Kids Doing Chores

by Ivory Soap on 01/15/2011

Thank you for visiting Little House in the Suburbs. If you like what you see, please SUBSCRIBE.


photo by coventrytelegraph

My kids do chores.  Lots.  And they get paid nothing!  No stickers, charts, incentives.  Nada!  They do it cause “Mama said so.”  I didn’t know that was cool until I was informally interviewed at a workshop I was giving on Green Cleaning.  A local parenting columnist wanted to know all about my kids’ chore routine.

Here’s how it works:

1.  We have the Morning Chores on the wall, no names, just what has to be done before we leave.

2.  Usually, Nate starts to unload the dishes while Zach and I head to his room to tidy and Callie does her room alone.

3.  Then, according to how the morning is going and how complicated different chores will be today, I continue to assign the chores until we’re ready to go.  Some days there are lots of dishes to load, some days less.  Some days the animal chores take longer.  Some days not.  So, there’s no master list of who has to do what.  Everyone just keeps working until it’s done.

4.  We do the same thing after dinner with the Evening Chores. But, Papa and I spend more time directing from the couch than doing anything ourselves.  We do the cast iron and the leftovers, but mostly we supervise.  “No, the salt doesn’t go in the fridge.  Put it on top of the oven.”

But, what about them doing a GOOD JOB?

Well, you have to let go a bit on all that.  But, I find that if you do the chore often enough, it doesn’t matter.  We swish the potties and wipe the counters every day.  Who cares if they don’t do it perfectly?  It’s not like it only happens twice a month.  And some days I’m doing it cause they’re tied up doing something else.  It all works out.

Same with dishes.  Yes, they load it so that some dishes don’t get perfectly clean.  They know to look when they’re unloading and toss them back in the sink if it’s still cruddy.  They only get fussed at if they load dirty dishes into the cabinet.  Not if the dishes have to be run again.  And again, some days I do it for them to be sweet, so once in a while everything gets loaded correctly.

They also do the weekly/monthly chores with me.  After I worked with them a couple of times, I realized that if I send Nate to vacuum my room, I’ll have to go back and do the corners myself.  Same for Callie’s mopping.  But, they can all dump trash and bring me the right color laundry from their baskets, etc.  I have to check behind them, but it’s a lot less work than doing it all myself!

But what about age appropriate chores?

I have no idea what that means.  I just know that each kid has to help me and I let them try new chores all the time.  I can tell after a few tries what they’re capable of doing.  My two oldest didn’t get really useful until about 6 years old.  Before that, it was like a DOUBLE chore to let them do anything independently. It was just easier to do it myself.

My four year old stays with me and just barely follows directions.  I make piles for him in his room and he can put away one “category” at a time (toys, shoes, dirty clothes)–if I stand over him and point to each item.  At this age, he mostly gets in the way.  So, this last week during the major kitchen clean, his job was to sit on the counter and tell me made up stories about eyeballs and monsters.   It was pretty awesome.

How do they reach everything?

I let them work that out.  Nate and Callie both unload all the cabinet-dwelling dishes onto the counter and then hop up on the counter and put them all away.

To switch the laundry, they drag a chair over.  Unloading those last few clothes at the bottom of the washer can be tough still.  I usually have to get those.

So what do they actually do?

Because we don’t have “assigned chores”, they don’t do the same thing every day or week.  I may do it sometimes, but here’s what in a WEEK they (the older two) will have done more than they care to remember:

  • Unload, reload, and run the dishwasher
  • Stick vacuum the floors (with me getting under the furniture, getting the corners)
  • Swish the potties
  • Wipe down the outsides of the potties (with me checking behind and getting the corners)
  • Wipe the kitchen and bathroom counters
  • Clean their rooms and straightening the bedding
  • Tidy the coat closet
  • Brought me their laundry and empty hangers.
  • Put away folded laundry and hung already “hanger-ed” clothes I draped on their baskets.
  • Poorly swept/mopped floors that I go behind and finish
  • Switched the laundry a few times
  • Carry everything to the dinner table
  • Clear the dinner table
  • Poorly wipe the table
  • Dump all the trash cans and recycling
  • Take the big can and recycling boxes to the street
  • Brought the empties back
  • Feed and water the animals
  • Collect eggs and exercise the goats
  • Clean out the car
  • Set up the Wii for Saturday
  • Pack it away on Sunday (we only have one video game day a week, which is also Donut Day, and grill party day)

I can’t remember what else…


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

KeLLy Ann January 15, 2011 at 11:12 am

oh, thank goodness….i was beginning to feel like an Ogre; not really!
I was raised doing chores, everyday chores and weekly all over house cleaning.
I have two at home, 9 and 5, and they put up their own clothes, make their beds, take out the trash, help cook, the oldest one can vacuum pretty darn good too! I love the part about age appropriate…it’s so true. As soon as they could walk, they were taught these things. When the 9 year old starts Middle school in a couple of years, he’ll be taught how do to his own laundry, and the dishes, he already cooks. My 21 year old, gave me grief when he was at home, but his apartment is spotless; go figure.

Kudos to you!

