Age-Appropriate Chores

Whether it is summer break and you are looking to keep your kids involved, or curious about age-appropriate chores, here is a great post and printable for you. It feels like over the past couple of generations, there has been a shift from creating independent, to dependent children. I can not count how many times I advise parents that their child can be dressing themselves, helping around the house, and taking care of their belongings at a young age.  Included in this post is a FREE downloadable chore chart for listing and tracking jobs around the house.

Text reads "age appropriate chores for kids". Images include kids doing chores like sweeping, dusting, cleaning up toys, and laundry.

The fact is that chores are a “lead in” to life skills. They aren’t exactly a job for kids to do, but a way to participate in the family. Giving kids chores that they can accomplish teaches them much more than just learning to do laundry or how to load the dishwasher. Our resource, Life Skills Chore Cards is a support tool to help teach these skills.

AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES

“When I was a kid……” How many times have you heard or said that to someone?  Maybe it is because we are too soft on our children in this generation, or maybe people feel parents were too hard on their kids years ago.  Whatever your belief, do not lose sight of what your child is capable of.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has some guidelines on chores for kids based on age and development.

Image has a computer screen with a meme for age appropriate chores and lists different ages and chores. There are many social media comments on the inappropriateness of the chore ages listed.

This Facebook post certainly got commenters worked up on the ages listed for many common household chores.

Comments on a facebook post on age appropriate chore list

Many of the comments on a recent social media post were very negative on the ability of young children to accomplish the chores listed on the image. Other comments were positive and encouraged others to consider working alongside little ones in these household tasks. It is a good read to gain perspectives from both sides.

This post came about after a recent Facebook post on chores that had a lot of conversation. The post had an image that showed chores that kids could do at certain ages. However, some readers thought some of the chores were too difficult for the ages listed. Some readers said things like:

  • “This chore list isn’t appropriate at all.”
  • “This may be the dumbest chore list I’ve ever seen.”
  • “If this is a list created for neurotypical children, I’d take it down a notch for neurodivergent children.”
  • “This is just irresponsible.”
  • “I find these lists are extremely unsupportive as it’s back making comparisons of children and possibly causing shame for families.”
  • “Yeh. Fair. In between age expected tantrums”
  • “This is ridiculous!”
  • “This seems really off. My son helps a lot at 4 and I wouldn’t trust him to do many of these things safely and some of them he couldn’t even reach to do like clean a mirror?”
  • “Yeah, no. Some of these are age appropriate and others are certainly not.”
  • “This chore list is inaccurate and misinformed.”

The commentors, in most cases, took the graphic very literally and viewed the chores and ages as the child independently attending to the chore items with an end result that would be as perfect as of an adult’s. It seems like most of the comments assumed the child would self sufficiently be able to do tasks like managing toilet cleaning, using knives, and other tasks.

The thing is that these tasks might not work for every child. And they might not be able to independently and completely do the tasks, especially every time or on their own.

But, if you ask a pediatric OT or a Montessori teacher, yes, these tasks could be done as a participant. As a learner. As an observer. As a helper. As an area of growth.

That is, mayyyyybe these tasks can be done with the assistance and teaching of a parent or adult. And, with guidance, gentle lessons, and patience. A child could do most of these tasks, in many cases, alongside an adult or older child/teen. You would not assume they do them 100% perfectly on their own, and the image doesn’t suggest that. It also doesn’t say the child is responsible for these tasks in the home. It’s not meant to be unsupportive or guilt trip parents and families based on what kids can’t or are not doing in the home. It’s not a one-size-fits-all list of rules.

It’s a guideline.

When we see age appropriate lists like this, it’s not meant as a “to do list” as one commentor said. It’s designed to support parents and guardians with tasks that they CAN involve their kids in. Maybe you are cleaning toilets and your 4 year old participates alongside you or moves the brush in the toilet bowl. Are they 100% doing the task and is it perfect? No! But, they are learning about caring for the home, participating in IADLs, self-esteem, self-confidence, pride, and a sense of belonging in the family.

Will a child between the ages of 1-2 years old do the tasks listed under that age on this list as a “chore”? NO, of course not. But can they watch an adult, participate in assisting, mimic, “help”, or even just watch as their adult talks through or just does the task. And that’s appropriate!

One commentor mentioned the chore list “oozes with middle class Eurocentric normatively of household tasks”. Well, it’s one list out of millions that are out there. Is this list all inclusive? No. Is it going to mimic every family everywhere with typical tasks? No, of course not. Is it an idea? Is it options? Is it a guide for a place to start? Sure.

This Facebook post was a reminder that not everything you see on social media applies to everyone, everywhere.

Why not encouraging independence and age-appropriate chores?

So, what are some reasons why a parent or guardian would not encourage independence with household chores? There are actually a lot that come up…and these reasons could be part of why so many negative comments came up in the Facebook post listed above.

