As I prepare for a talk next week on Montessori home environment, I thought I would share my handout on children's responsibilities and chores by age.
In today’s changing society, children are challenged to become “working partners” with their parents. Challenges such as this can be met in many ways: mutual respect, sharing of opinions, acceptance of decisions, cooperative setting of goals, standards, or limitations, and permitting certain rights and privileges.
As the child learns the benefits of order resulting from cooperation, he begins to view himself as a person who is capable of making a contribution to others. Growth in this area is best acquired developmentally, whereby the child becomes useful and needed at early age, with the expectation of becoming more self-reliant and independent as time passes.
The adult’s personal experiences and situations may lead him to find many ways in which a child can contribute. Sometimes parents, aware of the need for giving the child responsibility, are stymied at knowing what to do and what to expect. The following list is intended to meet this need.
The list is CUMULATIVE. As the child advances in age or grade he can continue to maintain past responsibilities as well as assuming new ones. Sometimes a child no longer finds it fun to complete a task once it is no longer a new challenge. Tasks that are the child’s own personal responsibility, such as making his bed, doing his laundry, and tidying his room, we should no longer do for him. Tasks that help the whole family may be rotated, or a choice of chores may be given.
The list, meant to suggest possibilities, is only a starting point subject to the situation and creativity of the adult observing the child.
In training for these responsibilities, it may be wiser to proceed gradually. First, establish or strengthen the relationship, and then through friendly discussions, the adult and the child together may determine the manner in which the child can become a contributing member of the family. Before assigning duties, it would be helpful to keep the following principles in mind:
1. Children have rights as well as responsibilities. If these rights as well as arbitrarily and impulsively withdrawn by the adult, the child may feel dominated or revengeful and will resist any efforts to elicit his cooperation.
2. Children should be consulted about the jobs that need to be done. After they have helped identify the work, they help set the standards for work, and be involved in the evaluation of the completed job.
3. Allow the children choices in which jobs they would like to do. To do nothing is NOT an acceptable choice. They follow through with the choice or accept the consequences.
4. Allow the consequences to follow logically from the uncompleted job. Do not discuss before hand what will happen if someone does not fulfill the commitment.
5. Set appropriate time limits for completion of a task. If the child participates in setting these limits, he will be more willing to meet them. I ask, “How much time do you need?”. Use of a kitchen timer helps. Some timers can be clipped to the child’s pocket.
6. Vary the tasks. Children become easily bored with the same chores. They like new challenges.
7. Children like to move on to more challenging work; new privileges that they can take on now that they are bigger/stronger/older.
8. Use common sense in the number of tasks expected of each child. He may stage a “sitdown” strike if he feels used.
9. Remember that you are the model of “order”. Do not expect an orderliness and cleanliness from children that you do not expect of yourself.
10. Examine your personal standards. Perhaps you are a perfectionist, you feel uncomfortable if things are slightly out of order, or are concerned about what others think. Learn to accept the house as a place of activity for family members, not as a reflection of your personal worth.
11. Probably most difficult: never do for the child what he can do for himself.
HOME RESPONSIBILITIES FOR CHILDREN
Home Responsibilities for Ages 18 Months to Two-and-a-Half
1. Joins in with adult in putting away toys (adult must limit the number of toys, and remain cheerful while modeling picking up).
2. Fulfills some simple requests, such as, “Would you please throw this in the trash?” or “Please put this away” (adult points to the location).
3. Participates (imperfectly) in household tasks as interested, usually not yet completing the task. May attempt to sweep, mop, wipe table, set table, vacuum, etc.
4. Participates more and more in dressing self (adult provides easy-to-manage clothing). Undressing comes before dressing.
5. Loads washing machine and dryer, pushes start button.
6. Diapers are phased out by the second birthday, and the child uses the bathroom with occasional mistakes.
7. Feeds himself independently, using fork, spoon, small (less than 8 oz.) pitcher, and small (approximately 6 oz.) cup without a lid.
8. Participates in simple food preparation, such as slicing soft foods, peeling, and spreading.
9. Arranges flowers in a small vase.
Home Responsibilities for the Two-and-a-Half-Year-Old
1. Pick up toys as finished and put in proper place (adult provides low shelves and containers for each item).
2. Put books and magazines in a rack.
3. Sweep the floor or sidewalk with a small broom, use dustpan with help.
4. Place napkins, plates, and silverware on table (not correctly at first). 5. Clean up what they drop after eating. Clean up spills.
6. Choose a snack or breakfast from two or three options.
7. Clear dish from the table, scrapes leftovers, loads dishwasher, helps wash dishes.
8. Independently uses the bathroom, washes hands, brushes teeth and hair.
9. Dresses independently except for small buttons or ties.
10. Puts away groceries and dishes in low cabinets.
11. Involved in food preparation daily.
12. Uses simple manners, such as “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”.
Home Responsibilities for Three- and Four-Year-Old Children
1. Setting the table.
2. Putting groceries away.
3. Help with grocery list and shopping.
4. Polish shoes and clean up after.
5. Follow a schedule to feed pets.
6. Assists with work in yard and garden.
7. Sweep, mop, and vacuum.
8. Make own bed (keep linens simple).
9. Helps load dishwasher and wash dishes.
10. Dust furniture.
11. Prepare food and learn simple recipes.
12. Share toys with friends.
13. Getting the mail.
14. Tell parent his whereabouts before going out to play.
15. Should be able to play without constant adult supervision.
16. Polish silver.
17. Wash and polish car.
18. Sharpen pencils.
19. Enjoys a sense of accomplishment upon completing tasks on a chore chart.
Home Responsibilities of the Five- and Six-Year-Old Children
1. Help with meal planning and grocery shopping.
2. Help prepare lunch to take to school.
3. Set the table.
4. Peel carrots and potatoes.
5. Involved in more challenging preparation of food, including baking and cooking, with assistance.
6. Make bed and straighten room.
7. Choose clothing the night before, dresses self.
8. Ties shoes.
9. Attends to personal hygiene.
10. Fold clothes and puts them away.
11. Answer the phone properly.
12. Yard work and gardening.
13. Feed pets and clean their living area.
14. Assist in caring for younger sibling.
15. At busy times, the child may offer, “How can I help?”
Home Responsibilities for Ages 6 to 12
1. All of the above with increasing challenge.
2. Prepare a simple meal independently.
3. Care for own belongings.
4. Organize belongings.
5. Earn money for special jobs, perhaps receive an allowance.
6. Beginning money management: saving, giving, spending.
7. Increasing thoughtfulness toward others, appropriate manners.
Home Responsibilities for Teens
1. Earn money through jobs such as helping neighbors and babysitting. 2. Create and follow own budget, including giving.
3. Participate in family budgeting.
4. Help with home repair and maintenance.
5. Yard work and mowing the lawn.
6. Maintain respectful family relationships.
7. Take on greater responsibility for his or her own life and choices, gaining independence while maintaining safety and communication with parents.
Marjorie Barksdale was my daughter's teacher 20 years ago. She gave some of these suggestions to parents back then, and I have expanded them over the years. You may share this list with other parents if you include a link to www.learningtogethereducation.org.