Helping Hands

Okay, so confession: I was sorely tempted to label this post, “I Heart Child Labor”…or something equally tacky. But, as much as I’m fine with people being mad at me over important stuff, I figured I’d better not waste my goodwill on a bad joke.

ANYhoo, about a year ago, I posted a picture to Instagram of Ezra and Simon folding clothes with a caption to the effect of: “I think the single most helpful household chore I’ve taught my boys to do is sorting, folding, and putting away all of the laundry. What do your kids do that is most helpful to you?”

Some people actually answered the question, but most listed ALL of the things that their kids do.   kidschores3

{If you’re impressed that I was brave enough to let boys clean my beloved lights, .02 seconds later, Simon was demoted to cabinet washing. He tried, but 7 1/2-year-olds really aren’t cut out for careful glass handling}

And I’m not going to lie: I found myself fighting the urge to be like, “Wait, I didn’t say that’s ALL my kids do. They do other things too! We’re not limited to laundry, darn it!”

But that was just my pride talking, and once it simmered down, I really enjoyed reading the lists of tasks that other people have trained their children to do. Most were similar to what we do at our house. But I definitely had a few, “Aha! Brilliant!” moments.

So, in the interest of sharing and answering one of the most commonly asked questions that I get, I thought I’d tell you what my kids actually do around our house.

Please, as always, understand that I’m not thinking that this should be any kind of “guide” for anyone’s life but my own or that your kids should do the same things or in the same way (just in case you, like me, struggle with prideful comparison sometimes).

I just know that I am always encouraged and challenged when I hear about new ways to teach my children responsibility, independence, and servant-heartedness, so if anything I share can help someone…well, yippee!

I’m going to share our actual chore process (along with a fun, free printable!) next week (hopefully), but for now, I’m just going to list the tasks for which my children are responsible.


{Clearly Nola has discovered the all important truth that silly faces make sweeping so much better}

Simon and Ezra (ages 7 and 9):

Clearing/rinsing the breakfast dishes and loading them in the dishwasher (daily)

Wiping down the breakfast table and sweeping the kitchen floor (daily)

Emptying the trash and installing a new bag (every other day)

Wiping down the fridge/freezer/dishwasher (once a week)

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry (once a week)

Mopping the kitchen floor (once a week)

Picking up and vacuuming the living room (daily)

Cleaning bathrooms: scrubbing bathtubs and toilets, sweeping, and wiping down all surfaces, and emptying trash (once a week).

Sorting, folding, and delivering all clean clothes to their appropriate place/room (approximately 3 times a week)

Putting away their own clothes

Picking up their room (daily)

Cleaning/vacuuming out the van (approximately once every two weeks)

Picking up/vacuuming the “big room” (once every two weeks or so, since we don’t use it for regular play, and they–theoretically–put away what they were playing with as they go)

Helping their younger siblings get dressed (daily)

Getting snacks for themselves and younger siblings when we leave the house (daily)

Helping younger siblings get buckled into the car

Helping with basket-pushing/grocery-shopping

*Occasional extras: helping me weed, wash the car, wash windows/mirrors, dusting, sweeping the porch/patio, etc.


{Yup, they even had to do laundry while we were on vacation; because clean clothes do not magically appear while you’re “on holiday” (I so wished we Yanks actually used this phrase)…more’s the pity}

Della (age 4):

Unloading the dishwasher

Wiping down the freezer/fridge/dishwasher

Picking up toys/clutter throughout the house

Helping fold laundry and deliver it to appropriate locations

Helping get snacks

Picking up her own room

Putting her own clothes away

Cleaning out the car

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry

Occasional vacuuming (it’s still a little heavy for her)


{If you’re curious how quickly a bottle of cleaner can disappear…give it to a 2-year-old. The answer: real fast}

Evy and Nola (age 2…almost 3):

Emptying the dishwasher and putting silverware and plastic kids cups away

Throwing away Theo’s diapers/other trash

Picking up toys/clutter around the house

Carrying laundry to appropriate locations

Wiping down kitchen cabinetry

Theo (age 6 1/2 months):

Eating, pooping, sleeping, and smiling

Ha! Couldn’t resist!


