What’s a Child to Do?

Last week my chaos article was about keeping children’s hands and hearts filled and busy.

Sally commented asking for ideas: Just how can we keep a houseful of little helpers occupied? Every family has different opportunities but I’ll give a few we’ve used:

I like to make sure that even my youngest helpers have some regular chores. Sure, we do a lot of spontaneous summoning (so that no one develops a “that’s not MY job” mentality), but I like to have some jobs be primarily one child’s for a time. It affords them a sense of ownership and pride–knowing that the family relies on them.

Around age 3 or 4 we teach unloading dishes. Flatware is stored in a lower drawer, easily reached by short folk. Dishes and glasses that are stored out-of-reach can be stacked on the counter directly under the storage cupboard.. When everything has been either put away or neatly stacked near it’s “home”, a “tall person” can finish off the task in under a minute.

A tiny laundry assistant could be in charge of working along side mommy in the laundry room. His special laundry contribution could be emptying the dryer filter and measuring the detergent.

Sorting and folding laundry is another good task for littles. One reason we switched to cloth napkins is that I have so many eager children who can fold them and put them in the napkin drawer! This job keeps many little hands busy during read-alouds, or just as we visit together!

Outside jobs can include getting rocks out of the grass, digging dandelions or sweeping the sidewalk. Sweeping the floor after meals, clearing the table, rinsing the dishes and other kitchen jobs are great. Even small things like being the “designated water glass refiller” at meals can give a sense of service and responsibility.

Watering plants and dusting are favorite jobs here. Brushing the family dog or cat, emptying smaller trash cans into the main sack are common jobs. I know one family where the four year old is in charge of starting the coffee pot for Dad every morning. He measures the grounds, puts them in the filter, carefully pours in the water from a carafe (the carafe has a line drawn at just the right place so he knows how much).  What a sense of pride he has, blessing Daddy’s day right from the start!

Assigning jurisdictions to the children can give them an area to oversee. A two year old can be placed on “cushion patrol” and given charge over the couch cushions, checking them before every meal to ensure they are neatly on the couch.

Not all work needs to be of the usual “chore” variety. Instrument practice and academics can give a sense of ownership, routine, and occupation as well.

Older children can be given a short time each day when they are responsible to tend and entertain a younger sibling. I know for my own children, this is their favorite “chore.” They work hard planning their “buddy time” each day and are disappointed if buddy time is cut short.

Letting children stretch a bit is also good. My eight year old loves making muffins for us. We put the trays into the oven, but she can do the rest independently. Having a muffin girl in residence is a very good thing. Mmmm!

I know the above suggestions focus on the youngest children.  Usually by the time a child can wield a vacuum and snow shovel and fix entire meals by himself the problem is fitting everything in, not finding a sufficient number of ways he can contribute. Typically it is the small but eager hands we struggle to keep sufficiently busy.  Balanced with lots of fun and play, chores can assure a child he’s part of the family team!

(These are just some scattered brainstorms. I hope others will contribute theirs!)

(This article is cross-posted from my Taming The Chaos column on the HSB Company Blog)

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