As a parent, it can be a struggle to know exactly when to start your kids doing chores. And truth is, most of us wait too long to include our kids in household tasks. Integrating science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills into chores seems absolutely daunting. However, incorporating chores and learning skills can be fun and rewarding for the entire family.
Most experts recommend starting chores when children are just toddlers. Toddlers are naturally helpful.and curious. Starting young means tapping into into that natural desire to be helpful and their curiosity. Since toddlers are inefficient (yet adorable) little creatures, it’s going to take more patience and effort on your part.
But it’s worth it because not only do children who do chores become more responsible and have more self-esteem, they also grow up to be more successful adults. It also fosters learning life skills through STEM.
Introducing STEM is easier than you think. When a child’s own idea actually works (or when their ideas don’t work at first, but the child keeps trying until they do), it can be transformative - for them and the parents. For instance, research show that children learn math concepts deeply when they have multiple, varied opportunities to interact with math, apply what they have learn, and discover math in the real world. During chores, preschoolers naturally engage in conversations and experiments using early math concepts, such as measurement and spatial awareness. One chore to give your preschooler is setting the table. They are responsible for counting the number of people eating at mealtime, sometimes a member of the family is not home or a guest is joining. Additionally, the child will need to know what is being served to know if bowls or plates, etc are needed. The child needs to count out the proper number of utensils, plates, bowls, etc. The child will need to begin thinking about spatial area when setting the table. The basis of all things math begins with number recognition and understanding the corresponding quantity. You are turning mealtime into learning time with an easy counting and sorting chore. Initially, it will take patience and time on your part, but in the long run, it will save you time and keep your child involved in the preparation.
Other STEM chores include cleaning their room, helping to cook and prepare meals, folding the laundry, making their bed, growing a small patch of garden, and assisting with building things around the house.
A University study determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their 20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.
The Harvard Grant study (an epic study of adult success) found that kids who did chores where happier and more successful later in life.
So chores are GREAT for kids. And that fact that you’re even here on this page reading about it shows that you want to get your kids going on chores and learning basic STEM life skills. Which means you’re on the right track as a parent. Wahoo!!!
You know chores are important, but next comes the question of “How do I actually get my kids to do chores?”
Here’s a few suggestions to help you get started:
As you do your daily tasks around your home, include your little ones. Tell them what you’re doing and get them to help in a small way. This not only teaches them important skills, it also strengthens your relationship and provides sweet bonding moments.
Some ideas to get started:
• Let them measure and stir while you prepare meals.
• Have them help you divide out laundry by color
• Have them help you put clothes in the washer or move clothes from washer to dryer.
• Show them how to fold washcloths or dishtowels and allow them to practice while to tackle the other folding.
• Help them unload cups or silverware from dishwasher. Help them set the dinner table.
• Get them a small hand broom and have them help clean the floor.
This may involve a mindset shift for some of us. Because in our quest to be efficient and do ALL THE THINGS, we want to barrel through and just get it all done ourselves.
But we miss organic opportunities to teach our children important tasks that help our households run smoothly.
As suggested above, kids learn best when they just learn part of a bigger task. Break down household chores into small tasks that they can manage. If you’re picking up a messy floor, have them first pick up all the trash. Then move onto the blocks (or whatever). You can ask your child questions like “Do you have more blocks or more shoes?” “Will all your blocks fit in this small box?” Engage their thinking and break down the chore with clear instructions to help your child learn concepts and expectations.
Give Praise & Encouragement, Not Toys or Treats
The best reward for completing chores is feeling helpful and capable. It’s not toys or other tangible rewards. In fact, a study of toddlers showed that young kids given a toy after helping were LESS motivated to help out again.
Kids want to feel needed and part of the group. Participating in chores and household tasks helps them feel like an important part of the family.
A simple chore chart with pictures helps kids get on a daily routine and start participating in chores. The set tasks are all things that children should do everyday with the added “extra chore” to allow you to assign an extra daily chore.
The tasks listed are:
• Brush Teeth
• Make Bed
• Get Dressed
• Pick up Toys
While the chores above are basic daily tasks for small children, children benefit from doing chores that contribute to the greater good of the household. For example:
• dusting surfaces
• unloading cups & silverware
• folding wash clothes
• throwing away trash
The “Extra Chore” allows you to add on a chore of your choice each day to help keep your house running.