It’s possible that I’ve left something out (I honestly expect someone to comment with, “What? Your kids don’t _________??!” And me to slap my forehead and think, “Duh. Of course they do.”)

It’s also possible that I’ve made us sound more impressively organized and clean-obsessed than we really are.

We’re a work in progress. Some days, we hit every item on that day’s list with vigor. Some days, we get home late, go to bed with dishes in the sink, and get up and tackle it again the next day.

But, pretty consistently, the items on the above lists get done with an acceptable level of competence. And if they don’t, they get redone (unless I’m being too lazy to make sure they’re done right…which happens).

I’ve got all of kinds of ways I want to grow in the housekeeping department where my kids are concerned. Cooking classes. More yard upkeep (my nemesis). Better organizational practices (my other nemesis; my brain is organized when it comes to thoughts and tasks but not when it comes to where things should go).

But for now, this division of labor is what keeps us sane and keeps the house–if not visitor-perfect–generally decent at most times.

And now I have to know. What kinds of chores do your kids do? Do you have a system that you swear by? I’m all ears.

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30 thoughts on “Helping Hands

  1. I loved this post as I am trying to figure out a chore schedule at our house. I have a 5, 3, and 1 year old. Thank you for all your tips and ideas! I have one questions, did you ever set up a free, fun printable? I haven’t seen it yet and I don’t want to miss it!

  2. Wow! I can’t even get my partner to do any of that (besides trash and putting an occasional load of laundry in washer-not drying or folding, just putting into washer That’s where it will sit and mold if I don’t realize it and get it into dryer!). But he’s intelligent, funny and I adore his great kids we’ve been co-parenting 33% of the time for 8 years, so I keep him around! :)

  3. Wow. I really love this post. I need some good motivation to have my kids help more. They are 5, 3, and 6 months. Usually I just ask that they be quiet and I put in some headphones and get to work… But the 5 year old:

    Picks up toys, puts away clothes, cleans toilet, helps with dishes, and actually makes dog bones to sell. oh! and clears the dishes off the table.

    The 3 year old:

    picks up toys. unloads silverware from dishwasher. helps set the table.

    6 month old:

    smiles and makes every one happy. :)

    I need to let them help more! But I would have to disagree with a comment above — your kids are learning so much by helping. You are doing them a favor. I’m sure they get plenty of “kid” moments in — mostly because you homeschool they have the time to help you out. If they did the normal school hours AND did all this, I could see how they wouldn’t have much time for kid play time. But that’s not your case. GOOD JOB!

    1. You’re doing great, Stephanie! I don’t think any of my kids have been worth much of a flip as far as REALLY helping until they’re 5 or 6. You’re mostly just playing at it/preparing them for the future. By 6 or 7, though, if you’ve been diligent in the preparation process, there’s SO much less babysitting involved on your part, and they feel so much more confident. Keep at it, Mama! It’s worth it in the end! :)

  4. My kids are learning to do many of the above (but are only 5, 3 and 10 months), but I appreciate the suggestions of tasks that I can be teaching them to help do. I am trying to put in place a better clothing storage system for my 5 year old daughter so she can *easily* put away her own clothing, because the non-easy version wasn’t working.
    Technically, we wouldn’t create the following chore if we just did the right thing in the first place, but that just doesn’t always happen…every few days, my older kids take all the shoes that are piled up in the kitchen (where we come inside) and put them in the correct places (correct is sometimes debatable, but they usually close to where we go looking).
    Thank you for sharing and being honest!

    1. Oh, I know all about creating chores for yourself that wouldn’t be there if you just did them the right way the first time. We’re working hard to do better about our van by taking things out AS SOON AS we get home, even though we’re all usually really tired. And so far? It’s way less trashed. Praise the Lord for progress!

  5. Holy cow!! 9 year olds doing all their own laundry?? How about letting kids be kids?? I’m all for some help from my four kids… But I also believe kids need to focus on school and sports.. AND need to be a kid. I’m a stay at home mom.. I can do the laundry and sweep the floor. One day , kids grow up and have to be responsible adults.. Let them
    Live wild and free while they can.
    Ps my oldest is 24, has her own apartment, job and dog. She pays her own bills and cleans her own place. so, even though i did her laundry and cleaned my house by myself.. She still figured out how to be a adult.

