Parenting Q: what are reasonable household chores for kids under the age of 10?

Our kids are 4 and 6. In order to turn them into healthy, reproductive adults and give myself more time for blogging and shooting guns, I’m trying to get them to do more work around the house.

My original plan was for the kids to be doing their own laundry by age 5 and regularly-scheduled maintenance on our motor vehicles by age 7. My wife thinks this schedule is too “aggressive” so I’m turning to you for advice, Internet.

Here’s what they’re doing now as part of the “five minute cleanup” after dinner while my wife and I clean up the kitchen:

  • Scrape off their plates and put them in the sink.
  • Feed the cats and dog.
  • Pick up toys, books, shoes, and clothes.

They’re gradually getting better at doing all of those things. As in, they accomplish these tasks more than 50% of the time and whine about doing them less than 50% of the time.

So, what’s next? What kind of household chores should I expect kids that age to do in the next five years or so?

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8 Responses to Parenting Q: what are reasonable household chores for kids under the age of 10?

  1. cybrus says:

    Collect trash from the trash cans around the house on garbage day.

    Sometime in the next few years – shovel snow, rake leaves, rake grass clippings after you mow

    Clean their rooms

    Set the table before meals

  2. Pingback: SayUncle » Kids and chores

  3. pax says:

    My husband and I have five sons: 21, 19, 17, 16, 15. The boys are convinced that the only reason we had them was for their labor. (I point out that *lots* of labor was involved, and they still owe me, so…)

    Anyway, at the ages your kids are, they usually do best working with rather than working for mom and dad, though that will change rapidly as they become more used to the tasks and more used to being expected to help. And they should be expected to help, without question and without exception.

    Our rule was always this: nobody works unless everybody does. That goes for kids and adults both! It meant that whenever I got up to do the laundry, wash the dishes, sweep the floor — everyone, including their dad, also got up to do something useful. It also means that I never send kids to do chores unless I’m up and working alongside them. The individual tasks might finish at different times, but nobody goofs off while expecting others to do all the work.

    With little ones (I’m talking younger than yours) they could “help” me by handing me the clothes out of the dryer as I folded or somesuch. By age 6 or 7, I could ask them to get the clothes out of the dryer and move the clothes from the washer into the dryer. I still loaded the washing machine and folded the clothes, and I still started both machines, but they did that part of the task. Was this actually a help? Not at all (it slows the task down), but it communicated something important: these jobs are just part of life and everyone does them. Later on, they could match socks and fold simple items like towels, then more complex items. At every step of the way, I worked with them rather than for them.

    Sometimes I would hand them a damp washcloth and a spray bottle with cleaner in it and have them wipe down all the doorknobs (they loved that one and sometimes asked to do it “for fun” because the spray bottle was involved). Or the cabinet faces, or the kitchen chairs, or the fridge, or the area around the light switches. Lots of things could use a good wiping down, and getting short people to do some of it really saves your knees.

    They could:

    Pick up towels from the bathroom floor or off the racks or grab clothes from the hamper and bring them to me in the laundry room.

    Rinse the dishes while I washed them; later they could dry and put the dishes away.

    Clear their own plates from the table. Later, setting the table.

    Help cook dinner. Yes, from very young. It starts like this: “Can you get out the measuring cups?” knowing that they’ll bring you a huge pile of stuff you don’t need. Thank them and grab what you do need. Later on, you can say, “Please get out a 1 cup measure and a 1/3 cup measure.” That progresses to, “Oh, the recipe’s over there, please run your eye down it and get the ingredients out of the cupboard while I start mixing things in this bowl.” Still later, it becomes, “Grab out everything we need and start mixing stuff for the main dish, while I start working on the salad.” Kids often really enjoy helping to cook and feel a real sense of pride when the dishes they helped cook get put on the table. Praise them for their cooking skills, early and often!

    Grocery store: yes, it’s easier without the kids. But if you don’t take your kids to the store, how can they learn anything about how to shop? In the produce dept, have them help you pick out veggies and fruit, educating them as you go (“We need a cantelope that smells good and doesn’t have any squishy spots. Can you help me find one like that?”) When you compare prices, tell the kids what you’re doing and ask for help (“I’m looking for the cheapest package of spaghetti on this shelf… can you find it?”) They aren’t just along for the ride here: they are an important part of getting the job done. Have them help you put items into the cart and expect them to help put the bags in the trunk of the car and expect them to carry the bags in while you put the groceries away. Again, *nobody* works unless *everybody* does. It’s an important concept!

    Run the vacuum cleaner (again a popular task because it involved making a racket AND yelling at your brothers to move their toys & stuff). Related: picking up their stuff while someone else vacuumed the room.

    Take out the trash. For us, that also involves helping load the pickup truck and ride along to the dump, then helping unload the truck at the dump. In town, that would involve putting the trash cans out on the curb and bringing them back in.

