As my little son grows, it becomes more important to involve him in the daily care of our family and home. It’s a frustrating process to start. What should, in theory, help to remove work from my own plate usually involves adding quite a bit of extra work at first. It’s not so simple as handing off a task, but instead, requires my attention in teaching him how to help. Here are some ways I’ve started to involve my three year old in helping around the house:
Meal preparation: He’s an eager and able stirrer, but he also fetches ingredients from the refrigerator or pantry and helps to measure in cups and spoons. He sets the table and carries prepared (not hot!) food in for mealtime.
Meal clean-up: Once we’ve finished eating, he’s ready to clear the table and put away leftover food (with a little help). We use a spoon to scrape plates, and work together to pile dishes by the sink.
Laundry: Laundry sorting is both helpful and a time for learning. He sorts dirty laundry by color, and clean laundry by owner. He gathers socks into a pile and matches the pairs. Once folded, he carries piles of clean clothes into his room and places them in dresser drawers.
Picking up after himself: One of the first tasks he learned was to clean up his toys each night. Now, he also wipes up messes after he spills, puts his dirty laundry into the hamper, and straightens his bed in the morning.
Dusting: Perhaps his favorite chore, my son will spend a good amount of time with a dusting cloth in hand, wiping surfaces in the house.
Carrying: Small ones are very good at carrying things. While I wrestle with the overflowing basket of laundry, he carries the little bottle of detergent. When I bring in groceries from the car, he’ll carry the bread or some of the lighter vegetables.
Feeding and brushing the cat: Pouring pebbles of food or cups of water into the cat’s bowls are easy tasks. But, I make sure to be involved for both cat and child’s sake when it’s time for grooming.
Right now, my son is at an age where he delights in being a big helper. Still, there are days when picking up toys isn’t so appealing. A picture book or puzzle is sometimes more interesting than placing plates on a table for mealtime. In those times, I try to make it fun by turning on music or making chores into a race. “Let’s see if we can finish before daddy’s done cooking dinner!”
When helping is just not fun despite my music and games and it seems it’d be much easier to just do the small tasks myself, I hold my ground and ask him to help. It’s important for my son to learn early how to care for himself and contribute to his home-- for his sake as much as for my own.
How do you involve your toddler in household chores?
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.