    1. I had a mom like you. The only chore I had was to mop the kitchen or clean the bathroom once a month. I had to force her to teach me how to do laundry before college. I love my mom and really loved not having chores growing up, but I think you both are wrong. I’m now a mom who doesn’t know how to keep my house clean and organized. My husband doesn’t either. I did just fine before having kids too. There’s just not been a system since having them. I can chant, “A place for everything and everything in its place” all I want but the implementation of that phrase seems astronomical. I would have much preferred a mom like Abbie. I’ve been implementing chores much like what Abbie has for my kids and they’re happier and I’m happier. For generations it was expected that kids helped out around the house or farm. This whole kids being kids attitude has made for a generation of very lazy adults who can’t cope. How does this help society? Our job as parents is to prepare them for the world. I’ve only recently confessed this to my mom and I’m 32… I wonder how many of your children will do the same? A kids “job” isn’t school because life is so much more than that.

      1. I actually had a little bit of a similar situation to Rachel’s, Beck. I was, in theory, required to do chores, but in actuality, my mom didn’t make me follow through. My mom is AH-mazing. Like really. But even she now admits that the one thing she wishes she’d been more diligent about was making us follow through on our chores, thus helping prepare us for running our own homes and teaching us a lot about responsibility, diligence, and selflessness in the process. (My brother, who has a full-time job and runs his own business on the side–so definitely a full-fledged adult–agrees also that he wishes he’d been taught better time management and organizational/follow-through skills).

        I’ll admit it: I was lazy as a kid. And then as a teenager. I didn’t want to work because work wasn’t “fun,” so I whined and made it hard on my mom. So, she did it herself most of the time.

        As an adult, I so wish she had pushed through and made me work because I definitely have gaps in my homemaking that really frustrate me (not because I’m a neat freak…because I’m not at all; but because they add stress to me and our family by extension) that I’m sure wouldn’t be there if I had more practice in this area and had just gotten myself in the habit of doing the chores instead of dreading/putting them off.

        When my boys were (even) younger, they didn’t like to work. It was hard. They weren’t used to it. And I desperately wanted to quit because it was just easier to do it myself or leave it undone. (I still feel that way as I’m training the girls, and they’re in the whiny stage).

        And sometimes I did do that. But, then, I remembered my own experience, and I decided to push through and hang in there with teaching my kids how to work.

        And you know what? They’re pretty good at it now. My boys do dishes and fold clothes neatly and quickly and don’t complain or even consider it much of a chore (I used to let them watch movies while they folded, but now they prefer not to because they know they can finish more quickly and get back to playing when they focus).

        And that’s the thing: even with that long list of chores, they never spend more than 2 hours in one day (almost always a LOT less…and all of it spread out…certainly never 2 straight hours) doing chores or helpful things, and the rest of the time, they are playing, napping, reading, eating, doing school, watching movies, hanging out with me, etc., etc., etc.

        Being kids, in other words. Maybe not “wild and free.” But joyful and relaxed, for sure.

        When we clean, we are almost always doing it together (I’m working on something alongside them while they’re doing their tasks), and they have often told me that they consider working “fun.” Do they whine? Sure. But not as much as you’d think. Thanks, in part, I think, to the fact that I frequently tell them how proud I am of them and how important they are to making our family work and run smoothly. They love that feeling of meaningful contribution.

        And it’s a very real thing. With six kids at home all day long, if I cleaned by myself 24/7, I would never make it through all of the messes that six small children can create (and then recreate) in one day. And I wouldn’t have any time to feed them, play with them, read to them, and teach them.

        And honestly? When I let my children just be and do whatever, whenever, they get cranky. Fast. The lack of structure always results in disorder and chaos in our home and their attitudes.

        Anyway, that’s a long-winded response, I realize. But there is a larger context to all of the work that we do, and hopefully this response expresses that more clearly.

        1. I agree with the need for some structure. I find when we are out of school, my kids do better with a few regular things every day to set the framework for the day. For example, during the summer we are still having Bible, journaling, and read-alouds every morning (and more read-alouds on afternoons where we don’t have other things going.) It’s just enough to keep us in a routine, and we all do better with that.
          I also thought I would add that I really appreciate the things I had to do at home to clean, cook, etc. It made living on my own or with my husband easier. One of the things my mom did was plan out menus & shop from that list- after looking at the sales paper. I did that automatically, because I thought that’s what everyone did. It was quite a few years later that I realized some people really have to work at learning that.