LaRee January 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I love this! I have a hard time making my girls work a lot, though they all work some. Your article is very inspiring and I think your method will work for me. Us. I was the oldest and ended up doing far more than my share, sometimes I feel like I didn’t get a chance to just be the child I would have. But I know I had a LOT of FREE time. My mother didn’t teach me to clean or how to do a job, just got mad because I didn’t do it right. When I was 12 I started helping an older lady and she taught me HOW to clean a toilet, and just how she expected each room to look before I was finished. That was my summer job, she paid me a couple dollars each day. She couldn’t do a lot of her own cleaning so it was fun. I would go home and clean the bathroom the way she taught me, made my mom happy with me, made me WANT to do it again.
My husband thinks I don’t expect enough out of our children, but then, I probably don’t make him do near enough either! LOL

Stephanie January 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

We actually moved our dish cupboard to a lower cupboard. Yes, it is a pain for DH and I to bend over and get a plate or drinking glass. But with the dishes in a lower cupboard, the kids (now 12, 11 and 7) can put away the dishes and set the table without much help from me. It has been a great solution for us.

We also tend to have a few extra jobs that we allow the kids to “bid” for. Lowest bid of the most skilled worker is usually awarded the job.

Amanda Y. January 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Although I definitely think that children should be expected to do chores for free and because mom or dad says so, my only problem is making sure at some point to introduce allowances so that they have a good concept of savings/spending, etc. Several children I know who were “taught” about those concepts but without any real money of their own until their first job (at 16 or so) blew all their money. An allowance helps them learn that at least 50% should be saved, 10% tithed if you believe that, etc.

Jaime Kiser January 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Your post made me smile. My son is three and helps out all the time, it’s good for him. Some days I let things slide if he’s having a “cranky three” day but for the most part he does his share. When he wets his bed he strips down his bed, puts the sheets,blankets and nasty jammies in the hamper . He puts his plate up when he’s done eating, picks his toys up before nap and bed time. He also helps with things like making his bed, folding laundry (the best he can) and sweeping the kitchen. He thinks most of it is playing and if he doesn’t help with the adult house chores I don’t mind but if he can reach it, he’s old enough to try and do it. The only things he’s expected to do his his plate, laundry pickup and toys.

laura January 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Bless you!! I am so happy to know i have company! I agree wholeheartedly, we are all responsible for our home and the care of it I have 3 left at home; 13, 12 and 9 (girls) i have a couple questions. what do you do when one doesn’t do her part, goes off and hides or deliberately goes slow. 2. Takes so long with homework that it is bed time and chores not done. What consequences does anyone suggest??
New follower and I love your blog.

Ivory Soap January 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Laura, if I have a slow poke, sometimes the rest of us sit down and he/she has to do the rest alone. About three days a week they all go to see Grammy, so if anyone hasn’t done their chores, they don’t get to go. We also give “strikes” for disobedience, especially non-Grammy days. Each strike is 15 minutes off your bedtime. We don’t usually play iPad games or watch kid TV at night, but if someone has to go to bed early, we make sure we do it that night after they leave so they really feel the pain.

But I think the biggest difference between my house and what you’re describing is that we all work together. There’s no separate list of chores for each. At chore time, we all do it. No one gets to sit out for homework. Homework happens at it’s own time, usually in a group. I block out times during the day so if one’s playing, we’re all playing. If one is cleaning, we’re all cleaning. If one is reading or doing homework, we’re all doing it. The only exception is the four-year-old. He’ll join the crowd next year for kindergarten.

Kybrdplyr January 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I grew up ten of eleven children on a farm in a small ranch style home with one bathroom. I remember learning about allowances for the first time in the fourth grade: new children were moving into the community. Their parents were from town and buying 5 acre ranchettes to “return to the land.” These kids got allowances for dusting, mopping, doing dishes, etc. I remember feeling a little afraid and kind of disgusted: wasn’t it part of belonging to a family to do chores, even if you fought over who did what? My Mum started us at age 3 making our own beds (with an older child’s help) and dusting the furniture legs. We had melamine dishes so a three year old could dry dishes, too. We were a competitive lot so the quality of our work had to be good – no blotches on the counter or floors. And, like you, our parents took the evening chores to, for my mother, sit and knit and, for my father, read the paper. If we were fighting, as long as we did not draw blood, my parents took the needed break and we eventually performed all of our chores. I remember that we did complain on occasion (all right, maybe often), but my parents learned the fine art of turning a “deaf ear.” A good decision! I admire you, Ivory, for following what makes sense and for making each member of your family feel valued by doing work to support it.

Rachel January 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I think this is great. I don’t have children, but when I do, they WILL have chores.

Do your kids ever complain about the chores? Because if they do, you can tell them my story: I did not have chores growing up. I did NOTHING. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who did everything, and pretty much waited on us hand and foot. As a kid, I thought it was the best thing ever, not having to do anything. But then I grew up. I got married and moved into a house of my own. And I had never washed a dish. I’d never scrubbed a toilet. I’d never vacuumed. And it was awful. For about the first year, I lived in a filthy pit of despair. I was depressed, although I didn’t know why. Finally, I forced myself to get up off my butt and get busy. It’s been slow going… I’m learning it all on my own, at 24, but I’m finally proud of my home. And I wish like crazy I’d HAD chores as a kid. My mother thought she was being nice, but she really did me a huge disservice. I’ve been inadvertently raised to be lazy, and after knowing nothing else for 20+ years, trying to teach myself to be an active homeowner with plenty of “big girl chores” has been an extremely difficult thing.

