As a parenting writer, I have had a lot of parent-friends ask me this one question more than any other: “When should my kids start doing chores?” My answer is always, “It’s never too young to start”—and the experts agree with me.
Every kid is different, so consider your child’s abilities and interests when giving them a new chore. In my case, my third grader loves to make simple meals, such as grilled cheese, and fill and empty the dishwasher. My second grader enjoys helping with meal preparation by setting the table, peeling vegetables, and grating cheese.
If you don’t already have one, a household chore chart is a great way to keep everyone in the family organized and on track.
Preschool (Ages 2-5)
Teaching kids to pitch in and help out around the house can start as soon as they’re mobile. In fact, at this age my kids loved “helping” clean the house, never mind that sometimes their “help” made more work for me. The important part is that they want to do their part. Turn it into a game, make it fun, and be sure to praise them for their efforts.
Young kids can:
- Put away their toys and books: Invest in some colorful kid-height bins to make the job easier.
- Dust baseboards and low tables: Pretend play cleaning tools are a great way to encourage your little ones to help out.
- Fold hand towels and pair socks
- Pull weeds
Lower elementary (Ages 5-7)
In the early elementary grades, kids are starting to develop more independence and a sense of personal identity. Giving them more complex chores will encourage their growing autonomy.
At this age, kids can do everything above as well as:
- Sort their laundry: A dual-sided hamper makes the job a little easier.
- Keep school work, books and backpacks organized
- Water houseplants, flower beds and gardens outside: Parenting Editor, Anna Lane’s kids each have their own polka dot watering can to make the job even more fun.
- Get their own snacks from low pantry and refrigerator shelves: We use a set of Sorbus bins in one of the Reviewed office refrigerators to keep snacks organized and easily accessible.
- Help prepare school lunches
- Feed pets
- Set and clear the table for meals: Put the expensive China away until your kids are older, and invest in an affordable set of dishes that can withstand some rough treatment. Corelle is famous for being “unbreakable”, so it’s ideal for kids with slippery fingers.
- Make their bed
- Bring in mail and newspapers
Upper elementary (Ages 7-11)
Kids in the higher elementary grades are gaining confidence, developing their interests, and starting to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Give them only as much supervision as they need to complete the following chores:
- Load and empty the dishwasher
- Peel vegetables, grate cheese, and other simple meal time tasks: Curious Chef’s kitchen tools are made just for little hands.
- Prepare microwavable dishes and reheat leftovers
- Vacuum: Our Best Value Cordless Vacuum, the Tineco A10, is lightweight and a great choice for getting kids to clean.
- Fold and put away laundry
- Change bed sheets
- Wash the car
- Sew on a button: Keep a beginner’s sewing kit on hand to make the job easier.
Middle School (Ages 11-14)
By middle school, kids who have mastered all of the above chores are ready to for more household responsibilities. Give them tasks that offer them a challenge, and be prepared to step in if they ask for help. At this age, consider having them:
- Do their own laundry: Collapsible laundry baskets are ideal because they’re easy for kids to use on laundry day and store under their beds the rest of the week.
- Clean a bathroom, top to bottom: Colorful classroom caddies are great for all sorts of household cleaning projects. Assign each kid their own caddy for whatever cleaning chore they need to tackle.
- Help shop for and put away groceries
- Babysit younger siblings: Visit the Red Cross website to find babysitting and childcare classes so your teen is confident and prepared to watch children—it’s a good idea to sign them up for a CPR course as well.
- Prepare their own breakfast and lunch
- Read a recipe and prepare a family dinner: I love Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat because the recipes are fun and well-written, and there’s an entire section on preparing family meals.
- Fill out school and extracurricular forms
- Take out the trash and recycling
- Keep their electronic devices charged and updated: If you’re tired of hearing, “Mom, have you seen my phone?” or “Why didn’t you plug in my tablet?”, encourage your kids to take charge of their electronics with a desktop charging station dock.
Get a Collapsible Laundry Basket at Amazon for $29.99
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Get_Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat_ at Amazon for $11/02
Get a desktop charging station at Amazon for $38.99
High school—and beyond
By high school, kids should be comfortable doing most any household chore you give them. Encourage responsibility and independence by involving them in any chores you do, with the goal of preparing them for college and adulthood.
“Adulting” can be stressful, but letting our kids try—and possibly fail—while they still have a safety net will help ready them for anything they face alone. So give them an opportunity to:
- Grocery shop for the family: Make grocery planning and shopping easier with preprinted grocery lists.
- Mow and edge the lawn
- Run household errands
- Put gas in the car, air in the tires and check fluid levels: You don’t have to wait until your teen is driving to teach them about basic automobile and roadside maintenance—they should be familiar with all the contents of an emergency roadside assistance kit before they get behind the wheel.
- Organize the kitchen pantry and cabinets
- Clean out the refrigerator: Our guide on how to clean your fridge offers tips to help your teen organize and safely store food.
- Fill out college and job applications
- Perform basic first aid: Make sure you have a first aid kit in the house and car and that your teen knows how to use everything included.
- Make and keep a budget: Everyone loves a good app, including teens, so have them download and start using a budget app like Mint.
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