Essentially, I believe there are 4 Stages of Teaching Kids to Clean. For me, it's been a natural progression from picking up their toys to harder kid's chores like scrubbing toilets. Recently, I've been increasing my kids' chore lists. When I introduced the Bathroom Cleaning Kit for Kids and the Free Printable Bathroom Cleaning Checklist for kids, I got questions about how to teach kids to clean.
While I don't consider myself an expert in getting kids to clean, considering I can, at the time of typing this, look around the floor and see various clothing and toys my children have "forgotten" to put away, I do have some thoughts. Some of these opinions come from my years as a mother (8 so far) and my 5 years of teaching children before that. Some of my "theories" about parenting and child development came from my years of college--I received an undergraduate degree in Child & Family Studies with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education and a graduate degree in Urban Education. While all of those years and theories amount to two pieces of paper with a seal, I believe my biggest credential is that I am the oldest of six and lived these stages of learning to clean in my mother's house. Not only that, I made it to stage four--Independent and Responsibility. It's the ultimate goal, after all.
The 4 Stages of Teaching Kids to Clean
"Mommy's Little Shadow" Stage:
I am a firm believer that kids should work along side you, observing and participating in a shared cleaning experience. As you clean, point out things that need attention or that are dirty. This is the time to teach your kids all of those cleaning pet-peeves you might have or pass along your cleaning OCD to them. For example, this is the time to teach them the way you want the toilet paper placed on the roll!
Mommy's Little Shadow stage was for a large portion of the beginning of my kids' early years. For reference, my 4 year old is still in this stage with some of his chores. Some of the cleaning tasks that my little shadows help me with are picking up toys with help, throwing clothes into the washing machine, placing the wet clothes I hand them into the dryer, closing the dryer door, and pushing the button on the appliances when instructed.
"I Try" Stage:
After my kids have watched me clean enough, I start to let them try to do the chore on their own while I am standing there with them. Then, I will usually need to go behind them and either help or complete the task. This is when I usually hand my little one a dusting rag and they wipe everything in sight. I try to find little chores that my kids can try and be successful at to help build confidence and instill a desire to work. (Little kids love to help!)
While my 4 year old is still mostly in "Mommy's Little Shadow"s Stage for a few things, he is in the "I Try" stage for several tasks. For example, he tries to make his bed. No matter how wrinkled or crooked the sheets are, he is trying to pull the blankets up, and for that effort, I am proud. The more practice kids get in the "I Try" stage, they more successful they will be in the end--eventually, they will make that bed perfectly!
"All by Myself" Stage:
While "I do it myself!" is one of the favorite phrases of many young children, this stage is not for the independent toddler. The "All By Myself" stage is when children have finally mastered the chore by themselves consistently. This stage still requires occasional reminders, but with a reminder, the child can still accomplish the chore.
I personally LOVE this stage! We are in this stage with our 8 year old, and I am finally seeing the fruits of all the hard labor in the previous stages with our oldest. This is the stage I really start to depend on the kids a lot more, and they step up to the plate. While each child is different in work ethic and personality, this stage can be a real blessing for the busy mother of lots of littles. Kids are old enough to take things to the trash cans outside, load dishwashers and start them by themselves, start and finish laundry, and so many more things. This is when I, as a mother, finally feel able to catch a breath...and a break.
"Independent and Responsible" Stage:
If you make it to the Independent and Responsibility stage, give yourself a day at the spa, momma. You've made it! This stage in teaching kids to clean is when kids are responsible to remember to to do tasks independently without prompts...because it's just a way of life for them. This is the ultimate goal! If we are to launch our children into the world well, this is the stage we want our kids to be in for several years before they leave the home because this is where they get that practice for being on their own.
Take a look around at our society and you can quickly identify the individuals that haven't made it to this stage...even as adults! We don't want that to happen to our children. We want them to have those kid chores become a way of life and become ingrained in their character. So, this is the stage to strive for. Children (tweens, teens, and beyond) are to be guided to this stage with a lot of hard work from mom and dad, but eventually, the hard work WILL pay off! This is the stage where kids will load the dishwasher, just because they see it needs to be done. Hallelujah!
A Word to the Mother of Littles
You're tired, worn out, and picked up those toys five minutes ago, but now the toy basket has been dumped...again. Hang in there. It will get better. It will happen. Your kids will learn how to get that character underwear from their cute little booty to the hamper without fifteen reminders someday. And then one day, you'll blink and they loaded that dishwasher after Thanksgiving dinner, without prompting, while you finished your pie and chatted with Aunt Gertrude. I promise. I know this because it happened to me this year--he's 8. Solidarity, sisters!
Only a few more years. You got this.
Organizing and Spring Cleaning the Laundry Room | Happy Brown House
Thursday 31st of May 2018
[…] goes back to when I was training him to help me clean around the house at an early age. [Related: The 4 Stages of Teaching Kids to Clean and my Editable Chore Cards for […]
Sarah Badat Richardson
Tuesday 6th of September 2016
My 6 yo helps clear the table after meals, puts the dishes away every morning, folds her clothes and picks up her things 2x/day. She can wipe the bathroom sink and make her bed (although I don't require that- I don't make my own) I just started letting her vacuum and she helps put the soap in for laundry. I'm debating when to start with dishes (we wash by hand...) She's also in charge of making our veggie juice for breakfast and picking up dried leaves from our porch. I do have a cleaning lady come 1/month & she lets my daughter help with wiping furniture etc...
How to Keep the House Clean While Homeschooling - Includes 50+ Ideas! | Free Homeschool Deals ©
Friday 19th of February 2016
[…] At which stage are your kiddos in the 4 stages of teaching kids to clean? […]
Wednesday 13th of January 2016
Totally agree! I'm a certified Montessori teacher so what we've done is set up a couple centers in our home to encourage independence - bathroom, kitchen, dining area, and a cleaning corner in her play room. It's been great for building responsibility and independence in household tasks, and allowing my daughter to join in on household tasks.
Wednesday 13th of January 2016
I love the independence that Montessori encourages. I wish I was trained in it!
Branson @ My Reflection of Something
Tuesday 12th of January 2016
I love this! I think things like this are one of the huge benefits to homeschooling! Kids have the time and energy to really contribute to the family through things like chores and the lessons learned will be helpful for a lifetime!
Wednesday 13th of January 2016
Absolutely! Definintely a benefit to homeschooling, but I think families, in general, can use these tips to encourage independence and lifelong habits.