Find a chore your kid loves to do, and start a habit of wanting to help out that'll last a lifetime.

By Catherine Newman
Priscilla Gragg

To get your young kids into the habit of assisting with chores, you have to figure out which ones they love to do. (Tackle the complex and tedious ones as they get older.) You may have seen lists of chores organized by age, but who can do what and when differs from kid to kid, according to ability, developmental readiness, interests, and any special needs. The following lists are grouped in a way that I’ve found to be much more user-friendly. As a rule, if you assume your child is not ready yet, let her try anyway, and prepare to be surprised.

Special Occasion Chores

These are the kinds of hosting jobs that don’t need to be done a certain way (or, honestly, at all), making them just right for the littlest helpers who may be impatiently awaiting guests. Just give them plenty of time and independence.

  • Design place cards
  • Make a centerpiece from pinecones, fruit, gourds, or branches
  • Arrange flowers in a vase
  • Organize a platter of cheese and crackers
  • Set the table

Fun Chores

These tasks tap into the truest passions of younger kids: the simple pleasures of water and dirt; the technological thrill of gadgets; the deep satisfactions of sorting and matching. As Roberts puts it, “For kids, ‘work’ engages their interest, curiosity, senses, and abilities.”

  • Weed the garden
  • Anything with water: Wash salad greens, scrub potatoes, give plants a drink, pour water into glasses from a small pitcher
  • Sort silverware from the dishwasher
  • Pair up clean socks
  • Use tools or gadgets to pit cherries, slice eggs, or mash potatoes

Rewarding Chores

As your kids get older, they can take on tougher tasks in the world of cooking, cleaning, and maintenance—tasks that might not be fun but provide a certain amount of satisfaction. At the very least, these chores offer kids tangible evidence of their efforts: a fed cat purrs, raked leaves become satisfying piles, a recently raw egg emerges from the pan ready to eat.

  • Make a simple meal or snack
  • Dust surfaces with a damp rag
  • Sweep the floor
  • Vacuum the carpet
  • Fold clean T-shirts, dish towels, or washcloths
  • Feed and brush pets
  • Rake leaves

(Potentially) Dull Chores

These are the ones that must be done, recur incessantly, and aren’t inherently fun. Some kids might love them, so try not to presume the worst or tip your kid off that he should be unhappy. And make sure he feels good about it by saying: “Thank you so much” or “I appreciate your help.”

  • Clear the table and load the dishwasher
  • Dry dishes and, for older kids, wash them
  • Use a sponge to wipe the counters, stovetop, and sink
  • Take out the trash and sort the recycling
  • Put toys away and tidy up a playspace
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