Helping out around the house is a normal part of being in a family. And for preschoolers, getting to help like the grown-ups do can seem as wonderful as a trip to the toy store. Unfortunately, what's tough for most parents is finding stuff that a preschooler can do without creating a bigger mess or requiring constant help.
Here are fifteen ways you can let your preschooler get involved in doing regular chores. Remember, you'll need to do a little initial training; show and explain, in simple terms, how to do a chore several times, and be available to help. Your children will catch on quickly. Be sure to give lots of praise when they do it all be themselves.
1. Make a bed.
Don't expect bed-making perfection, but most kids (from about 3 years-old on up), can manage to pull a sheet and cover up to the right end of the bed. Or, if that's a bit too much, divide the bed-making responsibility. Mom or Dad can help with the big covers, and your child can place pillows and stuffed animals appropriately.
2. Wipe the bathroom counter.
Unless your bathroom counter is two miles long, that is. Keep some non-toxic cleaning wipes in the bathroom, and have your preschooler do a quick swipe of the bathroom counter in the morning and/or every night after brushing teeth.
3. Clear dishes.
From about age 3 up, kids can help carry dishes from the table to the kitchen counter. Watch for breakable glasses or things that will easily slip (trying to balance utensils on a plate may be too much at first) but don't be afraid to let your preschoolers try. Older preschoolers can learn to scrape their scraps into the trash or compost bucket and then place their plates on the counter, in the sink, or even in the dishwasher.
4. Wipe the table.
Don't expect perfection, and do expect that crumbs will end up on the floor. But preschoolers can easily use a clean, wet washcloth to wipe off the table after eating.
5. Feed a pet.
A preschooler can scoop out the appropriate amount of food for a cat, dog or other family pet. If you have a plastic container handy, and your preschooler can use a step stool to reach the sink, he can also fill the water dish.
Most preschoolers can't handle a full-size broom very well. But a hand broom, such as might be used to sweep off a table top, works great with a dust pan for a preschooler-sized sweeping tool. Give your child a small area to sweep. My 4 year old sweeps under the chairs and table after our meals. I still do a thorough sweep at the end of the day, but she gets most of the crumbs first.
Kids love Swiffers, in my experience. Alternately, a spray bottle filled with nontoxic cleaner plus a child-sized sponge mop (you'll find lots of "toy cleaning supplies" at any major toy store, and many function well) is a great option. Again, you'll want to assign a specific space. And tread carefully; preschoolers tend to be trigger happy with the cleaning spray.
8. Collect trash cans.
My 3 year-old son easily handles the chore of bringing the trash cans from his bedroom and the kid's bathroom to the kitchen, where I empty them into a trash bag. He then returns them to their spot. Keep your trash cans small if your preschooler has trouble moving them when full.
9. Help unload the dishwasher.
Take a few moments to teach your preschooler where forks, spoons and serving utensils go; they can take charge of emptying the silverware tray. (Just remove those sharp knives, first.)
10. Pick up toys.
One of the most important chores a preschooler can tackle is learning to pick up their own messes. Make it easier by having them clean up one thing at a time: blocks or dolls. Facing a huge mess is as overwhelming for a child as it is for an adult.
11. Help with laundry.
Preschoolers can help sort laundry and can carry clean laundry back to their rooms.
12. Dust furniture.
A furniture polishing cloth, or just a soft cloth, works great for preschoolers who are learning to help out. They may not do a perfect job, and they can't reach high surfaces, but they can get chair legs, table tops, even tv screens.
Older preschoolers can learn to handle a hand vacuum, or even a full-size vacuum if it isn't too heavy. Pushing the vacuum across a rug or carpet is often too difficult, but a preschooler can use the vacuum wand or the hand vacuum to swipe up crumbs, get in corners, and clean out under furniture cushions.
14. Pick up sticks/yard debris.
When you get out to do that yard work, take your preschooler with you. They can help grab sticks, pine cones, and other yard debris and put it in a pile for you, or into the wheelbarrow to be removed.
15. Wipe up spills.
Designate a low drawer for cleaning cloths and old hand towels; when your preschooler spills a cup of water, he can easily grab a towel and mop up the spill. Teach your preschoolers to use a towel to get up the wet, and then to follow it with a wet washcloth for sticky messes (milk, juice, etc.).
Image: Cielo de la Paz.