Chores to Live By: 10 Life-Skills Every Kid Should Learn
by Tricia Goyer
I've always been a huge fan of my kids doing chores, but not for the obvious reasons. I love having help around the house. But what I’ve really focused on, from the time my children were old enough to place the forks besides the plates, is preparing them for life.
Perhaps my eagerness came from my lack of preparation. Growing up, my mom was an excellent housekeeper. She liked things done her way ... so she did them herself. And I didn't mind one bit! I was happy to let her do all the housework and laundry. But when I got married and had my own house, I realized that cleaning did not come naturally. Yes, I cleaned. But it took years to figure out the best system and what worked and didn't — things I could have learned at home. Things I've tried to teach my kids.
So if you have a child who knows how to install a video gaming system or text on any phone in North America, here are some skills they should and can learn (I promise!):
- Laundry. Kids can learn to do laundry and not ruin their clothes. I started my eldest son on laundry when he was 5 years old. I put an angel sticker on the washing machine’s start button because he didn't know how to read. I taught him to make three piles: whites, towels and everything else. Of course I pulled out anything that needed extra care and did those items myself. I showed Cory how to use hot water for whites and cold water for colors. We used laundry soap and liquid bleach that was safe for both. He did great!
- Cooking. Everyone needs to learn how to do the basics: boil an egg, bake some chicken, make a salad and put a frozen pizza in the oven. (Yes, kids need to be taught that, too.) The best way for kids to learn is: 1. Watch. 2. Work alongside. And 3. Do it themselves. Make sure you cover every step such as: preheating the oven, safely using knives and keeping food from getting contaminated (no cutting lettuce on a chopping board where you’ve just diced raw chicken). When they start mastering the basics, the next fun part is introducing cookbooks!
- Bathrooms. Bathrooms are quick to get icky and hard to clean. Tips for training: 1. Use bleach tablets for the toilet and teach kids to swish with a toilet brush every day or so. 2. Use different colored rags for wiping down the toilet and cleaning the tub or sink, so they don't use the same for both! 3. Use a non-toxic multipurpose cleaner. 4. A little glass cleaner goes a long way. Spray the sink area too and wipe down for a final sparkle.
- Vacuuming. Teaching kids to use a vacuum isn't hard. The work comes in reminding them to pick up larger items before they get started, to fully vacuum the space (not just a line down the middle) and to stop if they see smoke or hear a funny sound. (I know this one from experience!)
- Trash. For years, my youngest son's chore was to take out the kitchen trash and to gather trash from the other rooms twice a week. Tip: Use small garbage cans so the bags aren't hard to carry when they're full.
- Sweeping and mopping. A broom and a dust pan are great team-building tools. I like to sweep and have my child hold the dust pan, but we also switch. I've found those pre-moistened mopping pads are a great investment for mopping, too. And if all else fails, then a wet towel with a little cleaner works!
- Grocery shopping. You might want to start with this chore first. I have a pad on my frig that lists grocery items. My kids mark off what we need through the week, and I add things for our upcoming menu. Then we take that list to the store. Kids can learn to compare prices and to overlook (most) temptations that aren't on the list. This not only prepares them for the future, but also saves you from hearing, “Can we have some of this or that?”
- Dusting. Even little kids can use a feather duster and set to work. I always have “hands off” areas, such as grandma's dishes. But for the most part, I tell them to “have a go at it all!” It's amazing the dust kids can find that we miss!
- Bedrooms. If you're cleaning your kids' rooms, don't. If they have too much stuff for them to deal with by themselves, then it's time to simplify. I rotated my kids' toys and hid half of them in the garage. This helped them maintain their things, but also was like Christmas again when we traded things around a month later. Also, sorting through their items for charity is another great lesson.
- Yard work. Kids don't see the mess in the yard until they've had to pick up the mess a few times. Treating the outside like the inside is another much-needed skill. Provide bins for children to put their outside toys in and create a parking place for bikes. Also finding kid-sized tools, such as rakes and brooms, helps make chore time fun.
These are just a few ideas. I'm sure you can come up with more! The key is to teach kids early so these habits become a part of their everyday lives and to train them alongside you for a job well-done. I promise, Mom, some day they'll thank you for it! And someday you'll thank yourself too!
Tricia Goyer is a wife and mom of four living in Little Rock, Arkansas. She originally taught her kids to do chores so she'd have more time to write, but has since learned it's really paid off in other ways. More at triciagoyer.com.