        2. Here’s the flip side to that:I was oldest of 11. I did chores ALL THE TIME. I love my large family… Wouldn’t change it for the world. BUT in many ways, I feel as if I missed out on a lot of “just being a kid”. If I wanted my sheets washed.. I washed them if I wanted been clothes I washed them. I was always cleaning the batbroom, vacuuming.. Helping with dinner and dishes , changing diapers. I love my mom.. She did the best she could but I swore I would let my kids just be kids.
          There is no right or wrong way here. We are all just doing the best we can.
          I may not agree with having 9 years old do all their laundry… But that’s because of my personal experience!
          We , as moms, need to support one another. Not tear each other down. We don’t need to say “Abbie’s way is better then your way”.
          I stand by my feelings.. And the way I parent. It works for me. It works for my family!
          To all the moms out there: it’s a tough job, but your doing a great job!

    2. Well, my 9-yr-old hasn’t done laundry using a machine yet, so the jury may still be out on that one. But I think that kids are capable of doing more than we (N. Americans) think at times, and also laundry isn’t that big of deal in the US. We are living in Congo where everything has to be hand washed. We pay people to do that, but then it has to come off the laundry line, be hung up inside if not dry, and when dry- turned right side out, sorted, folded, and put away. Then there are the days where it rains off and on, and you play the game of putting the laundry back outside after the rain stops, then bring it back in when it starts again, trying to find that elusive sunshine so that the laundry can get dry and not mildewy. Fun times.

      After participating in that process, I’m sure all my kids can manage to throw some clothes in the washer, add a scoop of detergent, then push a few buttons or turn a knob. :)

      This doesn’t mean that they don’t have plenty of time to just be kids- and lots of open space to do that in. They run, climb trees, build “playhouses,” ride bikes, etc. Doing homeschool means you get through your work pretty quickly, and there is lots of free time. There are other kids on our compound they play with- when everyone is done with school work. And they love to read, draw, play with toys, play on the computer, and things like that in their free time, too.

      Living here has also made all of us see things differently than when we lived in the US. I can tell they have a different mindset after being exposed to other ways of living. Part of what they see is families that struggle to subsist- each child in the family works in the garden, minds siblings, cooks over the fire, washes dishes & clothes in the river, etc. That puts school from something disliked to something appreciated (well, sometimes. They are still kids after all! Some complaining about school work is normal.)

  6. You sound good to me!

    We have a room rotation system. Each kid gets a week in each of the main rooms of our house, rotating to the next one on Mondays. I had a really tough time giving up my kitchen -I cook very fast, and kids are slow : ) – But finally added in the job of “kitchen slave” a title I chose for laughs- mine. : ) It’s the favorite position now. They cook, and do non-dishes clean-up. The kids all wash/dry/put away their own laundry too (except the 3-year-olds [who DO help with theirs]), but folding? Hahaha!!! No. Oh well. We maintain a neat house, just don’t look in the dressers.

    1. I don’t honestly know the point of folding much. Except that maybe it helps with fitting everything in the drawers? Either way, it’s something we do, but I bet there’s lot of stuff y’all do that we don’t get to. And “kitchen slave?” I love it! I’m going to have to do that one soon. It’s one area that I’ve been lazy about because it’s just so much dang work to train them. But they have asked me to teach them, and I really need to do it!

    2. Folding can be overrated. I like my own clothes folded just exactly so, but none of my kids have turned out that way. My kids currently have big shelves in their closets where they basically pile their clothes (into separate types of clothing.) They “fold” and put away their own laundry and dress themselves in the morning, so I figure it works. :)

  7. All 4 (ages 13, 11, 6, 4) are responsible for cleaning up their rooms and making their own beds. The oldest two take turns cleaning the hall bathroom. They all unload and reload the dishwasher (one older and one younger work together each time). The two oldest do their own laundry including their sheets once a week. They all put up their own clothes, sweep, spot mop (I do the full mopping once in a while….. lol), dust base boards, take out the garbage… We live on a farm so we have some outdoor chores, too. My oldest is in charge of making sure that all our animals (right now 2 cows, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 45 laying hens, a few roosters, and 60 broilers) stay watered throughout the day. My second born is in charge of making sure they all get fed. They all 4 share in egg collecting and helping me wash and package the eggs. On broiler processing day, our oldest helps with running the plucking machine, my second helps with the butchering, and the younger two transport the packaged poultry to the fridge.

