Do you fall into the camp of being so busy parenting that you don’t have the time for Spring cleaning? Or are you so busy just trying to keep the house fairly presentable that you don’t have time for “extra” parenting? Well, guess what!? Figuring out how to engage your children in chores around the house ticks both boxes, cleaning and extra learning for your kids!
When children help with things like folding laundry, picking up and sorting their toys and clothes, sweeping, washing, and wiping, they are engaging in activities that are helpful to you and they are building their own abilities and practicing important early education skills. When they follow cleaning directions, or help you with chores they may be practicing self-regulation skills like:
• Holding directions in their head
• Following multi-step directions
• Sequencing directions to accomplish a task
• Practicing waiting for their turn if you are doing a task together
• Task switching, which means being able to stop one set of instructions and skills, and start a new task with a new set of instructions and needed skills
With a little prompting from you, they could also be learning early literacy skills like:
• Expanding their vocabulary. Even if all you do is take more time to label things and activities, this is building their vocabulary. In particular, prepositions are an important part of early literacy (e.g. under, behind, beside, on top of, next to, inside, etc.)
• Learning to distinguish the beginning sounds in words: “What is the first sound you hear in Ssssssssoap?… do you hear the ssssssssss sound at the beginning?”
• Recognizing letters, and even early reading if you’re doing a task with letters, like following a recipe, grocery shopping with a list, etc.
• Learning to match the initial word sounds with the corresponding letter name (“‘Recycling’ starts with the letter R, which makes the sound, ‘rrrr’”)
• Practicing breaking words into sound segments: Dish-es, laun-dry, de-ter-gent, etc.
As well as beginning math skills, such as:
• Counting things, recognizing written numbers
• Matching and sorting (matching socks, sorting similar items like finding all the books, or all the toys that have wheels, or all the blue shirts)
• Measuring for recipes, or mixing cleaning supplies
• Proportions (e.g. more than or less than, bigger, smaller)
And of course motor skills!
• Fine motor skills that use small movements (think of the motor skills needed to hold and manipulate a pencil for writing…) like pinching, grasping, squeezing, and general dexterity used while wiping, folding laundry, putting clothes on hangers, using a spray bottle, picking up popcorn from movie night, etc.
• Gross (larger muscle) motor skills like balancing on a step stool, helping to wash the car, painting a wall, washing windows, digging in the garden, raking leaves, or making a jump shot across the room into the laundry basket.
And… it is all well and good to know some of the benefits of having kids help you clean, but really, getting kids to help you clean is the most daunting part! How might you engage kids in cleaning?
1. Kids love helping adults. Make them feel like helping is what big kids do. Instead of presenting a cleaning spree as a chore and telling them to do it “because I said so”, ask for their help because you value it. Or let them know that they have a particular skill that you know will really help you get this job done. Rather than expect your child (especially younger kids) to do chores alone, spend time together accomplishing activities and sharing in the satisfaction of a job well done.
2. Make it a game or a challenge.
• Use timers, or a visual tracking system or chart. Racing to see how fast you can do something, and visually “checking it off” a list adds more motivation and a sense of accomplishment to keep going.
• Challenge kids to put everything away according to different distinctions to help make tasks more interesting, fun, and also sneak in some embedded learning. Start with everything that has red on it, or that is bigger than a football, or that starts the sound ‘sssss’.
• Maybe include dressing up in a cleaning costume, with rubber gloves and a cape. Maybe even use a sharpie on an old shirt (for cleaning times only) to write their cleaning superhero name on the front.
• Incorporating a spray bottle, duster or other “tool” really increases children’s enjoyment.
• Let kids be the boss and tell you what to pick up in a room. Or take turns being the boss of clean-up, or clean up together but let your child be in charge of the order, or what music to listen to.
3. Make it a lesson in kindness and sharing. Engage your child in finding items they would like to give someone else an opportunity to play with and donate them. This could be a great time to talk to children about kindness, gratitude, and building their empathy skills towards others.
4. Make it a family habit. Pick an evening or afternoon of each week to clean together, blast music while you clean, set family cleaning challenges, and then have a family fun night afterward: playing games together, ordering pizza, or having a family movie night.
• Pick your battles and play the long game. Teaching your children to help you clean may take some practice. Some tasks might be messier in the beginning. With patience and encouragement for what does go well, it will be more likely that your child will learn valuable skills and be more helpful to you in the long run.
• Let kids know ahead of time when the cleaning effort is going to happen. If you suddenly ask them to drop what they’re doing and help you clean, they’re going to be focused on what you’re taking them away from. When kids know what to expect ahead of time, it helps them prepare and transition into the activity more easily. You are also their model for behavior and attitude, they will follow your lead so if you are dreading cleaning and talk about how much you haaaaaate it, they will approach it this way too.
• Focus on praising kids for their hard work and effort. This increases the feeling that they are being helpful and contributing, which also increases their motivation to keep going, and even be ready to do this again.
• Make tasks more manageable (and more rewarding) by breaking them into pieces. Start small and section a larger task. Instead of telling your child to “clean your room”, ask them to “start with putting everything that’s laying on the floor on the bed, then put those things away”. Or focus on one type of thing at a time: starting with toys, then books, then clothes, etc. Or instead of the entire task of, “wash the car”, break the car down visually and wash the naturally segmented panels one at a time, then the trunk, then the hood, etc.
Enlisting children in cleaning and chores around the house isn’t always easy, but with a little extra effort up front, you won’t be the only one who benefits from their help in the long run!
Let us know if you have any creative ideas that get kids excited or interested in chores and cleaning. We love to hear your parenting hacks.
BONUS: And to help you remember these tips, we have created this handy infographic that you can print and post on your refrigerator for any time you’d like to get some cleaning done and add in some school readiness!
Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2019
Image: © Vadimgozdha | Dreamstime.com