Chores and preschoolers – a question

kid making the bedWhat do you think are appropriate chores for a 3-year-old? My daughter regularly “helps” me around the house with cooking and cleaning, but I think she’s getting to where she can actually be a help around the house. But what can I expect of her, ability-wise, and what’s just asking too much from a preschooler?

I’d love to hear if you have any ideas, or maybe what works well in your home. Also, do you use a chart system for them to keep track of their chores? Do you compensate for their work with rewards or allowance?

I know every child is different, both with their abilities and with their eagerness to be a help. But all ideas are welcome!

For more questions to answer, head to Rocks in My Dryer.
Art by Jana Christy

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. It’s good to let the kids do some chores. It’s also a good way to teach them about responsibilities. My children will do:

    – washing cups
    – put dirty laundry in basket
    – doing dishes
    – preparing simple meals
    – and other simple to do chores

    I go with the flow at this young age. If they don’t feel like doing the chores, I let them be.

  2. Great question. Love the blog. Very pretty.

    I have five children (5 to 14). We rotate chores on a weekly basis. I divided the house up into areas/segments. Each child is responsible for one meal a day as well as a section of the house. At four pm every day (this does vary) I cry out: “Life Skills!” Each child bustles off to their part of the house and cleans/tidies up that area.

    It is amazing! It has changed how our house functions. We do general allowances so the children learn how to manage their money and to bless them for helping so much with the house. I also bribe/pay for extra chores with money or treats. 🙂

    A preschooler can:

    make bed
    wipe down bathroom and kitchen counters (with cleaning wipes)
    pick up toys (using a timer so it’s not overwhelming)
    put clothes away (on a small scale – with training)
    empty the silverware caddy from dishwasher
    sweep with dustpan

    Most cleaning chores consist of training. It takes WAY more time to train children to clean the house than to just do it yourself. Resist this attitude! You are mentoring and teaching your child. You want to put yourself out of a job (in some of these areas).

    Right now you are in the training stage that requires teaching and supervising. Slowly the skills will be learned and independence gained.

    Great discussion!

    Duckabush Blog

  3. I have my kids help me pick up the yous, help take laundry in and out of the washer/dryer, set the table (no breakable things though) and put laundry in the basket. I just let them show me what they are ready to do. Often they will show and interest in what I am doing so I let them help and if it seems like they are doing it in a safe and effective manner I will file that away mentally and next time I will call them over and encourage them to help.

  4. My 4 1/2 year old daughter does:
    –opening shades in the family room & kitchen in the morning, closing them at night
    –picking up any stray socks or clothes left in the family room & putting them in laundry basket
    –help set the table
    –clear her own place after meals
    –empty silverware sorter from the dishwasher

    One things that she loves is when I make her a list of her jobs for the day using clipart. She gets to cross off her jobs just like Mommy crosses things off of her to-do list. 🙂

  5. All great advice. With my first child, I waited too long to involve her. I’ve since learned that they are capable, and *mostly* willing to be a part of the family team very early!

    My kids all have chores that they do each weekday. Then, there are just some basic eat-in-kitchen table pick-ups that happen every day of the week. There are charts for both.

    So, my preschooler is in charge of picking up her room when it is “chore time.” I keep things simple – lots of tubs and boxes to make it easy to clean up after playing.

    She brings me her laundry basket when it is full and helps me load the washer, and move clothes over to the dryer. I fold and she puts away (totally – uses a stool to hang up). In the beginning, I would put the clothes on hangers for her. Once she hit age four, she could even do that herself. All of my kids do their own laundry start-to-finish — when the basket is full, it’s their laundry day.

    She’s on the kitchen clean-up chart. That involves either cleaning off the table top, cleaning off the chairs, or cleaning the floor. We have a Swivel Sweeper (which I love and HIGHLY recommend!!). All of my kids can use it with ease. she uses a stool in the kitchen to get to the sink, wet a sponge and rinse it when she’s done.

    About twice a week, I will ask her to help out with an extra chore of some kind, to help her be more involved, to help her learn, and also to help me see what she is capable of.

  6. I have an almost 3 year old. He loves to help by putting the spoons away from the dishwasher. Also setting the table, I usually give him one thing at a time so it lasts longer. We have a baby in the house so he helps with getting diapers and throwing them away. Making sure he gets his clothes in the hamper is another good one. Then again he does have two older siblings that do things around the house and he doesn’t want to be left out 😉

  7. I’m a preschool teacher (not a mom yet) so here are my ideas:
    folding towels (great for eye-hand coordination)
    matching socks from the laundry
    sorting laundry (making piles based on color)
    setting the table (putting a napkin at each spot, making sure each spot has a fork & spoon)

  8. Such good suggestions by everybody. Thanks so much!

    @Kathy – Yes, I totally agree that it takes soooo much longer when training your little ones to do chores. I have to keep that in mind, because I’m always so tempted just to hurry up and do it myself. But that’s not the point.

    @Amy – Love the to-do list idea! My daughter loves doing everything I do, and of course, I love to-do lists. Might as well get her started on that early, eh? 😉

    Thanks again, everyone. I think you may have inspired me to write a post on getting littles to do chores. I’m sure I’ll reference your ideas, so stay tuned!

  9. Josh puts food in the dog’s bowl, sorts laundry with my direction (pile 1, pile 2, etc.), helps put laundry in the dryer, picks up toys, helps unload parts of the dishwasher, takes things to the trash can, takes things to different rooms for me (put this in dad’s closet, put this in the bathroom, etc.) and sweeps, though his sweeping isn’t very effective. He’s a helpful little guy. I pay him with hugs and encouragement…and sometimes drop a few pennies in his shoes at night. He puts the money in a bank that he made at Bible study and talks about giving the money to God. Too cute.

  10. My kids are older now so they have moved on to more involved jobs, but when they were pre-schoolers the jobs they could do successfully were:
    – dusting things that are their height, such as the coffee table, chair legs, banister, baseboards
    – sweeping the staircase using a little hand broom
    – matching socks
    – sorting their laundry into the correct hampers
    My daughter loved washing dishes, so I gave her the opportunity to do that sometimes even though she didn’t really get things clean. She also loved (and still does) scrubbing toilets! So I would give her a toilet brush and let her go at it, with supervision and a good hand-washing afterward, of course. 🙂

  11. I have a 4 yr old little girl and a 3 yr old little boy. They clean the whole house by picking up things and putting them where they go. They help with unloading the dishwasher. Also we have a 7 month old little girl in the house so they help with getting diapers and wipes for me when I need them and they throw them away when I change her. They keep her busy during the day by playing with her and my little girl learned how to make a bottle and change her diaper. They keep their rooms clean and the living room. That is their DAILY duty!! & they know it. lol

  12. I just found you site and think I’m going to love it. It sounds like you do a 10% tithing thing too so you’d probably love the book that I just finished … The Parenting Breakthrough. It has inspired me to be a better a mom. I started looking for a chore chart which brought me to your website. Thanks!

    My kids are big helpers too and yes the earlier the better. I just need to organize how I have them working and do my best to keep it fun. I love your nickel idea.

  13. Well, I could ask my daughter to help to clean her room from those toys.