Practical Life Skills: Letting Your Young Children Help With Household Tasks

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The following post was written by Simple Kids editor Kara Fleck.

“Can I help?” my two year old wants to know.  I’m folding laundry and, for a moment, I hesitate to say yes.  One the one hand, I think it is darling that she wants to help me. On the other hand, it is going to take much longer if she “helps” than if I just do the job myself. But, the benefits to both of us when I let her help me are too great to ignore.

All of my children have household tasks that they are responsible for, even if it means that things are done imperfectly or slowly.  In working alongside my children, I am forced to slow down and do my household work at a child’s pace. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I have found that teaching my children how to care for our home also helps me to keep my own attitude about these chores in check.  I am caring for my family home and teaching those skills to my children.

“The tasks we do with our young child by hand will be the ones they know by heart when they are grown.” – Sharifa Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children

Ages and Stages

My children are two, four, and almost nine.  At their young ages, they do require some supervision from me in their work around the home.  Each child, however, needs a different level of input from me.

Let’s look at the example I’ve already mentioned of  laundry and how that task changes with the ages and abilities of my children:

Toddlers

For my just turned two year old, Lucy, folding laundry can simply mean that I give her a stack of washcloths to fold.  While I am folding the rest of the basket, she folds the washcloths and then, later, is at my side “helping” as I put things away.

Lucy watches me intently and she narrates what we are doing – “putting Max’s sock in the drawer, mama? Towels on the shelf, mama?“  Asking these questions out loud, and my answers, makes an impression on her.

The next time she helps me with the laundry, she will more than likely remember that Max’s socks belong in his dresser drawer and that the folded bath towels go on the shelf in the linen closet.  At bath time, she beams with pride showing her Daddy where the clean towels are.

At this point, Lucy helping me is more about giving her a chance to imitate common household chores than it is about responsibility. This is a time for me to model doing my chores with care so that she will learn to do the same.

Preschoolers

My son Max is four.  Like his younger sister, he likes to fold washcloths when he helps me with the laundry, but I can also give him added tasks:  separating the colors from the whites, helping  put clothes into the machine,  matching up socks, and with my supervision he can put his things away in his dresser.

He is not yet to the point where he can do this independently.  Sending him to his room with a stack of laundry to put away by himself will usually mean that fifteen minutes later I’ll find the laundry, forgotten, on the floor and him playing nearby.

But, if I take the time to go with him to his room and stand nearby giving him some minimal direction, he can do this task.

He is a genuine help in getting the task of doing laundry accomplished, although he does require my direct supervision.

Older Kids

Now, Jillian, my almost nine year old, has been folding and putting away laundry for a few years.  She is at an age where she more than likely will not ask me if she can help, in fact there may be some grumbling on her part, but she knows it is expected that she will help.

I will still have to check up to make sure the task is done, but I can confidently send her to her room with a basket of unfolded laundry and know that she will fold it and put it away correctly. She can handle this responsibility with little supervision from me.

In fact, this year I’m planning to teach Jillian how to use the washer and dryer and let her take more responsibility for doing her own laundry.  I plan to write out some simple instructions for her to remind her what needs to be done and then we’ll post these in the laundry room.

My older child can be responsible for this task and is ready for more independence in this area, although she does still need me to check and make sure that she gets her work done.

Other Tasks

Aside from laundry, there are other household tasks that are suitable for children.  You know your child’s abilities and temperament better than any one else, so please use your own judgment.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

With adult supervision and help, toddlers and preschoolers can:

  • empty trashcans
  • put toys away
  • clear dishes from the table
  • assist in washing dishes
  • sweep floors (a child-size broom is perfect for this)
  • dust
  • make beds
  • help prepare simple meals, like tearing lettuce for salad

Older Kids

With some adult supervision and instruction, older kids can do all of the above, plus:

  • run the vacuum
  • wash windows and mirrors
  • rake leaves
  • shovel snow
  • put clean dishes away
  • set the table
  • help prepare meals (even prepare simple meals entirely on their own)
  • polish furniture and wooden toys
  • some gardening tasks
  • assist in the care of younger siblings (i.e. diaper changing, buttoning coat, tying shoes, etc.)

Self Esteem and Character

Yes, the chores would go faster if I just did them myself, but I believe that with some intention and mindfulness on my part, I can achieve a healthy balance between the speed tasks are accomplished and the valuable teaching moments that including the children provides.

Have an age appropriate level of responsibility builds their self-esteem and character. Whether we are helping them to learn a task or they are independent enough to be a true help to us, I believe our kids need to be involved in the work of the household and to learn these practical life skills.

Do your kids help with household tasks? What ages are they and what chores do they do? What level of supervision do you have to provide? How do you balance getting the housework done with taking the time to teach practical life skills?

