SummaryCheryl Hernandez, a homeschool mom of 9, shows in this 2-part series why giving our children chores is so important and covers tips on how to get started.
In Children & Chores, Part 1: Laying the Foundation, we explored the many benefits of teaching our children to work, the importance of starting when they are young, and ways to minimize the chores in our home.
Let’s now look at some simple methods to help get started with teaching our children orderliness and diligence through daily chores.
1. Use chore charts to keep organized
Having a posted, well-thought-out chore chart has many benefits.
Eliminates guesswork – coming up with chores for each child on the spur of the moment.
Eliminates arguing – “But I did it yesterday – it’s her turn!”
Teaches self-discipline – being responsible for doing chores on time.
Eliminates reminding over and over (nagging). The chores are written down and taped to the refrigerator, so they need not come and ask you what to do.
Provides accountability – it helps you make sure all the chores are done, ensured by a quick run down the list to check. Once children get in the habit of checking the chore chart, it frees you to do your own chores.
I keep chore charts on the computer, so I can make changes. Chores are changed periodically, so each child learns how to do everything, which also makes it more fun. Also, older kids will grow into more difficult chores, so some chores can be passed down.
If they had been working together occasionally (see “Work as a Team”**), this transition is easy, because they have already seen how the chore is done.
When our children were too young to read the chore chart, we made cardstock laminated “chore cards” for them with a picture of the chore. You can do this on the computer or get your kids to design them. A “treat card” every once in a while (or “give Mom a hug” card) makes it fun.
Hold them accountable to return their chore cards. I asked them to hand me their chore cards when they were finished. If one or more cards was missing, I sent them back to find it.
When a child turned three, we made a big deal of giving her “official” chores. The older kids would play it up, clapping and getting excited, as we presented the three-year old with her chore cards, making her think doing chores was the greatest thing in the world. Attitude is everything!
When planning chore charts, think how their chores can work with your chores. If you water your house plants on Thursday, your daughter could gather all the little plants and bring them to the sink. On laundry days, your son could bring all the dirty hampers to the laundry room and separate the light colors from the darks into different baskets.
This makes it much easier to throw in a couple of loads during the school morning… and be ready to be folded by the kids at chore time.
An older child can make lunch for the family, while you get a head start on dinner. This is an excellent way to teach your children how to cook. After a while, the child on lunch duty will tire of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and will most likely explore new options and even come up with his own recipes. My older kids love to cook, and it started with preparing lunch for the family.
Their chores can correspond with your daily activities. My daughter’s speech therapist comes three times a week and works with her on our porch. On those days, I make sure the porch is vacuumed and cleaned. When we had a playgroup at our home on Tuesday afternoons, the guest bathroom was cleaned thoroughly and floors swept during chore time.
Some chores must be done before others can be started. For example, one child must wipe down the table after lunch before another can sweep under the table. Kids can easily learn which ones need to be done first or put a star next to those on their chore chart.
3. Think small
Chores don’t all have to be big. When planning your family’s chores, look around the house and think of things even the youngest child can do. It’s all those small things each day that take up so much of your time (or simply never get done).
Let your kids do them! Some ideas can be filling up the bird feeder outside, organizing cabinets in the kitchen, or cleaning the sliding glass door. Three and four-year olds can do many things!
4. Time limits
Discourage dawdling or getting distracted. Encourage keeping on task and staying focused — important virtues for life. Teach that work comes first, then play … or in our case, at least on school days, lunch. We take a break from school at noon, say the Angelus, put on some lively music, then do chores before lunch.
Only when chores are done can they eat lunch. The longer they dawdle, the less lunch break they get. These are natural consequences — a rumbling tummy and less free time. No need for nagging or getting angry. For boys, especially, this is highly motivational.
Sometimes, children will still dawdle and won’t care much about eating lunch. That’s when “mom-ordained” consequences become necessary. In our house, it was extra chores that must be done immediately after school before any play time.
I kept a list of “extra chores” handy, so I could come up with something quick (otherwise, in the rush of things, I’d forget to assign another chore.) The child had to write it on a sticky note and put it in a visible place, so I could make sure it got done.
