Most homeschool moms don’t just have full plates—they have full platters. Juggling homeschooling and housework, burping babies and taxiing teens, not to mention being a wife and just finding time to brush your teeth, is a daunting task. It seems every time we check one thing off our to-do list, we add two more.
Some jobs are big, others are small, but they all nag for our attention. I figured out once that I was responsible for trimming 128 finger- and toenails—and I’m not a manicurist!
What we need is staff: people who will bear some of the load so we can do the things only we can do. Where do we find this cadre of assistants? They’re already in view, clinging to our ankles, sitting at our tables, and drinking all of our milk. Our children can be the workforce that unloads the straw from Mama Camel’s back before it gives way.
You may remember an article I wrote a while back. At my husband’s suggestion, I hired our second-born son to do the family laundry until I could get back on my feet following a challenging pregnancy. What an eye-opener! It was a revelation that I didn’t have to do it all myself. Soon I had worked all of the boys into positions on my household staff.1
We decided that privileges would be tied to responsibilities. With each birthday, a child received a new chore, but he also earned new privileges not available to the younger siblings. If a child was 3 years old, he had three daily chores; if he was 12, he had 12 chores (some daily; some weekly or monthly). These were unpaid jobs, done because our sons lived in our house and received free food, lodging, clothing, and education. And, more importantly, because they needed to learn how to take care of themselves so my future daughters-in-law wouldn’t hate me.
Even the youngest preschooler can perform his own chores. This is a training time. At first, he won’t do the job perfectly, but he will learn day-by-day as you gently teach him. Have your little ones work beside you, not only to learn how to do their tasks, but to utilize the power of companionship. No one likes to be sent off to another room to do a job, but it’s not so bad if he can work alongside Mom or Dad. Many important conversations take place while making beds and dusting furniture.
Personal Chores for Preschoolers
A child in the 3-to-5-year-old range should become more independent each year and learn to handle most of his personal grooming. For example, you could list brushing his teeth as one of his chores at this age.
A child should also be responsible for as much of his own room as he is capable of cleaning—basically the floor and the bed, the room’s two largest surfaces. When these are tidy, the room looks clean, even if it’s not magazine perfect.
Here are some more tips that work well with little ones:
• For a young child, consider a puffy comforter bedspread that will be more forgiving when wrinkles are left beneath it. The child pulls up the sheet and comforter, plumps the pillows, and he’s done.
• Make it easy for him to keep his room tidy. Remove extra toys—the more he has, the more he (and you!) must clean around. Give away or sell unused toys, and store the rest in the attic, the basement, or on a high shelf. They will seem like new when you trade them for the toys he keeps in his room. Note the word trade.
• Store toys in easy-to-use containers. He is more likely to place toys on an open shelf or lidless bin than in drawers that require opening and closing for each item he puts away. He will learn valuable lessons about categorizing and sorting as you organize his room together.
• Provide a place in each bedroom for dirty clothes. What boy doesn’t enjoy shooting soiled socks into his hamper from across the room?
• A low rod in the closet is helpful if your child has many hanging clothes. To paraphrase Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child to put away his clothes as he removes them so when he is old he will not drape them over a chair.”
• Set certain times each day to tidy the house. Many families require the children to make their beds before breakfast; they schedule another clean-up session just before Daddy gets home; and then, just before bedtime, everything is tidied up so everyone can start fresh in the morning. Besides, Legos™ left overnight on the floor are a nasty surprise in the dark for bare feet. Ouch!
• When he is older, your child will dust and vacuum his own room. But for now, you will do most of it. It is his job to make dusting and vacuuming easy for you by tidying up his room.
• However, don’t forget that your little one’s body is perfectly designed to get into the places that are awkward for you to clean. Take advantage of this by having him use a feather duster on the chair rungs, in the knee hole of the desk, and on the lower shelves.
Household Chores for Preschoolers
In addition to keeping his own room orderly, a young child should also have some responsibilities that reflect his part in the family. These might include:
• Placing silverware on the dinner table. Teach him to wash his hands first and then hold the silverware by the handle. First hand him the spoons; if you place them in his left hand, he will set them with his right hand on the right side of the plates. Do the same with table knives. You may wish to place steak knives yourself since they’re very sharp (and likely rarely used in large homeschooling families!). Place the forks in his right hand so he can lay them to the left of the plate with his left hand. An older child can remember which side each utensil goes on by recalling that fork and left both have four letters; spoon, knife, and right all have five letters.
• A young child can place a napkin at each place setting. He may enjoy choosing napkin rings for the meal, even if you’re using paper napkins. He may even make a centerpiece for the family dining table as an art project.
• Young children can empty small trashcans from the bedrooms into a larger container in the kitchen.
• Put a young child to work wiping off the fingerprints he can reach (and probably is responsible for) on painted woodwork, windows, and mirrors throughout the house. A damp sponge and small towel work nicely, and he won’t endanger himself or the furniture with spray cleaners.
• He can help carry in light bags of groceries or act as the door-opener for older children. My boys heard me declare many times at the end of shopping trips, “He who does not work, does not eat.” While I prepared lunch, they carried in and stowed the groceries; only the baby was excused.
• Act as a personal assistant for Mom and Dad. I would say, “I need a Small One” to pick up cereal under the table or get a diaper for Baby, and my preschooler would scamper to help; he knew that he was needed to keep things running smoothly. Then, when his height passed my own (at about age 11), he got used to hearing me say, “I need a Tall One” to get something from a high shelf.
Teach your little ones to help you during the preschool years when they are eager to show their prowess. With each birthday, they will grow into new jobs, allowing you to spend more time on their education and just being Mom (and the Official Trimmer of the Family’s Fingernails).2
©2009 by Marcia K. Washburn, who writes from her 19 years of experience homeschooling five sons. Read more articles and sign up for her free newsletter at www.marciawashburn.com. Catch her blog at www.HSEblogs.com/marcia
1Laundry Daze appeared in Home School Enrichment’s Sep/Oct 2008 issue. You can order a back issue by calling 800-558-9523.
2Next time we will look at ideas for older children. A list of suggested chores, divided by age groups, is posted at www.marciawashburn.com/Articles
Originally published in the May/Jun ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.