DISCLAIMER: What I share with you today will not be all inclusive. I do not pretend to have all the answers. What I have to offer are simply some suggestions, observations and tactics which we have used in our home to some degree of success. Lord willing, you will be able to glean something of value that will be helpful to your own family situation.
What is the basis for requiring chores?
A. Servant-hood: Throughout scripture we see that Jesus was a servant to all. He was a servant of God, doing the Father’s will on earth. The things that we practice in our homes will lay a foundation for the future. Cultivating servants hearts in our children will be a blessing to many.
B. Practical: As a child, habits and attitudes are established. We can raise children who expect everything to happen FOR them. OR… children who expect to pitch in where needed, when needed, leading them into a more realistic view of the world and leading them into successful adulthood where work is related. It is not that these things cannot be learned later in life but it is so much harder to learn these practices as adults.
Where do you start? What are age appropriate chores?
In our home as a baby learns to dump out toys, they also learn to put them back in the box. They learn that it is just as fun putting them back in the box as it was to take them out. At story time, after the stories are done, the books can be carried by a toddler back to the shelf. This concept can be applied to little parts of your daily life with a baby. Babies follow the lead of mama and want to be just like you!
When one of my children writes on the wall, even as young as 1 year old, I give them a wet washrag and they rub on the spot that they wrote. The work of this little one may not actually clean off the writing but, they are learning an important lesson- to take responsibility and clean up after themselves. Likewise, a young child can handle the dusting (which honestly, we don’t do in our house but you may do in yours). They can put away their clothes, vacuum, and fold kitchen towels. Sure, you can do it faster on your own but they want to help you and at this point in their lives, chores are an adventure and a game.
When I think of what chores are age appropriate and what my kids “can” do.. I think of opposites. If they can take the toys out, they can put them away. If they know where they get a pair of pants out… they would know where to put it away when the laundry is done. When my twins were born, my oldest children were 2 and almost 4. It didn’t seem like I could keep up. Just as a matter of necessity one day I had the oldest two unload the dishwasher. As I sat tandem nursing the babies, I directed Emma to take the dishes out of the dishwasher and hand them up to Caleb who was standing on the counter and he would put them away in the cupboard. What fun they had! And how glad I was to have help. When they were wanting a snack, they knew where to go to get a dish or a spoon so I knew that they had an understanding of the proper place for things. Putting away the dishes was a learning activity as they sorted items like silverware into the correct places. The job may not have gotten done quickly but it really didn’t matter how long it took, it was the growth of life skills.
The one of the first “big chores” our children learn is to replace the liner in the garbage can after the trash has been taken out. Though to me, working through my lists can be a drudgery, it is a thrill to my toddlers to be part of the action. Sometimes I just make jobs into a game by making up a silly rhyme or a sing-song for what I want done. For example, after the garbage has been taken out, I yell…”Liner 49er” (a nonsense phrase that I accidentally blurted out once and it just stuck). One or two little boys come racing through the house to put the new bag in. We make a game of thrashing around the plastic liner, filling it with air and getting it to open up.
Housework can be overwhelming when you look at the entire list of what needs to be done. When I think of all the things I want my kids to learn the list is equally overwhelming. There is no way to do it all at once. We’ve got to break it down into smaller pieces, incrementally teaching skills and mastering them. I often start with “ what is really bugging me?” and use that answer to determine where to direct my efforts in training.
If I never want to unload the dishwasher again, I will teach my children to do that. Sweeping, washing windows or matching socks are good ones to start with. I will work with them and slowly they will take that task over. The idea here really is to work your way out of the job. (That is the dream of course. Reality is that there is plenty I need to do but by teaching my kids to work along side me, the burden doesn’t fall as heavily on me as if I were to do all of these things myself) If I feel that laundry is overwhelming or if I notice someone just needs to be productively busy, I will take my child with me to the washing machine and show them how the dials work, how to measure the soap and how to move the wet clothes to the dryer. By the time they are in 3rd grade, they can do their own laundry.
