There are so many things to consider when making your plans for when we arrive at TEOTWAWKI  that it seems overwhelming at times. One of my own concerns is being able to take care of my grandchildren. My wife and I have five grandchildren (soon to be six) that live close enough that we would be expecting them to join us in the event of an economic or societal collapse. Thinking about that possibility has motivated me to stock up on books, games, crafts, toys, and so forth in order to keep them entertained and maybe a little distracted while we deal with the most serious issues at hand. However, just keeping the little ones entertained is not a viable and well thought-out plan. For kids to have a healthy view of themselves, just like adults, they need to experience setbacks as well as accomplishments, set and achieve goals, see themselves as needed and valued, and feel like they’re contributing. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 25 things any kid can do to “earn their keep”. There are no doubt many more, but this might be a good start. With a little forethought and planning, you can provide an environment that will be healthy for kids in spite of the bad things happening all around them.
So here we go. Let’s start outdoors:
- Planting seeds and bulbs.
Our grandkids absolutely love planting seeds, bulbs, and seedlings. They are more careful in their technique than many adults! Also, just the act of planting something gently and carefully gives them a feeling of accomplishment, especially when the first green shoots break through the soil.
- Pulling weeds!
If you can develop the frame of mind in which the kids are “protecting” their seedlings, like a mother protects her baby, the kids will weed with a vengeance. One word of caution, however, is that the youngest children will have to be taught what’s good and what’s bad! The look on the face of a child when they find out that they pulled a “good” seedling is heart-wrenching! We use raised beds, and I swear we only have to give our garden two good weedings a year to keep our garden “clean”. So the dreaded job of weeding isn’t too bad, even for kids.
- Watering the garden.
Again, valuable lessons can be learned about doing things appropriately and not to excess. Different plants have different needs, and children can learn these facts even while doing something as simple as watering the garden.
- Foraging for wild edibles.
This job will require some training. If you do “hands-on” training, the kids will learn about taste and texture at the same time. If the area in which you live is relatively safe, the kids can forage on their own, although personally, I even escort our grandkids to the restroom when we’re dining out in a restaurant. So exercise good judgment.
- Feeding the poultry and/or livestock.
What kid doesn’t like to feed the animals? It’s yet another opportunity to teach the lessons of kindness and protection, as well as appropriateness. We feed not too much, not too little, and in the right combinations. It’s a good chance to learn that there is a right way and wrong way to do just about everything. I’m not sure how to handle the issue of butchering your livestock. Do you let the kids name them? Have they become pets? These are issues you should consider before assigning the job of feeding to the children.
- Cleaning up the animal pens/chicken coop.
This will probably never be considered “fun”, which means it can lead to a very valuable lesson for kids of all ages. There’s a reason they call it “work”! However, if you can show the kids the value of a clean pen or coop– healthier and happier animals, clean eggs, and safe meat– maybe they’ll be able to grasp one of the harsher realities of life. Good results require effort.
- Harvesting fruits and vegetables from the garden.
This is probably the most rewarding activity that our grandkids enjoy at our house. In fact, whenever they visit, the first thing they want to do is race out back to the garden and start picking (and eating) whatever looks ripe. If we don’t call them in, they’ll just happily graze out there on their own. We’ve taught them about size and color and where to look for hidden treasure. Our grandson once hoisted in a huge zucchini that we had both missed. He was so proud of his trophy! Even for adults, this is the best part of gardening. It’s no wonder our ancestors celebrated harvest time with feasts!
- Processing the harvest.
With some supervision, kids can learn to can the fruits and vegetables that have been harvested. Let them create their own combinations– soups, beans, sauces, veggie mixes. All sorts of possibilities present themselves. Also, don’t forget about drying your produce, such as herbs, fruit slices, tomatoes. Again, there are all sort of possibilities. Let the children use their imaginations. It won’t be the end of the world if they experience a few failures along the way. It’s all part of the learning (and growing) process.
- Saving seeds.
This is one of those long-count learning experiences for kids. Not only do you have to collect and store the seeds, but then it’s another winter before you can plant and harvest the rewards for your efforts and patience. It’s similar to planting a fruit tree sapling. You can expect a long wait before you enjoy the fruit! However, this is another opportunity to teach patience and delayed gratification, which is something most children don’t seem to have anymore.
- Going fishing!
I know, this is an easy one, right? However, there is a difference between “goin’ fishin’” and fishing to provide protein for the family/group, especially if society has collapsed and the environment is dangerous. You may have to enlist the kids to help with “stealth” fishing activities. This might mean quiet fishing at night. It might mean setting gill nets  one night and then coming back the next to collect your catch. The point is that fishing might be a critical part of your family’s/group’s survival plan, and as such it would be an important contribution for any kid to make. For this one, I’d recommend practice. Practice now, while things are relatively peaceful and calm. You might have to exercise your skills someday under different circumstances.
- Hunting for small game.
