New Research Suggests That Children Have Been Helping Their Families "Grocery Shop" for Centuries
Whether it's to help bag groceries, cut off their own crusts, or pour their own juice, your little one's phrase-of-the-moment has likely become an eager, "Let me help!" Funny enough, they're not alone. According to a new study, children have been wanting to help their families with everyday tasks, like finding food, for centuries-as far back as 400 A.D. They study, published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, details a discovery by researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History: shells, thousands of them! Found off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands, these shells were a sign that ancient Saladoid children had not only been helping to forage for shellfish, but were bringing loads back to their home base or "grocery shopping," if you will.
"It's not that people were starving. It's that children were contributing to their own subsistence in a meaningful and very efficient way," William Keegan, curator of Caribbean archaeology at the museum said. "We need to think of children as active members that influence site materials and their distribution. It changes the whole attitude about the collection in the archaeological site."
Not only is this an "aww"-worthy discovery, but it's especially significant because, up until now, there have been few to no other studies examining the work and contribution of children to ancient societies. Wondering how researchers knew the shells were brought back by children? It's all about the size, Keegan describes. Child foragers tend to be generalists-as opposed to adults who may focus on finding snails and clams with a larger nutritional value-opting for shells of the similarly small sizes and types.
Just like cooking with your kids today can double as valuable bonding time, foraging for food was how many Saladoid people built their own source of kinship, says Keegan. Of course, your children might not be foraging for food in the same way today, but perhaps the next time they insist on picking out all the apples themselves and bagging them and carrying them to the car, let them (even though it might take twice as long!). As Keegan reminds us: "Children like being included. The same sorts of things children need in traditional societies are basically what we still need today to grow up to be healthy, useful adults."