Why I Created This Kit
I assume I am like most parents in my hopes that my child will grow up to be a responsible individual. At what point and how do we, as caregivers, promote, instill, and teach a sense of responsibility? Recently my son began at preschool that teaches practical life skills, and I was astonished at the number of things they are already encouraging him to do that I have overlooked or not yet thought of. Not only is he beginning to learn how to take care of himself and become more independent in many more ways, I am learning to push myself and him in our understanding of what he is capable of. This kit builds upon that learning and offers some ways to encourage responsibility in your little one, too.
Spark Their Interest
Responsibility takes many forms, and it seems as though some of these forms are easier to access in young children than others. For example, most preschool-aged children are willing helpers and yearn for independence, but we might need to tweak our expectation/definition of help and how that independence looks (especially if kids are picking out their own clothes!). Is it easier/quicker for me to put the toys away than my son? To buckle him in? To get him dressed? Absolutely to all of the above. But that doesn’t help him learn about or encourage the sense of responsibility that he already has and his desire to do more on his own. Make such tasks into habits at a young age, while their eagerness to do what you do and help you is still there!
Similarly, be aware of your role modeling. If we want our children to care about and feel responsible towards the world around us, we should model behavior that promotes that. If we want them to clean their rooms, we shouldn’t moan and groan or fuss about cleaning our own. (I’m working on this, personally.) Finally, help connect the dots for your child between their actions and the consequences—both good and bad—of those actions. Offer praise that goes beyond “good job” to explain why what they are doing (caring for a younger sibling, perhaps) is good, or, alternatively, try not to just say “no” or “that’s bad” but to explain why running out into the street is dangerous and why we want them to make a different choice.
Teaching Traffic Safety to Children – a very helpful article that includes ideas for how to teach traffic safety to the very young and growing child.
9 Tips for Teaching Kids Responsibility – I love this article with basic tips for how to start teaching kids responsibility at a young age.
How to Teach Kids to Accept Responsibility for Their Actions – Here are some tips from Parents Magazine on how to help your child understand that their actions have consequences and to take responsibility for them.
Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna DewdneyThe new neighbors, Nelly Gnu (get it?) and her mom, stop by to visit Llama and Mama. At first, the two get along splendidly, until Nelly Gnu touches Fuzzy Llama! The two new friends get into a fight and end up ripping Fuzzy Llama, Llama’s most prized toy. Llama’s mama helps to work things out, and before the visit ends, the two friends are enjoying sharing all of their toys! With Llama Llama Time To Share, Anna Dewdney give us a beloved children’s book that teaches the value of sharing while also being funny and relatable for little ones. (Zoobean)
All for Me and None for All by Helen Lester, illus. by Lynn MunsingerA book about sharing for one and all! Gruntly is a hog—a ball hog, a snack hog, a treasure hog! He doesn’t share his toys with his pals and, in fact, helps himself to theirs! And when Gruntly finds out about Saturday’s treasure hunt, he can’t wait for the first clue so that he may be the one to find the treasure and keep it . . . all for himself. (Publisher)
After reading this book, plan a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt that actively requires your child to share in order to find the treasure or items. Maybe there is just one list and so your child and their sibling or friend need to share the list. Perhaps there is only one item (a snack of some sort?) at the end that needs to be shared. Or maybe there are certain tools and tasks that require both your child and their partner to share and work as a team.
One of Each by Mary Ann Hoberman, illus. by Marjorie PricemanOliver Tolliver lives all alone and has one of everything in his little house-one table, one chair, one apple, and one pear. To him, it's perfect. But when he invites Peggoty Small over to admire his arrangement, he finds she has quite another opinion. She feels his one-of-each house leaves no room for anyone else! Suddenly Oliver sees she's right, and he finds a pair for every single thing in his house. In the end he realizes that sharing makes room for friends. (Publisher)
Ask your child: are there things in your home that are more fun to share with someone than to use on one’s own? Encourage them to draw a picture of a room or outdoor space where everything is designed to be shared!
Taking Responsibility for Actions
It Wasn’t My Fault by Helen Lester, illus. by Lynn MunsingerWhen accidents happen to Murdley Gurdson, they are usually his own fault, but when a bird lays an egg on Murdley's head one day, he tries hard to find someone else to blame. (Publisher)
Ask your child to think about a time they might have wanted to blame someone else. Why is it good to accept responsibility for an accident? Are there times you shouldn’t accept responsibility?
Three Bears in a Boat by David SomanThree bear siblings break their mother’s beautiful blue seashell, and set out on a journey to find a replacement. In the course of their adventures they argue about whose fault it is the seashell broke, before realizing what they need to do and where they need to go. In the end, they take responsibility and return to their mama bear ready for her reaction.
What is a fair consequence for breaking something, even if it is an accident? You can also use this book as an opportunity to make something special for someone, not because of a mistake, but just to bring a smile to that person’s face!
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon, illus. by Jake ParkerIn this tongue-in-cheek superhero story, Awesome Man, speaking in companionable slang, describes how he battles villains like arch nemesis the Flaming Eyeball and hangs out with his canine buddy, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog. As superhero fans know, great power equals great responsibility: "I have to be careful. I can't start hitting stuff," he says. "I might hurt somebody." When he gets angry, he retreats to his undersea Fortress of Awesome (which looks like a suburban home). The hero's secret identity is ultimately revealed: a young boy with a love for superheroes. (Publishers Weekly)
If your child were a superhero, what powers and responsibilities would they like to have? Get out the crayons and draw a picture! Have your child tell you a story about one of their superhero adventures, too!
Tops & Bottoms by Janet StevensIn this adaptation of a Brer Rabbit trickster tale, Lazy Bear sleeps through every planting season, so conniving Hare makes a deal. He and his family will work Bear's land and split the crops in half. He'll even let Bear choose which half he wants--"tops or bottoms." Bear chooses tops so Hare plants root crops, leaving Bear with a useless harvest. A furious Bear insists next time he'll take bottoms so Hare plants lettuce and broccoli, leaving useless roots.
Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? By Wade Bradford, illus. by Johanna van der SterrThis lively picture book offers a great way to talk to kids about history: not the statesmen and generals but the lives of ordinary people at home. A boy who has already loaded the dishwasher, dusted off his video games, and picked up his toys wants to know why he has to make his bed. It’s “just going to get messed up again.” His complaints remind his mother of a story about when his grandmother was a little girl and fumed that she had already washed the dishes, dusted the rock ’n’ roll records, and picked up her hula hoops. Why did she have to make her bed? Her mother remembers her grandfather as a little boy, and the stories continue right back to cave times. (Booklist)
After reading this story, have your child do a little oral history project! Perhaps they can ask you about what types of chores you did as a child, and your feelings about those chores. Then they can ask their grandparents!
Sprout Helps Out by Rosie WinsteadSprout, like many young children believes she is very helpful. She can do so many things! Only the illustrations reveal that her style of helping out might not be a parent’s style. But the text never “corrects” her, celebrating her instead. Fun, funny, and probably more true to life than many books about doing chores around the house!
Pigsty by Mark TeagueWhen his mother pronounces his room a "pigsty" and sends him upstairs to clean it, Wendell Fultz finds a large pig lounging on the bed (unmade, naturally). Unfazed, the feckless Wendell simply rearranges the mess and joins in the merriment. His mother gives up, and for the next week, Wendell cohabits happily (and untidily) with his newfound friend--and yet another porcine companion follows close on his hooves. But when a second pair of pigs shows up and the four of them start ruining Wendell's toys, even he has to admit that the mess is getting to be too much. (Publishers Weekly)
After reading this or other books about chores, put together a chore chart with your kiddo. See the link in the Take Action section for some great ideas!
Outside Over There by Maurice SendakA story about having responsibility for a younger sibling: Beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak explores the conflict of an older child for younger siblings, and creates a magical children’s story with a touch of scary. With Papa at sea, and Mama seemingly despondent, Ida is in charge of her baby sister. When the baby is kidnapped by goblins, Ida dives into a magical world to recover her. Playing a horn, she forces the goblins to dance to her music until they vanish. The heroine's resourcefulness, courage, and love help her to prevail. Ultimately, she decides that being responsible for her sister is a job she is proud to have. Maurice Sendak's trademark crisp drawings take on Renaissance stylings in the otherworldy scenes. (Publisher/ Children's Literature)
Does your child have a younger sibling? How do they feel about helping to care for that sibling? If they have an older sibling, ask them to think about ways their older sibling helps care for them. If they don’t have a sibling, ask them to imagine ways they would help take care of a brother or sister.
