How I Involve My Kids in Helping Out Around the House

Apr 20, 2018

When I wrote that post last month about celebrating our unique mothering strengths, I listed "teaching my kids how to work" as one of the things I like to do.

Today I thought I'd offer a bit more of an explanation.

When I said that, I didn't mean we always have a spotlessly clean house or that I have a perfect system for getting my kids to do chores. Like most things in life, it is a constantly shifting routine that changes with my kids' ages and stages.

However, teaching my kids both the value of work and how to do it is a priority to me, and because of that, I make sure they have daily and weekly opportunities to be contributing members of our family.

Before I share some of the nitty gritty details however, I have to tell you my personal motto. When kids are helping around the house, it is highly probable that THEIR finished task won't look like YOUR finished task, not to mention it will probably take them twice as long. It can be easy to watch their sloppy efforts, throw up your hands in frustration, and say, "Never mind! Go play! I'll do it myself."

But stop. Take a deep breath. And repeat after me: It's better than it was. Really, I promise you it is. If they're vacuuming, they're sucking up something. If they're dusting, it's less dusty than it was. If they're washing the windows, at least some fingerprints are disappearing (and okay, maybe a few streaks are taking their places). Sometimes I spend most of Saturday morning chores turning a blind eye to the things I can still see and instead say to myself, It's better than it was. It's better than it was.

That doesn't mean I never offer correction or instruction, but it is important for me not to get hung up on the tiny little perfections. I let my kids take ownership of the job they've done, and I try be grateful that it's better than it was.

Now I'll share a little bit about how we break down the work in our house, as well as a list of the tasks my kids help with. We have daily responsibilities, family expectations, Saturday chores, and summer jobs.

On a daily basis, each child is expected to:
  • make his bed
  • practice the piano
  • brush his teeth
  • straighten up his bedroom
  • do any assignments he didn't finish at school
You'll notice that there aren't a lot of traditional chores on this list. That hasn't always been the case, but it's what is working for us right now, mainly because those chores that used to be part of the morning routine are now reserved for other times (see below). These are the things that I feel are essential for a productive morning. (However, just this week, I reminded the boys that I expect them to pick up their bedrooms before they leave for school, and I was met with blank stares and protests of, "I have never heard you say that before." Sigh. This is why I sometimes feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall.)

Part of the reason why I've chosen to keep daily chores to a minimum is because I expect them to just help out when I need it. Being part of a family means contributing to the care and upkeep and cleanliness of the home. So while they don't have very many formal daily chores, they are given "in the moment" jobs multiple times a day. These requests might include:
  • Pick up 20 items in the family room
  • Do a two-minute speed clean up
  • Sweep the floor
  • Put away the laundry
  • Wipe down the kitchen table
  • Put all the toys away in the backyard
  • Clean up a game that a younger sibling left out
  • Play with the baby
  • Wipe down the bathroom counter
  • Take out the trash
And here's a little tip one of my friends shared with me. If I phrase the request as, "Would you be willing to . . ." rather than "I need you to . . . " my kids are much more likely to respond cheerfully. I don't know why. But just changing the phrasing helps a ton.

The daily cleaning is mostly fast and superficial. It keeps the surfaces clean and the living spaces neat. It's reactive (i.e., someone spilled milk so it must be cleaned up). We reserve the heavy duty, deep cleaning for Saturday morning.

I instituted Saturday morning chores over a year ago, and it is still working so well. I think most families do some form of Saturday cleaning, but up until a year ago, ours was definitely more of the casual variety, and consequently, my kids always felt it was negotiable and worth complaining about. Now it's set with clear expectations: the whole family (including Mike and me) will clean for two hours on Saturday morning. It's amazing how much we're able to get done during that time, and many of the odd jobs that were being neglected before are now getting done much more regularly (long before they're a blatant problem).

Chores are begun immediately after breakfast. I usually write up a list for each boy so he can check off each task when it's completed. This list of jobs is meant to take about two hours to finish (although they've been known to stretch it out much longer . . . ). Occasionally, to change things up, we'll forego the lists and Mike will direct the cleaning, giving them one task at a time and having them come to him when it's completed to get another one. (Notice I said Mike will do that. I prefer the lists so they're not coming to me every two minutes. He prefers to just work hard and fast together.)

