Over the last couple years I have found myself in a beautiful stage of child-raising: my kids can actually clean. My boys are 6, 5, 4, and 2. All four of them can put away clothes and toys, and the two oldest can wipe windows and counters. The can all (attempt to) make their beds. The oldest can clean out the van and the youngest can finally tell the difference between the trash can and the hamper (it was a bit disastrous before that). They don’t do their work spotlessly, but at seven months pregnant I’ll take what I can get.
As soon as I realized my kids were at an age where they could do chores my biggest question was: “What chore chart do I want to use?” There was a sea of colorful, inspiring ideas on Pinterest. It was a bit overwhelming, but I was excited to start. I dove in and we were “chore charting” it up. But it didn’t take long for me to see that a friendly chore chart could quickly become my enemy.
My first problem was that the chore chart was teaching my kids to do the bare minimum. They would finish their assigned tasks and sprint out to the backyard whether the house was truly clean or not. Sure, their jobs were done, but there were many other things that still needed to be done. The chore chart showed them all they had to do was check something off a list. They didn’t have to step back and evaluate the big picture. No thoughtfulness was required.
Second, I noticed that the chore chart wasn’t reinforcing teamwork. Each boy had his own individual job. The goal was to finish. Never mind that maybe another brother had a bigger job and was still working. If it wasn’t on their chart, it wasn’t their problem. One brother would literally step over another brother’s mess to head out to play.
I also noticed that my kids were becoming “chart-dependent.” With a chart to tell them what to do, there was no reason to think for themselves. It was almost like if a job wasn't on the list it didn't exist. Sometimes I didn’t have all the brain cells required to organize our chaotic mess into neat little jobs and categories. If I asked a child to do a task, he would glance at the chore chart and say, “But it’s not on my list!” Where would I draw the line? I couldn’t make an assignment for every little thing that had to be done.
What I do Instead of a Chore Chart
I decided my kids didn’t need a new chore chart - they needed a new perspective. Instead of a chart dividing up a hundred different tasks, we have one main task for our kids: “Make our home a peaceful place.” This might seem broad and vague, especially for little ones, but it’s amazing how fast they can catch on. Now I spend my effort developing this idea with them, instead of coming up with creative ways to organize chores. I find that it is far more beneficial to their hearts and our home. Instead of giving jobs I ask questions:
- Look around. What could you do to make our home a peaceful place?
- Is there room to play and be creative? What’s in the way?
- Is anyone else working right now (including Mommy)? How can you help?
- Would our home be a fun place for your friends to come play? What would make it a nicer place for company?
- Is there anything Daddy might trip on when he comes home from work?
They are not old enough to apply this consistently all day long, so we still have specific “clean-up” times. We clean up before rest time, before Daddy gets home from work, and before bedtime. I gather them together and tell them it's time to clean up. I say, "I'm not going to pick jobs for you. I want you to look around and decide how you can help our home." They immediately look around. They take it as a challenge. When their eyes land on something they squeal and run to clean it up. They are excited because they thought of it themselves. It makes them feel proud and helpful. They know they are part of the big picture of making our home beautiful.
The benefits to this new system have blown me away. The kids work together as a team because their goal isn’t to finish but to make a difference in the home. Every time I gather the kids to “Make the home a peaceful place” they do more than I expected. They find things that I wouldn’t have thought to ask them to do. They work so much happier because they enjoy the freedom of choosing their own work.
I was initially inspired to "chuck the chore chart" by a friend with older kids. She told me she traded her chore chart for this "Make the home a peaceful place" strategy years ago and now her older kids automatically help without being asked. They are used to being active participants in the care of the home. They feel needed. They don't wait for a chart. Their eyes are open all the time, looking for what needs to be done.
But I’m not Throwing Out My Chore Chart…
I think a chore chart can still be very helpful if we’re mindful of the pitfalls mentioned above. Rather than using one as a checklist for chores, I like to use one for teaching routine. Here’s an example of my current chart:
This teaches the kids our morning routine. They have to brush their teeth, get dressed, make their beds, and tidy their rooms. When these tasks are finished it’s time to start school. When I say, “Get ready for the day,” my kids can refer back to the chart so they remember what getting ready for the day looks like. I have different routine cards for bedtime. I have one son who takes the little circles off the chart and carries them with him so he doesn’t forget what he is doing. I have another son who doesn’t read yet, so even he can follow a chart with pictures.
I don’t use this chart for clean-up time. I use our “Make the home a peaceful place” strategy and direct the kids’ hearts and actions at the same time. I have found it helps the boys develop discernment as they look around and think, “What needs to be done?” - instead of - “What did Mom tell me to do?” I think many moms can synthesize a detailed chore chart and heart training at the same time. For me, it was easier to step away from the chart altogether and teach this broader perspective on caring for the home. So far I’m getting much more bang for my buck than I did with my chore chart.
What do you think of this idea? What do you do to teach chores and character at the same time?
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