Friday, 13 July 2018 06:00

Children & Chores, Part 2: Getting Organized

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In Children & Chores, Part 1: Laying the Foundation, we explored the many benefits of teaching our children to work, the importance of starting when they are young, and ways to minimize the chores in our home.

Let’s now take a look at some simple methods to help get started with teaching our children orderliness and diligence through daily chores.


1. Use chore charts to keep organized.

Having a posted, well-thought-out chore chart has many benefits.

Eliminates guesswork — having to come up with chores for each child on the spur of the moment.

Eliminates arguing — “But I did it yesterday — it’s her turn!”

Teaches self-discipline — being responsible for doing all chores on time. 

Eliminates reminding over and over (in other words, nagging). The chores are written down and taped to the refrigerator, so they don’t need to come and ask you what to do.

Provides accountability — it helps you make sure all the chores are done, ensured by a quick run-down the list to check. Once children get in the habit of checking the chore chart, it frees you during that time to do your own chores.

I keep chore charts on the computer so I can make changes. Chores are changed around periodically so each child learns how to do everything — which also makes it more fun. Also, older kids will grow into more difficult chores, so some chores can be passed down. If they had been working together on occasion (see “Work as a Team”), this transition is easy, because they have already seen how the chore is done.

When our children were too young to read the chore chart, we made card stock laminated “chore cards” for them with a picture of the chore. You can do this on the computer or get your kids to design them. A “treat card” every once in a while (or “give Mom a hug” card) makes it fun. 

Hold them accountable to return their chore cards. I asked them to come to me and hand me their chore cards when they were finished. If one or more cards was missing, I sent them back to find it. 

When a child turned three, we made a big deal of giving her “official” chores. The older kids would play it up, clapping and getting excited as we presented the three-year old with her chore cards, making her think doing chores was the greatest thing in the world. Attitude is everything!

2. Synchronize!

When planning chore charts, think how their chores can work with your chores. For example, if you water your house plants on Thursday, your daughter could gather all the little plants and bring them to the sink. On laundry days, your son could bring all the dirty hampers to the laundry room and separate the light colors from the darks into different baskets. Since we homeschool, this makes it much easier to throw in a couple of loads during the school morning and have them ready to be folded by the kids at chore time.  

An older child can make lunch for the family while you get a head start on dinner. This, by the way, is an excellent way to teach your children how to cook. After a while, the child on lunch duty will get tired of making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and will most likely start exploring new options and even coming up with his own recipes. My older kids all love to cook, and it started with preparing lunch for the family. 

Their chores can correspond with your daily activities. My daughter’s speech therapist comes three times a week and works with her on our porch. On those days, I make sure the porch is vacuumed and cleaned. When we had a playgroup at our home on Tuesday afternoons, the guest bathroom was cleaned thoroughly and floors swept during chore time. 

Some chores need to be done before others can be started.  For example, one child needs to wipe down the table after lunch before another can sweep under the table. Kids can easily learn which ones need to be done first, or put a star next to those on their chore chart. 

3. Think small.

Chores don’t all have to be big. When planning your family’s chores, look around the house and think of things even the youngest child can do. It’s all those small things each day that take up so much of your time (or simply never get done). Let your kids do them! Some ideas can be filling up the bird feeder outside, organizing cabinets in the kitchen, or cleaning the sliding glass door. Three and four-year olds can do many things!

4. Time limits.

Discourage dawdling or getting distracted. Encourage keeping on task and staying focused -- important virtues for life. Teach that work comes first, then play; or in our case, at least on school days, lunch. We take a break from school at noon, say the Angelus, put some lively music on, then do chores before lunch.

Only when chores are done can they eat lunch. The longer they dawdle, the less lunch break they get. These are natural consequences -- a rumbling tummy and less free time. No need for nagging or getting angry. For boys especially, this is highly motivational. 

Sometimes, children will still dawdle and won’t care much about eating lunch. That’s when “mom-ordained” consequences become necessary. In our house, it was extra chores that must be done immediately after school before any play time. I kept a list of “extra chores” handy, so I could come up with something quick (otherwise in the rush of things, I’d forget to assign another chore.) The child had to write it on a sticky note and put it in a visible place so I could make sure it got done. 

