Saturday, April 9, 2011

What Chores at What Ages

Though you can let even a small child tackle any household job that is not dangerous, it's sometimes helpful to know what jobs are appropriate for what ages.   Sean used to fold and put away laundry when he was two, but now I have an 8 year old who hasn't a clue how clothes appear in his drawer.  I think this is called Younger Child Syndrome.

Here are some chore breakdowns. 

Age-Appropriate Chores (working mother)
Age -Appropriate Chores (About Housekeeping)

A more extensive list divided into separate sections from an interesting site called Homeschool Your Boys (I haven't really looked at it, so use the normal Caveat Spectator).   I think I will start with the baby levels and make sure all my kids can do those, then work my way up.

Life Skills for Kids says (with my notes in italics)
Toddlers REALLY want to help with everything.  Let them help, even if it's annoying and slows you down.

I miss those years!  But when I had toddlers I also had babies who were only happy out of my arms for VERY brief periods.  I did try to let the toddlers help, but I also wanted to get the house somewhat hygienic before the baby's fussing started.   Still, it's true that "work is play" for those years -- they are very imitative and will be happy messing around with a broom and mop even if they don't get things much cleaner.  Sean used to mop the kitchen floor at age two -- he had a lot of fun doing it too.

The ages from 5 to 12 are the "golden years" for teaching life skills. 

My note on this part.  This is true, because kids in those age groups are trying to gain comptence overall.  But it's also true that kids this age are learning skills in other areas that they find more exciting and fun than regular household chores.  The main characteristic of household work is that it is endlessly repetitious.  Kids between ages 5 and 8, say, just don't have a lot of endurance or tolerance for repetition.   So perhaps anything you can do to keep motivation running high is worthwhile.  That doesn't mean necessarily gimmicks, stickers and bribes -- but knowing they are continuing to master skills, knowing that they are really contributing to the family, and having support and closeness from other family members in their work can pay off well.

A fourteen-year-old can do just about any job an adult can do..  

This is true too. If you have cultivated a spirit of helpfulness and service, even if the child lacks skills he can learn quickly.   (this is around the age when children were traditionally apprenticed to skilled labor, right?).  

If you start too early or wait till too late to teach responsibility, you will have more trouble.

 This seems partly true to me.   My son's speech therapist says that adolescents close down somewhat around age 12.   They are more easily embarrassed,  more reluctant to try unaccustomed things that don't fit their self-image, more self-conscious.   However, I don't think any time is too early or too late REALLY.  You face different challenges at different ages, that's all.   If your child is generally cooperative, and hasn't read the developmental timetables, he probably will learn whatever seems on the family agenda to learn.   Human nature is resilient. Obviously, a spoiled teenager may need some character training before he gets to be useful around the house, but part of it will be overcoming one's OWN habits of spoiling him.  



  1. All of my kids are helpful and can step in and run the house if need be. Still, I wish I had focused more on life skills during the 5-12 stage. They are so willing to learn whatever you put in front of them at that stage.

  2. In my family we've had the pattern of the little ones, toddlers to Kindergarten age or so, as really liking to imitate mom and help out with chores alongside me. My kids next seem to go through a period where they resist chores unless 1) it's a chore that for some reason has become 'theirs'. For instance my 9 yo's job is to clean the big sliding glass door window and she does this readily. She also loves sweeping our screen porch. I think she just happens to enjoy these chores! 2)They get into a cleaning mood. Every once in a while my dd decides she's going to clean her room and then she does a bang up job on it!

    When they move into the teens they become most helpful. My teens willingly do chores around the house and many times without me even asking. I'm always so incredibly pleased by this development! I think because I don't insist on them doing chores in that in between period (except for the ones they like), chores don't become a power issue. As they mature they can see the need to help out around the house and they just naturally start pitching in.

  3. My kids began to put their own clothes away when they were toddlers. As long as you have a drawer that is low enough for them to reach and easy to open and you don't mind the clothes coming unfolded, even a 20 month old can put her clothes away in the proper drawer. They also put their own bowls and spoons away in a drawer and put some non-breakable dishes away in the kitchen. They fetch and carry and put things in the trash and put toys and books away in the proper baskets. They also love to help load and unload the washing machine, which was a huge help when was pregnant. My four year-old can clear her dishes after a meal and can also sweep and dust and wash windows, so long as I don't mind streaks. I have deliberately adjusted my housekeeping routines so that the under five set can do the maximum amount of helping. It's about the only way I stay sane with four children under five. I only hope I can follow through as they enter the next stage and train them to do more even as they become more resistant.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!