Getting a 4-year-old to clean up after themselves can seem like a Herculean task at the best of times. But everyone knows how important it is for kids to build good habits. Not only that, but when my littles were in preschool, I got to the point that if I stepped on one more freaking LEGO piece, I swear to all that is holy, I will give my husband a vasectomy myself. There's bound to be a YouTube DIY on that, right? Thankfully, I learned the best chores for preschoolers, which saved my feet and... other things.
It will come as no surprise that there's a pretty big body of literature dedicated to the study of chores and children. Research has shown that the actual activity isn't as important as the act itself, noted the American Occupational Therapy Journal. The reward is in learning to balance expectations and rewards, routines, and life skills. Researchers wrote in the journal, "Participation in developmentally appropriate daily life activities reinforces a preschooler’s readiness to learn." And they recommended that parents stay consistent with their expectations, while also managing the reality that is a preschooler's less than adept skills. The chores likely won't be done to your standard, but if the effort was given, that's where the value is.
That's why I spoke to a few experts on the subject to find out what the best chores for preschoolers are, and what parents can reasonably expect. Sasha Rustokovich, 34, of Brooklyn, New York is a former preschool teacher and now a stay-at-home-mom of three rambunctious preschool and elementary aged boys. She tells Romper that the best chores for preschoolers are the ones that don't require precision, but that force your little ones to work on their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills.
"By the time they're 3, they really need to be making their own bed each day." She stresses that the bed will likely look a hot mess, and you're not going to get perfect notched corners, but that they can smooth out their blanket and put their pillows at the top of the bed. "They can also help pick up their toys into the right containers, and get themselves dressed. Buttons will still be hard, and so is getting a zipper started." But Rustokovich also says that your 3-year-old can help set the table — "Maybe don't let them walk with china, though. Plastic is OK." — and even feed the pets.
As for the older kids, when your child is 4 or 5 they can start doing a little bit more around the house, says former daycare administrator and mom, Jessica Perry, 31, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She tells Romper, "They can do more than they'll admit, that's for sure." She says that older preschoolers and pre-K kids are ready for bigger challenges — unloading the silverware (no knives) from the dishwasher, watering the plants, and even dusting are all good activities for them.
"By the time your kids are 4 and 5, they should be in a good routine already," Perry says. "Now is the time to build on those activities. Your room is tidy, but is it clean?" She says that 4 and 5-year-olds love a dustbuster, especially. (Unless, of course, you're my kids and you try to attack one another with it.)
The trick is not pushing them to be perfect, but keeping their routine consistent. Let them know your expectations, and that it's just a part of living, not a punishment. Most children hate putting their stuff away — and honestly, so does my husband — but it's important for all of us to set a good example and for our kids to just get used to it.