Sometime around age 11, I started the process of teaching my oldest daughter to start the laundry. As you can imagine, we produce a high record of dirty clothes between the six of us each week. I can do at least two loads a day and that typically helps me keep up with all of it. Our oldest daughter learned several years ago how to sort out whites, colors, denim and towels in a methodical process. She learned how to treat stains, add detergent booster for the really dirty things her dad wore while breaking down a piece of machinery. After a while, she caught on to what was expected. I could count on her to help me get it all finished and I would help her fold and hang it. When my second daughter turned 11, I started the same thing. They are both experts at our Harris household laundry assembly line.

My oldest son has been 11 since November. The process of teaching him how to do laundry is quite a bit different than it was for the girls. We have started slowly, and I can only hope it gets better from here. So far, he is adept at making LOTS of laundry. It sometimes finds its way into the hamper. Very rarely does this young man grab the bottle of Spray-and-Wash to pre-treat any kind of stain. No one ever prepares a person for the kinds of stains and laundry that are created living on a farm. 

My husband knew he was not going to get home until well after dark one evening. He called our oldest son and asked him to put a couple of round bales out for the momma cows that afternoon. Our son was happy to oblige because this task included driving the skid steer to complete. He was gone for about 20 minutes. When he returned, he came through the back door and found me in the kitchen. He was only wearing underwear and his hair was muddy. When I asked him what had happened, he said it was muddy up by the haybarn and he slipped and fell when he was opening the door. Of course, I had to ask, “WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES?!?” He had the good sense to strip down in the garage and leave them in a pile. They were filthy. 

We loaded his clothes into the washing machine and put it on the heavy-duty washing cycle. We added some detergent booster and simply hoped for the best. Thankfully, everything came clean, but we had to remove bits of gravel left behind in the machine.

This same child was helping his dad change out oil and filters on a piece of machinery out in the shop. My children have a really hard time distinguishing the importance of changing out of their “good” clothes into “work clothes” before heading outside. When I came outside to call him in for supper, he was wearing his school coat and had rolled his arm into a container of oil. Once again, he stripped in our garage and I did my best to treat the stains. His coat is camouflage colored, so I hope now that it is faded, the stain just blends in.

We have not gotten far with laundry training with this child. He has mastered the treating of stained laundry, emptying his pockets, and sometimes taking filthy clothes off before coming in the house. Teaching these valuable life skills to children is a process. It provides for some good comedy, neighbor.

Jody Harris is a freelance communications specialist, gardener, ranch wife and mother of four. She and her family raise Angus beef cattle and other critters on their northwest Arkansas ranch. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Jody, go to and click on ‘Contact Us.’


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