Pretty much any time anybody sees children pitching in with some kind of task, you can count on an observer to remark, “Start ’em young!”
Helping out at home or just practicing to contribute to the family (and to people in general) is something just about all parents wish to instill in their progeny. Having children do chores is not just an efficient way to get it all done; it’s an integral part of raising happy, confident children who become productive and conscientious members of their generation.
So, yes, start them young. But when, how, and with which chores? Here are some things to consider when implementing an all-hands-on-deck culture in your own family, then a list of chores that you might want to consider for each age group.
Give Them Chores They Want to Help With When They’re Really Little
As young as toddler-hood, children love to watch and imitate their parents and older siblings when they’re doing chores. They are incredibly eager to “help” and kid versions of cleaning tools like this mini Dyson capitalize on this phase. The important thing is this: Even if it’s easier to occupy your young children in some other way while you get housework done, tapping into their natural propensity to learn by doing (and doing it themselves) will pay off in the long run. By associating tasks that tend to become humdrum by adulthood or earlier (dusting, vacuuming, etc.) with positive feelings — time with and praise from you — you are investing in your child’s future inclination to keep things clean and orderly.
Give Them Chores Commensurate With Their Age and Ability
When you let children help with things that they perceive as tasks “big people” do, you boost their self-esteem and independence. By giving them a responsibility, you’re letting them know that you trust them, you’re counting on them, and that they’re an indispensable part of their family unit. To make the most of this effect, give your children chores that are challenging but still within their ability to accomplish. Psychologists call this the zone of proximal development and describe it as tasks that a learner can perform with the guidance and encouragement of someone more knowledgeable (that’s you). While not all of your child’s chores need to fall into this category, be sure to include some that do.
Give Them Chores They Can Do Well (Enough)
In order to keep from undermining the positive psychological benefits of your children doing their chores, do your best not to correct what they’ve done. Give your guidance and input on the front end and lavish your thanks and praise at the end. Along this line, choose chores for your children that they can complete to a standard that you can live with.
Give Them Chores With Visible Results
To maximize the intrinsic reward of cleaning and organizing, try to choose some chores that have immediate and/or visible results. For instance, dusting may not be as noticeable as straightening up the shoes on the shoe rack. Be sure to point out and emphasize how nice everything looks and how calm everything feels once the chore is done to really drive the point home.
With these bigger picture principles in mind as a guide for choosing which specific chores to give your children, here are some sample chores broken down by age group. (Each older group includes the chores listed in the previous group.)
The Best Chores for Toddlers
- Take dishes to the sink (or the counter by the sink).
- Wipe up spills.
- Vacuum with toy vacuum.
- Put toys away.
- Place shoes where they belong, neatly.
- Throw trash in the garbage can.
The Best Chores for Preschoolers
- Straighten up shoes in mudrooms or entryways.
- Feed pets.
- Put dirty clothes in the washer, switch them to the dryer, and take them out of the dryer.
- Put folded clothes away in their drawers.
- Straighten up pillows on couches and chairs.
- Fold simple laundry, such as rags.
- Pick up messy rooms.
- Make beds.
The Best Chores for Elementary School Age Children
- Put dishes in the dishwasher.
- Hand wash some dishes.
- Sort laundry by color and/or type.
- Wash and dry loads of laundry.
- Fold laundry and put it away.
- Wipe glass doors and windows.
- Sweep off the front porch.
- Set the table.
- Clear the table and wipe it.
- Unload the dishwasher.
- Clean bathrooms.
- Light yard work.
- Collect trash from small trash cans.
- Clean out the car.
- Light dusting.
- Clean baseboards.
- Make snacks.
- Make lunches for school.
- Take large trashcans to the curb and bring them back.
The Best Chores for High Schoolers
- Heavier yard work.
- Wash the dishes.
- Clean up the kitchen after a meal.
- Deep clean bathrooms.
- Deep clean the kitchen.
- Thorough dusting.
- Wash bedding and put back on beds.
- Cook dinner.
- Clean out the fridge.
This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 44 of the Best Chores for Kids, by Age
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