Teaching Responsibility

by Melinda Taylor Schoutens, Fresh Air Kids Switzerland


“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”

- Abigail Van Buren


As our children grow they inevitably need more. More freedom, more independence and more responsibility. Recently, our son approached us with his desire to get a job. At the age of 12, we were open to the idea, but wanted to make sure the work was age appropriate. Together, we sat down and discussed the types of jobs that would be of interest to him and why he was motivated to start working or at least, to earn money on a more routine basis. We then gave him time to ruminate over his ideas before we approached the topic again.

We have been teaching our children responsibility for years. There have been tasks that we expect from them on a daily basis. We want to teach our children to make their beds and tidy their rooms each day. Not only does that demonstrate discipline, but to us, it represents respect for their space and their things. In addition, I have always been a believer that when surrounded by chaos, one cannot sleep well. Having a clean room not only helps with sleep, but it makes finding things much easier.

If you are interested in learning more about the ”making your bed philosophy” I highly recommend the YouTube video by Navy Seal William McRaven entitled, “This ONE Simple Secret Will Completely Change Your LIFE Today.” Our children make their beds each day, as do we.

Household Chores

As a family we strive to eat most of our meals together. During each meal, as we gather around the table, we talk about our days; the highs and the lows, and those things we are grateful for. As the meal comes to a close, our children are responsible for clearing their plates and placing them in the dishwasher. As a family, we emphasize the fact that we are a team and it is not just one person’s responsibility to complete all the household chores. Our children are expected to clear their plates and load the dishwasher. This all circulates back to the famous idiom, “Many hands make light work.” This saying is ever so true.

Caring for pets and animals

In addition to making beds and clearing plates, we have created a chore chart for our children. A chart that breaks the week down into daily tasks they are each responsible for and that includes the caring of our two pets. As they care for our cats, they learn that animals are reliant on them for their well-being. That carries with it, a great deal of responsibility.

Pocket Money

Plus, our children come to the realization that to have animals translates into daily affection, care and maintenance. Once their weekly chores are completed to satisfaction, our children are then given their weekly allowance. By having their own money, they learn the value what things cost, how long it takes to earn money and making decisions regarding their hard-earned money is not always easy. Our hope is to instill respect for not only money, but the power that comes with having money or working hard to earn money.

Taking-up an age-appropriate job outside the house

Now that our children are ten and 12, they have recently taken on additional responsibility. Several times per month, they now work at the Basel Zoo. The zoo provides students with the opportunity to work at the children’s zoo each Wednesday after school or during the weekends. Through this hands-on learning experience, children learn a host of roles and responsibilities.

Some include:

  • Adhering to the rules and regulations of the zoo
  • Showing up to work on time
  • Accountability and working cohesively with their peers and the animals.

Mental and physical fatigue associated with work.  The strain and the rewards

Children also gain key insight into the understanding that work may at times be demanding both physically and mentally.  As our children learn valuable lessons at the zoo, they also learn what it means to take pride in their work. They often return after a long day, smelly but always smiling. After long showers and clean clothes, they cannot wait to disclose key aspects of their day. What animal did what, how they fed the llamas, what it was like to walk the goats, what chicken escaped and the list goes on and on.

They leave the zoo with a deep sense of understanding what it means to work and they are proud of the work they have accomplished throughout their day. We believe this type of work teaches life lessons, including lessons about themselves.

Finally, after much contemplation about what additional, paying job would best suit our son’s need to earn extra money, he came up with the idea of looking after plants, gathering mail and feeding cats while friends and neighbors are away. Together, we discussed his first job opportunity, the pay rate and the responsibilities that accompanied his desire to say “yes” to his first official job offer. We talked about hard work, what it means to be professional and going above and beyond the call of duty. His first job starts this month and I am anxious to see how he will absorb this new set of responsibilities. I am proud of his ambition and I know this experience will allow him to mature and his self-confidence to flourish.

Encouraging responsibility in the lives of our children is a necessity. It is beautiful to witness the tasks they are able to handle independent of us, and as the very wise Maria Montessori once said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” I am learning to slowing move into the backdrop of my children’s lives so that I have a front row seat as I watch them soar into the people they are destine to become.



About the Author:

Melinda Taylor Schoutens is a mother, wife, educator and author. Born and raised in the United States, she moved with her husband to Switzerland in 2007. Their initial contract of two - years quickly morphed into 14. Learning to be flexible and open to new possibilities has taught her a great deal. Now, as the mother of two children, Basel feels very much like home.

Melinda has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught adults and children on an array of topics. She has designed educational curriculum for years and has curated and delivered a lecture entitled, “The Education of Nature.” She sits on the Board of Directors for HSK English Basel and is the author of the Fresh Air Kids Switzerland book series, which you can oder here.  

To contact or to work with Melinda, please send an email to: melschoutens@gmail.com

* All Photo credits belong to Fresh Air Kids.


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