I receive frequent questions about chore charting and the delegation of duties in the household. These questions seem to stem from parents’ concerns when making the decision to homeschool — basically, wondering how everything they did before will possibly get done now.
Let me begin by saying that in order for the house and school to run smoothly, homeschool moms and dads must immediately adopt the position that everyone is in it together. When homeschooling, there are no stay-at-home-moms or stay-at-home-dads who keep the house, no working moms or dads who come home to a tidy home and a hot meal, and (assuming this concept was even in place) no room for antiquated roles of bygone eras. The family operates as a unit, thus everyone pitches in for everyone to reap the rewards of this extraordinary lifestyle. No questions asked. For families pulling children from schools and bringing them home, this may take a short period of adjustment, but will quickly become the norm as the home becomes the central hub of activity and is utilized more hours per day than ever before.
In this post, I discuss two strategies that I use to keep our chore system running optimally. These are (1) conducting periodic chore “reviews” and (2) remembering to “train” children as they learn new chores (or improve how they perform existing chores). I cannot imagine a successful chore system without these important elements. I describe how these tasks are performed in our home, using examples common to many families with children old enough to contribute to maintaining the home and yard. This is a lengthy post but I hope will be useful to those who have requested I explain the process in detail.
Several times a year, I review the lists of chores I assign to my children. Typically, this review comes after several particularly trying weeks when it seems as though many of our chores are not being completed, or when our family experiences some major change in schedules or living situation (like a move from one city to another, addition of a new family member, new job, new pet or extended visit from family).
As I prepare to review our chore charts, I reflect on how things have generally been running around the house and yard for the last several weeks or months that our schedules have been in place. The review includes paying special attention to areas that seem to be constantly messy or unclean in the house or yard, new areas of responsibility that have developed since the last revision of the chore charts, plus any kinds of road-blocks to progress that could be addressed either by the removal or addition of chores on the list.
Examples of household situations that might put this strategy into action include a mudroom that is always cluttered or dirty and never seems to be addressed by anyone in the household; pets that are not receiving regular baths or are not fed nor cages cleaned on a regular basis; a vehicle littered with trash and items that are never removed from the car; or a sink full of dirty dishes left sitting far too long. If these are determined to be critical areas that should be addressed, they can all be addressed by revising the chore system.
Before coming to any conclusions about our chore system, I also try to recall my observations of my children doing their chores and the types of feedback I receive from them (complaining, whining or frustration over chores), which children seem to have too many or too few chores as compared to other children (unequal balance or unfair burden on any one child), and which chores my children have expressed they prefer over others (Translation: which chores they don’t mind vs. which they hate the most).
Examples of putting this strategy into action includes remembering which child does not like to collect trash and clean toilets, which child finds it fun to fold towels and put them away, which child I observe is not strong enough to safely and comfortably push the lawn mower, and which child is not tall enough nor skilled enough to wash a high window. In these cases, a determination should be made as to whether these chores should be reassigned to someone else, whether the child requires discipline or encouragement to learn these chores anyhow, or if the chore is really necessary and could be left undone (or either my husband or I should do instead).
Finally, when reviewing chore charts, I look at the number of children who will be living with us for the next several months (e.g., who is home from college, leaving for college, and so on), who is old enough to be added to the chore rotation (e.g., toddlers and littles grown enough to begin learning chores and helping in some way), new work schedules that must be incorporated into the existing system (e.g., children who hold part-time jobs, are involved in extensive sports training or activities, etc.) and also the increased level of competency and maturity I notice in each of the children (Translation: who is now ready to tackle more chores or more difficult ones). Because chore charts take time to develop, I try to predict what could work for the next several months — even the entire year – so the chore charts will last a while, and I will not need to revise it again too soon.
An example of putting this strategy into action includes scheduling children who are very busy a flexible set of chores that can be completed any time during the week, instead of ones that must be completed on specific days. Another example is to have both weekday and weekend chores so that children who are not available during the week may complete chores on weekends instead, or vice-versa. A technique I sometimes use is to incorporate children into the chore rotation as though they were home full-time, and complete their chores myself until they return home and the chores become their responsibility again.
In a nutshell, the purpose of the chore review is to see how our chore system is presently working, or if is time to make tweaks and changes. Usually (in most cases, probably 90% of the time) my intuition was correct and it is time to make adjustments. When making adjustments, I take all of my thoughts and translate them into a system that I believe can work for us. Depending how extensive the revisions, I might either revise the existing charts or create a new chore system altogether.
Once chore charts have been completed, I run through them in my head, trying to imagine each child completing his daily responsibilities. I think about which children need re-training for chores they have not completed satisfactorily in the past and which children will need to be trained in new chores altogether. I also note which chores are very complex or have many parts, thus could benefit from chore cards (stay tuned for future post) or some type of “cheat sheet” reminder for the child until he becomes proficient enough to do it without extra help.
When training children for new chores, the only way to do this is by modeling it as the children watch. We teach the task once or many times, depending on the task itself. This is followed by asking the child to do it on his own the next time under our supervision. We continue to monitor and supervise the chore for as many days or weeks as it takes until the chore is done properly, until we believe the child can do it safely on his own, until we believe the child knows where all of the necessary supplies are located and is skilled in cleaning up after himself when done, or all of the above. Usually, this is all it takes for proper training, however occasionally I discover a chore is simply too difficult or inappropriate for a particular child, and I reassign it to someone else. I rely on my husband’s feedback for areas that he supervises, and make changes that way, too.
I do not require children to “check off” assignments on a chart, however many families find that technique very helpful. Some families also enjoy giving stickers, moving clothespins or awarding points for completed chores. I rarely run into situations where my children forget to complete chores or perform them badly; however, if I begin to notice a problem with our chore system, I typically ask my kids to let me know when they have completed their chores so that I can perform a quick inspection. Should anything seem wrong, I try to address it immediately before the problem persists too long. As children grow, the need for inspections lessens, but with young children, I strongly advise taking a look and giving praise and feedback as appropriate.
I cannot imagine a home where everyone does not contribute! Too often I meet families at conferences and meetings who tell me the mom is overwhelmed and the children become antsy while waiting for mom to assign school work or projects. This continues to surprise me as I wonder how the evolution of parental roles and concept of sharing responsibilities seem to be lost on these families. When one or both parents are over-worked or overwhelmed and children have free time, these are perfect opportunities to begin implementing a system for children to begin pitching in. Parents who believe it takes too much time to teach children how to perform a job, and continue cleaning up after them as they learn, have not thought carefully about the consequences of these actions. Certainly it takes time for this work to bear fruit, but the rewards are endless, and extend beyond the family home into adulthood when children are able to keep their own homes and assume responsibility for projects later on.
Please use the COMMENT area to share feedback or ask questions about chore charting and the delegation of duties in your family. I would love to hear what you do, or share additional tips to make your homeschool experience a more joyous one!