Keep in mind that all children are different and age is not the only factor when determining the right chore. In addition to age, think about maturity level, physical ability, and interest when selecting the right chores for your kids. Note that for the older age groups, you can select chores from the younger aged categories to build an appropriate list. Set your child up for success and choose an appropriate and doable amount of chores and timeline in which to complete them.
Chores: Ages 2 and 3
Toddlers love to help with chores and while their help may not always be as helpful as we would hope, keeping their excitement and the habit of helping alive is worth the extra effort. Lots of toddlers love to see a visual reminder of their success, so making sticker charts is a great choice. Although chores may only be completed with your help each step of the way, you are creating positive habits for children to find chores and helping others a way of life.
Help make the bed.
Pick up toys and books.
Put laundry in the hamper or to the laundry room.
Sort laundry by color.
Help feed pets.
Help wipe up messes.
Dust with socks on their hands.
Mop in areas with help.
Fold washcloths and dishtowels.
Unload silverware and cups.
Pick up rubbish.
Put away toys.
Put away book.
Chores: Ages 4 and 5
The great thing about preschool aged kids is that they are still fairly motivated to help. Preschoolers also love individual time with adults. If you take some time to teach them new chores one on one, they usually love it. Many kids at this age are ready to do chores without constant supervision. They also love rewards. Try using a sticker chart that allows them to build up to bigger rewards. For some preschoolers, tying chores to an allowance is a great choice. This can also foster independence by allowing them to choose a reward.
Clear and set the table.
Taking care of pets.
Help out in cooking and preparing food.
Carrying and putting away groceries.
Sorting recyclable trash bins.
Taking out rubbish.
Chore Chart: Ages 6-8
Although enthusiasm for chores may diminish for school-aged kids, they have other redeeming qualities that work well for chores. Most school-aged children have an overwhelming desire to be independent. Parents and caregivers can guide children to become self-sufficient in their chores by using chore charts to keep track of their responsibilities. Note completed tasks as this will help motivate children to continue working.
Take care of pets.
Vacuum and mop.
Take out the trash.
Fold and put away laundry.
Chore Chart: Ages 9-12
Kids at this age will appreciate a set schedule and expectations. Throw a lot of unexpected work at them and watch them get upset. If you can create a schedule or system with a little input from them, you'll have a smooth transition. It's best to find a system that works for your family. Try not to change it without the input and support of the people it directly affects. Part of this system should address rewards and negative consequences so that these results are laid out and understood in advance.
Help wash the car.
Learn to wash dishes or load the dishwasher.
Help prepare simple meals.
Clean the bathroom.
Operate the washer and dryer.
Chore Chart: Ages 13-18
Most teenagers are capable of handling nearly any chore in the home as long as they've been taught properly. One thing to be sensitive to is the cramped schedule of teenagers. Just as we get overwhelmed when we have too much to do, teenagers can find themselves struggling to maintain an unmanageable workload. Monitor your teen's schedule and school commitments; adjust activities and chores accordingly.
Replace light bulbs and vacuum cleaner bags.
Do their own (or the family's) laundry.
Clean out the refrigerator and other kitchen appliances.
Prepare grocery lists.
Children of all ages enjoy solving problems and exploring the world through science, technology, engineering, and math; incorporating these skills into their daily life help to encourage learning and expands their basic understanding of STEM concepts. Introducing and exploring STEM chores with preschoolers help the child remain curious, focused, communicative, and active for over 45 minutes (or longer). And all the while, they are learning STEM concepts, applying math to solve real world situations, and becoming a productive member of the family. All of which helps to motivate the child and gives them a sense of worth.
Keep in mind that children mature at their own pace and not all kids will be capable of advanced chores at the same age. Likewise, some children may be ready for more difficult chores at a younger age. You are in the best position to supervise and evaluate your child’s needs and abilities. You can advance children through more challenging chores as they master the basic ones. It can be easy to let kids continue to perform the same chores because they're good at them, but introducing new chores at regular intervals will actually benefit them in the long wrong. Institute a "training period" with new chores while teaching them the ins and outs of new tasks.
Most of all, make this a time to bond and explore together. These years are fleeting and pass far faster than we think.
References/Resources: DREME - Development and Research in Early Math Education https://dreme.stanford.edu/
Early STEM Working Group. 2018 http://d3lwefg3pyezlb.