On Saturdays, we start chores immediately after morning Mass and breakfast. No playing or going over to a friend’s house until all responsibilities are done. When kids know you are serious, they would much rather finish as quickly as possible and get on to more important things -- like jumping on the trampoline or riding their bike. 

5. Chores vs. soccer game.

As children get older, they sometimes have conflicts with a specific chore time. This often happens with us on Saturdays (soccer games, cross country meets, play practice, etc.). As in real life, even if the conflict is a good and important one, the chore doesn’t go away. They need to find the time to complete it — either waking up earlier, finishing up after dinner or sometimes even bartering with a sibling!

6. Teach them how to do chores.

Children need to be taught how to do the chores -- step by step. Don’t assume they know! When our kids were younger and learning new chores, I wrote down step-by-step instructions for many of the chores. For example, a “bathroom checklist” was taped to the inside of a bathroom cabinet. This helped them to go down the list and make sure everything was done. 

7. Establish logical consequences for doing sloppy work.

We do this already when our child shows us his homework. If he hands us his hand-writing assignment and it’s messy, crumpled up and decorated with doodling all down the side, we send him back to his desk to redo it — maybe even have him do an extra assignment.

The same thing goes for doing chores. Once you have taught your child how to do the chore and he has shown he can, then hold him accountable.

If my daughter didn’t clean the bathroom properly, I would tell her it means she needs more practice; she not only has to clean it again, but also clean the other bath-room. If my son forgets to take out the garbage, then a logical consequence would be scrubbing out garbage cans. A consequence of not watching TV or not having dessert isn’t logical, and has nothing to do with the infraction. Making the consequence relate to the infraction cements it in the child’s mind. Next time, he will remember scrubbing out those garbage cans and make sure the garbage gets taken out. Usually, sloppiness is due to laziness, and if a child has to work twice as hard to make up for not doing a good job, he will learn very fast it’s actually much easier to be diligent!

8. How about rewards for good work?

After discussing consequences for poor work, many will look for ideas on rewards for good work. I am not against motivational stickers or even allowances for chores, but believe it or not, these things aren’t really necessary. 

We have found that children, when they know they have real work to be done that benefits the whole family, will take pride and ownership in their work. They will come to realize that Mom and Dad and the whole family depend on their hard work. This brings about a true self-esteem, not a manufactured one. They will learn skills that are important for life and see the fruits of their labor on a daily basis. I see it in my son’s eyes as he and his dad rest on the back porch, taking off their work boots, after a long day of burning brush and mowing the yard. Or in my daughter’s eyes as she helps entertain guests after a day of cleaning the house and helping to prepare a meal. 

9. Work as a team!

Sometimes pair younger kids with older kids. This gives the older ones the opportuni-ty to practice the virtues of patience and tolerance. The younger ones learn obedience and respect for older siblings. Not only is this great for them, but it helps you because you have to do less training. The younger ones learn from the older ones how the chores are done. We have this opportunity at home on a daily basis -- encourage older children to teach younger ones.  

Years ago, on Saturdays, my then-15-year old daughter would bring her little sister into the bathroom while she was cleaning. They would listen to fun music, sing and tell stories while they scrubbed!

When my older son was in high school, he adopted his little brother (then two yrs. old) as his chore partner every day. They had a whole routine of doing the garbage -- after going around and collecting all the trash cans and bringing them into the pantry, they would dump everything into a big bag (and, of course, grab a handful of ani-mal crackers), then drag the garbage out to the curb together. On the way back, our older son would put his little brother on his shoulders and race to the front door. Every day they did this, and they both loved it. 

Every few months we have an outside working day on a Saturday. My husband and I plan in advance so we have the necessary supplies and a plan of action. This is a great opportunity to not only spruce up the outside, but work together as a family on a common goal. Lemonade breaks make it fun, as does the prospect of pizza and family movie night after a long day of hard work. 

10. Give them a life-long gift.

As parents, we have been given an opportunity to instill in our children a love of work — truly one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Our families will grow stronger as we work together, parents and children, to maintain a clean, well-ordered home — all for the glory of God.

“Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contempla-tive souls in the midst of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.” 

St. Josemaría Escrivá


Cheryl HernandezCheryl Hernández and her husband of more than 30 years, Kevin, live in Florida. They have nine children, including a daughter who is a Servant Sister. They are lay members of the Home of the Mother.