So, thank you for raising children NOT like me. They will appreciate it eventually. 🙂

Mdoe January 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I’m cheering you on, even though I never had any children. I was an only child who was never required to do anything. I’ve never been able to get a handle on things and am now trying a home management journal. As I’m reading along, it clicked with me why I was never given the gift of cleaning discipline. I would not have done it perfectly enough. You could have (and still can) eat off my mother’s floors. When I balked at wearing the little pant suits she picked out for me to school, never went clothes shopping again. I was a straight A student and was urged to find out a way to get an A+. I wear my hair naturally curly and was asked just recently when I was going to get an “adult” haircut. (I’m 40-something and she’s from the curler age). Appearances are everything, relationships are nothing. She has become her mother who described people as “nice and thin” or “heavy”. I can see now there are certain ruts I have been unable to break out of because of a little voice in my ear. I spent alot of time with my paternal grandmother who was just this side of being a hoarder — probably because I got complete acceptance.

Thank you Ivory — It all makes perfect sense now.

Sherrin Drew January 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm

This is my first visit to your site. It looks like you have lots of helpful information. We area also trying to make our suburban plot as productive as we can. I have enjoyed this post because I am also hoping to train my children to do a lot of the household work. I have chronic pain and two tiny children (20 months and 8 weeks) so right now it is a struggle physically . . . it looks like in four years or so I can hope to have a real helper!

Mouse January 18, 2011 at 1:06 am

What the heck does “swish the potties” mean?

Foxmom January 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

I second the question! Swish the potties?

Tanya Walton January 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

My kids have chores…i am a great believer that as long as they can sit up then they can pick up and chores can start at a very early age with something as simple as putting the toys back in the box. There are certain things the kids HAVE to do each but then there are the other bits that get done as and when allocated. I don’t however sit back and let them just do…if they are doing then so am I. Also I do give an allowance. i don’t do this for chores but for money management but if they refuse to do chores than money is also lost. Also my kids think it is great as they then have their own money to buy gifts for christmas and birthdays which is something I wholly encourage.

But I don’t just give my kids chores…any kids that visit the house more than three times are told on the fourth visit they are no longer a guest and are expected to ‘muck’ in aswell…if they are coming to eat they are expected to do dishes…if they are sleeping they are expected to strip and put the bedding in the hamper…they are expected to clean up after themselves and they are also taught how to cook…i don’t know what they think to it but it always turns out to be a jolly time and my kids tend to try and get away with doing a bit less when their mates are over…but their mates still keep coming back…guess I’m just not making them do a

Mouse January 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I mean… right now, the only thing I get out of “swish the potties” is a pretty great childish insult to yell if one were nine…

(Followed closely by the hot-tempered retort, “I’m telling Mom!!”)

Carla January 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’m not totally sure what Ivory has in mind by “swish the potties” but I use the term Swish ‘n Swipe, as per FlyLady, the cleaning guru at A brush is used to swish the inside of the toilet. Sinks, countertops and toilet surfaces are swiped with a cloth — swiped in that order. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes or so, especially since I learned that non-sudsing glass cleaner with alcohol or ammonia does a decent job of surface cleaning. For the toilets I sometimes chug in a drop of cheap shampoo, a little baking soda or nothing. It’s the brushing out which actually keeps in clean.

LaRee January 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Like as in swish the brush around in the toilet….. Its a great idea because, like you said, its done every day and never needs really ‘scrubbed’ per say.

crunchycon January 28, 2011 at 4:50 am

Oh, gee, this brings me back… back in the sixties, when I was eight, my mom went back to school to finish her bachelor’s (which eleven years later culminated in her doctorate – color me proud). During the summer she had a bit more leeway, schedule-wise, to take classes and I well remember the “chore list,” which magically appeared on the refrigerator for each of us kids every morning. Chores were to be completed before going to play. ‘Cause mom said so.

preston February 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm

enjoy your blog – should copy the list of chores for my grandchildren who are far too lazy.

my main reason for emailing was to thank you for writing out all the instructions to your hugs and kisses washcloth. i do appreciate it. i just recopied another dishcloth directions AFTER i renumbered it and had each row of instructions spelled out. i did not use “repeat row 1, etfc. – i put in the proper instructions. maybe i am a slow learner but for me it works better if each line has it’s own insturction without the “repeat . . . .”.

for some reason i am in a dishcloth mode – i used them for my christmas caards this year. it also gives me a chance to practice new stitch combinations. i’m going to try and design a “stars and stripes” design – was going to use graph paper – what do you think?

thanks again for the hugs and kisses – it’s always good for me to practice the cable stitch.


Tomato Lady February 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

Hi preston–Glad you are enjoying the blog! Thank you!
The link below has some good tips for designing your own patterns. I’m sure the stars and stripes would be a great dishcloth.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: