Work while you work
Play while you play
This is the way
To be happy each day.
In all that you do
Do with your might
Things done by half
are never done right.
Every time I have a first grader I have them memorize this poem. (It’s part of The First Language Lessons for The Well Trained Mind.) We recite it back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth. Now, it’s part of Brennan’s, this year’s first grader, memory. But, more than that, we discuss in great detail the meaning behind this poem.
For example, I’ll ask him —
Would you like me to wake you up at 3 am instead of getting a full night of sleep?
As he cleaned his room last night I heard him saying this — things done by half are never done right.
He kept cleaning. Working hard, and pushing himself to put away that last Lego storm trooper hat. He needs that challenge, that goal of working hard, of giving it his all. The poem doesn’t push for perfection, but what it does push for is not short-changing work. (Or play — so when it’s their free time I let them play.)
Brennan in his fort that he and I built last winter
that was good, hard, and fun work!
We live in a society of entitlement — where it’s easy to slip into a pattern of thinking we just deserve this or that. This posture can so easily trickle down to our children. That’s honestly why I value good hard work. Is it easier for me to unload the dishwasher? Yes. Is it easier for me to fix the silverware and put it where it belongs? Yes. But then, I’m allowing a task — which was done by half the potential — to slip by. My children would then learn that cutting corners works, that they can skate buy in a task. When I make them redo a task, like the silverware, I am teaching diligence. Stewardship. Doing something with all your might.
And that is why I like memorizing that poem — not the act of memorizing, but the lesson learned from applying the words.
Do tasks take longer? Initially — yes. But, I’ve also got three older children who fix the silverware drawer when it’s messy. Or who take initiative to start cleaning the kitchen. Who can do their laundry. They’re great kids. They know the value in work. In fact, they rarely do complain about work. We have our moments, of course, but more than that I’ve noticed they take pride in a job well done. In going the extra mile. And that, my friends, can not be taught simply with words — it must be learned. One fork, one spoon, one lego, or dustpan full of crumbs at a time.