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House Helpers: Big Jobs for Little Kids

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | January 29, 2012 | Child Development

Today, it took me 25 minutes – instead of the usual 5 – to empty the dishwasher. Why? Because my 2-year-old daughter was “helping” me. Spoons were dropped, reorganized and placed back in the dishwasher. Cups were used for an impromptu tea party. Big bowls became hats. Fun was had by all.

I know what you’re thinking: Who has time for that? Not me, I assure you. On the other hand, I’m big on encouraging “helping” at an early age. Why? Because it’s good for your child’s budding sense of responsibility – I’m already seeing its positive effects on my older kids – and it’s a lot of fun, too.

When children are younger, I know it’s easier to just do the chores ourselves. As I’ve said before, tasks with young children take far longer than tasks without them.  But when they get into first grade or so, “play chores” suddenly become truly helpful. Years of nurturing your child’s natural love of work will start to pay off. Case in point: I depend on my 8 and 10-year-olds for several “real” chores, including cleaning the kitchen after dinner two or three times a week, keeping the kids’ bathroom neat, and helping to entertain their little sister. Their teachers praise their helpfulness in the classroom too.

So take advantage of the fact that your little one is ready to jump right in to help. Young children want to contribute to the family in ways that they can see, feel and understand. They want to be part of the action.

That’s why I love seeing children at their “work” in a Montessori classroom. Child-sized brooms, sinks, and cleaning supplies help children accomplish their daily tasks – done willingly and enthusiastically, I might add. Maria Montessori really got it: Work is play – and play is work – for the young child. So don’t let the opportunity slip by.

As you encourage your little helper, keep these tips in mind: Show as you go. Work together. Expect imperfection. Enjoy the process. Praise effort and progress along the way. Ignore chore “fails.” Don’t pay for chores – let a sense of competence and contribution be its own reward. And most of all – have fun!

To get you started, here are 20 Great Chores for Young Children, ages 2-8 (with your supervision, of course):

  1. Collecting dirty laundry into the basket, pushing the basket to the laundry room
  2. Sorting laundry by color or by owner
  3. Matching socks
  4. Washing and drying non-breakables in the kitchen sink
  5. Setting the table with nonbreakables (some kids can even handle heavy-duty breakables, like ceramic mugs)
  6. Bringing in mail or the newspaper
  7. Putting away select groceries
  8. Fetching items from the pantry for a recipe
  9. Washing produce
  10. Watering the garden
  11. Helping feed pets
  12. Using a child-sized broom to help sweep
  13. Packaging up snack items (veggies, crackers, etc.) in advance for outings
  14. Tracking down trash in the car
  15. Putting trash in the wastebasket, dumping smaller cans into larger cans
  16. Picking up toys – start with a small, countable number, like five toys
  17. Picking up stuffed animals off the bedroom floor in the morning and helping to make the beds
  18. Helping wipe up messes
  19. Hanging up towels in the bathroom – (Tip: Get child’s height hooks for easy hanging)
  20. Carrying and organizing nonbreakable recycling