Children’s Work and Apprenticeship

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Childhood Studies

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Children appear to be predisposed to learn the skills of their elders, perhaps from a drive to become competent or from the need to be accepted or to fit in, or a combination of these. And elders, in turn, value children and expect them to strive to become useful—often at an early age. The earliest tasks are commonly referred to as chores. David Lancy’s Anthropological Perspectives on Children as Helpers, Workers, Artisans and Laborers (Lancy 2018, cited under Surveys and Anthologies), the first comprehensive survey of the relevant literature, advances the notion of a chore “curriculum.” The author notes that the tasks that children undertake are often graduated in difficulty and complexity. These built-in levels, or steps, create a kind of curriculum that children can progress through, matching their growing physical and cognitive competence to ever more demanding subtasks. The anthropological literature on children’s work is both extensive and elusive. That is because, while work is a common theme in ethnographic studies that highlight the lives of children (in itself an uncommon focus), relatively few publications have children’s work as the prime concern. A distinction must be made between the chores assigned to children in the household and village and “child labor.” See the Oxford Bibliographies article Child Labor for more information on that subject.

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