17 Age-Appropriate Chores for Toddlers
Life is ironic. When the kids are young and are not yet coordinated enough to do many chores, all they want to do is help out around the house. Then, when they grow older and become capable teenagers, the last thing they want to do (maybe with the exception of homework) is house chores. As for my 2 years old toddler, all she wants to do is follow me around the house and imitate everything I am doing. Forget the expensive toys that we imported from France or begged my parents to bring back from Taiwan! Apparently wiping down the easel with a paper towel is a lot more fun!
Good news! Your toddlers (18 months to 3 years old) can do a lot more than you expect and teaching them to help around the house is a great way to teach them about responsibility. I started realizing just how much my toddlers can do when we went to visit my mother-in-law and she offered to watch the two kids for a couple of hours. Instead of hearing screams of anger and endless bickering, I heard … silence. It was amazing! And somehow during that period, my mother-in-law was able to prepare dinner plus finish some house chores while keeping my kids super happy. How did she achieve this miracle? She let them assist in whatever task she was doing. My son helped her cut some vegetables, while my daughter helped mix. One vacuumed the floor, while the other wiped the table. Chores are apparently the key to keeping the kids occupied and happy while getting things done. Who knew?
Now, before you start throwing mops and brooms at your kids, let’s establish some ground rules to ensure that doing chores is FUN for the kids and a great learning opportunity.
Ground Rules for Chores:
- Shower them with praise. There is never enough positive reinforcement when it comes to chores. They are volunteering to clean, for Pete’s sake! Tell them how much they made mommy’s life easier and reward them with some extra books or an awesome dance party. Tell daddy all about the good jobs they did. Make they feel proud for jobs well done – they deserve it!
- Show them what to do in detail. Remember the first time you tried and cooked an egg? Seems simple enough – crack the egg into the pan, flip the egg after one side is done, and voila! Then you went ahead and cracked the egg … most likely on the ground. Then, you went to flip the egg and ended up breaking the yolk and serving scrambled egg instead. The point is, no matter how simple the task, it might not be so obvious to your kids how to do it. Demonstrate each chore step by step multiple times to pave their way to success.
- Hope for the best, expect the worst. Don’t think of your kids doing chores as helping you get things done – think of it as a learning experience that will take time. They probably won’t be able to complete the chores perfectly the first time or even the 10th Resist the urge to take over and undermine their effort and continue encouraging them as long as they are trying their best. Be patient, because they will probably cause more of a mess before they learn from their mistakes on how to do the chores correctly. Nobody is perfect!
- Monkey say, monkey do. Why do toddlers want to do chores? Because they want to be just like mommy and daddy! If you want your toddlers to learn a certain chore, make sure it is one that you do often in front of them. If you never vacuum, for example, how can you expect your toddler to be motivated to do the same when they probably don’t even know what a vacuum is?
Now on to the fun part… the age-appropriate chores for your toddlers!
- Putting toys away.
This is perhaps the most important chore for your kids to do as it teaches them to be responsible for their own belongings. However, as you may know from experience, they may be bouncing off the walls during playtime, but at the mention of clean-up, all the sudden your toddlers become very, very drowsy and tired. I know, it’s like magic. So, the key is to make cleaning up fun by turning it into a game. For example, you can play the famous Barney’s Clean Up song and see who can finish putting their toys away before the song ends. Be creative and make picking up toys exciting!
It seems like the vacuums are either beloved by babies, or they scare the living daylight out of them. My son has been obsessed with the vacuum ever since he was a tiny baby, and as soon as he was able to walk, he wanted to help vacuum. Now that he is strong enough, he can help vacuum the carpet all by himself. If your toddler cannot push around a floor vacuum yet, have your toddler use a hand vacuum to suck up food they dropped on the floor or dog fur is a good alternative.
- Mopping the floor.
Toddlers love water, so mopping the floor is definitely one of their favorite chores. I can’t promise you that you won’t end up with more of a watery mess than clean floors, but it keeps them occupied and remember, they will get better as they get more practice.
- Organizing shoes/jackets/hats.
Do you take off your shoes at home? If you do, you may have a mess of shoes right when you enter the house. Having your toddlers help pick up the shoes, match the right ones together, and put them away is a great way to teach them about organization. And if your house is like mine, we also have a mess of jackets and hats as well near the entrance. Just make sure that you do have a proper place to put everything so that your toddlers learn where to hang up the jackets and hats.
