(We love the little book The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky! It's very sweet.)
Maria Montessori firmly believed in the value of this type of work and therefore, in Montessori Primary classrooms around the world, children are choosing table washing and pouring and silver polishing as curriculum choices. She referred to this portion of the curriculum as Practical Life.
The Montessori catalogue For Small Hands is a wonderful resource for high quality child-size tools, such as lambswool dusters and counter crumbers, and yard and garden tools like real leather gardening gloves, so that they can help in every way possible, in every location around your home!
The loveliest film I've ever seen about this is Edison's Day. Edison is 20 months old. The trailer is below; there is also a link to rent it online for $5.00. The entire household is set up so that Edison can participate and help as much as possible. I found that writing Helping as a planbook category reminded me to consciously include my children where otherwise I might have simply done something by myself.
In Waldorf education, physical movement is taken VERY seriously and it is seen as a way of helping the soul to develop properly later on. Here is a quote from pages 25-26 of Audrey McAllen's Sleep: An Unobserved Element in Education
The development of the physical body between birth and the change of teeth is the basis for the unfolding of the consciousness soul between the ages of 35 to 42 years. Attack the physical body; destroy its foundation of the senses
with pseudo-space (virtual space) as in the cinema, television, blown-up advertising, photographs; present as many senses as possible
with illusion -- artificial sweeteners, flavorings, chemical colorings, man-made surfaces and textiles; assault the ear with continuous recorded sounds and noise, and you
successfully lame that member of your soul-being in which the real nature of the "I" first becomes revealed -- the consciousness soul (or spiritual soul). As Rudolf Steiner states in
the second chapter of An Outline of Esoteric Science
- "the power which brings the 'I' to manifestation in the consciousness soul is indeed the selfsame power which reveals itself throughout the world."
Through presenting our senses with continuous "lies," we dull the spiritual perception of the physical body...
It is this assault on the senses that disrupts the flow of the currents forming our inner space and therewith our objective perception of the ego in later life. One early cause of this disruption is the too early introduction of the pedal car and tricycle, which lift the legs out of the streaming of below to above and above to below into the earths's body before they are integrated into it. Also the gripping of the wheel and handlebar over-emphasizes the thrust of the stretching and grasping forces connected with sensory perceptions, and this interferes with the inner experiences of the forces of levity that lifts us into the upright. The loss of childhood culture since the introduction of television has removed the spontaneous playing of the many ball, jumping, skipping, and singing games that were once the joy of children. Our country dances are no longer well known. All these were activities that helped the soul-spirit to find its relationship to the inner space of the physical body.
At home there is a paucity of natural movement activities [emphasis added]; machines do the washing, sweeping, polishing, and many cooking movements. Analyze these domestic movements and we find that they are based on constant clockwise and counterclockwise movements and spiral forms basic to our body and the earth currents. These movements activated the astral body bringing about coordination of eye and hand, arms and legs. Until recently they were there for young children to imitate and so find the way into their bodies. This lack of natural movement hampers the flow of the currents of inner space and this is reflected in the muscular coordination system. Even walking is curtailed by the constant use of the car. The results of this range from clumsiness, or wild behavior, to genuine learning difficulties. Emotional problems and deprivation likewise have an inhibiting effect on the movement of these currents of inner space.
Waldorf education is able to meet this attack of the physical body and, therewith, on the development of the consciousness soul, on many levels. Waldorf kindergartens care for and protect the senses and provide activities that the child can readily imitate [emphasis added].
An Outline of Esoteric Science