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What chores did children do in the past? Here’s what a child was expected to know in the year 1867—with a boy’s list and a girl’s list! Judging from these tips from 1867, the expectations of children between then and now have certainly changed quite a bit!
Childhood was very different over a century ago. Many kids lived on farms in North America. There may not have been formal schooling, so kids learned everything at home and would often work alongside their parents to care for the farm animals and do household tasks.
What chores did children do in the past?
What Every Farmer’s Boy Should Know
To dress himself, black his own shoes, cut his brother’s hair, wind a watch, sew on a button, make a bed, and keep all his clothes in perfect order and neatly in place
To harness a horse, grease a wagon, and drive a team
To milk cows, shear sheep, and dress veal or mutton
To reckon money and keep accounts accurately and according to good bookkeeping rules
To write a neat, appropriate, briefly expressed business letter, in a good hand, and fold and superscribe it properly, and to write contracts
To plow, sow grain and grass seed, drive a mowing machine, swing a scythe, build a neat stack, and pitch hay
To put up a package, build a fire, whitewash a wall, mend broken tools, and regulate a clock
What Every Farmer’s Girl Should Know
To sew and knit
To mend clothes neatly
To dress her own hair
To wash dishes and sweep carpets
To trim lamps
To make good bread and perform all plain cooking
To keep her room, closets, and drawers neatly in order
To make good butter and cheese
To keep accounts and calculate interest
To write, fold, and superscribe letters properly
To nurse the sick efficiently and not faint at the sight of a drop of blood
To be ready to render efficient aid and comfort to those in trouble, in an unostentatious way
To receive and entertain visitors when her mother is sick or absent
We’re no longer a farm-based society, so what do you feel children should still know today? What are your expectations? Small chores can help kids learn skills and responsibility as well as the value of contributing to the family.
Here are 10 good suggestions—many based on the reader comments below (add your own!):
Mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel the snow
Set the table, clear the table, fill the dishwasher
Watch over younger siblings
Make breakfast and snacks; help make dinner; cook simple foods
Put clothes in hamper; wash, dry, fold, and put away laundry
Make their bed properly
Cross streets safely
Put away toys and belongings; clean room
Feed pets, walk dog
Vacuum, empty wastebaskets, sweep floors
Today, many expectations are also related to how we treat others, manners, and etiquette, i.e., being civilized and making others comfortable. Here are 10 reader suggestions!
Saying please and thank you
Take off hats at the table and in church
Don’t talk with your mouth full
No cell phones or electronics at the table (that’s a good reminder for adults, too!)
Speaking of mobile devices, do not look at your screen when someone is speaking to you; put the phone in your pocket and on silent
Write a thank you note for gifts and special kindnesses (Texts and emails don’t count)
Open the door for each other and stand to the side of a hallway, stairway, or aisle when an adult or another person is trying to pass
Do not interrupt someone speaking; listen and then speak
When someone is visiting your home, give the guests first dibs and when you are visiting someone else’s place, do not touch their property unless asked
Make an effort to see or call your grandparents
Tell us what you think about expectations then—and now!