Dusting is simple and fun. Give your toddler a duster and let him or her loose. If you don’t have a duster, just throw a sock or old mitten on his or her hand and let him or her dust away!
- Preparing food.
As a mom, I spent most of my time in the kitchen. My kids love to stand on the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper and watch me prepare the food, and naturally, they want to participate as well. You can start them off with something easy and fairly mess-free such as peeling and cutting a banana with a dull knife. My 2 years old helps me mix ingredients together using a whisk (with a lot of gentle reminders to keep the whisk in the mixing bowl). My 4 years old helps me crack eggs, cut fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe into little pieces, and scoop batter into baking pans. I think being mommy’s little helpers in the kitchen may be their favorite chore!
- Setting the table.
If you are not yet ready to have your toddlers in the kitchen helping out with dinner, but they refuse to leave you alone while you are cooking, then ask them to help set the table! Since they usually can’t carry more than a couple of plates or utensils at a time (and you probably don’t want them to), setting the table will eat up some time before, well, time to eat!
- Cleaning the table.
No eating and running in this household! Before the kids can run away to play with their toys, they need to help carry their plates, utensils, and cups to the sink.
- Loading/unloading the dishwasher.
My toddlers help put the utensils in the dishwasher for me. I sometimes allow them to put plates and cups in as well, but I am a little obsessive about the arrangement to let my kids handle everything. They also help me unload the dishwasher by taking everything out one by one and handing them to me to be put away.
- Putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket.
We have a hamper just for the kids’ dirty clothes in their bathroom, and they know that when they undress, they need to throw their dirty clothes in there.
- Doing the laundry.
Can’t explain why, but kids love doing laundry. They like throwing all the dirty clothes in the washer, transferring the clean clothes from the washer to the dryer, and then taking out all the clothes in the dryer. I suspect that it’s because they love what follows the transferring of clothes … turning on the washer and/or dryer! My kids know by heart now what settings to use and what buttons to press to get the machines going.
- Folding and putting away clothes.
This one is a hard one. I can’t fold clothes neatly and correctly most of the time, so how am I going to teach my children? Luckily, I recently found a solution – the clothes folding board! You simply lay your shirt on the board and fold the panels over in the right order, and bam! Professionally folded clothes. Amazing! You can also start simple and show your kids how to fold a washcloth or towel instead of jumping into shirts and pants. Matching socks and putting them together is also a good one to start with. As for putting the clothes away, do expect a huge pile of disheveled clothes in your drawers to start with, but as they repeat this task over and over, they will learn how to be more careful and not just throw the clothes in the drawers.
- Wiping down … anything.
Again, water! Give them a wet paper towel or rag to wipe down windows, doors, tables, toys … really, anything you can think of they will be happy to do. Want to make it more fun? Put water in a spray bottle and let them wet and wipe dry whatever they choose. If you have two kids like me, they do end up spraying each other, but hey it’s just water, no harm done!
- Washing the car.
Working at the car wash, working at the car wash, yeah! Spraying the car down with water, scrubbing the car with soapy water (bubbles!), and then hosing the soap off with more water? Best chore ever! Expect soaking wet kids and probably also soaking wet … you. Nothing a quick bath won’t fix!
- Carrying groceries.
Don’t know what to do with your kids while you carry groceries from the car to the house? Well, let them help! If you are coming from a Costco shopping trip this may be a little hard since everything is in bulk and may be too heavy or big, but even then, you can ask them to help carry your bag or phone while you handle the groceries.
- Watering the plants.
Water! Anything that involves water doesn’t even count as a chore because kids just love water. If you have lots of plants in the backyard like us, you can ask your kids to help water them. Get a watering can and let them loose! Do expect a lot of overwatering, and you will find that some plants will get more water than others, but hey, they are having fun and if you are like me, overwatering is better than mommy forgetting to water at all!
- Caring for the pet(s).
If you have pets, having your kids care for them is one of the best ways to teach them responsibility. Not only are they responsible for themselves, now they are also responsible for making sure the pet(s) they love are happy. My kids love scooping food into the food bowl for our dog and taking control of the leash and walking the dog. They love taking out treats for the pets and playing with them. It warms my heart to see my kids eagerly taking care of their fur-siblings not because I ask them to, but because they love our dog and cat.
What other chores do your kids like to do?