simple chore system, should i give my kids chores

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Do you want to simplify chores in your home? Are you tired of tracking several different chores for multiple kids? I was too, which is why with four kids seven and under, I decided to majorly simplify chores in our home.

The Problem with Chores

You’ve probably seen those beautiful info-graphic age-appropriate chore lists circling Pinterest: the absolutely gorgeous ones listing multiple chores to choose from in each age group. Every weary mom’s dream – you’re finally going to get those kiddos to take some work off your plate! Hallelujah!

The only problem?

Those long lists usually inspire the exact opposite of a simple chore system. They make it unsustainable and a source of daily contention in your household.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

What no one tells you is that you getting your child started with some of these chores will require serious work on your part, especially with the younger crowd. When you have a bunch of little ones close in age, and you don’t do well doing multiple things at once, those chore charts range from mildly amusing to downright frustrating.

Trying to implement it looks like showing one kid how to fold socks while watching another create a growing puddle of multipurpose cleaner on the table and wincing as you hear your other child suck up LEGOs with the vacuum cleaner. Ask me how I know. You gulp back a yell, “Those teeny tiny pieces are worth at least 50 cents each!”

And that’s just one day. Only one attempt at doling out multiple chores per day per child.

When I come across chore lists like these, I also feel a brief flash of guilt. My kids should be doing more, I think. And because I’m not making them do more, they’re never going to be able to clean up after themselves.

They’re going to be horrible roommates and wives and husbands one day. I should be teaching them how to sweep and mop and dust and…on and on it goes.

Never mind that my oldest is only 7.

Just because my kids are capable of the tasks on those lists doesn’t mean I must require them to do every single task.

Searching for Chore Alternatives

The truth? The thought of trying to do all that with little kids sent me to Google a few years ago, searching “why i don’t give my kids chores.”

Yes, you read that right: I seriously considered quitting chores altogether.

While I didn’t ultimately choose to go that route, my search did turn up some interesting alternative perspectives from moms who don’t require chores.

Before your mind explodes at the very idea, keep in mind that most of these parents do expect their child to clean up after themselves – clear their dishes, pick up their toys, and keep their rooms in decent condition. Their definition of chores is household work like laundry, vacuuming, and cleaning.

I’m so thankful for parenting bloggers who have the courage to share their approach to controversial issues. I always find that reading extreme perspectives helps me to arrive at my own, hopefully more balanced conclusions. They help me process the issue with a broader lens in order to figure out what works for me and for our family.

I quickly determined that exempting my children from chores for the long haul wasn’t going to line up with our values or life circumstances. We want our kids to see our family as a team where everyone has a part to play. We also homeschool, which equals lots of people home all the time and thus, a dirtier house.

I did decide, however, to adopt a much simpler system than perhaps most parenting experts recommend. Just because my kids are capable of the tasks on those lists doesn’t mean I must require them to do every single task.

Related Posts:
Why I Quit Using Cleaning Schedules
Why We Stopped Giving our Kids “Chores”, and what we do instead
Why We Don’t Use “School” to Teach Hard Work

Chore Lists Gone Crazy

While I’m sure chore lists are intended to provide a buffet of choices for moms not knowing where to begin, they can make you feel like your kids should be doing all those things. For those of us who feel the pull of the “shoulds”, they induce guilt and are often unhelpful.

I’m not sure whether the authors intend kids in each age group to do all the tasks listed consistently. If they did, that is a heck of a lot to keep track of when you have a big family! It also carries with it the potential for tons of nagging and more battles than most moms need right now.

Finally, we can do most of these tasks better and faster ourselves, and we often need to do the chore again if you want it to be done correctly. And yes, I can already hear some veteran moms saying, “It doesn’t need to be perfect, honey.”

That’s all well and good, but if the job won’t come anywhere close to your standards for years and you need to spend your already limited time supervising the task as it’s being done every single time, it might be time to opt out.


simplify chores

Learning and Chores

It can be helpful for kids when there is continuity in their lives. Our parenting philosophy shapes our homeschool and vice versa. Here are some ways our chore system mirrors our current homeschool approach.

1) Interest-led.

If my kids express interest in a chore, I invite them to work with me. One of my kids loves cleaning the lint from the dryer, while my oldest gets a burst of helper energy in the kitchen at night after her brothers are in bed. I don’t push them too hard – when they are done, they’re done.

2) Signs of Readiness.

Did you know that if taught when they are ready and eager to learn, children are capable of learning all of elementary school math in just 20 contact hours? (source). I’d rather teach a task when my child is physically able to learn it quickly. Older kids also have the attention span and attention to detail to do a job completely and excellently.

3) Simplified.

With my system, I only have one job to track each day, and they keep track of their paid jobs. We have also recently made Mondays reset days, when the kids and I work together to clean their rooms (tidy, vacuum, trash out and I tackle some general cleaning as I have time.

