Teaching Chores to Little Ones


In our house, we have chore zones. They currently rotate weekly, so if the bathroom is your zone, it’s your responsibility to deep clean it once and make sure it isn’t haz-mat level gross the rest of the week. If guests are coming, you wipe down the mirror and counter so they’re not horrified. The others will do the same kind of deep clean plus maintenance in the kitchen, dining room & hall, or living room & entry.

My girls are old enough to be able to handle most of the chores on their own. We have a set of chore cards that I made on heavy paper, so if they ever forget exactly what I’m looking for in a clean bathroom,  they can check the card for a reminder. My boys are younger, so my expectations are lower. They need to check the card and make a good attempt, but I often need to follow up, especially if they have kitchen zone. Keeping up with the number of dishes to be washed is enough to drive an adult crazy, so I understand when my 9 year old struggles.

But they’re learning! In a few years, I expect the boys will be able to accomplish their chores like professionals. When they move out, perhaps their bachelor pads will not overflow with dirty dishes and dust.

One positive change I’m seeing with the zone system is that the kids are beginning to think before leaving items on the floor. It’s not perfect yet – they’re still kids. But when one person sees how frustrating it is to have other people’s belongings all over their recently cleaned zone, they’re more likely to think twice about leaving their own stuff laying around.

Collin is only 3, so he doesn’t have his own chore zone yet. He is expected to pick things up when asked, and to help with his own messes. When the older kids do their zone chores, Collin picks one and helps. Today he “helped” Maya scrub the shower in the kids’ bathroom. He held a scrub brush and moved it around, while she did most of the work. When the shower was rinsed and sparkling, though, Maya was happy to share with him the pride of a job well done. Even though he is not old enough to scrub a shower on his own, he’s learning that it feels good to see results from hard work.

Sometime during the week, I try to have some sort of a reward for anyone who did an excellent job on their zone. Tonight, for example, is ice cream party night. All kids who have completed their zone chores may enjoy the ice cream party. There’s no punishment if they don’t get the job done, but there’s a reward if they do. That’s what’s working in our house right now.

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