It's a well-established and long-accepted fact that helping around the home is good for our children... years of research and big money have been invested into establishing that, but I really think the proof of it is in the results. Real life children learning how real life works; learning responsibility, learning team-work, learning self-discipline. Those characteristics are traits we all desire to see in our children, and children who willingly help around the home are a gift, surely?
The reality is that the idyllic image of children running happily round the home, doing chores and running errands Milly-Molly-Mandy style doesn't just happen. It takes work, it takes training, and it takes serious amounts of patience. The jobs my children do for me, I could probably do in half the time, and twice as well, but taking the time to invest in teaching and training them how to care for our home is, I'm increasingly convinced, a worthwhile investment.
My purpose in giving our children chores is threefold; firstly, its going to help me big time in the long run... with four children and a busy household, I need all the help I can get. Even with taking simple tasks like emptying the dishwasher and washing machine, laying the table and wiping down surfaces, the load has already been lightened... imagine when you have children who can clean bathrooms, hoover and sort laundry?!
Secondly, teaching them to do chores provides valuable character training - perseverance, responsibility, self-discipline and a healthy work-ethic are just some of the by-products. The children are learning not to take the work their parents do for granted... they are learning they have a role to play in the running of the household, and learn that housework doesn't just 'happen'!
Thirdly, its great practical training for them... when they head out on their own (still a lot of years away I hope!) I want them to be prepared - I want them to know how to do loads of laundry, to feel confident cooking, to know how to clean a bathroom and defrost a freezer. I want them to be able to care for their own future homes and potential families well.
There are so, so many benefits to training our children in this way, and in starting young...
For a long time, I've had our children do sporadic chores. From the youngest age, there are little jobs they can help with as they tag along. When I do my cleaning, I often have two-year-old Jonas trailing behind me, duster in hand. He's an expert at wiping down the blackboard, and he's pretty good at emptying the washing machine too. I give him a lot of praise... even though I'm often going over everything again afterwards... and try to show him that what he's doing is a help! Emptying and filling the washing machine, from the drum to a basket or vice versa, is one they can do super young, one they love, and one that actually does save me a job!
This summer, however, I wanted to establish something a little more concrete. It's been on the back-burner on my mind for a while. Often I was asking the girls to do things (eg bed making), finding them undone and then just doing them myself to avoid a battle.
I've discovered that routine is the secret to everything.
On the first day of the holidays, I sat the girls down and talked them through the plan. We've started small... they each have three jobs - one that serves themselves, and two that serve the whole family. In an article for the Washington Times, Nicholas Long claimed that "its better for children to have jobs that benefit the whole family, like vacuuming the family room, rather than limiting their chores to tidying their bedrooms. Assigning them a task outside of their bedroom eliminates an opportunity for argument from older children, who may insist they prefer a messy bedroom." It makes sense. The plan was that the girls would make their beds (chore number 1), dress (expectation, not chore!), and then come downstairs to do the rest. While I am upstairs feeding Elias, and Jonas is still in his cot, the girls are busying downstairs setting up the kitchen for the morning. I love the sound of their little voices chatting and clinking crockery... although it is often punctuated by Jonas shouting that he wants to get up!
Ava empties the dishwasher, carefully clearing everything away she can reach. In our kitchen, it is only the mugs and glasses that are stored in the top cupboards, and these she leaves, dried, on the worktop under their cupboards. This little job of putting them away takes me around thirty seconds, rather than the ten minutes it would take me to empty the whole dishwasher. I'm not going to pretend she adores this job... she emptied three-quarters of it on the first day and then threw a wobbly. We chatted through it, remembered that the next day was a new day and we've never looked back. She does a great job, at almost 6, and I don't need to do any follow up at all. Once she's done that job, she brings all the toothbrushes and toothpaste down from the upstairs bathroom so we can brush our teeth in the downstairs toilet (saves me hoiking the whole family upstairs again!). She's then done for the day.
While Ava is busy at the dishwasher, Heidi (age 4) is responsible for laying the table. She takes off the tablecloth and gets out all the crockery (often collecting straight from Ava), lays out the cereals, condiments and milk. She puts our family bible out to, ready for the Morning Table. She's then responsible for getting the box of hair things and laying them on the side, ready for me to do their hair while they're eating breakfast (a rushed school-morning necessity!) Once she's done that, she's done with her chores too.
Jonas is not without responsibility. Once he's up and dressed, I bring the boys down and Jonas empties the clothes out of the washing machine (I tend to do an overnight load) into a bag I've left there for him. He will then carry the bag over to the back door (usually with Heidi's help) ready for me to hang out. It saves me very little time (perhaps a minute?!) but its training him to have his own little responsibility. He will often get bored around half way through emptying, and needs reminding and coaxing to complete the job he's started, but he gets there. With encouragement. Training, training, training... it will be worth it!
Occasionally, I'll throw another chore or two in the mix - collecting the fallen apples from the grass, wiping down the blackboard, watering the plants, dusting a specific room - I've no doubt as the children get older, the expectations and level of contribution will adapt. But for now, these few jobs in the morning feel like a good place to start.
The difference its made to our mornings has really surprised me... I expected a low-level help to Dave and my morning work-load, but actually, the biggest positive has been the impact its had on the children's morning attitudes. By the time I see the girls they are up and ready for the day, and have already achieved something productive. I've been really amazed by the positive start to the day its created for all of us (it makes me think of that 'make your bed' advert that did the rounds on Facebook a while ago!) and I'm so glad we decided to go down this route this summer... its been a total game-changer, and I only wish I'd cottoned on sooner!
So here's the big question... do your children do chores? What chores do they do? How did you go about implementing them? I'd love to hear all your top tips and share experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly!
* This Podcast on Children and Chores by the AtHome ladies
* This List of age-appropriate chores by Focus on the Family
* This Article on the benefit of chores by The Center for Parenting Education
* This fascinating article by ABC News
* The Benefits of getting your child to do chores from the Huffington Post