7 Chores Your Toddler Can Start Learning Today
"It's just easier if I do it myself." When my twins were toddlers I thought that every day. It seemed that everything we did together took twice as long and was easily three times as messy than if I had just done it myself.
And yet, I kept at it because I knew a major parenting secret.
One of the first chores that my toddlers took over was loading the dishwasher. This is the perfect example of something that is way easier if I do it myself and a ton less messy and yet I encouraged them to do it. They would toddle between the table and the dishwasher with plates at odd angles and cups upside down leaving a little trail of milk and peas in their wake. Obviously once they were done helping, I then had to have them help me wipe up all the milk and pick up all the little peas.
Sounds fun, right? So why didn't I just give up and do it myself?
One of the major parenting secrets is that it is easier to start young. In essence you are developing habits.
My kids don't think twice about busing their dishes now because from the age of 15 months on they just did it. Helping around the house is a part of their daily and weekly routine. This is not to say that are always thrilled to put away their laundry or carry in groceries, but they do it because it is what they have always done.
Furthermore, that hard work when they are tiny pays off in the long run. If you start developing routines and skills at a young age, they become ingrained more than if you start later.
So what can toddlers do?
I remember some parents being shocked by what we asked toddlers to do and what they were able to do when I was a toddler teacher. Toddlers truly are remarkably capable little beings and what's more, they love to exercise those skills. They might spill peas all over the floor but they are immensely proud of all of their accomplishments and if you think towards the end goal - self sufficient, happy, helpful people - then you will embrace that trail of peas too.
This is an easy one and probably obvious, but toddlers can start to dress themselves. Here are some simple tips to get you started:
*Provide clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Avoid anything with zippers, buttons, or snaps until their fine motor skills have mastered these skills.
*Make your child's clothes accessible so they can make choices OR pick out two outfits and then let them decide which to wear.
*While they are learning, stay nearby for support. Let them try and wait for them to get frustrated before you step in.
*When they start to get frustrated, say "I'm right here. If you need help just say 'Help.'" and wait for them to sign or say help. Remember that a little frustration is okay in the learning process. They will indicate when they want you to step in.
*When you do help, do the minimum that is needed to help them and then let them take back over the process. This is called scaffolding in the teacher world and is huge in building autonomy in any skill.
*Plan extra time (and patience) for this process because it will be a lot slower at first. Eventually however, they will do this all on their own while you do other things!
If their clothes are already accessible then this one should be no problem. Laundry is actually an excellent time to practice sorting, matching, and other skills in a natural way.
*Fold wash cloths and hand towels
*Sort laundry into piles for each person or into types of clothing (like shirts here, socks there)
*Carry small piles of laundry
*Fold shorts in half
*Put things in their correct spot
All of this requires instruction and patience at first. Start with one or two tasks and work up from there. Toddlers are naturally eager to help so you are utilizing plenty of energy to learn and natural motivation to help.
Loading and unloading a dishwasher is a job that toddlers can help with and it gives them an opportunity to practice match and sort. For example, all of the bowls go with this bowl. All of the cups go somewhere else.
Before you start remove anything you are concerned about breaking or anything sharp, like a sharp knife, from the dishwasher.
Unloading a dishwasher is essentially just putting things away and toddlers are great at that with instruction. Maybe start small with the silverware being their job. They can sort the knives, forks, and spoons into their correct spots. Gradually increase their tasks as they master one part and improve their speed.
To help load the dishwasher, toddlers need to learn the coordination to transport things from the table.
They will need some help learning to hold things with two hands and not carry too much at once. When they successfully arrive at the dishwasher they will need to learn where things go. We started with cups and silverware to learn the general process. Then we started working on carrying plates, jumping the scraps in the garbage and then putting plates in the dishwasher.
I truly understand how time consuming and messy this may be at first, but I promise you it won't take long for them to catch on and then you will be saved decades of clearing the table by yourself.
With bussing dishes, and most things toddler, comes spills. As unfortunate as the timing or results may be, spills are an excellent opportunity to learn a life skill. When you make a mess, you clean it up.
From learning to pour milk, eating and drinking at the table, and bussing dishes I learned to keep a stash of wash cloths on hand at all times. Wash cloths are a handy way to soak up spills without going through a roll of paper towels at every meal.
Our twins are in the habit now of bringing a wash cloth to the table when they set out their plate and cup. The wash cloths are getting used less and less frequently, but when a spill does occur or body parts get covered in peanut butter, the wash cloth is ready to go. When we need more, there is a basket of wash cloths in the floor next to the sink in the bathroom.
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When toddlers are grabbing you and pleading for a meal to start, give them a job to do. They will feel useful and you can finish the meal.
Just as toddlers can bus dishes to the kitchen, they can also set the table. It might not look like a 4 star restaurant, but all of the parts will make it and they will be pleased to have contributed to the process.
Whether it is plants you have planted together or ones you already have around the house, watering plants is a great way to involve your children in chores and help them understand the life of plants. A few days a week, we have chore time built into our morning schedule. Our toddlers help with a variety of chores, one of which is watering plants.
*I pull down the plants that are in higher windows
*They collect their spray bottles from the kitchen.
*Let them spray their plants to water.
*Have a towel handy to wipe up any spills or excess water.
The first time we watered the plants, I demonstrated how to use the spray bottles.
*I showed them how to twist the end to let the water out. We talked about how we want the water to be more of a mist to be gentle on our flowers.
*We practiced directing their spray towards their target.
*Ground rules were laid out for what bottles should be used (in our case they are for plants, windows, and mirrors).
Now they work for a while on watering the plants, while I work on other chores in the morning a couple times of days.
One of the keys to maintaining some amount of organization in your home is getting others to help clean up. Just as our toddlers were expected to help wipe up spills and put away the dishes they use, they were also expected to help clean up their toys.
When they were younger toddlers they were simply expected to help. This usually meant they would put away one basket of toys or take care of places all the books back on a shelf while I would scurry around doing the rest.
Eventually however they took over this task entirely. There are dozens of clean up songs that you can sing or play to signal clean up time or motivate your little helpers. Our favorite was simply:
Do you know what time it is?
Do you know what time it is?
Do you know what time it is?
It's time to clean up so we can ______ (go have lunch, read a book, go to the park, etc)
Fast forward three years to today.
My kids are 5 now and as long as the days seem sometimes those years have flown past.
When they got up this morning they got dressed by themselves from their closet of clothes they put away on Friday, went to the kitchen and unloaded the dishwasher, set the table, got everything they needed for breakfast with some small assists, ate breakfast, bused their dishes to the dishwasher, brushed their teeth and put on their shoes. On their own.
Now they are 5, not 20, and they aren't perfect so I did have to remind one of them refocus during breakfast and a spoon got left on the table and someone put their shoes on the wrong feet - but these are small things in the broad scheme of a morning. We have come a long way from that trail of milk and peas and you will too!
I recommend stocking up on washcloths. We use them instead of paper towels and napkins to clean up spills and wipe hands. Eco-friendly and less expensive!
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