The first time my daughter Abby, then 6, asked if she could help shovel snow, I was thrilled. Not for the reasons you might expect. I figured her enthusiasm would wane once she saw the untouched white blanket that was our front yard. I knew the allure of building a snowman would trump our shoveling duties.
Still, I looked forward to sharing one of my secret pleasures of wintertime – clearing the driveway. It's true: I enjoy shoveling snow (just don't tell my husband).
While my neighbors might break out their blowers and finish the work in half the time it takes me, I enjoy the methodical task of going back and forth on the pavement and creating piles of snow on either side, watching my breath make wisps into the chilly air and, most important, downing hot chocolate inside once I'm done. And I wanted to pass along my love of shoveling to my daughter.
So just how do you teach an excited 6-year-old to use a shovel without getting yourself whacked with snow – or worse, the shovel – in the process? I've learned a few tricks, and while my now-9-year-old is no pro, she seems to enjoy shoveling almost as much as I do.
A shovel of one's own
Your child should have her own shovel. Don't expect to be sharing yours. Look for smaller-sized shovels or light, plastic ones at the store that are easier for your child to handle. Make sure you purchase a well-built, sturdy shovel for yourself – preferably with a non-stick blade on the end.
Stretch it out
You've probably already heard that you should do a few warm-up exercises before you go out to shovel – after all, lifting heaps of snow is strenuous exercise. So touch your toes and do a few side bends and twists before heading out. Not only will you be better prepared for shoveling, but your child will also have fun exercising with mom or dad.
Go in layers
Even if the temperature barely hovers around 30 degrees (or less!), you're going to get warm after a few minutes shoveling – so too will your child. While it's fine to shed the bulky jacket, have a warm, long-sleeved shirt or sweater underneath. Concentrate your thicker garments on areas where you'll get the most cold: your feet, ears, neck and, most important, your hands. Invest in waterproof gloves for both you and your child.
Push; don't lift
Now, you're ready for shoveling! The proper way to remove snow (so that your back isn't sore for a week afterward) is to push it from one side to another – not to lift each heap. If your child is anything like mine, she'll probably immediately start dipping her shovel into the snow then hurling it over her shoulder. If she does that too long, she's going to lose interest quickly because her arms and back will get tired fast.
Help her understand that it's easier to push the snow to the side with the shovel. Ask her to let you handle any heavy lifting. And when you do lift, set a good example by bending at your knees – instead of at the waist.
Break it up
Shoveling is tedious, so take breaks after every 15 minutes or so and enjoy the snow. Try making a snow angel or two, or have a snowball fight (just explain that faces are off-limits!).
Give out assignments
If you tend to be a snow-shoveling perfectionist (and you know who you are), you have a certain method for clearing your driveway. You might always shovel from the top of the drive down or perhaps, like me, favor diagonal lines. Instead of trying to integrate your child's beginner efforts into your own carefully laid plans, let him have his own area. Have him work on clearing the sidewalk or front walk while you work nearby. Chances are if he feels ownership over an area, he'll work harder to do his part.
Let 'em play
So your child is ready to move on to building his fort after 10 (or five) minutes of helping you shovel. That's OK. It's more important for him to enjoy the experience than to expertly clear the driveway or walkway. He'll be more likely to keep up the activity later. But whatever you do, don't forget to celebrate your efforts afterwards with a couple cups of hot cocoa!