  • I want them to be a child for longer – doing chores does not rob them of their childhood, it empowers them
  • I like things done my way – we all have a set way of doing things.  It is fair to our children to let go of some of that control and teach them. You can always sneak back and fix things if it bothers you that much.
  • It takes too long for them to do the chores – everyone is in a hurry. In the beginning it takes children a long time to do new things.  After a while it will get faster. At first, choose times when you are not in a hurry to include your child.
  • They can not do it alone – help them with the parts they can not do.  They might not be able to empty the whole dishwasher, but unloading the silverware is a great start. I remember learning to iron, and being tasked with ironing just the handkerchiefs for a long time ($.10 each)!
  • My child has special needs – people can learn at different rates, with cuing, or at a different age level. Not all three-year-old children will be able to dress themselves, but they can help with part of the task. A person who has significant needs may be able to direct their care if they can not do it themselves.  Something as simple as an eye gaze or gesture to make selections is a way of showing autonomy and empowerment.
  • Can they really do this? You will never know until you try. Teach with different methods such as chunking and backward chaining

Chores versus Maintenance

I just read an article that described the difference between chores and daily maintenance.  Chores are defined as larger jobs such as dusting, mopping, vacuuming, etc.  Daily maintenance are the jobs that we do to take care of our belongings.  Daily maintenance might include hanging up your wet towels, putting dirty laundry in the basket, bringing dishes to the sink, or putting items away that have been used.

Think of daily maintenance as the things your house cleaner does not do daily (unless you have a housekeeper who follows you around cleaning up after you). Add some of these daily maintenance items to your list of obligations. Add items such as bring your dishes to the sink, throw items in the trash, and hang up your wet towels to the activities of daily living list along with brush your hair and teeth.

Another term for chores is instrumental activities of daily living or IADLs.  Check out this article on IADLs for more information.

What are some of the other daily maintenance activities that adults do automatically and can be shifted to the responsibility of the mess maker?  Follow a teenager around for a day and make your list from all the things they “forget” to do.  A word of advice?  Start early, making this as much of a habit as brushing teeth or eating breakfast.

HOW TO TEACH AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES

The first and most important step is to have the expectation that your young person can do it.  It takes significant teaching, practice, and lots of reminders, but they can learn.

  • Expectation- start with the mindset that you are going to make the time and effort to teach the tasks and expect they be attempted. The free Age-Appropriate Chore list you can download today has a list of expectations.
  • Follow through – once you have the mindset that your learner is going to do a certain chore, make it part of the daily/weekly expectations. The second and third sections of the free PDF downloadable age-appropriate chore list has a daily checklist to list the items to do each day/week, and a box to check when the chore is complete. Feel free to tweak this in a way that makes sense for you.
  • Reward- daily maintenance items such as hanging your towel and throwing your trash away do not need to have big rewards attached.  Maybe a “thankyou” or “way to go” can be given in appreciation.  Larger chores however, can come with some incentive. Your reward system can be personalized to your beliefs and values. I believe that I would not go to my job and work hard all day without some sort of compensation. This is why we get paid to do hard things.  The reward can be anything that is meaningful.

REWARDS FOR CHORES

Rewards are as personalized as the chores themselves.  What are some of the rewards you offer to your learners?

One tool we love to use is our screentime checklist. It can involve doing chores that support the household as a system in order to get the screentime. Of course, you could include other tasks on the checklist like reading a book, working out, going for a walk, etc. but for many, including tasks like folding your laundry, feeding pets, and taking out the trash is a great list of jobs to do before playing video games.

  • Money – cold hard cash. There is value in teaching about money management.  A job well done can earn a cash reward to be spent on something of value to the learner.  Money management  is another subject entirely in how you teach this, and place expectations on saving versus spending.
  • Fake or pretend money – you can use pretend money as a value reward system to be traded for certain items at home or in the community. Items in your house such as snacks or new toys can have a monetary value on them to be earned.
  • Token Economy – this system is a cashless system.  It is not only used to buy tangible objects, but to trade them for other rewards. These rewards can be whatever is motivating.  TV time, electronics, Legos, a snack, free time, or whatever works.

QUALITY TIME VERSUS MONETARY REWARDS

  • Quality time – this is one of the five love languages. Some people value quality time over a tangible reward. Once your learner can help with or complete some chores, this should naturally free up some daily time for quality interaction.  What does this mean for you?  Snuggles on the couch, movie night, a date outing, playing catch in the yard?  Quality time does not have to have a monetary value attached.  The time is the value. 
  • Tangible or monetary quality time – perhaps there is something that your learner would love to do that is often out of reach due to time or money constraints. Maybe this can be the reward for a week or month of hard work.  A trip to the ice cream parlor, an outing to the water or amusement park, going to the nail salon or a shopping adventure, or a day trip to a ball game can be a huge motivator for many.

Some rewards can be bigger than others. There are times when your learner can delay gratification to earn something big.  Younger learners tend to need immediate rewards to tie into their hard work, like a Skittle for completing a step of the chore.

Reward systems are as personalized as your child/learner themselves. Find out what works for them to help them get through the hard work.

What chores for different ages?

So, knowing what we do about child development, including the physical, cognitive, and social and emotional development of kids, asking a pediatric occupational therapy provider is a great way to decide on which chores to do with kids at different ages.

