Updated by Mary Bowen on March 13, 2020
Implementing a cleaning routine with your children takes time and patience, but it is well worth the time invested. Children are very capable of doing household chores. A six year old can easily sweep and even three year olds can put toys in a box and pull up blankets and put a pillow on a bed.
It’s never too early to start chores for children. By the age two and definitely by three children should know that they are expected to help around the house—not even just expected but that their help is valued and appreciated. Teach them to put their bath toys away, shoes away, and laundry in a hamper. Simple and routine is the name of the day when teaching chores for children to toddlers.
When a child turns six or seven, it is time to ratchet it up a little. They should be able to clear a table, sweep the floor, pick up toys, make their own bed, put away their own laundry and take laundry to rooms. If you have been training them since age three to do regular chores on a schedule, they should be able to do these things well.
At this age training for the more difficult tasks begins. You can start teaching a seven year old how to clean a toilet, how to fold, how to sort and start a load of laundry. Training and encouragement are important in the beginning. Doing chores around meal times works really well. Use food as the reward for a completed task. This teaches them that we are in this together.
Make sure that your expectations are reasonable and that you’ve trained them to do it the way you expect before you begin a reward and consequence system. I do think no food before you're done works great for children who know what is expected and are capable. (This works for math lessons too!)
A job well done makes you feel good and motivated—the same goes for little ones. Children should feel satisfaction and pride in the work they’ve done. This is why it is so important to never redo their work in front of them. If they have wiped a counter as good as they can, re-wipe it discreetly later. No one likes it when their work is critiqued and redone. It makes their effort seem unhelpful and unappreciated.
There are two separate lists you need to make. The first is for daily household work and the second is for weekly work.
Start by writing down your daily household work—tidying, cooking, pet care. Then evaluate the areas your children can pitch in. It will take a few days to think of all the things that need done each day. Write down the things being done before breakfast and before dinner/bed. Write down everything you do, everything the kids are doing, and finally the things you wish were getting done. You can use this list to assess areas that children can help. Let go where you need to. Commit to getting it done in areas where necessary.
Once you’ve decided who can do what, its time to make a detailed chore checklists for each room.
On the second list, the cleaning list, write down your cleaning jobs. Don’t forget pet care, the vehicles, and yard work. What do you want to? What do you need to do? List all the rooms in the house. It will boil down to a list of things that need done and how to fairly divvy it out. Three hours once per week is plenty of cleaning time. If you can’t get to it all, make a rotating schedule.
When you make your detailed chore list and before you train, write down every step you take when you clean a room as you clean. Be as efficient as possible. Start with a tidy room and work in a circle. Time yourself. This will help ensure your goals are reasonable. Also make a list cleaning supplies that are needed for that room.
Once you have a good system in place you can let things go until chore time confident that it will all get done. I have some rules that keep my house tidy throughout the day. I don’t let kids play in bedrooms, I make kids keep toys in the play room and food and drink in the kitchen. I like them to pick up the playroom before they go outside to play. I ask them to clean their dishes if they want to make dessert or a snack. I make them clean up a craft after they are done.
Keep in mind that the more organized your home the better. Everything should have its place and should be kept in its place. Frequent purging is important. If you like decorations and don’t want a stark looking home, reward yourself with something new after you’ve purged.
Rewards and consequences are vital as time goes on. If things aren’t getting done or being done sloppily, it is time to reassess. Is it a behavior problem? Do they need better training? Better checklists? Are things slipping through the cracks and you need to “check them off”?
I spend my cleaning time supervising and training. No rooms are mine to clean. This was not true in the past, and when my oldest was 7 she worked along side me. Now that I have teenagers they are the crew leaders and they are helping me train the younger ones. I divvy out chores with input and feedback from the children at the beginning of each school year. If it works well for the first month or so, I make them do it all year. This way they learn something well and take pride in their assigned room. I back up my crew leaders.
Your attitude and confidence means everything! Know that God gave you charge over these children. Your confidence in structuring your home, applying discipline and making decisions about their health and education will make your children feel safe and happy!
Be cheerful. Fake it if necessary. God will provide you with all the graces you need. Your attitude towards work will have a heavy influence on your children. Structure and routine make families happy. It doesn’t quell creativity and self esteem, it allows it to blossom. There is a time for everything under the sun. During cleaning time, clean. During play time, play.
They may resist you at first if they are older when you begin a chores for children routine. Focus on the little ones. You’ll get quicker results with them. It will boost your confidence and the big ones will either conform on their own because they appreciate the changes or because they know you are serious.
Kathleen Bowen is a founding member of IndustriousFamily.com. She is a busy homeschooling mother of ten children with seven currently in school. She loves throwing parties and having fun. She takes great pride in homemaking, gardening, flowers and creating table arrangements.
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