After posting about my overwhelming feelings about the list I keep running in my head, I received an encouraging email from my mother-in-law about several things, one of which was making sure the kids are doing chores and helping out so I don't go crazy!
Number one, it's too late. I already am crazy. Ha. But seriously, sanity is waaaay overrated. At least, it seems that way. I wouldn't really know.
Number two, I felt inspired by her email to blog a little about our philosophy (for now) on the whole chore subject, what we've done in the past, what's worked, what hasn't and what we are doing now.
In the advice of my blogging sister, I think I'd better split this up into a few posts so that it doesn't get so long nobody wants to read it. I know I'm long-winded, but it's just the way my brain and my typing fingers work. All at once! But I'm going to TRY chopping this into more manageable bits. Bear with me...
Part One: The Age of Chores
Our children came to live with us at all different ages. H and Z came first, at 3-1/2 years and 15 months respectively. S joined a few months later, when she was 8. J came at 2-1/2 months, left at 7 months and returned at 12 months old. Finally, H joined the team at 23 months, but seemed more like an 11-month-old developmentally, which I can now officially say since I'm in close proximity to an 11-month-old on a daily basis. Yes, he was a boy version of this (E).
With the first three kids, we were just figuring out how to parent, so honestly, they did not do a lot of what you might call "chores," for probably the first year of their staying with us. They did get called on to help us out with projects we were doing and truthfully, they seemed to enjoy helping out. Chores were a bonding experience.
I think that with young children (or in our case, "new to us" children), that's kind of what chores should be. They are a partnership between parent and child not so that a job can be accomplished any more quickly than usual, but so that the child can start to learn about helping out around the house and how to do these jobs effectively -- or at least, what is expected of them as they do the jobs.
When J turned two, she was already helping out with chores like putting away silverware from the dishwasher and wiping the fronts of the lower cabinets. Of course, I was not having her handle any sharp knives or having her do the silverware job unattended, but for her, it was a fun sorting game. I also did not leave a big bucket of water around for her to wipe the cabinets -- just a damp cloth. Often, I'd be doing other kitchen jobs when she was doing her "jobs," so I could keep an eye on her and redirect as necessary.
E, who is now 11 months, already "helps" us clean up her toys. She is not my child, but I figure, she's part of our household for a good chunk of the day and it's my natural instinct to help her learn stuff while she is in my care (I don't think my sister, D, would have it any other way -- she ran a daycare for years and spent time teaching all those children stuff daily). E doesn't understand that she's working or doing a job, she just thinks she's playing a game where when she puts something in the bucket, we cheer for her and she loves it.
Early age chores are like that: a game. If you make it fun and give a lot of encouragement, they learn to do what pleases their caregiver.
I'd say that around age four, I've been able to institute a variety of chores for the kids that they learned to do daily. By four, our kids have been able to: help empty the dishwasher (at least silverware and plastics, assuming things are stored down at their level), put food or water in a dog bowl, make a bed (or at least help), pick up laundry from the floor (and if I sorted my laundry, I'm sure they could help with that), find sock partners in clean laundry, clean up toys with direction and guidance, dust open spaces like tables (nothing with a lot of glass breakables that need to be moved), and help scrub the bathtub. There are many other jobs that come up from time to time, but these are things that need to be done regularly that we found were easy things to assign to the preschool-aged children.
By six, our kids helped fold laundry -- towels and blankets, especially! -- swept the floor, swept the front porch, dumped small trash cans from around the house, wiped the bathroom counter and sink, pulled weeds with direction, cleaned their rooms with some direction and guidance, as well as doing a variety of jobs side-by-side with parents or an older sibling.
By eight, our kids knew how to unload the entire dishwasher and put things away (with the occasional, "where does this go again?"), fold all types of laundry (fitted sheets still give me trouble though, so I don't count those), clean a whole bathroom with some direction and reminders, clean up any room assigned to them to clean (not that they do it ... but that they could), run the vacuum on flat carpeted surfaces (stairs are a much more complex job), and effectively wipe down counters and tables without spilling crumbs on the floor.
By ten, our kids have been taught to do their own laundry, take out the kitchen trash and recyclables, do hand wash, take on major sorting jobs (i.e., our loft), mow the lawn (so far, we've only trusted Z with this ... I was really reluctant to let the kids use a power tool so this was put off for the kids till C finally just did taught Z anyway), clean windows, and clean the garbage out of our vehicles.
By twelve, there are very few jobs that the kids cannot do on their own. S and H do an awesome job cleaning whole bathrooms -- enough that I trust them to take care of the guest bathroom when it needs it. They have also taken on mentoring the younger children. H almost always includes O in jobs he does, while S tries to get J involved. (J is very independent minded and doesn't always want to be in the "helper" role.) They also babysit siblings (and sometimes cousins) and are trusted with big projects like mopping all the tile, vacuuming the stairs, cleaning grout, putting chemicals in the hot tub, washing our dog, detailing our vehicles and making meals for the family.
So at any age after about nine months, the earliest concepts of chores and responsibility can feasibly be introduced. It all starts as a game and a bonding exercise and slowly progresses into the concept of household responsibility and good stewardship.