Playing the Laundry Game with a Toddler

I continue to have a lot of people tell me that 2-3 year olds are too young to be doing chores.

Theses comments are reacting to this chart I made that shows a list of things kids can start to do when the are 2 or 3 years old:

Anyone reacting negatively to this is missing 3 very important points:

  1. Kids need to learn to do a huge number of things by the time they’re 18 so that they can live on their own. You don’t want your kid to be the one who goes off to college and ruins all their clothes because they never learned to do laundry.
  2. Toddlers think this stuff is FUN. It’s not work for them – it’s play time, it’s exploration, it’s getting to do important stuff adults do that they get to try too! Ask toddlers to help you throw things in the washing machine and press the buttons and you may very well find they’ll jump at the chance.
  3. It is way better to teach these skills when kids are young than when they’re “old enough”. Tell a 15-year-old they need to learn to do laundry and they’ll groan and moan and complain and resent you for it. The window of opportunity for teaching your kids about laundry is when they’re little and still think hanging out with you and pushing the buttons on the washing machine is cool.

Think of it as play time, not a chore. You need to keep your toddler entertained AND get the laundry done, so you might as well do them both at the same time. It will take twice as long to get it done when your toddler is helping, but on the plus side it will fill a lot of hours of the day! Sometimes the day calls for a trip to the park, or an art project, reading together or playing on the floor with them. But sometimes you need to get housework done, and your toddler will be more than happy to help you if you give them big, important jobs that challenge them, and have plenty of patience.

Here’s how to play the laundry game:

  • Challenge your child to find all of the dirty laundry in the house – whether it’s scattered on the floor or in hampers in certain rooms, your kid won’t care. It’s a scavenger hunt!
  • Get them to carry the laundry to the washing machine. How much can they hold in their arms? Not all of it? Count how many trips it takes! Are they strong enough to carry a laundry basket? Have them try! Not strong enough? Do it together – you each take one side and walk together. If they drop some along the way? Pretend they’re a vacuum that has to go back down the hallway and scoop up all the items that fell! Think of all the exercise they’re getting, and you didn’t even have to go to the park.
  • Sorting laundry is a wonderful lesson in color matching, or finding all the socks, or even learning about heavy and lightweight fabrics if your kid is ready. Who needs sorting blocks when you can practice sorting laundry?
  • Getting a sorted pile of laundry into the washing machine is fun, and allows them to practice their motor skills. If you have a top loader, trust me they will LOVE using a step stool (just be right there to catch them when they trip on the laundry they’re carrying). If they can’t carry it and climb, have them climb up, and then you hand them the pieces of laundry to drop in. If you have the unusual toddler who doesn’t think it’s fun to put the laundry in the machine, make it a game. Have them stand back a bit and try to throw it in. You can be on the clean up crew to grab any items that miss and get them all the way in so you’re still making forward progress on getting the laundry done.
  • Let them put the detergent in. Measure it out for them (until they’re old enough to try it themselves) and then let them pour. Guide their hand if needed until they can do it without making a mess. If they make a mess, teach them how to clean it up with a wet rag. They’ll think that’s plenty fun too.
  • Pressing the buttons on the machine will thrill them. Show them the buttons, talk about hot and cold water, about the spin cycle, about whatever settings you use. They won’t understand it all, but they’ll start to learn.
  • Set a timer and ask them to listen for it and let you know when it’s time to go back and move the laundry to the dryer. Let them press more buttons!
  • When the laundry comes out of the dryer, they can match socks. This is great pattern matching for young children to do.
  • When the laundry is folded and in a basket, they can help you carry the basket to their room, and then they can put their piles of folded laundry in their drawer. They’ll probably mess it up and undo some of your folding. With practice, they’ll get better at it.

As your kids get older, they will be able to do more of the jobs. If your 4-5 year old thinks the laundry game has gotten boring, ask them if they see if they can measure and pour the detergent themselves. After they’ve done it for a while with you, see if they can sort the laundry without you there and then you can go back and check their work. Ask them if they think they’re old enough to learn how to fold towels. Or learn how to fold t-shirts. Ask your 6-9 year old to see if they can remember or figure out what settings to use for the current load. Let them press all the buttons on their own (you can still be there to check on them). One of my friends taught her son to iron – he was excited when she considered him old enough and responsible enough to use the iron which he’s been told for years to not touch. And it turned out he enjoyed the task! Keep raising the difficulty and responsibility and independence to keep it interesting and challenging for them. And remember to offer lots of encouragement. My kids loved feeling competent. Let them know how great it is that they have learned to sort all the laundry by themselves, or that they remembered to do dry the synthetics on a lower temperature, or whatever it is that they mastered this time.

At our house, our rule was that when they turned 15 they were in charge of doing all their own laundry. Both of my boys knew how to do laundry by then after helping us over the years, and they took on this task with very little fanfare when they turned 15. Occasionally they messed something up (one played a soccer game in a wet uniform, one took wet laundry back to college in their luggage – both of these happened because they didn’t plan their time well, another good skill laundry helps teach) but they learned! And I was never worried about my son not being ready to do his own laundry when he went away to college.

You can use these ideas to make your own picture chore charts for your kids with The Trip Clip.

2 thoughts on “Playing the Laundry Game with a Toddler

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