4) Streamlined.

I’ve got too many kids (including crazy toddler) to track multiple tasks for each one. They all do the dishwasher together in the mornings, and that’s it. Done.

5) Incentives.

There is one condition in our house for paid chores being an option at all – doing their family service with a joyful heart (good attitude).

To answer those who suggest incentives are bad, I ask you this: do we not all have incentives as adults? Why do we go to work every day? To earn a paycheck. Why do we do the dishes? Because we appreciate the effect of a clean house and having clean dishes to eat on the next day.

Small children may play better in a clean house, but unless they have specific personalities, they probably won’t fully appreciate the benefits of a clean house. And while we are working on training our kids to serve just for the pure joy of it, we’ve got a long road to go.

Everything runs more smoothly in our house when we make an effort to align their work with incentives.

6) Teamwork.

With toy clean-up, I usually offer to help, saying something like, “I’m happy to help you guys clean up as long as you work hard beside me.”

Individual versus Team

A friend of mine is one of six kids, and she grew up in rural Alaska (laundry had to be done by hand!). Her mom was once invited to speak at our local mom’s group.

What struck me most was how she approached housework. She said she rarely divvied up chores. Everyone just pitched in and worked together. She said apologetically that she probably should have given more individual chores.

I, however, am inclined to see the advantages of her system.

We focus so strongly in America on individuality and personal responsibility, often to the neglect of teaching how to work together. Everything must be “fairly divided”, in our families, our jobs, and our society. No one is willing to put in a little extra, lest they risk doing more than someone else.

You can see this played out at home when each child has his/her own chores. Perhaps one child is faster than the other. When a sibling is finished early, they are “done”. Rarely do they offer to help someone else because their job is “done”.

While I can appreciate teaching ownership and responsibility, I think we can do a little better at teaching cooperation. I wonder if individual chores works against this aim. Thoughts?

Simple and consistent is better than complex and abandoned.

Questions for your Chore Approach

The following questions are designed to help you think through your own philosophy about chores, so you can create a system that works for your family.

– What do you hope to teach by giving chores?

Sometimes, the lessons we want to teach through chores are already being taught in another part of our child’s life. If so, are you hoping to reinforce it through chores? Can you teach the same thing with a simpler chore system?

– Is your system sustainable?

Simple and consistent is better than complex and abandoned.

– Do you have the time and energy to devote to training and encouraging those chosen tasks?

Some would argue that its just your job as a parent. You make time. That’s all well and good, but at the end of the day we all have limited time. Is this how you want to spend it? If your answer is yes, then stick with your system.

– How do you want to divide paid and unpaid jobs?

No one is perfect, and I have definitely changed my mind about our parenting approach, in a really big way. Now, I often do nothing for a long while and really think through a particular parenting issue before implementing a system.

I want to know my why, not just jump on board with whatever everyone says I “should be” doing to raise an upright, contributing citizen. I believe you can achieve the same goal through a variety of approaches. Just start as you mean to go on.

– If you are considering never giving paid jobs, how will you teach your child how to manage money?

Will you give an allowance, gift money? When will you teach money management?

– If you choose to delay chores (or go with the not-at-all approach), at what age will you teach them to do cleaning tasks and life skills?

One of the moms who chooses not to give chores plans on teaching basics like laundry and bathroom cleaning before they send their kids off to college.

In Closing

Your approach may look different than mine. You might decide to break out all the pretty chore charts, complete with stickers and a long list of tasks. And that is perfectly o.k.!

Whatever you decide, just make sure you know your “why”. 

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  1. Oh yes. I have definitely felt guilty/lazy for not having a color-coded chore wheel for my young kids. At the same time, I don’t completely buy the radical unschooling notion of no chores for kids at all. We don’t assign chores, but I jump on any interest my kids show in certain housework and show them how it’s done, from folding clothes to making dinner. We do have clean-up time after dinner, but it’s usually low-key (depending on how stressed I’m feeling, let’s be honest ;-)), and we all work together. I try to invite, rather than require.

    1. Author

      I’m still torn on the unschooling notion, myself. My oldest continues to surprise me. Yesterday, for example, even though I require very little, she just wanted to do housework and did dishes, cleaned up, helped me with organizing tasks. She worked for the better part of two hours, just because she wanted to do work. So maybe there is something to it? We will see. It may be an oldest personality thing, but maybe it will prove true with the others… Time will tell. 🙂

      1. That’s amazing! My oldest (a boy) hasn’t yet shown much interest in helping with household tasks except cooking, vacuuming, and mowing the lawn (not too bad, I guess!), but I have been amazed at how he naturally picks up on how I do things like fold clothes. I do think cleanliness is really personality based but that cleaning skills aren’t rocket science and they will figure it out. But they definitely help more joyfully when it’s freely chosen!

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