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Ten Tips For Training Tots To Take Over Household Tasks

By Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer


    We moved in August and a month later started homeschooling our five children: Kayla (8), Clarissa (6), Michael (4), Natasha (1 1/2), and Nicole (1 1/2). Needless to say, I couldn't do all the housework, so we enlisted outside help during this first year (for cleaning, cooking and childcare).

Once I realized (after reading Don Aslett's book, Is There Life After Housework?) that my two older girls and I could each maintain one of our three bathrooms on a regular basis, that's what it took for me to decide by the next school year to do everything ourselves. With living in a huge house and the added blessings of homeschooling's messes we needed to come up with a few tips. The following ten tricks have signaled smooth sailing for us.

#1. Delegate.

In running my "homeschool and homemaking business", I figure if someone else can do it, then Mommy shouldn't. My husband models this "helping mom" by making breakfast and vacuuming (besides a great variety of other jobs.) Each of my children takes one week day to help with lunches and suppers. They are learning my oft-repeated rule, "If everyone does a little bit, no one has to do a lot."

Kuepfer -- 2

#2. Assign new jobs periodically.

As each day goes by, they are getting older, which means they may be able to handle more challenges. The other day I showed my three older children a new chore chart for the cook: "Before meal: Wipe appliances. Wipe cupboard. Get sink of soapy water ready. After meal: Put away all food." After hearing about these new jobs, my oldest scolded, "Mom, now we're doing YOUR work and you won't do ANYTHING!" A few months ago I turned over to my five-year-old son the job of bringing the laundry down for the Monday, Wednesday and Friday washings. I have been training in my three-year-old twins to put clothes in the washer, then into the dryer (never mind that they almost get swallowed by the big machines.) I bought them a new two-step stool to aid in the process. They were so thrilled.

#3. Keep the same tasks for a long period of time.

I do this until it seriously lightens my load. This also means that they are feeling competent, and maybe can even start to enjoy it. My nine-year-old has been off dish duty and onto floor care for a year now. The other day she said, "I like my jobs. Well, not really mopping, but that's not even too bad."

#4. Use the five-minute motto.

I tell my children that a job shouldn't take longer than five minutes. Five minutes to empty the dishwasher, five minutes to sweep the kitchen, five minutes to sort a basket of laundry, five minutes to spray down and wipe a bathroom and soon the jobs are done.

#5. Get the children to do kitchen chores even when company (with children) is there. I say to company kids, "If you want to," but usually my little friends like to be included. Then I say, "Set the timer for 5 minutes, and work like mad, then I'll finish what is left." The other day after a company meal there were six helpers (three visiting children plus my three older ones) and that meant 30 minutes of work!! My friend, the mother of the visiting three workers, had been feeding her baby and so was a littledelayed in eating. Gradually she saw the food disappearing from around her and the tablecloth being swept out from under her plate. Her husband said,"well, that was a speedy cleanup." For me I had few minutes to finish the dishes and plenty of time to visit with my friend.

#6. Let them work when the mood strikes. Even if it isn't on the list for today, I humor my kids. The other day I wanted to spend some time with my only son, so I asked, "what shall we do?" I had meant in the form of play,but when he said, "Let's organize cupboards," I didn't argue. "OK," I said,"You do one cupboard and I'll do another one." During a boring moment, one of my twins agreed to the job of picking out the edible insides from partially cracked nuts. Tonight my nine-year-old daughter was madly wiping down the fronts of the cupboards (I hadn't told her to, honest!), I cleaned the countertops and lickety-split, the kitchen was clean. The spotless surfaces inspired her to ask, "Mommy, can you light the candles?"

#7. Have plenty of organizing and cleaning supplies around. I have sticky labels and markers on both levels. I also save small boxes and all types of containers for later organizing. Recently my girls organized our craft supplies using small Baggies and various containers, then labeled specific items. For cleaning, money spent on good supplies is money well spent. It makes children feel like their work is important. Investing in a good dust mop for the kitchen floor saved my daughter an amazing amount of time DAILY instead of painfully sweeping with our regular dust-scattering broom. When our old wet mop gave out and my husband came home with a new one, it thrilled my daughter so much that she could hardly wait to use it. The next morning at 6:45 I couldn't figure out what the noises were in the kitchen (I was still in bed). Finally, I told my husband, "I bet that's Kayla mopping the floor." Sure enough, the kitchen floor was shining by the time I made my way down to make our morning coffee.

#8. Model cleaning and organizing. Even if my kids are not in the mood to work (beyond regular jobs) I just clean to beat the band, and figure they may catch the spirit, if not today maybe tomorrow. The other day while sitting in my kitchen easy chair (I DO take breaks!), I heard my seven-year-old ask my husband, "Daddy, can you move the fridge for me? I want to clean under it." I could hardly believe my ears. Had my second-born, free-spirited daughter actually observed me that closely months before? She must have, for she promptly swept the dirty spot, then asked, "Mom, can I mop under it?"

#9. Be consistent. About regular jobs I am a stickler -- unless the child is so sick they can hardly move off of the couch (or for other good reasons), I insist they work. A few weeks ago my oldest daughter was extremely ill for five days, and there was a very noticeable hole in the couch.

10. Make moves and minutes count. I often try to do something to clean or tidy a room before I leave it. It's the little things done in little bits of time that make a big difference. My seven-year-old demonstrated that the other day when she said, "I'm like mommy. While I'm waiting for my hot chocolate to get warmed up, I'm doing my dishwasher. If I do this now, I don't have to do it later and will have less work then." When I hear words like this coming out of my children's mouths, I know that we are on our way to achieving our goal, to divide up the jobs and get them done quickly so that we can move on to the fun stuff. Maybe we'll even enjoy the work so much that the fun stuff will be keeping house.  

Fun Finger Jell-O

This is an awesome, not-too-jiggly finger food recipe that my big girls make for company meals. Try varying the Jell-O flavours.  Stir until dissolved: 5 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

2 cups cold water

Set this aside. Mix in saucepan: 2 - 3 oz. packages Jell-O 1/2 cup sugar 2 cups water Bring to a boil. Mix the two mixtures together. Then add: 1 cup cold water Pour into a 9 by 13 inch pan. When set, cut into squares.


Freelance writer Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer ( and her family live in a relatively orderly house near Kenora, Ontario, Canada where they have lots of time to enjoy many freed-up moments. Her first book, HOMESCHOOLING MOMENTS AND CHILD-FRIENDLY RECIPES--A COLLECTION OF THE UNIQUE ADVENTURES OF A MENNONITE FAMILY (ISBN 0-9730416-0-9), is now available in print.

Sharon Kuepfer

General Delivery Longbow Lake, ON P0X 1HO 1-807-548-5715

My husband and I live in Kenora, Ontario where we homeschool our five children. As a freelance writer (with a Bachelor of Education), I have had articles published in the Dryden Observer, Kitchener Waterloo Record, Back Home Magazine, Gentle Spirit Magazine, Nurturing Magazine, Home Education Magazine, Companions, Mennonite Brethren Herald,  and Geo Parent. Recently I have had articles accepted for publication in an upcoming inspirational book series entitled God Allows U-Turns as well as an acceptance in Purpose and Evangel. My new book is just off the press, entitled Homeschooling Moments and Child-Friendly Recipes -- A Collection of the Unique Adventures of a Mennonite Family (ISBN 0-9730416-0-9).

  1250 words Reprint Rights Copyright 2001 Sharon Schnupp -- This article (without the recipe) first appeared in The Dollar Stretcher, volume 4, issue