When my youngest child was 5, she begged for the child-size brooms and rakes on sale at a local toy store. Once the novelty wore off, the broom got less use than we hoped, but Lila continued to enjoy plying her tiny rake in our strawberry garden.
Independence, self-confidence, and curiosity are hallmarks of the kindergarten set, so it’s a great age to get them excited about helping around the house. The key is to approach it from an age-appropriate perspective. “Kids this age love to spend time with their parents,” says Rona Renner, a parenting coach based in Berkeley, CA and author of Is That Me Yelling? A Parent’s Guide to Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Losing Your Cool. “You can give them pint-sized brooms and dustpans to help with while you’re cleaning up — they really enjoy that.”
Many of the tasks you think of as chores are appealing to 5- and 6-year-olds, Renner says. “My children loved to stand on a safety chair beside me and wash dishes in the sink,” she says. “At this age, kids like anything to do with water — you can give them a hose to water plants, a spray bottle of water to use to clean the table together. They feel capable, and it teaches them that work can be fun.”
Another low-pressure way to teach young children to participate in housework is through repeated matter-of-fact reminders. Renner recalls, “I kept reminding my grandson to take his plate to the kitchen when he was done, and though it didn’t happen right away, eventually it became second nature.”
There’s no doubt that including your 5-year-old in the household chores takes more time than if you just did them yourself. And with the increasingly frenetic pace of modern life, Renner says, it can be hard for parents to take the extra time. But remember that you’re not only teaching your child to become a responsible member of the household, you’re also spending quality time together. “We have a problem now with parents being so stressed and busy that they would rather clean up themselves and get a few minutes of peace than teach their kids how to do it,” she says. “And what we’re losing is the opportunity for connection and inclusion.”
Barbara Greenberg, a clinical child and teen psychologist in Fairfield County, CT, agrees. “Every child wants to feel needed, to feel necessary,” she says. “Chores give kids practice being part of a team, a community. It’s something that that will serve them well in the future.”
Greenberg advises parents to be mindful of which tasks to invite kids to help with. Kindergartners are naturals at sorting laundry, but maybe not at carrying the full laundry basket down the stairs, at least for now. That goes for carrying bags of trash, too.
“You don’t want to give the child a chore that is bigger than he is, Greenberg says. “With chores, like everything else, you want to set them up for success.”
Here are some age-appropriate chores for kindergartners
Kindergartners can put socks on their hands and dust lower surfaces that they can reach. Let them show you how dirty their socks get and celebrate that cleaning success!
Putting away toys and books
When your child knows their toys and books have a place (and they can reach it), then they can get in the habit of putting their belongings away. This is a great way to help your child learn organization, too, which will help them in school and life.
Start your kindergartner off watering plants outside with a hose (spraying water is fun!) and as your child’s motor skills develop, they can try using a watering can to help water indoor plants, too.
Hanging up jackets
So long as your child can reach, putting away their jacket, sweatshirt, backpack, and lunchbox are all in your kindergartner’s wheelhouse. Plus, it’s a great way of practicing three-step directions, which is a key kindergarten skill.
Helping wash salad greens for meals
Standing on a stool next to Mom or Dad at the sink, your kindergartner can help with meal prep by rinsing fruits and veggies. Talk about whether or not each item has seeds (fruits) or not (veggies), and you’ve got a great, kindergarten-appropriate science conversation happening, too.
Putting out napkins for meals
Counting the number of napkins is a great bit of math practice. Ask your child how many more napkins you’d need if Grandma were coming for dinner. And what if cousins came, too?
Tidying up their bedroom
Your child loves spending time with you and making you happy. Model a positive attitude as you tidy up and make it fun! Fluffing pillows can be a quick pillow fight. High-five after each item he puts away. Or sing a silly song that makes you both laugh.