Our priority as parents is to train our children to be adults who will serve the Lord and share Christ. We must remember that the physical stuff is just stuff and in the end, a show home is not the main goal. We do develop character as we learn to work together and accomplish tasks but if your home doesn’t pass “the white glove” test, don’t sweat it! Every home is different and we should remember that because of each one’s unique situation the chore lists or the implementation of it will not look the same. Just because my grandma IRONED her sheets, doesn’t mean I will. Just because someone else dusts weekly, doesn’t mean I need to! Please remember this freedom as it will save your family from the tension of trying to live to accomplish someone else’s standard.
So, lets talk about implementation of the actual chores. There are lots of ways to accomplish this. I have tried many different ways and what I have found is that it is better for our family to mix it up every once in awhile. If we were to have the same way to dole out tasks, we would all be bored! Below I share how I’ve mixed it up over the years. You can download a pdf of this list HERE and try some of these ideas in your home to see if one (or more) works for your family!
15 Creative and Fun Ways to do Chores
For a printable version click HERE
1. Chore bingo ( make up cards for each family member, let them cross off the jobs as they are completed and see who can BINGO first (I always require blackout)
2. Scavenger hunt of things that need picked up/cleaned. Make a copy of the list for each person. Whomever takes care of the task crosses it off. Who gets the most items on the list accomplished?
3. Hide some M&M’S or other small treat in an area to be discovered by those who clean the spot.
4. Piece puzzle – (On a 3×5 card) left side chore and right side reward. Cut the card apart in an unusual pattern to match later… after the chores are done. The reward being matched AFTER the work has been completed ensures they don’t become choosy as you won’t give them time for the card match ups until the work is done.
5. Index cards on counter for daily chores, turn them over when you are done.
6. Clip on name-tag pockets filled with tasks to be worn while doing chores (if they are wearing the list, they can’t lose it right?)
7. Basic list on paper or a dry erase board. Cross off as you go.
8. Set the timer–how much can we do in 5 minutes? 10 minutes?
9. Turn on the music–dance from room to room cleaning as you go
10. Charts for daily chores ( brushing teeth etc)
11. Assign days “ Kitchen helper of the day”, “laundry helper of the day”
12. Assign “jurisdictions” that each child is responsible for so that they can become familiar with what is needed. Rotate jurisdictions monthly or when it gets boring.
13. Overwhelmed child? ( or you?) Pick up big items first. Or pick up only shoes Then take a break, then towels, then garbage etc. Or how about pick up 1 item For each year of your age… (Eli picks up 6, Valor picks up 8). If you have company coming, maybe you want to have them pick up double their age!
14. For the reader, put “how to” lists on the walls in vinyl pockets or laminate them. Click HERE for a downloadable pdf of our “how to” lists ( remember, ours is a teaching home you may want to make your lists pretty). TIP: For the non-reader, take photos of what you want the room to look like in the end for them to compare their work to.
15. Old fashioned library card “pockets” mounted on a poster board. At the beginning of the day, fill each child’s pocket with their chores written out on 3×5 cards. As the chores are finished, drop them into the pocket labeled “completed”. At a glance you should be able to see who still has work to be done and what chores are ready to be checked.
Every child is so different as you well know. The skills for one may be unequal to a sibling at the same age. That is ok! Remind siblings of how God has fashioned us all uniquely and that our jobs do not have to be the same. Each one has talents and abilities that add to our family as a whole and they are each a necessary part.
The chores that need done will change as your family grows and then again as each one reaches adulthood and moves out. There is no perfect system for all times. Chores are an ever evolving thing. You will always have new systems and protocols that work for your family and that really is what keeps it fun and interesting. So don’t be afraid to abandon a system if it once worked but has become ineffective. This is also a reason to not invest too much money in any one system.
Remember that our goal as parents should not be to raise children but, to raise responsible and competent adults. The work ethic is not developed at the age of 16 or 18 but is built over a lifetime. Memories are made in the daily tasks that we attend to and challenges that we conquer as a team. Though the responsibility to teach our families to work together can seem daunting, I pray you will find ways to make it a delight.