Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Give Your Child the Gift of Work

In the last post I shared the importance of giving your child the "Ultimate Gift" - the gift of work.  I believe this is accomplished three ways - chores, teaching the child to take initiative, and working together as a family.

Today, I am going to share specific ways that we incorporate each into our daily lives.

Age Appropriate

Before we dive in, I want to talk about the question of age-appropriateness.  I firmly believe that very young children can learn how to work and conquer the feeling of entitlement.  Around the time the first candle is blown out, the child should begin participating in cleaning up the blocks, cars, and babies that he or she has played with. Cleanup should be fun and may even include a cutesy song.  ("The Clean Up" is still sung from time to time around here.) 

The ABC Jesus Loves Me website contains a list of age appropriate chores for preschoolers.  When looking at the list, be sure to take into consideration the child's maturity as well.

As the child grows the responsibilities increase and broaden and less assistance is given to the point that a teenager is able to do anything that he or she will need to do as an adult.  This includes laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, paying bills, lawn and house care, managing taxes and insurance, etc.

The following are three ways to prepare the child for adulthood.


In the last post I shared the reasons why chores are so important.  Also, you just saw a link to view age appropriate chores.  Now, let me share some specifics in our home.

Setting and Clearing off the Table

At a pretty early age, our children began setting and clearing off the table. As they have gotten older, more kitchen items are handled.  When setting the table, we also focus on age-appropriate neatness - silverware laying perpendicular on the table, cups above the plate, etc. The children also learn to carry their plates flat, load the dishwasher, and gather and put items in the refrigerator.


Picking Up Toys

Picking up toys is a job that we started around 12 months of age. As our toddlers showed the ability to fill containers, we aided them in picking up their toys.  Cleanup was blanketed with an atmosphere of fun and they always giggle in delight.

It didn't take long until the fun turned into a chore. This is when we as parents had to be creative.
  • Set the timer and try to beat the clock.
  • See who can pick up five items first.
  • Have one child pick up all of the blue toys and another child pick up the red toys.
  • Have the child pick up five items and then report to you to see how many items to pick up next.
  • Play "Mother May I?" Tell the child to pick up a toy. He or she must then say "Mother may I?" and you say "Yes, you may."
  • Play "Simon Says." The child must do what "Simon" (the parent) tells them to do when asked with a phrase beginning with "Simon says." If the parent says "Simon says put away 5 blocks," the child must do the task. However, if the parent doesn't say "Simon says" first, the child freezes (and giggles).

Around the time our oldest child turned age three, I learned a very important parenting fact.  Telling your preschool child to "go pick up toys" will almost always end in disaster. A huge mess of toys is overwhelming and confusing for a child. The child doesn't know where to begin with so many toys cluttering the floor. If you are unable to assist in the project, have the child go into the room and pick up one "set" of toys - all of the cars or blocks. Have them report back to you when they are finished.  Continue with small groupings until the job is done. 

To minimize huge messes, make a family rule that the children are not allowed to get out new toys before the first toy is put away. Sometimes toys suddenly appear and then we stop the new activity to put away the old ones.  Gray area does occur as the children get older. Instead of wanting to play with a doll, they now want the doll, clothes, food, and tent. Try to keep this in perspective.  With that said, as the child plays with more, he or she should be mature enough to handle the larger mess.

One more thought on this topic, I have learned that my kiddos do better managing a little.  Too many toys, books, or clothes overwhelm them.  Whenever I see that they are struggling putting things away, it typically means that I need to do some purging and provide them more space to manage their possessions.


Around age three our children began emptying the dishwasher.  This activity begins with putting away the silverware (gather all of the knives first!).  As the child grows, add the plastic containers and then glassware.  Emptying the dishwasher is an excellent sorting activity helping the child learn to discriminate by size, color, and shape.

If you see my cabinets you will notice that things don't always get put away perfectly.  That's when I step back and decide whether the items were put away in an age- appropriate fashion or out of laziness.  Of course laziness means a re-do.  And while my Type-A personality loves perfectly straight cabinets, I have to remind myself that a season of not-so-straight is okay because our kiddos are a work in progress.  There will come a time when I will miss those messy drawers. 



When our children mastered the art of walking, it became his or her responsibility to place dirty clothes in the laundry.  With a front loading dryer, our kids also loved to help transfer the clothes from the washer to dryer. 

Another great sorting activity, the children learn to divide the clothes by colors - whites, lights, darks, and jeans.  When clean and dry, the kiddos sort socks, washclothes, etc.

Hanging their clothes on hangers has taken a little more time to master. I taught the kids to lay the shirt or dress on the floor in front of them. Then slide a hanger, with the hook at the top, up through the clothing. Grab the hook once it comes to the top.  A gentle shake will finish the job.

