I recently wrote about empowerment in children and the confidence that can be built in our little ones by challenging them and allowing them to contribute. During spring cleaning season this speaks volumes as I try and pick away at the chores that have taken over my home. This quote from Maria Montessori always rang true for me as an educator, so as soon as my daughter started showing interest in dumping items out of a container and all over the floor, I thought how critical for my sanity it was going to be that I start to teach her the responsibility of cleaning up those things after we were done playing with them.
Running a daycare meant that I couldn’t just “leave the mess” – it wasn’t safe for everyone if we left toys and activities out all day. But putting something away before taking out something new doesn’t always apply at my house. I strongly believe in loose parts play (read more here) and letting toys show up where you wouldn’t imagine them – so I encourage the mess in learning through play.
That being said, creating a habit for coming to know when a task is complete and having part of the activity be putting it away are things that I find myself repeating until I am blue in the face. Little minds are busy and it’s not always easy to remember that something like a puzzle can be put away before the play kitchen ends up all over the floor – but having child sized tools for cleaning has been a big help in building interest in “helper activities” like sweeping the floor and dusting ledges. We love this set by Melissa and Doug. And how cute is this child-sized vacuum that has real suction and sounds!?
Getting my daughter involved in taking responsibility for our home makes life better for me too, even though it’s hard to let my neat freak tendencies go when my little bee wants to “fold laundry”, but setting the foundation for having responsibilities means it becomes the norm rather than another thing to fight about when that voice becomes a little bit harder to reason with.
In the early days when the bucket of blocks to be poured WAS the activity, I would use descriptive language of my own actions and make the activity fun while I did something habitual, knowing she was paying attention. A little song about what I was up to or a mini dance party made something like wiping up strawberries squished into the floor a little less taxing for the two of us (Check out this link for a free playlist of clean up songs!)
Waldorf Education believes highly in allowing children to learn through practical activity as well as having hands-on experience. Sure, it’s faster to just pick up the coat on the floor yourself and hang it up. No fight, no reasoning to be done, but an unintended message is also sent. I know personally as a mother, I already feel the weight of the world and my household on my shoulders in my “manager of everything” role. I don’t want to send the message to my daughter that it’s my job to clean up after her, that she doesn’t have a place in all of this, that she doesn’t need to take responsibility for her things. I want her to value my place in the home as well as hers, teach her that she is a contributing member in the home and that many hands make light work.
The Battle Begins with Me
Let’s get real. I don’t really like to clean either. I like things to BE CLEAN, but actually cleaning them myself? Not so much… I’m sure I can come up with a million other things to do. I know I can. My time is worth just as much as anyone else’s so why am I the only one concerned about the dishes piling up on the counter? Life gets crazy fast – it doesn’t matter how full your calendar is, how many children you have or what is going on. It’s hard. It’s all hard to keep up with and it feels overwhelming to have yet another thing to do at the end of the day.
When I come up to a dreaded activity like cleaning the bathroom, I’ve taken on a few different options
Netflix. Netflix I love you. I put on a show that I don’t really need to pay 100% attention to (stand up comedy is amazing for this unless little ears are near…) and I clean until the show is over, taking the laptop or tablet with me from room to room
I set a timer. Tiny action steps. 5 minutes doesn’t sound like much but if I set my phone alarm for 5 minutes and just clean as fast as I can, I can either keep going when the timer goes off or stop what I’m doing entirely, happy that I did something with my short burst of time
Music. I dance party to make just about anything more fun. Although it’s challenging to make a dance party out of how I actually feel about cleaning the toilet…
What Can Children Do to Help
I spent a lot of time researching what children are able to do at various ages and of course it is entirely dependent on your own child and where they are in their development but children are so much more able to take on tasks around the house then we think they are, and they are genuinely eager to do it. Okay, maybe not eager, but they like knowing they helped out and having that be celebrated (not rewarded… that’s a whole other story).
Under 2 Years:
These little ones are still pretty interested in making the mess as part of learning. And that’s great! But they are very able to:
Put items back into a box or bin, or books on a low shelf, using their gross motor skills and following two and three step directions: “pick up puppets and put them in the basket.” This will 100% result in doing the activity over and over and it taking 1000% longer but it’s clear to see the value from taking the time to do it
This age group will also love pouring food for a pet or helping to fill a water dish. Probably eating and drinking it too, but one that’s for you to sort out 😉
Building on the previous list, children in this age group can:
Bring dishes to the kitchen from the table to the sink or dishwasher or help to set the table (being cautious with sharp items and glass until their handle on things is a bit stronger)
Those foundational pet care skills mentioned above develop as children know where to find pet food and take on this responsibility themselves
Now that they are able to pour with a bit more precision, plant care is a great activity; both indoor and outside in the garden
Helping to load laundry basket from the dryer, match socks and fold towels can turn into conversation about colour, size, shape
Wiping up spills
Beginning those steps of self care in washing while in the tub, of course with your supervision to ensure proper hygiene
Picking out their own clothes and self dressing and undressing. This is another that takes a lot longer but the skills don’t take long to develop when allowed. It also results in really creative outfits…
Continuing to build on the previous lists, this age group can:
Wash dishes, load and unload dishwasher
Sort and put away laundry
Dusting and window cleaning
Spot cleaning on floor while working on sweeping and mopping. It takes a while to build the upper body strength to do these tasks… never thought of it as a work out, huh?
Increasing responsibilities with pets, brushing and cleaning up after them.
Cleaning up the yard
Helping to clean up after a meal
Combing hair and brushing teeth (supervised to ensure proper care)
Know address and phone number
Know who to call for help
6 and older:
Adding to the growing list of responsibility and independence:
Cooking and meal preparation (with a parent nearby for safety from heat and sharp items)
Bathrooms and mirrors
Tidy bedrooms and common areas
Take out the garbage
Packing own lunch. Putting away and cleaning parts of lunch box after school
Pre-teen and Teenagers
This age group is very able to be an active part of the home by:
Doing all of the above
Making a meal once a week (even if it’s the same meal each week then there is no guess work!)
Babysitting siblings (age appropriate)
Doing own laundry
Get themselves up in the morning with alarm
What else would you add to these lists? Do you have tips to share to make life a little bit easier at home when it comes to spring cleaning?