I own a .22 rifle, and I have also purchased a pellet rifle  (stealthier), with the thought of someday allowing my grandkids to hunt for small game (if the area was sufficiently safe). In the tradition of the early settlers and even the Native Americans, I think any boy or girl would feel proud to come home to the homestead or encampment with meat for the pot. In our area, there are a lot of squirrels and rabbits and thousands of geese. We’ve been out to the gun range; once they got the hang of it, my grandsons shot the middle out of the target! I have no doubt that in TEOTWAWKI, they’ll be ready to contribute.
- Gathering firewood.
We have stored away a few hundred pounds of charcoal, several tanks of propane, some kerosene, and firewood. When I talk about the kids collecting firewood, I’m not talking about logs; I’m talking about sticks! Have you built yourself a rocket stove yet? That, or something similar, will burn simple sticks and enable you to boil water or cook in a pan. So, yes, kids can contribute by collecting firewood. Their sticks can be used for cooking or even for building bigger fires by supplying the kindling. Every storm that blows through the neighborhood should be a signal that it is time to get ready by collecting sticks, everybody!
We’re about half-way there! Now, let’s move inside:
- Building things.
Do you need a step stool? Have the kids build one! Need a place to sit while weeding? Have the kids build you a small seat. Want a live trap to catch the chipmunks who are getting into your grain? Give the kids some screening and some boards, and see what happens. Yeah, when they get out the saw and hammer, you might want to do a little coaching, but I can still remember building boats as a kid and floating them in the ditch across the street in the springtime. Need a shelf built? Need a box to store things in? Need poles tied together for your beans? Ask a kid!
- Washing dishes.
This one, and the next few, are generally considered “ugh” jobs. However, if you think about the importance of hygiene and cleanliness when we reach TEOTWAWKI, the following jobs are critical. Washing dishes is probably near the top of the hygiene list for a family or a group of people. If you have the opportunity, take your kids to a restaurant and let them tour the back kitchen. Let them see the steps that businesses have to take to protect their customers from bacteria and viruses. It’s sure to make an impression. This is a serious contribution to the health and well-being of the family/group!
- Drying dishes.
The “dryer” is the quality control person. They are the last line of defense for the family/group in keeping germs away from the people using the dishes. The dryer may irritate the washer sometimes, so it might pay off to rotate the jobs on a regular basis!
- Washing clothes.
This one might only work with older children, simply because it’s a pretty physical task. Washing clothes by hand isn’t easy! Wringing them out by hand is even harder. We have bought a commercial mop wringer  just for this purpose. You need to get as much water out of the clothes as you can before hanging them out to dry.
- Hanging clothes out to dry.
We’ve stocked up on clothes pins and clothesline for TEOTWAWKI, based on the assumption that we won’t have power to run our electric clothes dryer. Kids might have to work together to get this done, but that will just promote teamwork.
- Folding clothes and putting them away.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I guarantee you the kids will feel a sense of accomplishment when the neat piles of clothes are done!
- Sweeping and mopping.
This is another one that falls into the hygiene category. Especially if the family is working in the garden, canning, or even cooking, the house is going to collect dirt, grease, dust, et cetera. With our HVAC down because we have no power, our windows will be open, allowing all sorts of things to reach our floors. A white-glove test will probably encourage (and enlighten) anyone! So, stock up on bleach.
- Re-charging the batteries.
This is a simple task, but it’s one that everyone hopes gets done! We have a small solar charger and a big box of re-chargeable batteries. Someone needs to be “in charge of charging”!
You can use your own judgment as far as how old the babysitter needs to be. That might depend on individual maturity, experience, length of time the sitter needs to be on duty, proximity of the responsible adults, et cetera, but this is something a lot of older kids do already, so it definitely makes the list.
- Tending to the sick.
This may involve reading books to them, feeding them (like soup or broth), helping the patient get more comfortable (extra pillow?), or just getting them a drink of water. The doctoring/nursing needs to be done by a trained expert, but there are lots of little things that can be provided by a brother or sister; they fill an important role just being good company.
Kids can start small by heating up a can of soup, for example, but as they are trained in safety and techniques kids can actually do a lot in the kitchen. Let them have a crack at the cookbooks. You might be surprised!
I’m talking about keeping a log– a family diary. Have a kid or kids write down the history as it happens. ”Today the power went out, and we lit the oil lamps. The lighting is softer than electric.” “Last night, we caught 23 fish in our net. We had a fish-fry tonight with our cousins. They are all living with us now.” Get the idea? Not only will it be an opportunity for the kids to express how they are feeling in this upside-down world, but it will provide the family the opportunity down the road to look back and see where they’ve been and what they’ve lived through. It is your family’s history, written as it happened.
- Finally, learning.
Done right, all of these things will be learning experiences, but there’s more. Don’t forget math, science, and reading, and all of the other school-type lessons. We have flash cards, a microscope , a telescope , and a whole library of books on all sorts of subjects. We have technical manuals, a drafting table and tools, and a manual typewriter . Don’t overlook education for after TEOTWAWKI. It may be our only hope for the survival of our species!
Well, there you have it. My list of 25 things kids can do to earn their keep. I’m sure there are more, and I hope to hear some of them from other contributors!