Contribution is getting children involved in the process of daily living. It is giving them jobs, so they can be productively engaged. When children are participating in family function, there is less need for discipline. This is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy. In a Montessori classroom, children are preparing snack, serving snack and cleaning up the snack area, even at two years old. There is little misbehavior around snacktime because it is their job, they take pride in it. The are fully engaged in positive behavior, so there is less time for the negative.
Starting at two years old, I think children should be contributing at home throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can be matching socks. If you are preparing a meal, they can be matching cups to lids or taking drink orders. Older children, who are buttering rolls or serving green beans, bypass the time for arguing, video games and to complain about what’s for dinner. You avoid the need for discipline by making them part of the process.
In the classroom, if my teachers are getting art supplies ready for the next day, there should be children helping them. They might be helping pour paint or matching papers. Yes, this takes longer and can be more of a mess, but the next day those helper children are a little more excited to be there.
Go wide with how they help. Setting the table every night for dinner sounds like more of a chore (I like chores and chores for allowance, but this is something different). Contribution includes drawing placemats, writing menus, folding napkins and serving food. Shake it up by suggesting different ways to contribute each day.
When they do contribute, take the help however it comes. Resist the urge to correct their helpfulness. Let’s say you have been working for a week with your six-year-old on how to make their bed. One morning they come to you excitedly and say, “mommy, I made my bed without you!” When you go to see it, find something nice to say about that bed. Even if it’s not what you’d hoped for, say something like, “this corner is so straight!” and leave the bed. If you take this moment to correct, or you wait til they go to school to remake the bed, you are squashing their contribution. It’s better to wait until the next morning and catch them before they make it to reteach.
Contribution teaches life skills, builds intrinsic motivation, and creates a sense of belonging and community.
For more on chores and allowance please read: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ and https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/.