When I was growing up, my indefatigable mother cooked, cleaned, ironed and shepherded her four kids around to ballet, baseball, piano and all the rest of it. Her day began at 5 a.m. and lasted until at least midnight, since she also was studying part-time to get her college degree. My biggest childhood memory consists of my mother reading me a bedtime story and yawning at least every few minutes. I remember placing my little hand on her mouth and telling her: “don’t yawn anymore!”
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My mother kept our large, old farmhouse reasonably neat, although not perfect by any means. We had piles of mail, laundry and ironing that she would “work on” only to see them annoyingly creep back up to size! Like all Swedes, my mother considers neatness and cleanliness matters of personal pride, so she resented these small pockets of disorder in her otherwise well-kept house.
When you put this picture of this mother and her household together, it’s not surprising that this enterprising Swede would figure out that her young kids needed to pitch in and lighten her load. So while my mother handled the larger household duties herself like bathrooms and mopping, she began delegating smaller, daily chores to us kids well before we were 10. By the time I was 12, I knew how to do just about everything in the house and I regularly did my bed, the dishes, and vacuuming.
Fast-forward 30 some odd years to my household. Rushing around to sports and music and busy with homework, my kids artfully escape from most daily chores during the week. On the weekends, they reluctantly clean the kitchen and make their beds, but not as consistently as their mother would like. On some days my boys clean the whole kitchen, yet on others they bolt and, too exhausted for the battle, I let it slide, especially when they have friends over. I don’t want to be “that house with the mean mom”. Lame, I know.
However, despite my low batting average, I’m a big believer that kids need to know how to do most everything in the home. For starters, household chores make kids realize that things in life don’t just happen. Scrambled eggs don’t just magically appear in front of you with nicely cut fruit. Your clean clothes don’t land in your drawer! Instead, people have to work hard to keep their daily lives churning forward. Since my first three children are boys, I also think ahead to their futures and don’t want them to end up in a relationship driving their partner crazy with sloppiness. On a more practical level, having my kids pitch in has proved essential since picking up all their odds and ends could fill my entire day! It wasn’t just on the 19th century farm that mothers NEED their kids for a bit of work.
Anyway, getting to the point (ha ha) … Since this issue of how to go about involving children in household chores preoccupies me so much lately, I thought I would throw out 10 basic age-appropriate chores that I am trying to have my kids do on a regular basis. These chores apply mainly to my boys, aged eight-ten, although I am asking my girls (aged four and six) to pitch in with setting and clearing the table.
Chores for Kids: Starter List
1) Sweeping. My boys are big actors and manage to make sweeping look a lot harder than it is. Their version of sweeping erupts into a song and dance act, or their broom becomes a sword and we’ve quickly been transported into a Medieval Battle. If I can get them to put the broom on the floor, I tell my boys to pull the broom towards them while pushing down and to move all the dust into one central pile. The dustpan poses a whole other set of challenges and getting that final tiny pile of dust onto that thing ain’t happening chez moi for a good while.
2) Sponging down the table, table mats, chairs, and counters. This set of duties usually gets appropriated to one child. They take a wet washcloth and wipe all of this down, complaining all the while about how hard it is, which I really don’t understand. Once the executor of this task has thrown himself onto the floor in despair, messing up the pile being compiled by the sweeper, he usually calms down and sponges down these surfaces, throwing more dust and grime onto the floor and causing another fight. Deep breath! I can’t stand seeing bits of food on the kitchen floor so not taking this chore out of the mix!
3) Washing the dishes and loading and unloading the dishwasher. I’ve tried a lot of different strategies when it comes to the dishwasher. I’ve told my boys to count how many items they put in there, to see how close they can get the plates without touching, and, when it comes to unloading, to focus on how much more pleasant lifting clean dishes is versus scrubbing a pot. Speaking of pots, I’m now including washing the egg pan with a brillo pad in my list of age-appropriate children’s chores. Why not?
4) Tying up the garbage bag and placing it in the hallway. Can this be done without spilling food all over the place. Best trick for me here has been to make this little task happen before the bag gets too full.
5) Making their beds. Now, I don’t need to drop a coin on my boys beds, but making a bed doesn’t equate to pulling up the top cover and calling it a day. The bed should look neat, with the sheets and covers pulled up and pillow placed on top. If any of you dropped by and saw my kids beds, you would probably think they weren’t made at all, but life’s a process.
6) Laundry brought to laundry basket or washing machine. This includes a sibling’s laundry. If a stray sock lands in the hallway it’s your responsibility to pick it up because we are a COMMUNITY. Repeat after me.
7) Coats hung up, shoes put in closet, and backpacks stored away. Has to happen immediately upon entry home or forget about it. They’re off doing something and you’ll never be able to lure them all back. Having storage areas next to where your kids enter can really help here. We have plastic boxes for hats and gloves, a chest where they put their school papers and library books, and of course a big closet with a shoe pile that makes me panic over college tuitions.
8) Towels folded and hung onto the bar. Now, hanging a towel doesn’t mean stuffing it into the towel bar like a ball. (Sound familiar?). I’ve explained that the idea is to dry out the towel for the next day.
9) Bathroom floor dry. When my boys take showers, a mysterious pool of water often collects afterwards outside the bathtub. I’ve explained that this is bad for the tile and could cause someone to slip. Although they can’t see my point, I insist that they get down on the knees and mop up that water. They like using a fresh clean towel for that but nobody’s perfect.
10) Replace toilet paper rolls and bars of soap. If you have the space, keep these right in the kids bathroom so they learn to do this themselves. Try NOT to do this yourself and sooner or later, they’ll realize that not having toilet paper handy is pretty darn inconvenient.
Now, motivating kids to do chores is a whole other matter, and one I recently wrote about here. Accepting the less than perfect seems to be part of the magic.
Ok, so I’ve probably rambled on a bit but you can see that in my house we are in a state of figuring this all out, which is where we are on most things. Please let me know how your handling this issue in your hours, since I need the help! And thanks so much for reading!
Now, off to compel my boys to dry the bathroom floor!!