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About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

Comments

  1. I noticed that Katie Kimball has a post at Simple Organic today about her green cleaner routine. Love the point she makes about how using green cleaners means that kids can help w/o worry about what you’re exposing them to.

    http://simpleorganic.net/simple-routines-for-homemade-green-cleaners/
    Kara @Simple Kids´s latest post: Practical Life Skills- Letting Your Young Children Help With Household Tasks

  2. Great post, Kara! It’s so easy to do things for our kids and just get it done, but teaching them to do for themselves is so valuable. We won’t have independet and competent teenagers and adults if we don’t take the time to slow down and teach our little ones. It all comes in little steps along the way within a family culture that let’s them know they can contribute. They are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. Thanks for the great post!
    Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Do You Hear That Why Phonological Awareness is So Important for Preschoolers

    • Sorry– realized I didn’t actually answer your question! My three boys are under six, so right now we’re focused mainly on teaching “daily personal responsibility” type tasks (making bed, getting dressed, putting clothes away, brushing teeth, clearing own dishes….) along with one “chore” for the day (emptying garbages, cleaning small sections of glass, organizing lockers…). I have to remind myself that these tasks are for teaching, not just “getting done”.
      Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Do You Hear That Why Phonological Awareness is So Important for Preschoolers

  3. My nine year old has been helping me with housekeeping for years. We started with little tasks when he was younger (pick up toys and dirty clothes in his basket). Now that he is older he can helps with pretty much everything– unloading the dishwasher, loading the laundry, and vacuuming his room. He much prefers outdoor chores– raking the leaves and pulling weeds.

    I use all natural cleaning products so I don’t have to worry about fumes or skin irritation.
    Carrie´s latest post: The Simple Life of Homeschooling

  4. In our house, one of our mantra’s is, “Everybody helps!” I’ve put stickers on the dishwasher, washer and dryer so that my children (ages 5 & 2) know where to turn the dial or which button to press – without my help. They load, unload, fold, and put away laundry. The same with dishes. We clean-up every night before we go upstairs for bed – no matter who made the mess. They love to help sweep and use the dust pan. They LOVE to see their accomplishments. In fact, my daughter plans and cooks one meal a week – it’s one of her favorite activities. Best of all, when one balks – it’s often the other who reminds them that, “Everybody helps!”

  5. This is a great post that I’m going to have to re-read. My kids are 7, 5, and 2 1/2. The two older ones put their own clothes away and sometimes help fold. My 5 year old is a girl and wants to help with everything I do, so she occasionally helps with dishes. They all help set the table and clear the table. The two older ones cook one meal a week with me. But they don’t have chores set up for them. They’re expected to clean their rooms, but that’s that! I’ve been thinking for over a year that they really need a to do list to begin learning increased responsibility. But it’s hard to for me to let them at it knowing I’ll have to be on top of them for a while while they get the hang of sweeping and whatever else. But I’m going to read this again tonight and work on my patience…
    Annie´s latest post: A Day in the Life

  6. My boys are 3 and almost 5 (in a few short weeks!). We do chores together- when I do dishes, my 3yo is responsible to put the “boy dishes” (the cups and plates they use that go in a low cabinet) away, my older one sorts silverware after I take out sharp knives and I put away the rest. We are all working at the same time so that I can easily supervise and there is little complaining about “why do *I* have to…” because we are all doing it. We do the same with laundry- 3yo does towels, almost 5yo sorts socks and I do the rest.

    We started working on individual chores just a few months ago with our almost 5yo. I had him watch me do the chore for a few days, then help with the chore, then do it on his own with supervision. I backed off on the supervision over time and he now has 2 chores he can complete easily on his own (putting shoes away on each person’s shelf and putting his own laundry away).
    Erin´s latest post: On My Knees

  7. Love the post. I have regretted not including my kids in certain chores because I was so focused on getting things done. But later on it’s a real task to teach them and hand it over – not to mention getting them to accept the responsibility.

    We do a lot of together as a family chores around the farm. Not only does it help strengthen a sense of responsibility and skills but it’s a great way to stay healthy. Nothing like shoveling the driveway or raking the yard to get a good workout. And doing it together, as others have noted, certainly strengthens the idea that this is for the family.
    Sarah´s latest post: Health Benefits of Outdoors Exercise- Vision Health

  8. Hi ,

    Thanks for a great post and for the many others you provide. One thing that we have recently added for our 7 and 11 year old children is feeding the dog. What I like about this is it provides the children with a daily opporunity to care for our pet and that there are important consequences if the task is not done. Of course, the do other tasks as well but I like the fact that this one matters and they are great about helping out.

  9. I would never get any housework done if I didn’t enlist the help of our children (mostly because they make more of a mess when they’re not occupied :). And I find they’re all suckers for a wet rag + a vacuum.
    Unplanned Cooking´s latest post: Are you addicted to kitchen gadgets

  10. My 2 yr old often helps sort the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer and picks out her underwear in the clean clothes and puts it in her drawer. She is also a very protective mommy to her dollies.
    Janna @ Mommy’s Piggy TALES – Record YOUR Youth´s latest post: Our Freshman Year of High School

  11. I have to thank you-through your blog I found this site :). My kids help out around the house more and more. I have found that even the youngest can help-and usually it is with things that I procrastinate about-like carrying out the compost and putting the shopping bags back in the van. We once watched a news story about kids in Japan who were taking a class in cleaning-it emphasized taking your time and doing a job right. One thing I noticed were the quality cleaning tools the kids used-its easier to do a good job with good tools ;)
    great post-I’ll be rereading it in a few days to help me remember your ideas.

