I created a set of picture checklists to give parents an idea of when kids will be ready to learn new skills. Many people have expressed concern that these lists are too advanced for the ages listed, or that it’s unfair to give chores to kids so young.
I’m writing this blog post to make it clear that these are intended to be guidelines for when kids can begin to learn and practice each of these tasks, though they will still need lots of guidance and parental oversight until they master them.
I also encourage parents not to think of these as chores that are intended to offload work from the parents. In fact, teaching these tasks to kids is probably more work for the parents than just doing the tasks themselves. Instead, think of these as family contributions. These are things that every member of a household eventually needs to learn how to do, and should continue to do into adulthood. Think of these as starting the training for the day your 18-year-old moves out and has to take care of their own household.
Parents may also be surprised by how much kids enjoy engaging in these tasks. You can introduce these jobs as games as I suggested for 2-3 year olds. That will work for a 4-5 year old too! Another approach is to lean in to the importance of learning to do these jobs well by pretending that your child is a chef in a restaurant, or a master gardener. They’ll feel proud about doing grown up work while also learning important life skills and spending quality time with you. As a bonus, they’ll internalize that everyone in the family can contributed to keeping it running smoothly.
Here are suggestions of how 4-5 year old kids can start learning and practicing these skills:
- Set the table: kids this young will need lots of help, but they’re ready to learn what a correct place setting looks like. Try getting the plates out of the cabinet for them, and let them carry each plate, one at a time, to the table. If they’re able to reach the utensils, they can count how how many forks, knives, and spoons are needed, or you can set those out for them and let them carry them to the table. Teach them about what goes where. They can get napkins, try folding them, and put them on the table too.
- Clear the table: Kids of this age (if they can reach) can carry dishes from the table to the kitchen counter. If they can’t reach, hand them each dish and let them carry them. If they spill, teach them to clean up. If you think they’re ready, let them put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and teach them about what goes where.
- Help cook dinner: Many people have told me this is way too young, but kids can actually help in the kitchen even earlier than this. They can pour things, help measure things, and stir things. I will write a separate blog post later this year with more details about all the things kids can do in the kitchen, and what an incredibly rich learning opportunity it is.
- Carry and put away groceries: Most grocery bags will be too heavy for kids to manage, so make them lighter. Sometimes I would ask for an extra bag at the store, or sometimes I would just move things around to put the heavy things in my bag and all the light ones in a bag my son could carry. He also managed things like rolls of toilet paper and other things that didn’t fit in the bags. He was so unbelievably proud the first time he managed to lug in a gallon of milk all by himself. And I found my kids could be super helpful putting canned food or cereal boxes into low cabinets, or carrying the toilet paper rolls to the bathroom.
- Water plants: Kids will need a lot of supervision initially so they don’t pour water everywhere, or pour too much or too little water. You can try giving them a small glass with just enough water for one plant, and let them pour it. They will learn over time and get better at this.
- Take sheets off the bed: This one should be reasonably easy for kids to do if you give them enough time to figure it out. If they have some trouble, start by pulling the first corner off for them. Have them take off their sheets and bring them to the laundry room.
- Sort laundry: I wrote a blog post about all the ways kids can help with and learn from doing laundry.
- Pull weeds: Working in the garden is great for everyone, and fun of good learning opportunities. Start your kids out on pulling weeds. Identify one weed (dandelions are great) that your child can successfully identify and have them pull them out. Give them a trowel and keep an eye on them. They’ll also LOVE helping you plant the garden if you’re ready for that kind of ‘help’.
- Make a small snack: Depending on what kind of snacks your kids like, you made to do some work to make this happen. But kid can pour goldfish out of a container (and clean up when they spill), get a cheese stick out of the fridge, peel their own banana, or grab a box of raisins.
- Fold towels: This one is like to be pretty tricky for them. You’ll need to either be ok with poorly folded towels, or be prepared to re-fold them when the kids aren’t around. But this kind of manual dexterity is great practice for them.
You can use these ideas to make your own picture chore charts for your kids with The Trip Clip.