Kids to the Rescue! Training Children to Do Housekeeping

DCP_5869Emily is only six years old, but she loves to vacuum! She is too small to maneuver the vacuum cleaner very well, but that doesn’t matter. She is in training, and a partially-vacuumed carpet is better than an unvacuumed carpet!

When I began homeschooling ten years ago, I was in for a shock. “Where do you find the time to do homeschool in addition to the regular daily tasks you were accustomed to doing such as housework, grocery shopping, laundry, and gardening?”, I asked. After several months of exhaustive overload, I figured out the plain and obvious fact that there wasn’t enough mother to go around. From a sheer survival standpoint, I had to delegate the housekeeping duties. Now, looking back ten years later, I can see what a blessing in disguise it has been to not be able to keep up with my workload. As a result, my children are all well trained in housekeeping and cooking. They don’t balk at carrying a hefty portion of the housework chores. It really has become second nature to them, and each new little one that grows into toddlerhood in our home is expected to take on their portion of the work.

dishes-315084_1280No, they didn’t do it as well as I could, but then for several months there I wasn’t managing to do it at all so I decided a “child quality” job was just going to have to do. As the years have passed, the children have developed their skills through daily practice and can do the job as well and as quickly as I can. Best of all, they expect that they will do daily chores and help with meals. It would surprise them not to have their duties. We take off Sundays, holidays and one day a year on their birthday, we divide up their chores and they have a free day. By the manner in which they bumble around the house during chore time on their day off, I get the feeling that doing housework is like breathing. You don’t know what to do instead.

If you are trying to do it all by yourself, let your kids come to the rescue! In a large family, you will be stunned what can be accomplished in the half hour before breakfast. We get up at 6:30 AM for scripture study. Right after family prayer at 7:30 AM and before breakfast at 8:15, my entire house is cleaned . . .daily! Often the older children finish early and play their musical instruments for fun until breakfast is on. I always chuckle to see the little ones take their responsibilities so seriously. I finally realized that they feel loved and a real part of the family when they do their assignments. They are capable and contributing!

Of course the hardest part of getting children to do the housework is training them to do it, and consistently checking up so that they know it must always be done. As the months and years go by, they will become accustomed to the pattern and stop complaining about it! It becomes an ingrained habit. We do chores six days a week. On Sundays, the only chores that are done are the mealtime chores. It takes a parent or an older child to train children under six in doing their daily jobs. By the time they are six or seven, they are capable of doing almost any job in the house by themselves, including simple cooking.

spray-315164_1280It helps to have some good cleaning supplies. Old cotton towels cut in fourths, or old cotton cloth diapers are the best! Don’t try to use rags made from polyester as the water will just run right off rather than soak up. Keep an ample supply of cleaning cloths in a designated spot, right next to the cleaners. I use natural biodegradable cleaners, rather than grocery store stuff, just because I think it is safer for children to breathe and soak their hands in. Make sure you have enough labeled spray bottles to go around. Give the whole family a little training session about which cleaners go where: all purpose cleaner on all surfaces except mirrors and windows, glass cleaner on mirrors and windows, etc. Teach them to return cleaners and used cleaning cloths to your designated spot and hang them to dry before laundering.

I divide my house into areas such as living room, kitchen, pantry and mud room, upstairs bathroom, etc. Then a child is assigned two or three areas. The more children you have, the more cleaning your house will need but the less area each child will be assigned to do. Every area has a chart in a plastic page protector taped to the inside of a door or cabinet. The chart lists daily work needed for that room (Quick Clean), plus occasional work (Good Clean). For example, the bathroom chart Quick Clean requires cleaning the sink daily, but cleaning the bathtub is a Good Clean job only required on Wednesdays. At the bottom of the chart, I list infrequent jobs that must be done in that area. Once a month, on the first Friday, spots on the walls and the windowsills must be wiped down. The children do not mark on these charts, but just refer to them as they clean their assigned areas. Parents refer to them when they check the work. The littler children get drawings on their charts so they can participate too.

Ideally, children will grow past needing the charts. As my children have turned 12 or 13, I tell them that the chart is just a schoolmaster. Their goal is to keep their assigned areas C-L-E-A-N! They can train their eye to look for what needs doing. That is the long range goal.

The little ones, under six, are given jobs rather than assigned areas of the home. Right now, Ammon (4) daily folds the household laundry (towels, washcloths, tablecloths), takes the dirty clothes hamper to the laundry room, takes out all the garbage cans in the house, and scrubs the kitchen sink (2 x week).

Besides their assigned areas, each child and parent must maintain their own bedroom to the acceptable standard: no junk on floor, dust shouldn’t show, make your bed, change your bed sheets every other week. I’m still working on keeping my own room in order to the standard!

Mealtime chores are also divided up. The jobs are:

  1. cutlery-237802_1280set table, pour water in cups, put on serving spoons and trivets
  2. clear and wipe table and put away food
  3. sweep kitchen and dining room floor and spot clean
  4. unload and load dishwasher
  5. rinse and stack dishes that must be hand washed
  6. help with food preparation.

For the little ones, we have such jobs as “unload utensil bin in dishwasher” or “wipe off the countertops”. We also assign seating at the table for mealtimes and dish washing nights.

I rotate chores every three months. Children get proficient, and eventually bored, with their work after a few months. I am not walking around the house saying, “Who’s on the upstairs bathroom?” when I see a mess left like I used to when we changed chores every week because it is easier to remember. We keep chores for three month periods that naturally divide the year: Jan, Feb, Mar— Apr, May, June— July, Aug, Sept— Oct, Nov, Dec.

Is it necessary to check your children’s work? Only if you want them to do it. If you only check sporadically and let some things slip by, soon you will have trained your children to be sloppy in their work and to gamble not doing everything in the hopes that you won’t check up on it. The children aren’t trying to be bad; it is just human nature to do as little as possible if you never have to give an accounting.

Do I do chores? No, not in the sense that I take an area to clean daily. During our morning work time I do laundry, oversee training the little ones in doing their chores well, nurse the baby, start breakfast, clear off a counter, check the chores have been done, etc.

Louisa bakes cinnamon bread

Louisa bakes cinnamon bread

Developing some good habits will ease your workload too. One of those habits in our family is honking the horn as we pull in our driveway from grocery shopping. At the sound of the honking horn, all the children in the house come running to unload the groceries from the van into the house, and then from the bags into the freezer, fridge and cupboards. It only takes 15 minutes and the job is done, which is a nice ending to a tiring shopping trip. Another good habit is to have a “go through the house” time every morning orevening. Every person just walks through the house collecting anything that belongs to them as well as putting away anything they got out and left out, such as a stapler or schoolbook. If you do this daily, children get in the habit of picking up after themselves and it makes the task of cleaning that area much more pleasant for the person assigned. Little ones can be trained (and helped by the person assigned to that area) to clean up after themselves. There is only one problem with this little game: Mom and Dad soon realize that they are culprits in making messes and leave lots of stuff lying around too!

Although I was originally just trying to survive, I realize now that my children have received some much needed training in life skills. They know how to cook meals because they have all had a turn on helping with food preparation at my side. They know how to clean every room. They have the habit of doing chores before the day begins. We are a team, living together in the same house and sharing the upkeep of that house. I hope they make better husbands and wives because of these habits!


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  1. Tiffany says:

    I so needed this post. Thank you!

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