I've often had conversations with parents about when to start introducing chores to their children, and what chores to introduce. I've watched parents scour the internet to find colorful charts, wheels, and diagrams with age-appropriate chores. These include having a three-year-old dust low surfaces, stack magazines, load spoons into the dishwasher, empty small wastebaskets, and sort laundry.
Let's face it—we're busy, so creating chore wheels and diligently supervising while your three-year-old dusts the coffee table (without knocking anything over), and patiently watching after dinner while she slowly loads spoons into the dishwasher is not always optimal. This is not a big deal. Delegating chores to early learners builds character and teaches responsibility, but it is not the individual tasks themselves that do this—it is the awareness that he or she has the power to contribute that makes the biggest impact.
With this in mind, see below for some tips on how to introduce chores and improve chore instruction to your early learner—without making it a chore for you!
Be specific and precise with instructions for your early learner. This is important not only so that he knows what you mean, but will also assist him in vocabulary growth. For instance, instead of saying "Please put your toys away," try "Please pick up your toys and put them in the toy box."
This can help if he needs to be redirected as well. While "put your toys away" could be ambiguous to a mischievous early learner, there is no uncertainty with: "Did you put your toys in the box?"
Praise The Positive
Your four-year-old is not going to be an expert laundry sorter, nor your three-year-old a dusting savant; however, the knowledge that they are contributing to the family and making a difference in the home is crucial to developing positive attitudes regarding responsibilities. Pick specific and memorable details to praise. "Look how you separated the blues from the whites—I can tell that you have done a lot of hard work!" "You did a great job dusting the middle of the table. We can almost see our reflections in it!"
Correct As Needed
Just as you praise the positive, it's important to frame errors and issues in a positive light. This does not mean praise for something that was not done, but rather gentle correction. For instance, if when dusting your early learner misses corners or another spot, ask, "Sometimes dust hides in the corners! Can you find any hiding spots?"
Modify As You Go
Don't make your early learner’s chores a chore for you. If you have guests coming over in three hours, don't worry about gently guiding your early learner in domestic pursuits. Instead, start them out on non-urgent tasks that you have the time and patience to supervise. My friend Nikki's two-year-old, Jackson, loves to "help" vacuum and sweep by holding the vacuum or broom with assistance, and also helps with leaf raking by putting one leaf in the bag at a time. Nikki says that allowing Jackson to "help" with more difficult tasks has given him an enthusiasm for helping around the house. She says, "Jackson loves doing chores so much that he often runs to the closet with cleaning supplies and excitedly exclaims, 'Do chores!' Sadly, he often insists, even when I don't want to do chores."
Worry less about completing the chores, and more about the values, responsibilities, and knowledge instilled in your early learner. Outside of home, make sure that your child's learning center emphasizes personal and group responsibility. Ms. Martha, the center director of The Children's Learning Center at FSW, has a system set up in the classrooms that allows every student to have a job with a title and responsibility. Some of these include door holder, clean-up crew, table setter, attendance keeper, and Star Leader. These chores help early learners to feel like they are making a difference, and have a stake in their own learning and environment. No matter what you choose to do regarding chores, big or small, you are building the foundations of a sense of responsibility and a good work ethic that will last a lifetime.