Jul 17, 2012

Age Appropriate Chores For Toddlers and Preschoolers

Little children are great at finding fun and entertainment in about any situation, that is, except for when you need them to such as when they are strapped into a shopping cart or their carseat! They can spend an hour bounding around the living room from couch cushion to couch cushion (which are on the floor and not on the couches) or battle with sticks outside or build a fort out of pillows and blankets. They know how to have fun and use their imaginations when given the opportunity (meaning: no organized activity every 10 minutes and no TV on). However, their daily adventures and play and regular activities of getting dressed and eating make about a million, okay only a hundred (each?) messes a day. Mom may be responsible for keeping her home but that doesn't mean she should have to clean everyone of those messes when the very capable hands that created those messes can be recruited to help clean them up again.

At our house, chores are more like tasks that our kids are requested to do (firmly requested ☺) as part of our family with no promise of payment other than a high-five or a star sticker (stickers are very motivational at this age!). We want to encourage our little helpers to do so because that is what must be done in life not because you necessarily get something out of it, other than clean dishes, clean laundry, and satisfaction. I do praise them for a job well done and thank them for being helpful.

I don't want to give the impression that our little helpers are always willing and jump at the chance to offer their assistance. But, when we decide a task should be done by one of the kids, we see that they do so because it becomes an obedience issue if they don't willingly cooperate. Some Bible verses we discuss often as foundation for developing diligent children:

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right."
Ephesians 6:1

"Do everything without grumbling or arguing,"
Philippians 2:14

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Colossians 3:23-24

The picture up at the top is of my oldest, Sean, just two months shy of turning four. He likes to help me fold laundry and is pretty good at it too! The small stack behind his head is what he - all by himself - folded. Below is a close-up of his handiwork.

Sean started out (and our other two offspring have been following in his footsteps with the same method) by pulling already dry laundry out of the dryer and handing it to me as I folded it (sometimes they would be/get frustrated that I just can't fold as speedily as they can hand me clothes!). This is a fairly simple task that begins around 18 months. Then he graduates, as he gets taller, to the task of taking the wet laundry, that I pull out of the washing machine to set on the edge of the washing machine, and putting it into the dryer. More bending and pushing is required so this starts between 2 and 2 1/2 years old. Slowly the whole time he'd been watching me and decided one day on his own that he was ready to help fold laundry. He did very well folding square items and that has been his task ever since.

I follow a similar method of teaching chores by example first and then allowing the kids to make their own attempts. I don't push them to do tasks perfectly such as making their bed, setting the table, or folding the laundry. However, with each task, I encourage them to attempt to be more accurate (placing their blankets and pillows on their bed at 2 is awesome but I expect I will require a more detailed attempt by age 10 ☺). An example is with the large task of picking up toys each evening. From a young age I continually would prompt Sean and the other kids to be more accurate with putting the appropriate toy in the appropriate bin. Pretty much we just have a book box, a stuffed animal bin, a car/truck bin, and a toy box for everything else to keep it relatively simple. I just remind even the young ones where to put things as we pick up and they get better as they get older at doing it on their own.

We have tried chore charts but we don't have a reward system other than cool stickers to place in the slot when they complete a task. I design and print them from here. I like this website because you can put a fun picture at the top and then I let the kids color their chosen picture. Sometimes I pick pictures myself to go along with a theme or a holiday or a season. I don't put every task that they are asked to do on the chore chart but just usually things that they already know how to do on their own without my help. For example, Sean's chores on the chart may be just 1) Make Bed, 2) Pick Up Toys, 3) Pick Up Dirty Laundry, and 4) Set Table. These get a sticker when they are accomplished which keeps the motivation and excitement aspect going. He very well may be asked to pick up toys more than one time in a day and he is rewarded with one sticker when the evening rolls around when the final pick-up is done. That is just how we do it, and there are other methods and reward systems worth thinking about implementing for your family.

Here are the list of tasks my kids are asked to do on a regular basis:

Sean (4 years old)
Make bed.
Set the table.
Help unload the dishwasher.
Help take out the trash.
Help bring in the groceries.
Help fold laundry.
Put his dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter after a meal.
Pick up dirty laundry.
Put dirty laundry in the washing machine.
Dress himself.
Begin learning to clean bathroom (using a baby wipe).

Logan (3 years old)
Make bed.
Help unload dishwasher.
Help put wet laundry in dryer as I pull it out of washer.
Put his dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter.
Pick up toys.
Pick up dirty laundry.
Help dress himself.

Ella (2 years old by the end of the month)
Help pick up toys.
Help unload dishwasher.
Help pick up dirty laundry.
Hand me laundry from dryer as I fold it.
Put her dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter.

Many of the tasks, I have to remind the kids to do. It gets very repetitious on my part and is sometimes more of a chore to me to encourage the kids to help out with a task than it would be to simply do it myself. But I do this because I feel that it will eventually form a habit for them to do on their own and teaches productivity and responsibility. An example is that with our four year old, I do not have to remind him to make his bed most days because I reminded him daily when we he first started learning and it has become routine for him to do now. Many tasks are not scheduled for a set time of the day, such as laundry and dishes. I will call the kids over to help me when I am working on the laundry or unloading the dishwasher whenever I begin those tasks. And, with Ella, I am still teaching her many of these tasks so I ask her to do a task but I don't expect her to remember on her own yet. Both boys are very good about putting their dirty dishes in the sink without being asked because of my reminding them to do so when they were both younger.

As with many issues in our home, such as what words that come out of our mouths or why we spend money in a certain way, we discuss how God would have us behave and how Jesus is happy when we obey and are good. We desire to place a love for doing what is right and pleasing to God in the hearts of our children. It isn't an easy task nor is it going to produce sub-human "perfect" children but it will hopefully bear the fruit of our labors.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6


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  1. These are some wonderful ideas pertaining to chores for young children. I also like the idea of each type of toy having its own bin. This helps teach sorting. I am going out tomorrow to find some bins for this very purpose-thanks for the idea!

    New follower via FB.


    1. Hi Marcia! Its great to have you here. I think that is great that you were inspired by the toy bins. We keep them in one corner of our living room (we don't have a playroom or basement) and sometimes I'll have each kid take a bin and gather the items that belong in their bin. I hope that works for you!


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