Go Small: Scaled-down tools that fit little hands make it easier for kids to pitch in -- and they're pretty cute! Tootle Turtle Kids' Push Broom, $12.99, and Let's Play House duster (in bucket; part of a set of six tools for $29.99 that also includes a mop and brush), both from melissaanddoug.com.
Wear It: A nail apron (available for a few dollars at hardware stores) keeps small supplies close at hand and makes your helper feel very official.
Tote It: Personalize a bucket with a face or initials cut from duct-tape sheets. Use it to gather gear, such as our dust monster (see Slide 3).
Yes, cleaning is a chore, but it doesn't have to feel like one. Here are a few ways to get your crew in the spirit.
Use a toy shopping cart or doll stroller as a clutter collector. Send helpers on a room-to-room mission to find out-of-place items and deliver them to their owners' rooms.
Draw up a list of rewards to be enjoyed after each task is done—a round of bubble blowing, say, or a treat from the cookie jar.
Race against the clock to keep sessions short and sweet. Set the timer on your phone, letting the kids choose its silliest notification sound.
Add a dose of imagination by encouraging pretend play. Snow White might whistle while she works, and Inspector Clouseau might check the crew's progress.
We've found a few pint-size tidy-up aids that really do the job.
This bright broom (at top left) comes with a dustpan in some wild patterns and colors (in matching adult sizes, too). Lil' Broom 'n Pan Sweep Set, $9.99, casabella.com.
Your child will be proud to use this sturdy peacock dustpan-and-brush duo (at right). B. Tropicleania (part of a set that also includes a stand-up broom), $14.99, target.com.
A fuzzy microfiber dust mitt (at bottom left) is incredibly handy. Ours are $10 at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Walmart.
Fun It Up: Turn a duster into a dirt-busting monster! Simply adhere felt eyes with fabric glue.
These homemade concoctions are free of harmful chemicals and cost less than store-bought versions (a particular benefit when young cleaners are dispensing them). Your kids can pick essential oils (available at health food stores) in their favorite scents and have some mad-scientist fun mixing up top-secret formulas.
Super Spray: Combine 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 1 cup white vinegar in 4 cups of hot water. Add 25 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and use it to add shine to countertops and tiles.
Sprinkle and Scrub: Stir 6 or 7 drops of an essential oil into 3/4 cup baking soda. Transfer the mixture to a shaker jar. Use it with a soft brush to freshen rugs or upholstery (vacuum it up afterward) or with a damp sponge to make sinks and tubs sparkle.