On Saturdays, we start chores immediately after morning Mass and breakfast. No playing or going over to a friend’s house until all responsibilities are done. When kids know you are serious, they would much rather finish quickly and get on to more important things, like jumping on the trampoline or riding their bike.
5. Chores vs. soccer game
As children get older, they sometimes have conflicts with a specific chore time. This often happens with us on Saturdays (soccer games, cross country meets, play practice, etc.). As in real life, even if the conflict is a good and important one, the chore doesn’t go away.
They need to find the time to complete it – either waking up earlier, finishing after dinner, or sometimes, even bartering with a sibling!
6. Teach them how to do chores
Children must be taught how to do the chores, step by step. Don’t assume they know! When our kids were younger and learning new chores, I wrote down step-by-step instructions for many chores. A “bathroom checklist” was taped to the inside of a bathroom cabinet.
This helped them to go down the list and make sure everything was done.
7. Establish logical consequences for doing sloppy work
As homeschooling parents, we should be used to this. When our child hands in his handwriting assignment, messy, crumpled up, and decorated with doodling down the side, we send him back to his desk to redo it, maybe even have him do an extra assignment.
The same goes for doing chores. Once you have taught your child how to do the chore and he has shown he can, then hold him accountable.
If my daughter didn’t clean the bathroom properly, I would tell her she needs more practice — she not only has to clean it again, but also clean the other bathroom. If my son forgets to take out the garbage, then a logical consequence would be scrubbing out garbage cans. A consequence of not watching TV or not having dessert isn’t logical and has nothing to do with the infraction.
Making the consequence relate to the infraction cements it in the child’s mind. Next time, he will remember scrubbing out those garbage cans and make sure the garbage gets taken out. Usually, sloppiness is due to laziness, and if a child must work twice as hard to make up for not doing a good job, he will learn fast it’s much easier to be diligent!
8. How about rewards for good work?
After discussing consequences for poor work, many will look for ideas on rewards for good work. I am not against motivational stickers or even allowances for chores, but believe it or not, these things aren’t necessary.
We have found children, when they know they have real work to be done that benefits the family, will take pride and ownership in their work. They will come to realize Mom and Dad and the whole family depend on their hard work. This brings about a true self-esteem, not a manufactured one.
They will learn skills important for life and see the fruits of their labor daily. I see it in my son’s eyes as he and his dad rest on the back porch, taking off their work boots, after a long day of burning brush and mowing the yard or in my daughter’s eyes as she helps entertain guests after a day of cleaning the house and helping to prepare a meal.
9. Work as a team!
Sometimes, pair younger kids with older kids. This gives the older ones the opportunity to practice the virtues of patience and tolerance. The younger ones learn obedience and respect for older siblings. Not only is this great for them, but it helps you because you have to do less training.
The younger ones learn from the older ones how the chores are done. We have this opportunity at home daily — encourage older children to teach younger ones.
Years ago, on Saturdays, my then-15-year old daughter would bring her little sister into the bathroom while she was cleaning. They would listen to fun music, sing, and tell stories while they scrubbed!
When my older son was in high school, he adopted his little brother (then two) as his chore partner every day.
They had a routine of doing the garbage — after collecting all the trash cans and bringing them into the pantry, they would dump everything into a big bag (and grab a handful of animal crackers), then drag the garbage out to the curb together. On the way back, our older son would put his little brother on his shoulders and race to the front door. Every day, they did this, and they both loved it.
Every few months, we have an outside working day on a Saturday. My husband and I plan in advance, so we have the necessary supplies and a plan of action. This is a great opportunity not only to spruce up the outside, but work together as a family on a common goal. Lemonade breaks make it fun, as does the prospect of pizza and family movie night after a long day’s hard work.
10. Give them a life-long gift
As homeschooling families, we have been given an opportunity to instill in our children a love of work – one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Our families will grow stronger as we work together, parents and children, to maintain a clean, well-ordered home, all for the glory of God.
“Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contemplative souls in the midst of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.” ~St. Josemaría Escrivá