For folding, we began with washclothes because they are simple.  Teach the child to match corners.   We also work on putting them neatly in the drawers.

(Later this month I will share how I taming the laundry giant and won.  Be sure to subscribe to this blog so you don't miss it.)

And on goes the the child more and more chores until he or she is able to do everything independently by the time the child leaves the nest. 

Instead of running as soon as a chore is done, we are teaching the children to come back, announce that they have finished the job, and ask if more can be done to help. While this started as a game when we introduced our Money Management System, the overall goal is for our kiddos to desire to help and not try to sneak away so that they do not have to do any more.  This rolls right into our next topic...taking initiative. 



First, let's look in the mirror.  As parents, are we taking initiative and modeling it to our children?

  • When you eat at someone's home do you jump in to help with the meal or do you sit back and watch others work? 
  • Do you help with clean up afterwards?  Do you grab a washcloth to wash the table or start the dishes?
  • If you see a mom struggling, do you encourage her with a meal, phone call, text, or snail-mail note?
  • Do you hold the door open for others when their hands are full?
  • Do you show appreciation for people blessing you family by returning the favor, giving some cookies, or writing a note of thanks?
  • Do you offer visitors drinks and watch to see when their glasses are close to empty?
  • While others are working, are you sitting or part of a team to get it done...even when you are tired and not sure what to do?
Beyond being an example, here are a few of the ways that we are teaching our children to take initiative.

Meal Time

Instead of watching mom get supper ready, the kids are learning to ask how they can help.  We also discuss taking stock of the meal to decide what needs to be placed on the table without being told.  Does the meal require ketchup, spoons, or tortilla chips?  Maybe knives, bread, or cheese will be needed.

Knowing that cleanup requires more than just clearing off their place setting, the kids are learning to also wash of the table and sweep if needed.

Opening Doors

The boys know that mom will stand at a door if it is not opened for her.  They have been known to take several steps into a store before realizing momma is still outside.  Having one sister in the family, we also emphasize that Sweet Pea always goes first.  Later we will go into more explanation of how this is one way a husband shows love to his wife and mirrors Christ's love for the Church. 


Last evening, I looked down and realized that I was carrying items belonging to several of the children as well as items of my own.  Of course, my children were walking without any burden.  Teachable moment!

Leading Prayer

Teaching our boys to lead is very important as in a very short time their wives will need them to lead their family.  I have trained the boys to take the initiative in leading the family in meal time prayer when Daddy is gone.  They know that I will sit and wait until one of them takes the lead! 

Working Together as a Family

As I shared in the past post, growing up on a farm forces a family to work together.  There is too much work to do to leave it all to one person!  Since very few live a farmer's life, we have to come up with more creative ways to work together.


When done together, laundry, cleaning, and cooking can strengthen a family while providing a child with a work ethic.  A two-year-old loves to help dust.  Give her an old sock and pretend dust spray, crank up the tunes, and clean away.  A small broom and dustpan can be used by a preschooler to clean up messes.  Kids are great at cleaning bathroom counters. 

After a local Walmart trip, our kids carry in the groceries and put away what they can reach.  Even our preschooler gets involved in the action.  Peanut (age 4) puts almost all of the groceries away now without being asked.   And yes, there are times when things are put away wrong, but we talk about it and encourage and praise him each step of the way.


Gardening & Yard Work

The garden is one of our family projects.  Together we seed, weed, and feed.  Little ones love to help water plants!  Then as a family we enjoy the delicious bounty God gives us.  Gardening is a wonderful way to teach the kiddos the reward of hard work.  The kids also help in the yard by raking, picking up sticks, and providing water to shrubs and flowers. 

But my child won't help around the house?

Not for one moment have I wavered on my conviction to give our children a work ethic.  But trust me, there are times when I have thought "It would be so much easier to do it myself!"  Especially since our kiddos' friends have little to no responsibility. It's hard!

Several years ago, Sweet Pea fought hard the chore of clearing off the table.  Bubs used to have a major meltdown every time the word "laundry" was spoken.  Really don't know why.  But I knew every time those two chores were given, the kids would start a one-sided war!  But, just as I can't falter training my children to love God, I can not give up removing the lazy spirit in their hearts.  I beg you not to either.  There is too much at stake.

We follow the Kevin Leman philosophy around here: "B does not happen until A is finished."  When given a task, the child can not move to something new until the job is finished to an age-appropriate satisfaction.  This has made more than one child in our home late to important things or miss out on family fun activities. But they know the rules and it doesn't take too many times of consistency before they realize mom and dad are serious. 

