I’m going to alter an old saying. Can you figure out which one I altered? I’m going to say: “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth teaching it to your children patiently.” And I’m going to apply this saying to household tasks. That means that “If anything is worth doing, sometimes it’s worth getting done what you can for now.” Thus, it follows, that if a child will benefit from learning, but can’t perform a task optimally, it is still worth what does get done. A sure way to discourage your children from chores is to never be satisfied with their work.
Another way to discourage children from chores is to never give them an idea of what you expect ahead of time or how long it will take. “We are going to clean the whole house today!” cannot be said cheerfully enough to disperse the gloom it conjures of endless hours of labor, no matter what work ethic you have been able to instill in your children. That is why a parent needs to be a prepared manager to be an effective motivator.
Like for most goals, the most effective way to begin is to break everything down to its simplest components.
- Gather enough index cards so that you have one for each room or area to be cleaned. Include the garage, the entryway, the stairwell, etc. Label a card for each room.
- On a separate sheet(s) of paper, make a list of all possible kinds of cleaning that can be done in the house. Be very specific. Do you want the outside of the toilet washed? List it. Even if the chore may only need to be done occasionally, list it. Like wiping off the winter condensation from inside the window frames. Of washing the outside of kitchen cupboards. Or vacuuming BOTH the edges and open sections of the stairs. Can anyone reach to dust on top of the refrigerator?
- Decide how often distinct chores need to be done. We really needed to have the kitchen swept by someone every day of the week for many years, but the living room rarely needed to be dusted more than once a week.
- Make notes, or re-write the list, to organize it according to what order tasks should be accomplished. Wash the bathroom counters before the floor is mopped. Empty the trash before the floor is swept. This makes the work last longer and avoids conflicts between workers.
- Draw up a blank chart that somehow includes each child for each day of the work week. I began with one chart that everyone could look at, but the system evolved to individual charts that could be moved to the most convenient location for each person. And there was no needing to wait to read it. I also left a column for notes, about what needed more careful attention or adjustments when some one was sick or gone. weekly chore chart blank
- Divide the chores among the household members, giving each person a variety of work that can be done in a certain amount of time. I pencil them onto the chore chart as I do this. Because I have been specific, a bathroom can be cleaned over the course of 4 days; or a different window can be washed each week.
- Have the kids help you edit and check all the lists. This gives them an idea of the responsibility involved and really does help you. It also stimulates cooperation and creativity for the whole process. They inevitably offer helpful suggestions.
- Put each chart inside a plastic sheet protector. This keeps it from getting tattered and allows items to be crossed off with a wet-erase marker on a weekly basis (then wiped clean again at the start of a new cleaning cycle). It is also easy to remove and make changes as necessary.
- Have a certain time for chores; or a deadline that is well defined. Then, follow-up consistently to see if assignments have been done. When my children were younger (since we taught our kids at home, young means before the age of getting outside employment) and consistently at home each morning, we had a chore time with music and dancing every morning after breakfast. When they were older, I often asked them to give me a time when they would be done.
- Be willing to work with the children, answering questions, doing tasks with them, evaluating work in an honest, but gracious way. Enjoy spending time with them working and they will learn to enjoy their work more. (for some thoughts on discipline click here)
- When they get jobs outside of the home, try to assign household jobs that are not as time dependent and are easily adjusted, but everyone who lives here helps with the upkeep. Cleaning the microwave is a nice, flexible task. So is running a load of laundry. Or figuring out which day of the week to be in charge of a meal. When they really end up moving out, they will almost certainly have even more to take care of. They should continue to be part of the team and not expect to have their sibling be “free” household help for them.
- Sometimes it is useful to have posted specifics about each job. What cleaners and tools are used? What should they be cautious about? For instance, I have a list posted inside a kitchen cupboard that lists whether or not certain items should go in the dishwasher and how.
Another beauty of this approach is that I can use a modified version now that only one child of the original 7 will be living at home. I need to make myself more of a monthly chart so that I am not overwhelmed with taking care of this big house! That way some part of the house will always be getting cleaned and I can have peace of mind. It might be nice to have the “whole house clean at once,” but it’s not really necessary or practical very often. Unless, of course, no one lives here… If I can keep up with it to some extent, then when I need to give it that extra sparkle, it will be that much easier.