Here is a sampling of Saturday morning jobs:
  • Clean bedroom (this is different from the daily task; it's much more thorough)
  • Clean under bed
  • Organize closet
  • Vacuum couches
  • Dust living room
  • Clean baseboards
  • Scrub down kitchen chairs and benches
  • Wipe down light switches and door knobs
  • Wipe down kitchen cupboards
  • Organize pantry
  • Vacuum around edges
  • Clean windows
  • Fold laundry
  • Sweep out car port
  • Clean out van
  • Vacuum van
  • Vacuum family room/living room/bedrooms/etc.
  • Vacuum under couches
  • Sweep and straighten shoe closet
  • Organize game closet
  • Straighten book shelves in library
  • Clean out fridge
  • Wipe down microwave
  • Mop kitchen floor
  • Clean mirrors
  • Clean toilets
I know someone will ask what chores three-year-old Clark does, and the truth is, we let him do whatever will keep him busy and occupied while the rest of us are working. Sometimes he's doing little odd jobs, sometimes he's shadowing an older brother, and sometimes he's playing. Most of the time, he's begging for a snack. Because he's Clark. I think one of the best ways to teach a younger child to work is just to let them see everyone else working and incorporate them into the mix as much as possible. There's a certain camaraderie that comes from working together and the younger ones will feel that and want to be a part of it.

The final component in our cleaning regimen is summer jobs. I use the summer months as a time to teach my kids new skills. Each child learns how to do several new household tasks over the summer. Last summer, Aaron learned how to thoroughly clean the bathroom (toilet, sink, floor, etc.) and do the laundry from start to finish. Maxwell learned how to wash the dishes and weed the garden. Bradley learned how wipe down the kitchen table and sweep.

They also get a longer list of daily jobs in the summer because they have more time and the house seems to get messier since they're all home all day. Their new skills are usually a part of their daily routine, and this gives them lots of additional practice as well.

That's a pretty good rundown of how things go at our house. It's not a perfect system. Just last week, I realized I haven't been having my kids help with cleanup after dinner, and I feel like that would be a good idea. My kids don't always help willingly and cheerfully. And sometimes I send them all to the backyard because it's so much easier to just do it myself.

But most of the time, I stick with it because I feel like instilling a strong work ethic in kids is so important to their future success as adults. And also because now that I've invested the time to train them, they actually can be quite helpful.

And on days when chores are not completed the way I want them to, I remind myself, "It's better than it was." 

Do you have some "cleaning with kids" tips? Share them in the comments!


  1. Sounds like an excellent schedule! One thing I really liked doing when the kids were about that age was making Friday night dinner a kid responsibility. The kids took turns, so it was a chance to spend one-on-one time with a parent (usually me). Depending on how old the kid was, they would pick the meal (earlier in the week), help with the list, and then help cook (or cook, towards the end). So they learned how do chop, saute, roll meatballs, etc.

    I'm not a very good housekeeper, so they'll have to pretty much figure out that themselves when they move out, but I want them to be capable of cooking basic stuff and know they can follow a recipe. And it's fun when they show me techniques now (like crushing garlic with your bare hands).

    1. Oh my goodness, such a good idea! My mom was really good about having us help out in the kitchen, and it's such a valuable skill after you move out and live on your own!

  2. I love the mantra "it's better than it was"!! I am totally adopting that. My oldest just turned 6 and his main job is wiping down the table and sweeping after dinner. I think he does an ok job, but it's definitely not as good or as fast as I do it (you know, with 20 years more practice). Maybe looking at it that way will help.

    You seem like a great mom. I love when you talk about how things in your house work.

    1. It definitely helps me relax a little. However, I didn't mention this in the post, but many times I call them back to redo a job (I think it's an important part of the teaching/learning process), and I have also been known to finish it up myself if I think they've done their best but I still want it to be a bit better. It's a process for sure, and you have to decide for yourself what is a big deal to you and what isn't. Sounds like you're doing a great job of involving your oldest!

  3. Wow! You are awesome, Amy! So organized! So, when you and your crew are done at your house, feel free to come on over and work on mine :)

    1. Haha, I have a feeling I might have a mutiny on my hands if I suggested such a thing!

  4. Well done!! Because our kids are home all day our system is a little different. We have an 'area job' list and a 'kitchen job' list. Every day each child is responsible for cleaning their area ie one on the lounge room, one on the dining room etc, ours weren't keen on sharing areas as some slacked off more than others.

    Every two weeks jobs are rotated. Same goes for kitchen jobs. Oh and every child over the age of 8 does their own laundry. All children over the age of 11 are expected to cook a meal once a week, children under that age are apprenticed.

    Mostly I want to encourage you by sharing something my 21yr son said to me recently. He was talking about conversations he'd had with his workmates and he thanked me for teaching him the skills of how to clean, cook etc he said that most of them didn't learn till after they left home, they had to teach themselves and wished it was otherwise.

    1. Wow, you are so organized! I feel like I might have a hard time maintaining a rotation like that long term, but I love that it works so well for you! And it's so good that you have them helping out in the kitchen! I need to do more of that!

      That is such a compliment from your son! I hope my kids will feel the same way!


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