Paperboy by Dav PilkeyEarly one cold morning a boy and his dog rise to deliver newspapers. In almost reverential silence they eat breakfast, prepare the newspapers, then step out into the chill, leaving sleeping parents and sister inside. Paintings of violet skies and emerald-shadowed fields depict the thrill of being out early, seeing the world so new and having it all to oneself. At last, as his family awakens to golden sunlight, the paperboy returns to his bed, prepared to enter dreamland. (Publishers Weekly)
Brave Irene by William SteigWhen her mother, a dressmaker, falls ill, indomitable Irene fights a raging snowstorm to deliver a dress in time for the duchess's ball. (Publishers Weekly)
Do something to help someone else. It might not be braving a blizzard to get to a ball, but chances are your kiddo can think of something that would make someone else’s life a little bit easier. Can they help a neighbor rake leaves or do other yard work? Carry some groceries in for you or someone who lives next door? Water plants when someone is away? Etc.
The Signmaker’s Assistant by Tedd ArnoldNorman works as the old signmaker's assistant--cleaning brushes, mixing colors, and painting simple signs--while he dreams of having a shop of his own. As he watches people obey all the signs, he wonders what would happen if he painted some of his own. With the master away, Norman gets creative with such signs as ``Eat your hat,'' ``No school today,'' ``Buy Norman a present.'' The boy enjoys the confusion and laughs until the angry townspeople tear down all of his work, resulting in crashing cars, lost firemen, and his boss being run out of town. A contrite Norman paints all night long to restore order and clean up the mess. (School Library Journal)
Responsibility in the Wider World
Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee, illus. by Sean Qualls Take responsibility for making change in the world around you. Lyrical and historical, big ideas are presented here in an approachable and beautiful display.
Discuss: What are some small or big things your child would like to do to change the world and make it a better place?
Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis WyethLooking at the trash and graffiti in the courtyard outside her inner-city apartment, a young African-American girl wishes for something beautiful. As she walks home from school, she asks friends and neighbors what their "something beautiful" is, and gets a delightful array of answers: Sybil's jump rope, old Mr. Sims's smooth stone, Aunt Carolyn's baby's laugh, the fried fish sandwiches Miss Delphine serves at her diner. Back home, the girl cleans up her trash-filled courtyard and resolves to help make her own neighborhood into something beautiful. (School Library Journal)
On a day when you and your child are together for a good portion of the day, look for the beauty around you. Take turns sharing when you see something beautiful. Then think of something you can do to make your neighborhood a bit more beautiful.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, illus. by Fumi KosakaCan one good deed from an ordinary girl change the world? It can when she's Ordinary Mary--an ordinary girl from an ordinary school, on her way to ordinary house--who stumbles upon ordinary blueberries. When she decides to pick them for her neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, she starts a chain reaction that multiplies around the world. Mrs. Bishop makes blueberry muffins and gives them to her paperboy and four others--one of whom is Mr. Stevens, who then helps five different people with their luggage--one of whom is Maria, who then helps five people--including a man named Joseph who didn't have enough money for his groceries--and so on, until the deed comes back to Mary. (Gibbs Smith)
This book just begs for readers to do something kind for someone else after reading. Small deeds make big differences!
I Can Be Safe by Pat Thomas, illus. by Lesley HarkerThis friendly little book acknowledges kids' fears and makes them aware of things they need in order to feel safe in different situations. They learn, for instance, to look both ways when crossing a road, to wear special clothing for sports, to know their parents' names, phone number, and emergency numbers, and many other details. (Publisher)
Review your own safety routines and details after reading!
The House That Went On Strike
After years of neglect and disrespect a house and her trusty appliances decide to take charge and force their naughty family to change their errant ways. (Publisher) This is a humorous interactive story to get kids thinking about what would happen to the space they inhabit if they didn’t take care of it properly. This app pairs well with the magnet map activity in the Take Action section!
