Chores For 3 Year Olds: What Can My Child Do?

The other week, I was upstairs, trying to put the baby to sleep. I heard my son come to the base of the stairs and shout out, “Mommy? You better come down here! We made a mess.”

Great. Just great.

I just ignored him, because 1) I was still trying to but the baby down, and 2) I really didn’t feel like dealing with it yet. I know, I know. World’s best mom – NOT.

But then – I heard the vacuum going. And when I went downstairs, expecting the worst, the only thing I found was some spilled sequins, and my 2 & 3 year olds frantically trying to clean it up.

You know, I’m not big on “making” my children do chores (because that just ends up being more work for me, and a big hassle). I’ve even had a few onlookers chastise me for not “making” them do certain household activities/chores on a daily or regular basis. Instead, I do chores around my children, and they tend to join in. So I was so happy to see that it was sticking. And I’m happy to report that my 3 year old will frequently do the following with ease and (oftentimes) enjoyment:

Laundry

  • Help place dirty laundry in the washer
  • Help place clean laundry in the dryer
  • Place the laundry sheets in the dryer
  • Help move clean laundry into the laundry basket

Preparing meals

  • Help stir foods in a bowl
  • Help dump/pour ingredients into a hot pan (with lots of physical guidance involved)
  • Help measure ingredients
  • Cut ingredients with kitchen scissors (like green beans) or a knife (with lots of physical guidance involved)

Dishes

  • Towel dry durable items
  •  Help unload dishwasher
  • Set the table (with direction)
  • Self-serve water into a regular cup from the refridgerator dispenser

Cleaning

  • Carry a tied, small bag of trash to the garage (or other trash area)
  • Place recyclables into garage
  • Attempt to wipe up spills
  • Participate in scrubbing floors, dining table, and counter by moving around water, sponge/washcloth, and dry towel (although their actions may not actively clean anything)
  • Participate in cleaning the kitchen/bathrooms by using a spray bottle with water & paper towels to imitate guiding adult
  • Vacuum with a stick vacuum
  • Attempt to sweep with a small broom brush & dust pan
  • Pick up toys when directed

I learned that there are three types of chores:

  1. Ones you can do with your kids
  2. Ones you can do in view of/around your kids
  3. Ones you can’t do with your kids awake – period.

This might seem obvious to you, but I really only figured this out recently. At first, I was only doing chores while the kids were asleep. This meant no break, and a messy house, since I couldn’t possibly get everything done in those small windows of time. Plus, I still needed some of naptime time to – you know – shower, eat, go to the bathroom….all those good things.

Then, I jumped on the “Do it with the kids – do it all with the kids!!” train, and that ride wasn’t nearly as fun/efficient/productive as I hoped it would be.

I realized I was expecting too much of myself time-wise, and too much of them developmentally. It’s ok if my house isn’t perfectly clean, and it’s ok if I don’t involve my children in every chore for learning’s sake. They do some chores with me (like scrubbing the floors and the kitchen table) and play while I do others (like washing the dishes).

And the laundry? Well, I’ve given myself permission to do that one myself, while they’re sleeping. Hello efficient laundry folding, goodbye massive mess. That’s a chore they can always learn another day year. And that doesn’t make me a bad mom.

There are times (and entire days, frankly) when he’s not interested, and that’s ok. I only force chores occasionally – for instance, picking up because the house is beyond trashed (ahem), or cleaning a mess he made that he shouldn’t have. Otherwise, simple invitation seems enough to me at this age. At only 3 years, I feel that exploratory and enjoyable learning is more important than checking completed actions off a list.

I hope this list was helpful to anyone who was wondering what might be age-appropriate for your child!

And if you’re brave, you can let them paint your house.

But it’s not for the faint of heart.

1 thought on “Chores For 3 Year Olds: What Can My Child Do?”

  1. My kids have always liked helping to vacuum, which makes it take twice as long, of course. Focus on the Family had a term for that – a hinderssistant. Someone whose ‘help’ makes a project take longer.

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