Believe it or not, young children like to help out. It's true! Children actually enjoy and take pride in being helpful until they are "taught" otherwise. It's only when they hear their parents or older siblings grumbling about "having to do" this or that around the house that helping out becomes a chore.
If approached positively, helping out can seem more like play. It can also go a long way in building self-esteem and instilling other qualities that will greatly benefit the children in school and throughout life, such as self-discipline, initiative, diligence, perseverance, self-reliance, and being responsible.
The kitchen is a great place for helping out. Preschoolers can help with simple meal prep, beginning with washing vegetables, spreading peanut butter onto sandwiches, or mixing cookie dough or pancake batter. The table needs to be set and cleared, and spills wiped up. Young children enjoy using hand brooms and dustpans, and they love getting under tables and into other places we adults have a hard time reaching. You can also let your little one sort and put away the silverware (or nonbreakable plates, bowls and cups) after the dishes are washed and dried. If you keep it fun and reward them with praise and recognition, they will be thrilled when they "graduate" to washing or drying alongside you, and eventually on their own.
And it doesn't need to stop in the kitchen. Even toddlers can learn to help tidy their rooms, put away their things, and fold their pajamas or clean laundry.
Nor does it need to end when your children reach school age. It was a milestone for my children when they were considered old and responsible enough to use the vacuum cleaner. Some children like to clean bathroom sinks and change the hand towels. Others like to rake leaves or mown grass, or help wash the car. Some older ones like to sew on buttons or do other simple mending. The list is endless--just look around!
Assigning game names to household jobs is good "marketing strategy." The first such game I taught my children when they were little was "Ant Hill." They pretended they were ants and scurried around, taking every toy, block, or stuffed animal that was left out back to the "ant hill" (where it belonged). Even babies can learn to play this game, sitting in your lap or next to you as the two of you take turns putting blocks or other small toys into a box--then you praise, praise, praise!
Some possible pitfalls and how to avoid them:
There are so many benefits to making work fun for children. Not only will they learn practical skills and develop character, but as you work alongside them they will also learn to work as a team and better appreciate how much you and others do for them.
Originally published in Activated Magazine. Used with permission.