The other day someone asked on Facebook when kids are old enough to put their laundry away. Confession: I’m thirty-three and don’t put my laundry away. I’m great at sorting it, washing it, heck, even folding it, but then it stays in a lovely row of baskets. Freud would say it is my mother’s fault. I’m sure I never had to put my own laundry away when I was a kid. Or maybe I lived out of wash baskets then, too, and I just don’t remember? In any case, I am fortunate in that I married a husband who has no problem delivering clean laundry to proper locations (although I do notice that he gets to my clothes last every single week), but on the chance that my children will not marry as well, I think it’s important to teach them to take care of themselves.
So when does it start? And how organized do these chores need to be?
I’ve found that “chore charts” are not terribly useful. In the beginning they seem like a great idea, and I’ve always enlisted my kids in helping to create the chore chats that we’ve since lost (perhaps they’re hidden under the piles of clean underwear?). I’m sure that spreadsheets of kiddie tasks work wonderfully in homes like the Duggar’s where all 19 children have a long list of daily jobs, but in my home of four low maintenance people, managing the system becomes more laborious than the tasks itself. This does not mean that my kids don’t have chores, it just means that we’re flexible about who does what and when. The important part is that the kids a.) know how to complete the task and b.) actually do it when I tell them without bribery, um, incentives.
We started around the age of two and a half or three with both of our children. Every pre-schooler can throw away a napkin, push in a chair, even carry a cup or plastic plate to the kitchen counter by the age of three or so. For this reason we felt that the kitchen was a great place to start teaching the kids to contribute to the family running smoothly. While working on the laundry, pre-schoolers can not only sort dirty laundry by color, but they also can match socks as they come out of the dryer. Around the age of four or five you can up the ante and encourage kids to actually put their own socks and underwear away in their drawers, and back in the kitchen, those little hands that have been throwing away dirty napkins for a year or so can now place clean napkins on the table before dinner.
With our children now at seven and nearly five, we’ve got kids who put away their toys, make their beds, put away their shoes, hang up their coats, get their own snacks, set the table for dinner, clear the table after dinner, sort laundry, match socks, and put their folded items away…at least some of the time. Yes, our older child often works harder than our younger because of his height and oh-so-adorable (sarcasm) four year old attitude, but we don’t entertain “It’s not fair!” conversations in our home. Some day he’ll catch up, and in the meantime, big sister is setting a great example. While I certainly have no intention of turning my children into servants, I do love not only the sense of accomplishment on their faces when they take care of themselves and each other, but I also appreciate how their contribution helps our family run more smoothly, get out the door more quickly.
As our lives get more and more hectic with after-school activities, sports, and lessons, I’m happy that we started requiring our children to help at a young age. Now if I could just teach them to put my clothes on hangers….