Have fun in the park with your friends! But be careful not to get too filthy or you'll upset Mum. And then you will have to do the laundry, peg your clothes out to dry and iron them! By the way, don't forget to have a bath and brush your teeth. (Publisher)
After using this app, ask your child what their favorite ways to get dirty are. How can they help clean up the mess, whether this is on a table, outside, or on their clothes, afterwords?
An award-winning app that is designed to help kids accomplish chores and keep parents connected and involved. This is another good and less traditional type of chore chart for those tech-savvy little minds.
Watch, Listen, Learn
A video of kids telling all about the different things they take care of.
After the video, ask your child what things do they take care of? Encourage them to make up their own story about a time they or an imaginary character of their own invention took care of something.
A variety of animal puppets feature in this adorable/humorous rap by Buckalope Elementary all about responsibility: being punctual, completing tasks, helping with chores, etc.
After watching this video, get out your own puppets or stuffed animals and have your child create a skit or song about responsibility. Take a recording if you can so that your kiddo can watch it afterwards!
Kids define and demonstrate responsibility. These are older kids, but young children will enjoy seeing and hearing what they have to say.
How does your child define responsibility? Write down words they associate with responsibility and hang it somewhere you can all see it often.
Watch this episode in which Daniel and Katerina share and take turns. Take advantage of the short little song and sing it when a moment to share arises for your child! “You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back.”
Make a Magnet Map
Create a magnet map of your house and/or neighborhood that your child can move pictures of your family members around. They can use this to map to show how each person might be responsible for something around the house or community while learning about magnets and map-reading!
Make a chore chart with your child. Select chores that are realistic for them to accomplish, perhaps a mix of things they already know how to do and things they are capable of learning to do. I love these ideas for all different chore charts. They’re so creative!
Set up pretend or real pantry items and attach prices to each item. Using pretend money, help your child shop for the items they need. Do they have enough money for everything they need? Are there other things they want? This game will give your child the opportunity to use their imagination, practice those math skills, and learn about financial responsibility!
Make a Pledge
...and make a pledge hand craft! This is a cute craft idea to accompany making a pledge for taking responsibility for certain things where you trace and color a hand that you pledge with. Now your kiddo will have a little physical reminder of the pledge they made and the tasks/actions they are responsible for.
Three Bank System
Teach your kiddo about financial responsibility by creating three banks: a save bank, a spend bank, and a share/give bank. Let them choose what they will use the money in each bank for (although offer guidance where needed to explain how/the types of things they should use the money for). There are lots of cute ideas out there for making these banks, but anything including three empty jars or canisters will work!
Red Light, Green Light
Play this classic game with your child to help teach them about road safety while getting them up and moving at the same time.
Give your child ample opportunity to take responsibility for everyday tasks such as picking out their clothes/getting dressed, helping a sibling, bathing themselves, helping prepare a meal, setting the table, getting themselves a snack, cleaning up, folding laundry or drying dishes, etc. Be patient even if they aren’t the most efficient helpers. If they make a mistake, try not to scold them but encourage them to fix it. If they are struggling with a certain activity, you can try making a game out of it one day. For example, you could teach them the practical skill of pouring liquid into a cup or other container by setting up a tray for them with two little pitchers or a pitcher and a cup that they can practice pouring in. Include a sponge on the tray, so that if they spill, they can wipe up their liquid with the sponge (and learn about absorption while doing so!) and squeeze it back out into the cup or pitcher.
About Alexandra H.
Greetings from central Maine! Things you should know about me: I am the mother of an inquisitive, active toddler who keeps me on my toes. I work in a small, independent children’s bookstore where I get to help kids, teens, and their grown-ups find books that will keep them up reading all night long. Just kidding about that last part, they go to sleep eventually, I swear. Well, I don’t swear, but I assume. But matching people and books? My favorite way to play matchmaker! Before moving to Maine I worked as a historical researcher for American Girl, where I learned about everything from steamboats to wars to parrots. I am also a children’s book author myself, with my first picture book due to come out in 2015! When I’m not knee-deep in books or blocks or a sandbox, I bake a lot, avoid cleaning at all costs, and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. For the record, I would love to be a neat and orderly person, it just doesn’t seem to be my style. I’m working on it.