    Get the toys off the lawn while you run the mower. Get the mower out of the garage while you grab the gasoline can for it. Empty the grass catcher for you.

    Work alongside you pulling weeds in the garden. (In my experience, nobody in our family, including me, ever became responsible enough to pull weeds alone. It’s a joyless, hot, annoying task alone, but it works well in company – especially if you need an excuse for a little one on one visiting time with the kid.)

    Picking vegetables from the garden and bringing them to you in the kitchen, provided you’re willing to risk a little damage to the plants. (Again, like all chores, it starts by having them “help” you pick veggies, then advances to having them actually help, then to having them able to do it themselves. Lots of educating needed!)

    Dust the furniture and sturdy knicknacks. Again, this one starts as helping you dust, but can graduate to unsupervised work pretty fast.

    Cleaning windows. This one, by the way, makes a great chore for kids who are fighting with each other. Put each of the combatants on opposite sides of the same window, give each a squirt bottle with window cleaner and a paper towel or two, and walk away. They start out mad, they end up giggling. And sometimes the window even gets clean.

    Empty the cat litter box — um, this one only works if you have them take the whole thing out and dump it; having them scoop stuff is risky messy.

    Sweep the floor (when you don’t care too much about the results) or fetch the dustpan and hold it for you as you sweep (a lovely, lovely service I greatly miss now that my kids are older).

    From around age five, the kids often helped us add windshield wiper fluid to the car (the kid can pop the hood, bring you the jug of cleaner from the garage, find the funnel if you use one, and even pour if you aren’t picky). Later the kid can help you check the oil by bringing the wipe rag and cleaning the rod, reinserting it, and pulling it out again for you to read. They can also throw trash away from inside the car while you do other car maintenance tasks.

    Sometimes I would simply announce: “Ten Minute Clean, everyone!” The goal: get the house in as good a shape as we possibly can in just 10 minutes. It was a race with bragging rights included (and yes, the bragging rights drove us crazy sometimes, but we never put a stop to it because … well, because we thought the work ethic was more important). You’d be astonished how much can be accomplished in 10 minutes by motivated people. Oh, motivations — that announcement usually happened right before we went to do something fun, like heading to town for ice cream or down to the lake in the summer, or at least right before friends came over so the kids knew it really needed to be done. Related: “Okay, we don’t have time to really clean the house today, but I want everyone to grab FIVE things from the living room and put them away. Who’s fastest? Ready, GO!”

    TL,DR: have them help you with stuff you do and avoid building the expectation that they will always play while the adults always work. You’re all in this together and that’s just what family life is about.

  4. Ninth Stage says:

    During my school we were sent to several preschools. One place in Nashville really impressed me. They had the children do all the chores even if an adult came behind and fixed it right by doing it again. Basically they had the children model behaviors now that they expected to be done solo later.
    My two cents.

  5. Dave says:

    My three year old basically just picks up his toys, and puts his clothes in the washer. The four year old does more rigorous cleaning, including “painting the table”, which means that he uses a soapy sponge to wipe it down after dinner. He actually looks forward to doing that. My seven year old (wow, time flies) does everything else… interior car cleaning, garage cleanup, vacuuming inside, wiping down windows, raking leaves, assisting Mommy with gardening, “poop scooping”, folds towels, laundry management (washer to dryer, dryer to basket, basket to bed for separation). The middle child is learning to do those tasks as well. By age seven, I expect the youngest will too.

  6. Les Jones says:

    Good suggestions all around.

    Pax; I like the idea of everyone working at once. We do that during the five minute cleanup, but I can see extending it further.

    NS: I like the idea of having kids do things even if they have to be done again by an adult.

  7. Adrian Sanabria says:

    My 6 year old son does an excellent job of cleaning his bathroom – a chore he earned by having bad aim at the toilet. He surprised us by not only accepting the chore, but tackling it with fervor. I think he gets a large amount of pride out of having such an “adult” chore.

    Our kids (4yro also) also sort the recycling, take care of the smaller trash cans(6yro ties off full bags and disposes of them, 4yro replaces bags in empty trash cans), and the oldest isn’t far off from cleaning the cat boxes.

  8. Greg Levy says:

    Much like you, my wife has occasionally accused me of being ‘overly optimistic’ in terms of what my children should be capable of.

    We have a 5 year old and 8 year old, and we have them doing everything your kids are doing.

    We also try to do what Pax mentioned, helping with cooking. They help me count and break eggs when making french toast, and when my wife bakes or prepares dinner they are the ones helping use the measuring spoons and cups. Getting them involved is important.

    Their other responsibilities include setting the cable(which helps the younger one with her counting, making their beds, and helping with the laundry(a big one for me is TURNING THEIR CLOTHES RIGHT SIDE OUT!!!!!).