Your toddler wants to help with the household chores. More often than not, you can count on two things: 1) The chores will take twice as long, and 2) you’ll have to clean up once the chores are done. But kids love to help, and the sooner they learn basic skills, the sooner they’ll become your partners at cleanup time. Here are a few tasks that even toddlers can do with just a little training.
Matching socks is a good way to get started. Most adults don’t like to do this anyway, and it can keep a toddler occupied for quite some time. Begin by asking him to separate the dark colors from the light ones, then see if he can match up the pairs. Later, he can sort the clothes by category — shirts here, pants there — and even put his own clothes in his dresser drawers.
Setting/Clearing the Table
A child can be a whiz at setting and clearing tables as long as she takes it one step at a time. Show her that the plates go in front of the chairs, and how to line up utensils (no knives, of course) and cups. Keep napkins in a handy basket so she can add these to the place settings on her own. Clearing tables is even easier. One Thanksgiving, my 3-year-old kept bringing me the dirty dishes as I filled the dishwasher. To my amazement, she had cleared the entire table and was wiping it down with a sponge by the time I had finished loading the dishwasher! As for the sponged tablecloth, it had to go in the wash anyway.
Loading/Unloading the Dishwasher
You rinse, he loads. Show your child that the wider rows on the top rack are for items such as glasses and small dishes, while the narrower rows on the bottom are for thin plates. While he’s helping, he is also learning about shapes and sizes. If you can’t stand the thought of a broken dish, consider buying a set of melamine dinnerware for everyday use. For unloading, let him hand you the dishes while you dry and put away. If any cups turned over during the cycle, let your child empty them into the sink.
Realistically, your beds haven’t had that perfectly made look since your first child was born, so why worry about that now? A toddler can bring up the corners, press down the wrinkles and tuck in the unseemly overhangs with a fair amount of skill. Whatever you do, let her arrange the pillows — and resist the temptation to straighten them out. When you walk through the bedroom later, those crooked pillows will make you smile.
It takes only a small investment to purchase a feather duster, and kids love ’em: they tickle, they’re different and they work. Designate the areas that need cleaning and any that are off-limits. Since the feather duster allows your child to extend his reach, make sure he knows what not to touch. Or, simply remove any valuables. You want him to dust under them anyway, right?
Most toddlers can’t handle a large vacuum cleaner. As for brooms, more dirt ends up on the chairs and counter tops than in the dustpan. To combat clumsiness, let your child use a hand-held vacuum, or better yet, a lightweight rechargeable upright. These are great on carpets and bare floors and actually accomplish something. You can sweep the dirt into piles for her and let her tackle the carpets on her own. You may even find yourself taking the heavy artillery out far less often.
Taking out the Trash
Trash day is a great time for teamwork. Go around to the bedrooms and bathrooms together to collect what is in small wastebaskets. You do the heavy lifting while your child holds open the trash bag to take outside. The outdoor bins are generally too large and heavy for your child to roll to the curb but she can take part in other ways by gathering stray bottles or cans for recycling or emptying the kitchen scraps into an outdoor composing bin. All eWaste should be handled by adults only.
Kids are natural-born helpers — well — until they become teenagers. Enjoy the enthusiasm while it lasts and let the emphasis be on participation, not performance.