Your young child loves to spend time with you! He will help around the house, if he is working with you. He will not do chores independently. Do not expect him to clean his bedroom while you watch television. But he will pick up the toys on his bedroom floor while you dust the pictures on the wall. He will help you make his bed, or straighten the crib blankets. He will set the silverware around the table while you set out the plates and glasses. He will wipe down the bathtub or counters with a non-toxic cleaner (white vinegar) while you brush the toilet or wash the mirror. Think of this as a partnership. Enjoy the time spent with your young child, and know that you are teaching him important life skills! By the time he is six or seven, he may be able to work independently for short periods of time.
Age two and three:
pick up toys and books
help feed a family pet
wipe up spills
dust chairs, furniture, non-breakables
clear table with help
set silverware at table
put laundry in laundry room or basket
Age four and five:
all of the above, plus:
put away toys
bring in mail or newspaper
clear table independently
pull weeds, water garden
use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
load utensils in dishwasher
wash unbreakable dishes in the sink
fix a bowl of cereal with milk
Age six and seven:
all of the above, plus:
help make and pack lunch
keep bedroom tidy
pour own drinks
answer telephone properly
clean bathroom with nontoxic cleaners
take out trash
Safety is the most important consideration
Many household cleaners are toxic. Don’t give your child a bottle of spray cleaner and turn your back. But there are non-toxic alternatives that are safer for your child and the environment. White vinegar in a spray bottle, straight or diluted with water, will clean almost anything. If you need “scrub” power, shake plain baking soda on the dirt, rub, then follow with the vinegar solution. Your child may really enjoy the fizz reaction of baking soda and vinegar!
Young children can drown a few inches of water. Don’t leave a bucket of cleaning water sitting around. For cleaning up spills, I like to leave a very small pail (like a sandbox pail) with only an inch of soapy water and a sponge. My granddaughter can squeeze the sponge out, wipe up any milk spills, and rinse the sponge. I empty and refill the cleaning bucket as necessary.
Adapt the Chore for the Child’s Age
For dusting, you can put an old sock on your young child’s hand, and have him rub down the rungs of a chair, the top of the coffee table, or the shelves of the entertainment center. Don’t expect him to dust anything breakable for about ten more years.
A two or three year old can dump a scoop of pet kibble in the feed bowl, or can add water to a water bowl using a small watering can. He or she is not strong enough to hold a full pitcher. Only put a cup or so of water in a small pitcher, and he will manage better. Even if he does spill, it’s only water! Give him a towel and he will clean up the spill himself.
A very young child can sort spoons, butter knifes, and forks into the silverware tray. He may make mistakes, but this is a great skill for him to work on. If your knives are the least bit sharp, pull them out before you let him sort silverware. A very young child can help set the table, with your help. He can put a spoon next to every plate. He can put a napkin next to every plate. This sort of activity is called “one-to-one correspondence”, which is an important pre-math skill. A child needs to understand the concept of “one” before he can count, add, and subtract.
A two year old may not be able to clear the table yet, but by three it is something he can help with. He can clear his own plate and cup, at least. If your dishes are not breakable, he might help clear all the plates and silverware. Don’t expect him to clear serving platters and bowls – they are probably too heavy, even empty.
When possible, Make Work Fun
To get a young child to pick up toys, make it easy, and make it fun. Duplos or Legos can go in a big bin. Take a photo of a pile of duplos, and laminate it, or stick it to the bin with packaging tape. Now your child KNOWS where the duplos go. You can print the word “Duplos” on the bin. Knowing where something goes is half the battle. To help your child in picking up his toys, don’t let him have access to too many at a time. You can put half his toys on a top shelf out of reach, and rotate them periodically. Do not let him dump every toy he owns on the floor and mix them all up, then expect him to be able to pick it all up. The two and three year old child is easily overwhelmed and distracted. If he does have a big mess, you’ll need to help him focus. Break it up into smaller tasks… such as, “Pick up all the yellow duplos and put them in here.” Make it a race. You can pick up all the red duplos. Or have him pick up duplos while you pick up blocks. Better yet, spread a large sheet on the floor before he dumps out the Duplos, and then all you have to do is pick up the sheet.
Do not yell, scold, or shame
You want your child to be a willing helper. Keep it fun, and you will be training your child to develop positive attitudes towards work that will last him all his life.
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