A lot of these chore activities offer proprioceptive input that is coping tools to support sensory needs. These can be a great sensory diet to make a sensory lifestyle in everyday life.

Chores for Toddlers

The toddler years are a time of learning, and following along with mom, dad, guardians, and siblings can mean that they are involved in chores…even though you are not handing your toddler a dustpan and expecting them to clean the floor. At this age, it’s about watching to participate, rather than “doing”.

  • picking up toys with assistance
  • putting dirty clothes in the hamper, with assistance
  • helping set the table (putting cups on a table, with direction and assistance)
  • dusting low surfaces (wiping surfaces, with direction and assistance)
  • watering plants (pouring water, with assistance and direction)
  • putting away groceries (taking items out of grocery bags)
  • putting stuffed animals on their bed
  • throwing away trash- Putting garbage into a trash bin, with direction

Chores for Preschoolers

Preschool aged kids will also require direction and assistance. Again, you’re not going to expect your preschooler to assume the responsibility of doing any of these tasks. It’s about doing the chore alongside the child, with guidance and assistance. All of the chores listed below are teaching moments.

  • making the bed
  • putting away toys
  • helping set the table
  • watering plants
  • sorting laundry
  • folding towels
  • feeding pets
  • wiping tables and countertops
  • helping to put groceries away
  • putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket
  • dusting low shelves and furniture
  • helping to clean up spills
  • carrying light items to the trash or recycling bin
  • assisting with meal preparation (washing vegetables, stirring ingredients)
  • brushing their teeth with supervision
  • putting books and magazines back on shelves

Chores for Elementary Aged Kids

Older kids can do more challenging chore tasks but will absolutely need reminding, cues, and assistance. While elementary aged kids are gaining confidence, executive functioning, and motor skills, they are still developing in all of these areas. You still won’t be able to expect these chore tasks to be done efficiently or independently, but this is improving.

  • vacuuming floors
  • sweeping and mopping floors
  • taking out the trash loading and unloading the dishwasher
  • cleaning bathroom sinks and counters
  • folding and putting away laundry
  • helping with meal preparation (measuring ingredients, mixing)
  • setting and clearing the table
  • feeding and caring for pets
  • dusting furniture
  • cleaning windows with supervision
  • helping to wash the car
  • putting away groceries
  • watering outdoor plants and garden
  • making their own lunches
  • organizing their own room and personal spaces

Chore List for Teens

Teenagers can do more extensive chores and multistep chores. The teenage years still will need reminding and support at times, because we know that executive functioning skills are still developing.

  • cooking complete meals
  • washing and folding laundry
  • cleaning bathrooms (toilets, showers, sinks)
  • mowing the lawn and outdoor yard work
  • grocery shopping with a list
  • managing their own schedule and appointments
  • babysitting younger siblings
  • organizing and deep cleaning their room
  • washing windows
  • vacuuming and mopping floors
  • taking care of pets (feeding, walking, grooming)
  • helping with household budgeting and finances
  • running errands (picking up items, delivering packages)
  • assisting with car maintenance (checking oil, tire pressure)
  • cleaning out the refrigerator and pantry

RESOURCES ON TEACHING SPECIFIC AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES

For some people, teaching tasks is a task in and of itself. Check out some of these great articles to help teaching certain chores. The chore in the article (such as laundry) can be changed to whatever task you are teaching, as the methods are the same.

Life skills cards – This set of 10 pages of Life Skills Cards help break down functional skills and measure them. Some goals such as “improve self help skills” are broad, and often overwhelming. These life skills cards help break a large goal into functional tasks, giving learners a visual reminder of the tasks being practiced, and a way to track them. Learners use a punch, or other tool, to mark each time they have practiced the task.

Laundry Skills – Washing and drying clothes is an independent living task that anyone who manages their activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living must learn. Check out this post to understand the “why and how” of teaching laundry skills.

Cooking Skills – this post highlights how to teach cooking skills to children and why it is important.

Bright Horizons has a good resource on how to involve children in chores that can be useful, too.

What does a Pediatric OT think of chores for kids?

As a pediatric occupational therapist whose worked with many kids, here’s what I think; Raising children is hard work. Taking time out of our busy day to teach them, is also hard work. This is something we signed up for. Make the time and effort to create wonderful, capable little people.  Your child’s future spouse, partner, roommate, landlord, or teacher will thank you.

Free Printable Chore List for Kids

One tool inside our Membership Club is a resource for supporting routines and skill-development through chores. We put together a list of age appropriate chores, with simple tasks that kids can do at different ages. You’ll also find a page for the whole family to work together on tasks each day. Then there are weekly chore task sheet for larger chores like laundry that might take several days. You can print off this resource and use it over and over again.

To get this printable set, enter your email address into the form below, or if you are a member, log into your account to grab the copy.

Free Printable Chore List for Kids

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    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    Text reads "age appropriate chores for kids". Images include kids doing chores like sweeping, dusting, cleaning up toys, and laundry.