May 28, 2008

Little Helpers

As we prepare to add baby number five to the household, I have been needing to rely more and more on my other "helpers" around the house. Although they do indeed make ninety percent of the messes and change their clothes more than any other people I know, the more I ask them to help out, the more help they become.

I'm not organized enough to make chore charts or stick to a set schedule of what one child is to do when, but repeating the motto of "We're a family and we help each other" and maybe the threat of a lack of bedtime stories in the evening, keep the kids doing the things we need help around the house with.

When the kids are very, very little, they obviously aren't very good helpers. However, my nineteen month old understands, "Put it in the garbage" and takes his diapers off to the kitchen and throws them away. I have to be careful not to say "Throw it in the garbage." though or he just lobs it across the room, because he clearly understands the word "throw" even better than the word "garbage." He also loves to push buttons and close doors, so when I'm doing the laundry, he helps me transfer things from the washer to the dryer, shuts the dryer door and pushes the button to start the dryer.

But even better, I don't have to do all the laundry around here. My husband taught my eight year old how to do laundry a year or so ago and because we have both a front-loading washer and dryer with the controls low on the front, all my kids can reach the controls easily. I will note that I have lost several wool and silk things and a few bras due to my son not always grasping the "not everything that can be washed can be dried" principle, but in the end, I don't have to do all the laundry! I don't even miss those wool sweaters and silk skirts that much.

After the laundry is done, we usually dump it all on my bed, which generally ensures it will be put away before I go to sleep. After the kids are scrubbed, toothbrushed and wearing pjs, it is clothes putting away time. Usually I don't bother to fold things. By the time the folded things get carried off by the kidlets and stuffed into drawers they are unfolded anyway, so I mostly just sort the piles, hand them into waiting arms and let them stuff away. Even my three year can do this, although she has the most trouble. Sometimes I will have to give her all of one type of clothing at a time (like all the shirts) and let her put those away before handing over another type of clothing. Otherwise she sometimes gets overwhelmed and weepy at the end of a long day. Of course, if she didn't get filthy and change her clothes five times per day, she wouldn't have nearly so many clothes to overwhelm her, but we don't need to mention that, do we?

All the kids know how to pick up books, though the eight year old (when he doesn't try to organize them as his librarian mother sometimes is wont to do) is particularly good at shelving things. Toys too, as long as the organizational system is easy to follow, are quickly cleared away.

The eight year old and the five year old (and sometimes even the three year old) are good at clearing the table and setting it. The forks wind up on the wrong side of the plate occasionally, but they are starting to be able to tell their left from their right.

All the cleaning aside, my five year old particularly loves to help cook. Her father has patiently fished out many an eggshell and has taught her to crack eggs and whisk them up nicely all ready for scrambling. When we make a fun recipe, I'll call them together and have the oldest read through the ingredients while the five and three year olds try to find things. It even helps with reading fractions. The older ones are getting decent at measuring things out and the three year old loves stirring.

There are many other ways to involve the kids around the house, not only letting them see what you are doing to make the house a home, but also letting them try things out and prepare them for making their own house some day. What kinds of ideas do you have?


If I could go back in time and have you for a mom, I would! What fun to teach the kids not only to do some chores, but to enjoy doing it, helping because you're all a family! Ours was more the "it's easier for me to do it myself (and then whine about not getting any help)" kind of family.

Could you begin with some simple budgeting, at least with the older two? Adding up the cost of the ingredients of their favorite cookies or meal, oldest figuring out cost per serving. Or helping to plan one or two dinners for the next week - making a list of needed ingredients, checking to see if they are on hand or if they need to be purchased.

It's so encouraging to see someone willing to teach these skills - based on what I see here on a college campus, not many families bother!

Posted by: diane at May 28, 2008 06:44 AM

Oh you make me want to go buy a front loading washer! Actually, we're working on teaching our 8 year old to do some laundry. He's sorting before and folding after.

Both boys, 8 and 5, strip the sheets off their beds and the 8 year old makes his. Both put their animals back on afterwards. They collect trash and bring the cans back up to the garage. The biggest help they've been lately is helping with the puppy in taking her out. That's been huge. They also take care of their own pet guinea pigs.
Setting and clearing the table and the 8 year old has learned to dry dishes. Actually the 5 year old wants to do what older brother does so he's been helping too. I have just begun teaching them how to clean their bathroom. The goal I have in mind at this stage is taking care of as much of their own things/needs as possible.

Posted by: Jennifer at May 28, 2008 02:40 PM

My five year old loves to clean his bedroom. But he also loves to shove clothes, toys, books or whatever into all the drawers. Out of sight means it's clean. I still shower him with praise for doing a great job. He is always so proud, how can I get mad when he is making an effort?
My three year old amazingly loves the opportunity to perfom a task, no matter how small. But her attention span is very limited. It all depends on her mood actually.
We aren't folding laundry, setting tables or cleaning bathrooms yet. I can't wait for that day. You are lucky to have such eager children.
As far as motivating my kids to try to help with something I have to make a game of it. A race against time if you will. Whoever does whatever it is I ask the fastest wins. They don't really win anything except me telling them they were the fastest and therefore won. Luckily my kids are young enough to fall for it every time.

Posted by: Melissa at May 29, 2008 01:04 AM