Taking the Chore Out of Household Chores

We are closed this week for renovations and some deep cleaning, and it got us thinking about chores!
Inventing Lab Demolition
Kim Koin is Manager of the Arts Studio and Programming at Chicago Children’s Museum; here she shares examples of how to complete chores as a family and make them more fun.

Growing up in Chicago, I knew spring truly started when my family would go outside in our grubby clothes to turn the soil and spread mulch in our small backyard gardens. We all worked together, my brother shoveling mulch into the small wheelbarrow and me wheeling it to where my parents were turning the earth. It was a time to marvel at how last summer’s grass clippings were transformed into this spring’s fertile mulch, to smell the outdoor odors, and a time to spend time with my dad, who typically worked nights and came home when I was asleep.

Looking back at my warmest childhood memories, I realize that a lot of them are about time with family and the seasonal and daily rituals of being an essential part of our household. In other words, memories of participating in household chores. I remember washing the dishes with my brother- negotiating who will wash and who will dry- sorting freshly laundered socks- trying to tell the difference between all our family’s various white crew socks and trying (but not too hard) to make sure our dog doesn’t try to steal a sock for himself. I remember my dad teaching me how to make home-made salad dressing- with lots of approximate measurements, taste-testing and experimentation.

There were also times that I balked at having to help dig up and wash carrots when my favorite cartoon was on, and there were evenings when the fast-food drive-up window replaced a sit-down dinner with a child-made salad. Parents working opposite shifts, soccer practice, TV, computers and the internet can make family time rare- and finding time to take care of household chores even harder. Looking at chores as a time to spend time as a family while providing a time for children to participate in meaningful, life-skill building work can be a way to take the chore out of household chores.

Chores can be an important part of a child’s development- physically, academically, socially and emotionally. Through chores children learn basic skills such reading and writing through helping write grocery lists and reading packaging at the grocery store, motor-skills and hand-eye coordination by helping fold laundry, dust, and wash dishes. Chores are also a great way to teach higher order thinking and life skills such as time management, predicting cause and effect and responsibility- “if I don’t do the laundry today, I can’t wear my favorite sweater to school tomorrow,” empathy and responsibility towards others “I’d like to make beef stroganoff tonight, but baby Kate doesn’t like mushrooms.” In the Waldorf method of education, learning should engage children’s minds, spirits and bodies through “real life” activities such as baking bread and tending a garden, physical, collaborative activities that put learning skills such as reading, measurement and fractions to meaningful use. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori educational method, believed that education “ is not acquired by listening to words, but… [through] experiences in which the child acts on his environment.” (The Absorbent Mind). By giving children meaningful chores, chores can provide these educational experiences to engage children’s minds, bodies and spirits.

Taking the chore out of household chores:
Encouraging interest:
Does your child have a passion for organizing, have a green thumb, or may be the next Iron Chef? Encourage those activities by assigning chores that build on these skills and interests. Older children can help determine how they contribute to the household- a child who balks at dusting may have a passion for cooking- have him help write the grocery list, assist in shopping, plan a meal etc- all the while putting into use reading, writing, planning, and time management skills.

Age appropriate responsibilities:
A two year old cannot dust the knick knacks- but given a wet rag can successfully clean the coffee table. Chores can help a child from feeling needy to feeling needed. ***

Real Work:
Children feel a sense of belonging when they know they are truly helping. Working in the museum’s art studio, I’ve had young children beam with pride when I accept an offer from them to help me clean the tables- and have seen the same pride in older children when they have the opportunity to teach younger ones how to work our small printing press or model how to take care of a printing screen. Make sure your child’s contributions to the household are utilized: if your child is in charge of the window herb garden make sure basil pizza or an herb salad is on the menu after the plants sprout.

Time together:
Use chore time as a time to spend together. Doing chores together can be an opportunity to model how chores should done correctly- and a way to model how to approach chores positively. For older children and teens, time doing chores together can be a laid-back opportunity to talk about their day or ask sensitive questions that they may be too apprehensive to broach in a direct talk.

Playful Outlook:
Try to look at chores as opportunities for play and creative learning. A trip to the grocery store can be a chance to play I-Spy- “I spy the red box of crackers that start with the letter ‘R’ that are on our grocery list.” Mopping the floor can be a slow, sudsy dance party, tiding the living room can be a 10 minute speed-race, taking the garbage out a science experiment in how many pounds of garbage the family throws out each week.

Chores can also simply be a time to spend together side-by side. Even weeding the back yard garden while your toddler plants the castoff weeds in her own “garden” in the adjacent mud puddle is an important learning experience for her, and a future memory for both of you.

What memories do you have of doing chores as a child?
How does your family work together in your home?

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