Getting Kids to Help at Home

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The first couple days of homeschooling might have been fun and games, but at some point, cleaning the house while everybody is in it became like brushing your teeth while you’re still eating Oreos…..futile. What’s a parent to do? Include the family! You are in this together, including cleaning up the mess, so let me help you implement a routine to at least stay in survival mode on the housekeeping thing.

Some of you may be thinking, “My children are all too young to be of any help–I’ll have to do it all!”

Well, if you don’t include them in training, you are still doing it all, and they aren’t learning to help you, so you might as well start mentoring them now!

Delegate/assign responsibilities

Decide what tasks are critical on a daily and a weekly basis, then assign them on a periodic rotation to the participating children. I know that it is usually easier to do something yourself than to train someone else to do it, but this training is important. (Trust me. I had to learn to do laundry at age 17 by trying to decipher the Italian instructions in a laundromat in Rome because my sweet mom was kind enough to do my laundry till I left home.)

Even older toddlers can be assigned small chores, or can team up with an older sibling, or accompany mom to apprentice in their assigned tasks. A life skills checklist (see The Everyday Family Chore System for ideas, or do an online search) can help you determine reasonable expectations by age level.

Vacuuming the Porch -- Everyday Homemaking

Be sure everyone knows what is expected. A hanging chart can be the silent reminder of daily and weekly duties. Our chart had the duties on clips, with daily on one side and weekly on the other, and the clips rotated up one side and down the other, one job at a time, at the beginning of each month. For toddlers or other non-readers, a photo flip album with photos of the task in progress (or the expected result) can be effective.

Teach them how to do the job

How many times have you given a child a task, only to discover that his idea of sweeping the floor and your idea of sweeping the floor are apparently not even close to the same? You’ll want to demonstrate the job done thoroughly before expecting a child to do it; how long this initial training process takes will depend on the maturity and physical ability of the child. (Of course, you’ll want to consider safety if cleansers are involved–I prefer to use Norwex microfiber products so we can clean without toxins and my littles can help more! Learn more here.)

The child can gradually take over the task and will eventually only need an occasional check-up. To make this process more consistent, we used the How-to-do-it Cards from The Everyday Family Chore System; an alternative is to make your own process lists for each household task.

girls baking cornbread

It is reasonable to expect the job to be done with a pleasant attitude, thoroughly, and reasonably well, according to the ability level of the child. It is important to note that acceptable is not the same as perfect; as parents, we must not make the standard unachievable and thus discouraging to our children. And right now, you’re aiming for keeping the house live-able, not magazine-worthy (although you probably want to tidy up the Zoom background a bit!).

And remember: Kids do what you in-spect, not always what you ex-pect!

“I’ve looked at several programs or systems, but they just never seemed to work well for us.  Enter in Everyday Homemaking and I think things are looking up!…I really like the idea of making the cards because if I check behind them and something is incorrect I can just go back to the cards with them.”–Teresa L.

Reward your child’s success

The goal is to train our children to be responsible, skilled, and diligent. (Okay, right now your goal may be to do damage control and minimize the clutter and overwhelm, but let’s think ahead…..)

You may not be a big fan of rewards, but if that is what it takes for kids to initially see the benefit of helping out, don’t rule it out! In our home, we used a star system with small rewards (a 10-star and 25-star box in Dad’s closet) for jobs done and schoolwork finished with good attitudes. Eventually, the girls weaned themselves off the external rewards, motivated enough by the intrinsic reward of a job well done (or done in time to do whatever else they wanted to do).

(Watch this video I did for Midwest Parent Educators — yes, it’s about chores—their screenshot just happened to grab a cookbook photo!)

Organize for success

Once you have:

(1) Set some goals and decided what tasks need to be accomplished on a daily and a weekly basis, then

(2) Delegated and assigned responsibilities with your chore chart, and

(3) Started to teach them how to work,

then organizing your household will make it easier for your children to succeed — from a daily routine, to color coding, to dots on the laundry, and more.

“I had bought Vicki Bentley’s book a few years ago after I heard her speak at a homeschooling convention. I have been using her system since then. So when I saw she had updated it I couldn’t wait to see it ! There are many treasures in this book. She explains zone cleaning which we have used for the past 16 or so years. I love its simplicity and effectiveness. She also go through making your house child friendly; an environment that works for the children so they can easily succeed. If the kids can’t reach what they are to put away, they will struggle. She also has a daily schedule and some checklists to model yours after.” –Tricia H.

What about homeschooling?

I talk to many homeschool moms who are overwhelmed because they feel they “have to get math done!” but the breakfast dishes are on the counter and there’s no telling what the toddler is eating off the floor and….you get the picture. What is going to distract you? The unmade beds? The pile of laundry that needs to get started?It’s okay to spend a bit of time* tidying up and getting those morning chores done before the academics begin. In fact, we consider  chores as part of Home Management Training, which is part of Home Ec (or … wait for it….part of your homeschool curriculum!). It’s also a good brain break for many kiddos to do something physical between academics, so taking five minutes to make sure the dog has water or to empty the dishwasher can be a welcome, brain-refreshing break!

*(“A bit of time” can vary–could be 15-20 minutes or even half an hour, but if it’s dragging into, say, two hours every day, let’s talk about some ways to streamline!)

A final word

Remember: The main purposes of implementing a family chore system are (1) to teach your children to be responsible members of a family and to kindly serve one another and (2) to apprentice them in living skills. (Well, for homeschoolers, we can add #3: Maintaining our sanity and family unity.)

You are investing in your children. This is not designed to be a crash course in responsibility and competence (or a punishment). You have years to develop character. Don’t overwhelm your children with unrealistic expectations. A sign near my front door reminds me (and guests!) during this season of training:

“My house is clean enough to be healthy, And messy enough to be happy.”

You don’t have to figure this out yourself! Read what others have to say about The Everyday Family Chore System:

“I want to thank The Everyday Family Chore System  for giving me the confidence and the push to take our boys to the next level in taking care of a home and the family within it!”  —Homeschool4Life

“I love this system! It has been a blessing to our family. It’s simple and uncluttered, you don’t need to create elaborate systems to manage chores – but, you can train your children to manage your home without you. Isn’t that our goal?”  –Renita

Read more from families who happily use The Everyday Family Chore System.

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