Age-appropriate chores for toddlers and preschoolers

Get your young children involved in your spring cleaning efforts!

By Julie Lepore, Macaroni Kid Summit/SOMA Publisher March 6, 2019

I'm a huge proponent of chores for young children. As soon as my children are old enough to hold something in their hand, I'm basically looking for ways I can have them help me. For my kids, getting them involved in household tasks and assigning them chores gives them a sense of ownership and authority that they seriously lack in their days that are mostly filled with taking orders and living by an adult's schedule. This sense of control and household involvement makes them easier to manage, especially during the difficult toddler years, because they have an outlet to exercise their burgeoning independence.

Of course, this comes with a few major catches.

Catch 1: You have to loosen up. I only assign my kids chores that they're physically and mentally capable of but I still don't expect them to be done to my exact standard all the time. If my 5-year-old leaves a few sleeves hanging out of his dresser drawers when he's putting his laundry away, I don't sweat it. If the 3-year-old puts a big fork where the small forks belong in the silverware drawer, I let it be. It can be difficult to let go of control in this way, but the payoff is high and, really, it's still one thing off my to-do list!

Catch 2: You have to be patient. A 3-year-old isn't going to be able to sort the laundry as quickly as you would, but he can still get it done! PLAN for the task to take longer, be patient, be present, don't take the job away from them because it takes them longer, and use it as bonding time! Personally, I'm not a huge fan of playing with my kids so getting them involved in everyday tasks is a great way of interacting with them.

Here are some of the chores I like to get my young children involved in, that they're actually helpful doing, and that they love to be involved in:

  1. Laundry - My kids help at all stages of the laundry process. For starters, they're not allowed to throw their dirty clothes on the floor. They pick them up and put them into the hamper. I let my kids start helping load the washing machine before they're even a year old. They love to dump in the detergent, transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and empty the lint from the dryer. Once the laundry is done, I let them sort it into baskets by family member. I do most of the folding and then they put it away in their own drawers!
  2. Dishwasher - I don't let my kids load the dishwasher yet but they're great at unloading! I start them on silverware because they can't break it but when they're about 3 they are ready to start carefully putting away glass dishes.
  3. Cooking - They don't do actual cooking but they can help with food prep! I almost always prep dinners for myself and my husband while the kids are still awake (we don't eat dinner with the kids - the kids go to bed super early), and they love to help me chop vegetables and measure and stir ingredients. Then when they go to bed, it's just a few minutes of actual cooking for me! I love that it gets them involved in the process and learning about how to cook healthy meals, it's great for fine motor skills (I have a set of "kid knives" that can't cut skin but can actually cut through vegetables), and it's really fun for them.
  4. Outdoor chores - There's really nothing outside that the kids can't help with. My kids help with gardening, shoveling snow, putting down salt to melt ice, pulling weeds, spreading seeds, and their favorite, watering plants.
  5. Putting groceries away - We get our groceries delivered most of the time and my kids are involved in the process before they even turn a year old. I have pictures of my 5-year-old when he was around 1 with his little toy shopping cart waiting for the grocery delivery man so he could load up his groceries at the front door and start unloading them into the pantry. Now 5, he can unload an entire trip's worth of groceries completely on his own, though he does sneak a snack or two in the process!
  6. Putting toys away - I don't pick toys up after my kids. When toys migrate up from the playroom, they know that they're responsible for getting them back down at the end of the day. This makes them much less likely to dump entire bins of toys or to bring up more than they can handle.
  7. Mopping and dusting - My 3-year-old particularly loves mopping. I have a second mop just for him and he actually does a great job! Dusting is another one they both love. I have one of those big stick dusters and they go around the house just as well as I could and get around the molding, appliances, and get to play with a stick in the process.
  8. Decluttering and organizing - This one is so important to me because I can't stand clutter. Before any kind of gift-giving occasion, I go down to the playroom with the kids and they pick toys that they want to donate to prepare for the influx of new ones. I don't take toys away without their knowledge or do any kind of organizing in their spaces without them present. At just 3 and 5, they're perfectly capable of selecting toys that they're willing to donate. When it's time for them to move up a size in clothing, they help me take clothes out of their drawers to move up to the attic and they love handing me the bags up the attic steps for me to put away.
  9. Shredding mail - I am notorious for letting mail build up, but every couple weeks my kids sit around the shredder opening envelopes and feeding everything through. This one is seriously helpful for me because it's something I can't stand doing myself but they love!

Do you have any spring cleaning planned? How do you plan on getting your kids involved in it?

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