Little Helpers

There's a pile of laundry heaped at the bottom of the basement stairs, just waiting for the washing machine. I'm ignoring it for now, because tomorrow will be another hot day and I'm going to need all the help I can get if Kiddo's going to stay Happy-Busy in our cool house.

Kiddo loves to be a helper. In fact, while we adults are understandably less than enthusiastic when it comes to housework, kids seem to think of these activities in a more playful, less pragmatic sort of way. If we have the time and patience, we can use some of that good kid energy to make our days easier.

In our preschool, we have a small, illustrated display of "special helper" jobs for the children to see. Each day, every child has a new job: bringing out the mugs and pouring water for snack-time; gathering up the mats after our Morning Gathering has ended; wiping the tables clean, and then dry, for meals; being a "special pair of eyes" during Cleanup Time (don't be fooled---kids can be pretty particular about getting things put away when they have this unique task!); or counting out how many smocks we need for our artwork and passing them out. The list is adaptable to the day's activities, and the children enjoy the feeling of making a contribution to the group and caring for their friends and school in such a tangible way.

So, too, do our children enjoy some housework activities. Kiddo isn't so hot on the vacuum--the noise still bothers him--but he's more than happy to help with sweeping the floor. Even if nothing gets into the dustpan, he's happy just to do what I'm doing.

If you are wondering how to include your child in caring for their home and family, here's a list of things of activities you might consider:

In the bathroom: gathering towels/clothes for the laundry; replacing the bathmat; helping to wipe down any messes, be they toothpaste or bad aim at the toilet. Children feel competent when they learn to take care of their messes, as long as we keep the pressure off and let them work at their own level.

In the Kitchen: of course, water play in the kitchen sink as your child 'helps' wash dishes (they can of course wash and rinse unbreakable/lighter weight pieces); spreading their jam onto toast or sandwich bread; cutting softer fruits and veggies with a butter knife (be sure to pre-cut them into workable pieces); washing produce before eating it; plucking grapes from the stem into a bowl; snapping asparagus; removing leaves from herbs for use; shucking peas and corn; tearing leafy veggies for salads; using a citrus juicer (the stationary kind--reamers are harder to use); measuring dry ingredients; counting out how many people will be eating and then helping to set the table; even "poking the yolks" for scrambled eggs is fun.

Laundry Fun:sorting loads by light and dark; bringing clothes to the washer and popping them in; helping to shake clothes out as they head to the dryer; when clothes are dry, your child can help by pulling their own clothes out into a pile. Children can be encouraged to match socks, fold small linens (think napkins, dish, hand and face towels) and make deliveries of folded items to their usual spot. Children can also take their dirty clothes to the hamper or laundry area.

Miscellaneous activities: children can help to water plants outdoors (do this in shade or early morning, to prevent burning); deadheading dandelions and other plants; feed the cat or dog and change their water; straighten up shoes on a rack or in a closet, matching pairs of shoes together; beat a rug with an old saran wrap tube (they are nice and thick); they can help dust low shelves; gathering up the recycling to take outdoors; taking small loads of weeds and yard trimmings to dump in the yard debris bin; weeding in designated spots in your garden; washing the car...

There's so much that children love to help with, but it only stays fun if we keep our expectations low. For instance, a child slicing a mushroom will not cut it into even slices, and shouldn't be expected to. It's not about teaching our kids how to do things perfectly, it's about keeping our kids engaged and learning new skills in little, easy-to-comprehend experiences. Add to this that, if we model a pleasant attitude in most of our own work, we foster a healthy work ethic and give our children a chance to contribute. A pleasant response to our child's helpful participation is often just a simple acknowledgment. "Thanks for helping to put those socks in the wash. Now I'll have them the next time I need them!" or "I really had fun doing dishes with you!"

We might forget that our children especially enjoy many of these tasks simply because they are doing them with us, their beloved adults. This is helpful to remember as they get older, when enlisting help with chores might be better approached as a work party "let's go and tackle it together" and not in a "you go do this--it's your job" fashion. Parents of teens often complain of how little time the family has together, and working side-by-side can be more conducive to conversation than a sit-down, face to face sort of situation. Ultimately, though, when we include our children in the good work of maintaining the home or playspace, we offer them a positive first step in making their community a better place.


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