don’t rely on standardized tests or a heavy homework load but instead emphasize balance, giving kids plenty of time for outdoor play, art, and music. That seems to reflect a general emphasis on living at a slower pace and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures. I may have to adjust to having one of my beloved offspring emigrate some day. (sob)

But another of my kids is talking up New Zealand. Land of fascinating spider species, amazing diversity, and gorgeous vistas.

Also home to the compelling Haka, traditional ancestral war cry of the Maori people, now performed by the All Blacks, NZ’s rugby team, before their matches.

Serves me right for joking about other people’s children. Come to think of it, my attempts at humor weren’t all that far off. My anti-establishment neighbor’s son is now in college getting a degree in business, hoping to work in investment banking. The daughter of my risk-averse friend is into barefoot climbing.

Guess I’d better make sure my passport is in order.