Age Appropriate Chores

What types of work can a six year old do? Often the answer is more than we think! Amanda was six when Ben, who spent several weeks in the hospital, was born. She amazed my mom at the quantity and speed with which she could sort, fold, and put away family laundry. Ben, himself surprised me at the same age. One night he was left home with his father while the rest of the kids and I attended the mid-week programs. Dad was upstairs reading, and Ben, my skinny kid with the bottomless stomach, needed more fodder. So this little guy pulled out our oversized griddle and a box of pancake mix and went to work. Tim was blissfully unaware until Ben brought him a snack of pancakes and syrup. I’d been underestimating this boy, something that I’m afraid tends to happen with younger children in a big family.

But this is nothing compared to what children in past centuries were expected to do. Our history studies currently have us in the 1600’s when it wasn’t uncommon for children as young as five or six to be taught to knit stockings for the family. Girls would take drop spindles along as they took walks with friends. Little boys might start spending the entire day in the fields with the men, tilling and planting as young as age seven. Children’s contribution to the household work were not just helpful but vital.

Even though kids are capable of a great deal, sometimes it can be difficult to know what is reasonable to expect at a given age. How do we hit the balance between stretching the skills of our children without becoming unreasonable slave drivers? Happily many, many people have written about the types of jobs that are appropriate at various ages. Of course you’ll have to take into account your own child’s unique abilities. Here are some sites with lists that can give you an idea of the types of jobs that you might want to teach your children.

Lots of Kids - This website has a nice list of chores by ages. I like that it starts with ideas for toddlers as young as nine months.

Homeschool Your Boys - Obviously geared for fellows, this site has interesting lists as well. Besides inside jobs, you'll find ideas for yard work, away from home, and etiquette.

Clean Organized Family Home - Provides daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and yearly lists. (Unfortunately, this site is cluttered with ads, a pet peeve of mine.)

Another way to go about deciding the jobs you want your children to do is to think backwards, something that parents need to regularly do. What are you hoping to achieve? What is the end result you are aiming for? Or, when it comes to practical skills, just what is it you want your children to know when they leave your home? Do you want your daughter to know how to sew curtains and reupholster furniture? Start by teaching her basic hand and machine skills early, and then give her increasing opportunities to experiment in her teen years. Do you want your sons to have basic auto mechanic skills? Build in time to learn how to change the oil and do routine maintenance. Thinking this way will help you figure out what you and they ought to be about in the relatively few years they live at home. Christine Field's Life Skills for Kids:Equipping Your Child for the Real World can be a help in this.


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