  12. This is so helpful, Kara, thanks! I found it was easier to incorporate a ‘helper’ into my daily cleaning when there was just one! Now that there is two, it’s much a harder. At ages 2 and 4, they fight over a sock! They only want to do exactly what the other one is doing–it’s crazy!

    Needless to say, when my 4yo heads to school on Monday, my 2yo and I will have a relaxing time cleaning. =)
    Aimee @ Simple Bites´s latest post: Stop and Savor the Season

  13. Great post, Kara! I am often reminding myself to include the girls in my jobs, even if it takes longer.

    My girls are 6 and 7 – they have after dinner chores (clearing and wiping the table, feeding the dog, etc.), as well as helping with laundry, dusting, etc. during the week. Their favorite chores are adding things to the grocery list, vacuuming, and cleaning mirrors.

    Thanks for the great chore lists by age, too – so helpful! :)

  14. Thanks for the helpful information, Kara!
    I was also thinking how can I instill some discipline and values to my kids especially when taking care about their stuff. Asking the kids to help in household chores will surely become a habit for them in the long run, and will affect their values.
    Thanks, really for a good post!
    Butterfly bedroom´s latest post: Butterfly Decorations Expanding Inventory

  15. Wonderful article! And perfect timing too! We just started family chore time after breakfast, and oh my goodness, how I wish we started sooner! The breakfast dishes get done, the floor swept, the table wiped, the living area picked up and vacuumed… thanks to my 3, 5 and 9yo happily working together!
    Pamela´s latest post: August Harvest

  16. At one year my son is already eager to help (he adeptly opens and shuts doors – like to the fridge – on cue right now) – and I look forward to more of his help. The ages based lists are a great help figuring out where to start!

  17. My daughters, ages 5 and 3, are sometimes eager to help with the household chores and sometimes resistant. Much like me.

    I love that you include age appropriate expectations. Both my girls can sort the laundry into whites and coloreds. They love throwing the clothes into the washer and transferring the wet clothes into the dryer as well as taking the dry clothes out and putting them in the laundry basket to be folded.

    My youngest is more into cleaning than my oldest, though my oldest likes to put away her toys whereas my youngest could care less (unless I suggest we donate her toys to someone who would take better care of them). I let them use wet cloths or rags without any chemicals when they clean because usually they are trying to clean something that isn’t dirty. For spray bottles I use just water as well since they are liable to get the contents on just about everything if I relinquish it to them.

  18. When we began having our kids perform home functions, we were surprised to find out that they could do so much more than we thought. So much more than the average kid does, and definitely more than we did when we were kids. No they are taking things into their own hands and pushing themselves further all the time.
    Joseph Nally´s latest post: When to Apply the Emergency Brake!

  19. I am a big advocate of children helping and my toddler has helped around our home in so many ways, ever since she began walking really. She helps to hang the laundry, put the laundry away, unstack the dishwasher, tidy up her belongings and set the table.

  20. I find it amazing that my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter is so respectful of the kitchen and of cooking. Her mom loves to cook and bake and she seems to be following in the same footsteps. She loves to help but never touches anything that she’s not supposed to. She even helps with clean up which can turn a little bit messy but is still lots of fun!
    Tina @ Kids Devil Costumes´s latest post: Teen Devil Costume

  21. Very timely. We were just talking about starting real chores with my 3 year old. He loves being a helper, and I’d like to get a sticker chart going for him to help all of us get into a routine. I know Tsh has a “preschoolers” chore chart on Simple Mom that I’d like to take advantage of.
    Alissa´s latest post: Skip ahead to 10

  22. I think it starts even younger than toddlers…i’ve got my 15 month old helping me around the house all day long. I’ll say “Charlie, mommy needs a little help in the kitchen today” and next thing I know my cute little helper is pulling all of the tupperware out of the cupboard, all of the spatulas, whisks, and pot holders out of the drawers and scattering them around the floor–right where they’re supposed to be, don’t you think. And then after all that hard work he still finds the energy to want to make us both a snack so out come the box of crackers and the single serve organic apple sauces. He’s just like having a live in maid i swear.

  23. This is probably the biggest reason I sell and use Norwex. My kids LOVE to help clean, and cleaning with just antibacterial microfiber and water means it’s very safe for them. They love to clean the windows (streak free), clean the car, and now their favorite thing to do is mop! I love it!!
    Suzanne´s latest post: homepage

  24. Very well post Kara! I do agree with everything you have said. Teaching them on early age household skills is equivalent to molding them to become good people from now on.
    Butterfly Decorations´s latest post: Tutu skirts- A versatile addition to your child’s wardrobe

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