Having the kids at home all day often entails a lot of mess. Books are everywhere, toys are scattered throughout the house, and clothes find their way under couches and beds. The house gets dirtier faster. There are more dirty dishes, more trails of mud coming in from the door, and more puzzle pieces and crayons strewn about the house. Summer is wonderful time of year, but it can be hard to feel peaceful when your house looks like a tornado ripped through it.
One of the things I do to make the housework manageable is to assign my kids chores at the end of the school year and train them well (as well as can be expected) during the summer. That way, when the new school year begins, they are already accustomed to doing those chores. It is so pleasant to come down in the morning and find the dishwasher cleared. While the older children clean up after breakfast, I get a jump start on grading and teaching the smaller ones.
This year, my daughter started making lunch every day, and what a tremendous help that has been! After dinner, the children do all the cleaning up under the supervision of my husband. In addition, the children make their own beds, tidy up their assigned zone, and do their own laundry (except for the youngest). And the boys now mow the lawn, thanks to my Dad who bought them a battery-operated lawn mower.
This did not happen overnight, though. My husband and I continually work at getting our children to do their chores well, in a timely manner, and without being told. Big Sis has grown to be extremely adept and responsible. The others sometimes need reminders and pointers, but they are getting there. That is why we use the summer months to focus on training our children to do their chores well.
How do we decide what chores to assign our kids? There is a list of Age-Appropriate Chores at 10Kids.com When I first read this list, I thought, “Wow! My kids are capable of much more than I thought!”. You might feel the same way.
Be specific, persistent, encouraging
How do we train them? With specific instructions, regularity, persistence, and lots of encouragement. When we train our kids to do a chore, we start with specific instructions. Sweep the kitchen floor isn’t specific enough. I have to tell my boys to pull out all the stools, shake the mats, sweep under the counters and along the walls, push the dirt into one big pile, collect the dirt with the dust pan and put it in the bin. Then I have to tell them to line up the stools properly and put the broom back in the closet. The saying, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect” is especially true when you are teaching children to do chores. So, as they are learning to do their chores, you need to inspect their work, patiently pointing out places or details they missed.
If you have kids that tend to dilly-dally, try using a timer. After breakfast, I tell my boys that they have seven minutes to do their breakfast chores and get to their school desks. If they are not done by the time the timer goes off, they don’t get an afternoon snack other than fruit. Since my boys are happy to eat any time of the day, they certainly don’t want to miss an opportunity for munchings and crunchings. The timer works like a charm.
Regularity is the next important factor because kids need to do chores on a regular basis in order for those tasks to become habitual. Ideally, you want your children to get to the point where they do their chores automatically, without being told. This is more likely to happen if they do the same chores every day and/or every week on the same day of the week. It is also helpful to link chores to certain times of the day so they become part of their daily routine.
Naturally, mealtime chores happen right before or after meals. Since my kids have mealtime chores, I have them do some of their other chores before or after meals as well. For example, my kids put their dirty laundry in the wash before breakfast, they put it into the dryer after breakfast, and they fold their clothes while I read aloud to them after their lunch break. This works great for us; it may not work for you for any number of reasons. But the point is to make chores a part of their routine so that doing them becomes a habit.
Because I can’t always keep track of who should be doing what, I find it useful to keep a chore chart posted on the fridge. My kids clearly understand what they need to do, and they also see what their siblings need to do. It gives them a sense of fairness: they are not the only one doing chores. Everyone is pitching in, according to their ability, to care for the family and home.
Set a realistic standard
I know this sounds much easier and straight forward than it really is. Believe me, I know! Training children to do their chores well is hard work and requires a lot of patience and persistence. There will be days when your kids fight and whine about their chores. Don’t give in. At the same time, be realistic, especially about your standards. Most nine year old boys will not fold their laundry with the same precision as Martha Stewart. You will probably drive yourself and your kids crazy if you insist on it. Find a middle ground — something that is doable for them and acceptable to you. Then, make that your standard and stick ’em to it!
Be realistic about how long it will take to train your kids to do their chores well. Yes, it can take months of consistent training and years of inconsistent training. I’m not good about being consistent and staying on top of all my kids’ chores every day. For two years, Feisty has had the job of sweeping the kitchen after breakfast. I still have to remind him to put the stools back. I hope to change that by the end of this summer!
So, patience and persistence. And then, stay positive! Try to keep exasperation or annoyance out of your voice. After all, they’re kids, they’re learning, and they just aren’t as detail-oriented as we are, yet. Rather, encourage your kids, praise their efforts, and let them know how much you appreciate their help. Help them realize that by doing their chores, they are contributing to the well being of the whole family. It makes children feel good to know that they are needed. Feisty is so proud of himself when he assembles Ikea furniture for us. He is an awesome little handyman. As they mature, children can develop a healthy sense of satisfaction in a job well done. But we need to feed these feelings with genuine words of praise.
Getting our children to do their chores well is not simply about our own survival or sanity. If that were the case, many of us would give up after a few attempts because training kids to do chores is often much more work than just doing it ourselves. Rather, chore training is about teaching responsibility, nurturing a spirit of service, boosting confidence, developing the virtue of order, and family bonding. There are so many wonderful benefits to training your children to do their chores responsibly.
By the way, doing house projects as a family is a great way to strengthen family bonds. One year we made it a family project to paint the fence and deck. For an entire weekend, everyone except the two babies pitched in. We were all smeared in paint and our arms ached, but there was something beautiful about us all working hard together. We were a team. When we finished, we celebrated with an ice-cream and pizza party. The children were so pleased with the work they had done. They learned that hard work could be fun when done with a positive attitude and good company.
So I encourage you, invest some time and attention on a little Chore Boot Camp of your own. Summer is a great time for many of us to do this because our kids have more free time. When the new school year begins in the fall, you may be pleasantly surprised how much smoother your days will go. More importantly, you will be raising responsible, hardworking children who know how to serve and care for their families. When my kids put up a big stink about having to do a chore, I like to think that one day their future spouses might thank me for teaching them to do the household chores. The efforts we put in now will bear much fruit, both in the fall and in years to come.
Mary Cooney is a homeschooling mother of give and former pianist living in Maryland. She blogs at Mercy for Marthas.