    Sadly the indoor chores don’t get done as consistently as the outdoor chores. It’s common to find ourselves scrambling to get things done when company’s coming or we need clothes to wear!

    1. Oh man, oh man, your outdoor chores would do me in! I doubt I would EVER get any indoor chores done. You go, Mama!

  8. I teach a Home Skills class and a Cooking class to middle school age students. I am amazed at what these kiddos do not know how to do…Some of the parents are doing a great job, their kids know the basics of cooking, can clean, do laundry, sew on a button. Some kids…aren’t even allowed to use a kitchen knife with supervision! So, Mama, you are doing your kids and our world a favor.

    1. Well, I don’t think my kids could sew a button on at this point, but we’ll work on that. :) Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Your list is awesome! My kids 11, 4, 2 help put their clothes away, pick up toys, make beds, put dishes in sink/dishwasher, clear table. There are some things that I should now add to their lists. But, the perfectionist in me cringes at times. How do you get over that feeling of wanting to redo their work?

    1. I definitely know what you’re talking about, Nicky. It’s obnoxious when they don’t do it how you/I would. But I’m just learning more and more to pick my battles. Because it’s honestly more of a sacrifice for me to stop and take the time to teach them to do it well (hair-pullingly frustrating, sometimes) than it would be just to do it “perfectly” myself. I think there’s a lot of teachable moments in there, if I’m willing to slow down for them.

      And also? I’m not that big of perfectionist when it comes to housework. :)

    2. By allowing them to be imperfect. It gets better as they do the chore. Things might be a little skeewhompus at first but kids get the hang of it. Just don’t redo their work. As long as the job is done, let it be done. Correct them if it needs correcting (like if there’s still food on a dirty dish), but don’t redo it for them. Then they will learn to do a less then desirable job b/c mom will fix it. Within 6 months they’ll do it to your standards.

  10. It’s been great as my kids get older and can take on more. (ages 15, 12, & 9) Loving it. :) It’s also been fun to see their responsibility and initiative as they grow. I love that the 2 older ones can handle kitchen clean up by themselves. Some of our tasks are different- living in the Congo. It’s a different life, and we have house help with some of the chores, but more to do than in the US. For awhile my oldest (the 12-13) would start the generator for our hospital compound in urgent situations. The generator was really an old tractor and required starting that, then multiple steps & switches. I was a bit nervous about that, but he did great and I saw the confidence it gave him. Now it’s just unlock a door & turn a switch- much easier. We’re heading back to the US & my next plan is to teach them to each do their own laundry. I think they should know how to sort clothes & use a washer & dryer. And if I can, they’re going to each take an evening a week where they pick the meal (ahead of time) and help with cooking and clean-up. 1 out of the 3 thinks this is a good idea.

    1. That IS different. It’s fun to get a completely different perspective from across the world. Thanks for sharing!

  11. With only one child, our chore list looks a little different. Then again, there are some things on this list that don’t really get done at our house, so maybe I ought to step up and make myself do more chores. OR… just be thankful for what I do get done! ;) Eliana is 9 and here’s what she does:

    - Empty the dishwasher and put away all dishes (except for the high up ones that she can’t reach – those just go on the counter for me to put away.)
    - Wash, dry, fold, and put away all her laundry. (I do mine, Leif does his, and she does hers, it works for us.)
    - Clean and vaccuum her room (this still requires WAY more supervision than I like, so I don’t ask her to do it very often, which drives me crazier than it does her. Sigh.)
    - Pick up around the house.
    - Bring in the big trash can from the curb.
    - Take out the trash bags to the big can.
    - Clear the table after dinner.
    - Cook dinner / help cook dinner (once a week)

  12. wonderful preparation for their becoming great responsible adults. what wonderful preparation and they wont spend a lot of wasted time on this part of life’s responsibilities and just think about the lack of frustrations they will suffer with this knowledge.yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa for you and shaun.

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