Make it a goal to teach your children to do all of the tasks related to cleaning the house by the age of 12. Then you can begin teaching them the more skilled tasks of maintenance, meal preparation, money management, and mechanics.
Especially when your child is learning a new job, you will need to walk him through the task until he understands how to do every step, including any safety issues. Then have him do it alone, and you inspect it. Inspect it every time until he gets it right. Give ample praise for the portions he does right, and don’t expect it to look like an adult did the job at first. You might say, for example, “I like the way the floor is picked up and the trash is emptied. Let’s just straighten these towels to really make it look spiffy.” Even after he masters the task, periodic surprise inspections will ensure quality control.
In my last column, we talked about gradually increasing both the responsibilities and the privileges that are granted to children on their birthdays. We explored ideas for chores for your littlest staff members, the preschool set. Now let’s look at our school-age and young adult staff.
Responsibilities for a School-Age Child
• Keep his own room tidy and clean. Whereas a younger child required coaching and mini-steps (“Put all of your balls in the bin.”Wait. “Now put all of your stuffed animals on your bed”), this child is old enough to follow a list of tasks that lead to a clean room. Post a card with your definition of “clean” in his room; refer to it when you do inspections.
• Dusting. Begin with his own room and gradually move on to more complex areas. Put on some music and hand him a feather duster; you do the high places. Have a feather-duster dance when you get in each other’s way, just for fun.
• Vacuuming, first his own room, then public areas of the house. Work in pairs: one moves small furniture pieces out of the way, the other vacuums.
• Put away his own clean laundry. Learn to sew on buttons; this is great for hand-eye coordination.
• Sweep or mop the kitchen floor. Use a small janitor’s brush to sweep the dirt into the dustpan; a broom will be unwieldy for a young worker.
• Clean mirrors. Then move on to windows, starting with insides only while an older child does the outside. Teach ladder safety while you’re at it.
• Clean the bathroom. This begins as a progression of small tasks: polish the faucets with a towel, empty the trash, straighten the rugs and towels, wipe the sink and countertop, clean the sink, clean the mirror and woodwork, clean the tub or shower, clean the toilet. Eventually your child will be able to clean the entire room.
• Set the table. At first you will carry items to the table for him to distribute; eventually he will learn to evaluate what will be needed for that menu (and he will go back for anything he has forgotten to bring in before the meal begins).
• Clear the table. If each family member removes five items, there won’t be much left to clear. This chore includes putting away leftovers, wiping the table, and cleaning the floor if the toddler was messy.
• Wash dishes or load the dishwasher. This chore eventually includes wiping the counters and sweeping the kitchen floor.
• Put away clean dishes. Work in pairs if he is too short to reach all of the shelves.
• Prepare simple meals.
• Outside cleaning. This may include one or more of the following, depending on your climate: sweep sidewalk/steps/garage/carport, rake leaves, or shovel snow
Responsibilities for a Young Adult (Age 12+)
As your child grows into adulthood, he should be given more opportunities to take over certain responsibilities. You might rotate these among children at first so each one learns to do all of the tasks. Eventually, each youth will likely settle into his favorite. For some of the more time-consuming tasks, you might consider some type of payment as a part of the young person’s financial education.
Unless you have a large family, many of these tasks will remain on your own list. But don’t cheat your children of the satisfaction of a job well-done and the knowledge that they are making an important contribution to the family’s well-being. Here are some ideas for your older children:
• A young adult can and should continue to do any of the chores from earlier years on an as-needed basis. Many of them will be automatic routines by now.
• Assist with laundry for younger children; this is a great job for 11-year-olds. Then at age 12, they are ready to take over their own laundry on a permanent basis.3
• Learn organizational techniques while cleaning closets, drawers, shelves, or the attic.
• Meal planning and preparation. At first he plans one meal, develops a shopping list, and prepares the meal for the family. Later he is responsible for certain meals every week.
• Make basic clothing repairs using a sewing machine. A sewing machine is a safer introduction to electrical tools than a saw; have your sons whip up a set of pillowcases to learn how to safely move the fabric past that sharp needle.
• Perform outdoor maintenance: mow the lawn, assist with landscaping projects, wash windows.
• Perform basic auto maintenance: clean/vacuum/wash the car, pump gas, check/change the oil, change a flat tire, change the air filter, add windshield washer fluid, etc.
• Perform basic household maintenance: replace washer in faucet, unclog drains, wash/paint walls, troubleshoot appliance breakdowns.
• Family finances: balance a checkbook, pay family bills, see how a budget works, learn to fill out tax forms.
• Develop his own business, learning budgeting, production, marketing, record-keeping, and tax requirements.
• Study childcare principles including basic first aid and CPR, and take more responsibility for younger siblings.
• Lead family devotions once each week. While this shouldn’t be looked at as a chore, it is an important part of your child’s preparation for parenthood.
Now and then, mix it up. Draw chores out of a hat instead of doing the usual assigned chores. If time is limited, stage a 15-minute room rescue—set the timer and watch everyone scramble to see what can be accomplished before it rings. If one (or more) of your children chronically leaves a trail of personal possessions around the house, use the Nickel Box. Mom or Dad quietly walks through the house, picking up items that are out of place; the owner must pay a nickel (or amount of your choosing) to get it back. Remind them that if they don’t pick up their stuff, they will have to hire you to do their maid service. Unclaimed items are given away after one week.
Remember: Your children are not helping you with your work, they are helping with the family’s work. Everyone eats food, wears clothes, and gets things dirty, so everyone needs to know how to cook, clean, plan, and fix things around the house. When everyone does his part, the whole family can enjoy relaxing together. You will be amazed how much your children do. In fact you probably won’t realize how much they do until you’re an Empty Nester like me and find most of it back in your hands again. Enjoy them while you’ve got them—yes, they make messes, but they also make memories that last long after the messes are forgotten.
*This article published on August 11, 2009.
©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.
This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Visit www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com for more information.