It may surprise many of you to know that I am anti-chore. We do not have any charts or systems reminding us to do daily tasks in our home and daycare. Instead, I try to cultivate a sense of awareness, personal responsibility, and accountability. This might seem like a bit much to expect from children ranging in age from 12 months to 6 years old, but it has been really relaxed and fruitful for us.
My biggest issue with chores is that they delineate responsibility about only certain tasks and everything else is left to parents. If a task falls into a grey area (or something that hasn’t been considered yet in chore assignment), there is a good chance that a chore-oriented child will not take the initiative to do the extra task — especially if they have siblings! Children also learn to become reliant on a system of external reminders and aren’t encouraged to enjoy the intrinsic satisfaction of a clean living space.
By creating an attitude of personal responsibility and initiative, things are done as they are noticed and children are empowered to be proud of their home. My daughter knows that if she walks into a room of our home she can take ownership of how it looks and functions. If it’s cluttered and that makes it look unpleasant to her, she has authority to do something about it. Ella doesn’t need to ask me to move something — if I left my textbooks all over the couch, she can point it out to me or choose to move them herself, and I need to be okay with that because my mess affected her use of the space. (If there are things that you don’t want your child touching, you can have a specific area where it is okay to leave things out or you can use “reserved” signs around your home to indicate that something was left out with an intention to be returned to – this is great for long-term projects, even lego-building with kids.)
Cultivating this kind of personal authority and responsibility isn’t hard; it’s as easy as talking through your own thinking processes out loud. If I notice a mess, I don’t just clean it up, I talk through my thinking process to Ella so she can see that cleaning up is actually problem-solving. When children are really young, that starts with just pointing out that if a toy is in their way, maybe it should be put away; or noticing a spill and asking what should be done about it.
By instilling children with the idea that they are capable of coming up with solutions to any problem, including messes, they feel empowered to take action and find personal satisfaction in doing so.
With older children who are used to the chore set-up, or who aren’t helping out sufficiently, an idea could be to host a family meeting and talk about how you all want the home to function and look. Without assigning blame, brainstorm what kinds of things might need to be addressed and encourage your children to participate and problem solve as much as possible — they will feel more ownership and be more inclined to follow through with actions that they themselves determined to be important.
Discuss suggestions for how to raise a concern to another family member in a respectful way, for example:
- “Adam, I need to use the kitchen table to do my homework and some of your Legos are on the table.” (Inviting Adam to suggest the solution.)
- “Adam, I need to use the kitchen table to do my homework and some of your Legos are on the table. Can I move them, or would you prefer to do it?” (Offering choice of solution)
I do find it helpful to have little reminders about tasks that we can’t easy determine if have been completed – for example, reversible plant signs that show whether a plant was watered that day or not, and it can be helpful and reassuring for some children to have charts showing a daily routine, but that is very different than reminding them to take care of their responsibilities.
(Of course, if chore charts suit your child’s personality and your expectations, great. Some children need and thrive on lists and charts, and are overwhelmed when they are left to their own perceptions. As with anything, you know your child best.)
Next week, I’ll share how to approach a few different household tasks and Montessori’s age recommendations for several different tasks, but for now, I’m curious – which household tasks does your child enjoy and not need reminding for? What do you think of chore systems?