While 90% of parents in a recent survey said that they benefited from chores growing up, only 55% of have their children do chores. (Source.) However, experts recommend that children be given chores as early as age 2! However, “chores” has a negative connotation – so we will call it, as we do in our classrooms, “practical life skills” or “care of the environment”.
Before we dive into the benefits of having your child participate in care of the home environment, there are a few caveats to the Montessori approach:
- We invite the child to participate, not force.
- We work alongside the child
- We model the tasks for our child with slow, methodical movement, so that they can mimic us
- We model a positive, cheerful attitude/language concerning chores, perhaps making a comment such as, “It gives me happiness to see a clean room”, or “Now that it is clean, we can enjoy our space together! Would you like to read a book together?”
- We do not praise them for their participation or effort. Instead, we acknowledge it. “The window is squeaky clean now!” “I saw how patiently you scrubbed the floor.” “I see that you put the forks and spoons in the drawer.”
- We give the child the tools for success – meaning, child-sized tools and developmentally appropriate tasks
- We do not “fix” a child’s tasks. If a child does an incomplete job, we do not fix it for them – perhaps later, when the child is not present, we might finish the job for them, or perhaps we might methodically model the steps to the task at a later time when we know our child is watching, but we allow the child the opportunity to self-correct without interference. We allow them to learn from the experience.
- We allow the child to complete tasks at their own pace. We do not rush them through, or take over for them.
- We give the child meaningful tasks. Children know whether they are making a valuable contribution. We do not give them “busy work.”
- We affirm the child’s joy in gaining new skills that lead to greater independence. “I see that you swept the floor by yourself.”
- We never assign tasks as a consequence/punishment.
- We do not assign chores to benefit ourselves – we know that often, inviting participation can often create more work for us, at least in the initial stages. It is a merging of the adult and the child world into one common humanity, where we work together to benefit all. We invite the child for their own joy of discovery and journey towards independence!
Benefits of Chores for Children
A 75-year Harvard Grant study found that sparing chores spoils children and negatively affects their future selves. Julie Lythcott-Haims (Stanford University) says that if kids aren’t doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them. This can lead to a sense of entitlement. And, more important, those who do chores statistically find greater happiness.
Here are just a few more of the benefits of caring for the home environment:
The gross and fine motor skills required to complete household tasks are wonderful ways of strengthening a child’s muscles. It is also encourages purposeful physical activity (scrubbing floors, washing tables, washing windows).
The child learns concentration as he completes household tasks; he also learns logic and order as he follows through specific steps. It also contributes to problem solving and critical thinking skills. It’s also fantastic for developing communication skills!
Emotional and Social Benefits
The child who performs household tasks learns to be aware of the physical environment, and more readily identifies needs, and has insight to step in and meet needs. In other words, work ethic is being formed in the child! Additionally, contributing to the household makes them feel valued – increasing their self esteem and confidence! Last, children quickly learn that working collaboratively leads to a positive environment for all, and that it’s important that each person contribute.
“In many instances, parents with Western backgrounds tell their toddlers to go and play while they do the chores. Or give their child a screen. If you think about it, we are telling the child not to pay attention, not to help. We are telling them, this chore is not for you. Without realizing it, we cut short a toddler’s eagerness to help, and we segregate them from useful activities.” – Miachaeleen Doucleff
Developmentally Appropriate Chores for Children
Here are a few suggestions for what type of chores children can do, by age – and obviously, the results will vary based on age. It won’t look like what an adult does, or, it might be a partial contribution. Parents will also need to provide their child with age-appropriate tools to complete their tasks. For example, a child can use soap and water to clean, instead of potentially harmful chemical solutions.
As always, parents are the best guides to determining what their child is ready for, so use your discretion.
Age 1-2: Put away clean clothes; put dirty clothes in the laundry basket; put toys in the toy basket; pull up blanket on the bed and arrange pillows; set plates on the table; take dirty plate to the sink; help put groceries away (for example, vegetables in the vegetable drawer, if it is within reach); wiping up spills; putting trash in the garbage bin; bringing diaper for diaper changes, and more.
Ages 2-3: Helping to make the bed; getting dressed (with minimal assistance); watering plants; putting toys away; cleaning windows; peeling a banana; peeling a clementine; slicing soft fruits; spreading butter on bread; assisting with setting the table and clearing the table; wiping the table; sweeping; dusting; brushing the dog; polishing leaves on household plants; and all the above.
Ages 3-5: Unloading dishwasher; peeling vegetables; slicing an apple with an apple slicer; cutting with an age-appropriate knife or slicer; measuring and mixing ingredients; folding clothes and putting them away; feeding the dog and filling the water bowl; weeding the garden; raking leaves; setting the table and all the above.
Ages 6-7: Cleaning the room; wiping down counters/tables; mopping floors; washing dishes; clearing the table; carrying groceries; playing with/exercising the dog; emptying indoor trash cans and all the above.
Ages 8-9: Loading the dishwasher; vacuuming; putting groceries away; simple cooking (baking cookies, scrambling eggs, flipping pancakes); wiping down counters/table; washing a load of laundry; washing their bedsheets; taking out the trash and all the above
Ages 10-12: Assisting with yard work, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen; cleaning the fridge; simple meal preparation and cooking; vacuuming the car; changing light bulbs, and all the above.
Yes, your child can do it! Not only is your child capable, but they find great joy in contributing to the life of the family. We hope you are inspired to give them opportunities to do so!
“The child becomes a person through work.”
Dr. Maria Montessori