What is it about spring that makes us want to clean? 

Maybe it’s coming out of a long, stuffy winter, cooped up inside, that prompts us to throw open the windows, air out the house, and sanitize all those germs that have taken up residence in our homes.

If you have little ones underfoot, maybe you’re wondering how to include them in a way that sets a good example and teaches important life skills like responsibility, helpfulness, and teamwork.

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I use a gradual release strategy for teaching my daughter appropriate skills. I look at her stage of development and think of things that she can realistically participate in, offering enough support to help her be successful. 

Here are some of the things I have included her in at each approximate age.

6-12 months:  Modeling and explaining behavior

I started including my daughter in the clean-up process as soon as she could sit up, hold a toy and follow directions. I would tell her it was time to pick up the toys, model what I wanted her to do, start singing a clean-up song, and then ask her to do it with me.

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1 – 2 ½ years:  Doing it together; making it fun as well as teaching obedience

This stage includes persistent and patient explanations of what we are doing and why it’s important for her to help. I’m still modeling and keeping her on track, but gradually giving her more responsibilities and monitored independence. Age-appropriate tasks include:

  • Put away toys
  • Put clothes in the washer or dryer and push buttons to start
  • Sort and match socks
  • Put her clothes in her drawers
  • Dust the furniture

2 ½ - 3 ½+: Growing independence and increased expectations

This stage includes lots of reminders, sometimes doing it together and sometimes letting her do it herself.

I’m first having conversations about the need to clean up or finish a task before we can do something else. For example, if I’m doing the dishes, I can’t play a game with her until I’m finished. This of course requires balance because I don’t want to teach her that household chores are more important that she is, but I do want to communicate the significance of delaying an activity in order to be responsible.

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The discussion also highlights the fact that she has tasks that she can do all on her own. While she can’t yet vacuum the carpet or cook dinner, she is big enough for some things. This feeds her need for autonomy in a healthy and constructive way, but helps her see that she still needs Mommy for many things. Age-appropriate chores at this stage include:

  • All chores from the above list
  • Hold the dustpan while I sweep
  • Bring dishes to sink after meals
  • Put dishes in dishwasher
  • Sort silverware
  • Wash windows

As you are doing things around your house, think of ways to involve your kids. Think of what they are capable of and how you can increase their independence in a given activity.

Of course, all of this requires patience and lowering our standards to the level of cleanliness and the rate at which something can be accomplished by a child.

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Ultimately, the training here is less about spotlessness and more about using daily, essential activities to teach our children skills. We want our children to know how to keep things clean, but we also want them to have a helpful heart and a conscientious and confident spirit. Giving them everyday jobs builds assurance in their abilities and helps them see they are part of something larger than just themselves.

Here’s an additional, more comprehensive list of age appropriate chores.

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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