Monday, June 23, 2014

Chores for children; a meditation

Preparing a syllabus for a math course at the same time that I give my kids a bunch of chores has made for some odd (but maybe useful) connections in my head.  Thinking about goals and assessment and all that other gobbledy-gook-academic-speak started the wheels spinning in the old noggin.  If I had to list a set of assessable children's chore goals, here, in a rather mish-mash list, is why I make my kids suffer:
  1. Because I actually want something done around the house.  Expect excellence.
  2. Because I want to keep the children (productively) occupied and out of my hair.
  3. Because I want to teach the kids skills that will be valuable to them (and possibly--but probably not--to me).
Obviously, different goals require different kinds of chores.  Here's a bit more unpacking of these three categories.

1.  Get something done, and do it right.

Every kid ought to feel like a valuable and productive member of the family, and every kid ought to have a special role in the household.  Here are some of the tasks I've assigned to my kids over the years that I expect them to do unsupervised, and to do well:
  • put laundry down the laundry chute (starting at age 18 months)
  • put away the silverware from the dishwasher (starting at age 2)
  • wipe down the stairs
  • pick up dog poop
(That last one seems gross, but it was my own assigned chore when I was a kid, and I remember feeling like it made the dogs my dogs.  My sisters fed the cat and emptied the trash baskets, but the dogs belonged to me!)

2.  Busy work.  But productive-seeming busy work.

Spreading mulch falls into this category, and so does pulling weeds (although I actually have to do occasional supervision on the weeds chore, because the boys are happy to overlook weeds and trample the cilantro.)  One of my favorite busy work chores is "clean your room" . . . the boys can spend seeming eons moving the mess in their room from one pile to another pile, reconnecting with lost toys, or trying to fix some electronic gadget that has come to pieces.  Sometimes the room actually looks better afterwards, and sometimes not.  But to me what really matters is that I got to spend a bit of time beating down the heaps of emails, and the boys weren't merely sitting on their butts in front of Sponge Bob.

Other chores that fall into this category:  cleaning mirrors, cleaning windows, sweeping the sidewalk, washing the car.

3.  Developing skills.  

This is the hard one, because this is the pain-in-the-neck category where involving kids takes more time and effort than shutting them out and/or just doing it myself.  There is a pay-off, but it can be several years down the road.  This area includes
  • cooking meals,
  • carpentry,
  • painting,
  • mending clothes, and
  • household repairs in general.  
I'm incredibly grateful to my own parents for forcing me into this last category, probably amid much grumbling on my part.  I feel a bit like I've deprived my kids because I've given into their willingness to skip some of these hard lessons.  So while my kids know their way about the kitchen and the sewing machine, they know very little about plumbing or wiring, and they only know dribs and drabs about electric drills, or about screws and nails.  

I left out one important reason to involve kids in chores, actually:  Chores can be fun!  
I mean, I know chores are not always fun.  But sometimes the stars align, and my kids and I all get a real sense of satisfaction from a job well done.  

In fact, all of the pictures in this post come from an idea I started as a joke, but N-son got really into it.  One weekend about three years ago, he invited his young friend over to our "Chore Camp", which included specially designed camp t-shirts, a fancy agenda, and fun events like vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage, and an Awards Ceremony!   Whoop!


  1. Parents need to realize that teaching children to work is such a blessing to them. All three of my adult children regularly thank me for teaching them how to clean a house and do laundry. Our daughter in the Air Force can't believe how messy, sloppy and inept at cleaning others are. Your chore camp sounds like fun! Wish I'd thought of that sooner. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Rozy!

      The chore camp was crazy fun, actually. Everything goes so much better when there is lots of cheering and food involved, not to mention prizes. But nobody wanted to attend the camp a second time! -MM

    2. I work at a boarding school, and you wouldn't believe how many kids have no idea how to clean. I have taught many a gal how to clean the sinks that are in their room.

      Organization in a small space is another skill they're lacking. I wish my school had more storage space so we could collect organizing stuff from students graduating/leaving the school to hand out at the start of the next school year.