CLiF spends a lot of time thinking about what a child will need to be successful. We are dedicated to getting books into the homes of children who don’t have them and to promoting the ability to read, write and understand printed material.  We know the power of a literate mind and we want that for all children.

I want the same for my children. But as a parent of three, I want a lot of other things as well. I know for my children to be successful, I can’t focus on just one thing, or two. I need to pay attention to a lot of things.

So when my friend Jen told me about something she had seen in upstate New York, I started thinking. And thinking.

My friend Jen observed an Amish family at work. She watched three 10-12-year-old boys sowing and collecting hay. These boys were not crying, they were not whining, they were not goofing off. They were working.

They were working at something that was important to the survival of their whole family. They were pitching in by doing a task that was not their idea in the first place. It was not a kid-centric activity. It was a family-centric activity.

Then Jen looked at her own kids and wondered, “Can we send them to Amish Camp?”

Of course, she was joking, kind of. Joking because being Amish and living the Amish lifestyle are deep philosophical and religious commitments that can’t be dabbled in for a week here and there. Not joking because she saw in this scene something important that is sometimes missing from our modern life.

It looked like, to an outsider at least, that these kids had a sense of purpose. It looked like they were taking responsibility for something that mattered to more than just themselves. It looked like they had the wherewithal to bull through a tough job. It looked like, at the end of the day, they might have the sense of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something difficult.

You don’t have to be Amish to want these traits for your own kids. These are the traits of successful people.

If success is defined by a feeling of satisfaction with the choices you have made, then you need several things to achieve it. One thing is an educated mind: an awareness of what is out there and an ability to acquire and analyze information. In short, literacy.

Another important element is the ability to make things the way you want them. And this requires hard work and determination. To be good at these, you have to practice them.

We do so much for our kids with the very best of intentions. We want to give them every opportunity available to them. We cart them to soccer, tee ball, and dance. We volunteer at school, help with homework. We provide cell phones, computers, and iPods.Parents work very hard to make a comfortable and safe environment. Even schools have redoubled and redoubled their efforts to meet the needs of every child.

But did we remember to put the kids to work?

As a parent, I know very well that it is often easier to do something myself than it would be to teach my child how to do it. I also know that if I do it myself, my daughters won’t have contributed to our family, they won’t have a sense of purpose, they won’t have the satisfaction of a job well done.

We have to hand over some essential and important work to the novices in our families. It is the only way they will cease to be novices. Just like with sports and music, our kids have to practice working and accomplishing something important to become good at it.

I am grateful for the disparity between our lifestyles and those of the Amish. They reminded me of the importance of working together as a family.

Now excuse me. I have to put my kids to work.

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