Without hesitation, I can say that every child - yes, even those with labeled disabilities - need and can learn the responsibility of helping around the home on age (and maturity) appropriate tasks.

With that said, we practice grace in our home too.  There are days where Bubs has a school activity, therapy, and reading to do after school.  He doesn't have time to put away his laundry.  There are days I can't get the dishes done and I'm the adult!  This is where we work together as a family and help each other out.   This is another way to model taking initiative.  Also, 70 degree days in January are hard to come by.  Chores are dismissed and everyone heads outside to enjoy the beauty of the day.  Grace based parenting at its best. 

Current Responsibilities

Each of the kids have daily "contributions" that they do because they are part of the family.  Their chores are listed on individual Magnetic Boards that are hanging in the hallway.  This is also tied to our Money Management System.

I believe by the time our children reach high school they should be very much on their way to managing a home.  For Sweet Pea to be able to be a wife and mom, and for the boys to be able to support their wives in these tasks. 

Why before High School, you ask?  Because I know that if I wait to teach the kiddos all of these things while they are in high school, it will be too late.  The demands, part-time jobs, and activities of high school will not lend time to hard core training. 

Right now we are focusing on Bubs (age 10) and Sweet Pea (age 8) taking more responsibility on cooking.  They are learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches, make macaroni, and bake muffins.  Little Man (age 6) is focusing on laundry amongst his other chores.  Peanut (age 4) continues to work on cleaning.

Visual Schedule

To help the children stay focuses and organized, we have created visual schedules for them.  Visual schedules are highly suggested for Autistic kiddos too.

Preschool Age Children - The easiest visual schedule we've used was made from images I took of each chore.  We walked around with a camera, they helped me take the picture, and then I printed them through a cheap printing company.  I put sticky tack on the back of each picture and the kiddos move the printed images from one side of the wall to the other when finished.  They could also carry the picture with them so they remembered what they needed to do. 

You can see in the collage of images above that the photos we took are nothing fancy.  Poor quality at best.  And while clipart may be cuter, this is so much easier, less time consuming, and can be cheaper if you hit a photo sale.  Remember you don't need a visual schedule to last decades.  You simply need something to remind your child of what he or she needs to do.

The images could also be used to create a flip chart ( or use a photo album).  What I like about the flip chart is that the child takes ownership in flipping to the next activity. Also, it lends well to the "B doesn't happen until A is finished" philosophy.

Early Elementary Age - For this age, we use magnets on the Magnetic Boards.  The kiddos move the magnet from one side of the board to the other when a chore or activity is finished.  Since I have covered the  Magnetic Boards in detail on other posts, I will let you click the link to read more. 


Bubs has upgraded to a check list using his Magnetic Board and a dry erase marker.  This has worked very well for him.

In closing...

We covered a lot. I pray that you are inspired and not overwhelmed.  I encourage you to pin this post so that you can come back to it as a checkoff list of sorts or as a starting point to create your own goals. Trying to implement everything at once will overwhelm all involved.  Pick one area and dive in.  When you are ready, move to the next.  

I hope that you will leave comments on our Facebook pages and in our groups with your ideas, thoughts, and questions. 

To close this blog series, let's go back to the original question.  Are you giving your child the gift of work?  I hope so.

I pray that you are slowing down during you day to train your children not only who God is but also impressing upon your children how to serve Him with their body, time, and finances. 

If you haven't yet, it's never too late to start.  I hope this blog post has given you the understanding of why it is important and how to begin.  Talk to your spouse and begin now giving your child The Ultimate Gift

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  1. Lovely post! As much as I'm not looking forward to being the bad guy(mama) when mine get to the age of hating this or that chore (I think we've all got at least one we hate), I agree that to cave on the issue would be doing them a disservice.

    I've got two questions, though:
    1.) I like the idea of teaching my boys courtesies like opening doors from a young age. Can you share when and how you started with that?
    2.) I just can't not ask - how come Bubs' list has a point that says "eat dishwasher"?

    1. Thanks for the questions...
      1) I start the boys opening the doors for me once they are big enough (strong enough) to open doors. Typically this was around 5 or 6 years.
      2) Sounds like a major typo! I will get that changed. :)

    2. Oh...That is eat and then put the dishes in the dishwasher. That should be eat/dishwasher. :)

  2. I have an almost 4 year old and we are struggling right now with schedules and consistency so I found this post at a perfect time. We will be implementing some of these ideas over the summer so that homeschooling goes a little smoother when we start in September. Thank you!


The Our Out-of-Sync Life blog focuses on encouraging women to deepen their spiritual life, simplify daily tasks, and impress Jesus on the children around them.