CHILD REARING Preparing for work starts at an early age

Amish children are often more confident and competent than their non-Amish counterparts, an authority on the Amish says.
The Amish have special regard for their children, considering them gifts from God. But, compared to their non-Amish counterparts, Amish children grow up faster.
It's not unusual to walk into an Amish business and find children as young as 14 or 15 in charge.
Work is an integral part of most Amish children's lives, said Peter Gail, who has written three books about the "plain people." He also conducts tours of Amish communities and publishes books written by Old Order Amish writers.
They usually start working in the family business, on the family farm or in the home around age 3. As they get older, they are given more and more responsibility, Gail said.
They are consulted about the way things are done, and as a result, he reasoned, Amish children are often more confident and competent than their "Yankee" counterparts.
School: Children go to school through the eighth grade, and no further. "Too much worldly knowledge could draw the youth away from the church," he said. Usually, children attend traditional one-room schools taught by young, single Amish girls. Some families, however, opt to send their children to public school for all eight years; others elect to split their children's education between the two. In those instances, Gail said, parents usually send their children to public school through the fourth grade then to an Amish school for grades 5-8.
These one-room schoolhouses are scattered throughout northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. There are about 50 in Trumbull, Geauga and Ashtabula counties and nearly 20 in Lawrence and Mercer counties.
The children study English, German, social studies, geography, history, music, fine arts, arithmetic and practice devotions. For many, it's the first place where they learn to speak English. Most families only speak a form of German, called Pennsylvania Dutch, at home.
Vocational period: After they graduate from the eighth grade, children generally work at home or in the family business, said Mary Detweiler, an Amish woman who owns a fabric and quilt shop in Middlefield.
After working at home for a year or two, girls may get jobs cleaning houses, working in restaurants or other businesses. Boys often work as carpenters or secure jobs in factories.
In Pennsylvania, some Amish communities call this a vocational period, with the students keeping diaries of their work week.
"They gather once a week for two or three hours to discuss what they did that week. The pattern varies from area to area," said Donald Kraybill, an Amish expert from Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.
In New Wilmington, Pa., Amish children are required to take part in this vocational school until age 15, said Neal Wengerd, an Amish man and father of two.
His 14-year-old son, Henry, spends his week tending the fields of their 66-acre farm and waiting on customers of the family-owned greenhouse, recording all of this in his school diary. Henry then goes to the nearby one-room school each week to report his activities.
Kraybill said the vocational school system was devised in the 1950s as a compromise to strict child labor laws.
"It prepares them for an occupation. They are spending much more time there than they were in school. It's basically learning how to be a good farmer, how to operate machinery. For young women it's learning how to sew and cook," he said.
Further education: Some Amish further their education through correspondence courses if it will help them run their businesses, Gail noted; correspondence courses are always strictly related to their specific trades.
Most other forms of education are discouraged by Amish leaders, Kraybill said.
"Their educational system in some ways suppresses consciousness, puts caps on what you can think about. What you can explore and learn," he said. "It does prepare them very well to be good Amish citizens, but also it's a controlling procedure, a form of social control to limit their access to the outside world."
Stretching their wings: Before young Amish men and women join the church, which usually happens around age 18 or 20, they go through their "running around years," Gail said. During this time, teen-agers try out things they won't be allowed to do once they join the church.
It's not uncommon for an Amish boy to have an old car stashed at a neighbor's house or a radio hidden in the barn, said Norma Fischer Furey, a Mercer County author who has written two books about the Amish.
"Most don't like it and some don't condone it, but the powers that be know that they are going to have a problem if they don't let these kids stretch their wings a little," she said. "They will turn their head to a point."
"The concept is that if a kid doesn't get all that he's curious about out of his system, he'll never be a good Amishman," Gail added.
Of course, Gail noted, the degree to which teen-agers are permitted to run around depends on their families. Some are very strict and do not allow their children to do much out of the ordinary.
The "running around years" end when a person joins the church.