Chores can be drudgery for kids and for parents. Do you ever wish chores could be a little less of a grind? Wouldn’t it be amazing if chores weren’t such a chore?
Don’t sit on your bucket
My wife has a saying she uses to remind our children not to draw out their work and make it miserable. She says, “Don’t sit on your bucket.” When my wife and her siblings were little, her mother asked them to pick fallen apricots off the yard and put them in buckets. Each of the kids were given a 1 gallon bucket to fill. They were told when they filled their bucket, they were free to go play. My wife and her older siblings filled their buckets in 10-15 minutes, but her little brother flipped over his bucket, sat on it and pouted. When everyone else was done, there he sat whining and complaining about the job. He sat on his bucket for over three hours until finally, even he was tired of his own whining. Once he started, he completed the job in minutes and was off to terrorize the neighborhood in no time.
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My wife learned at a young age that work can be fun and when it is, you are more efficient and the results is higher quality work. She has been excellent in teaching our kids how to never “sit on their bucket.” Chores tend to be a strong point of disagreement and conflict for parents and children, but we can help our kids learn how to work cheerfully and take joy and pride in their work.
Kids are much more motivated when we work with them and are engaged with the process. They learn to work hard and accomplish large tasks by watching and experiencing it along with us. The process of teaching our kids these skills and values of cheerful work is best achieved by first, working with them, second, working alongside them and finally encouraging them to apply the skills on their own. This progression may take years and can sometimes require that we start over as they expand their developmental abilities and tasks.
The following are 15 ways to help make chores fun for kids and a little more fun for us as well. No more “sitting on their buckets.”
15 Ways to make chores fun
1. Make it a competition: This works especially well if you have more than one child and they are competitive. Make it a big deal. Instead of just saying, “Okay, who can get done first?” Split the chore into two equal parts and then turn on your announcer voice. Give them fun nicknames associated with the chore they’re doing and do a whole, play by play of the chore. “The crowd goes wild!”
2. Time them: With young kids it can be helpful to start out helping them with a job. Say, “Hey, let’s set the stopwatch and see how fast we can clean up the toys. Ready. Set. Go!” Rush around the room, make strategy together, “You pick up the cars, I’ll get the legos!” When you are all done, tell them you’ll write down the time so that next time you can try to beat your last time.
3. Be an animal: Some may feel a little ridiculous with this one, but it can be a huge success. Everyone picks an animal that they act like while they complete their chores. Ask the kids, “How would an eagle pick up his cars? What is that bear going to do with those campers (action figures)?” Sometimes you may have to ban certain crawling, slow or slithering animals. They tend not to be as effective in fulfilling the chore.
4. Mission impossible: Create a “mission.” An example might include, “Your mission, if you choose to accept it is to sweep the kitchen floor and find the hidden bomb by cleaning up your clothes on the floor before it explodes. You will save the lives of your whole family and get a clean house out of it too.” You can hide a timer in the house if you want or create some other mission of your own or let them create their own mission.
5. Make it a Sport: One of my favorite cleaning sports is Hamper Basketball. You and your child can pick up the clothing and toss them into the hamper from all over the room. You can enhance the fun and excitement of the experience by going behind the back, through the legs and doing spin moves to make the basket. It’s fun to watch kids mimic this and start to genuinely enjoy it themselves.
6. Dance or sing a happy tune: A simple song can make a huge difference in the mood of everyone in the home. Turn on some motivational, feel good music and crank it up. Dance around. Use the broom or mop as a microphone. Invite the kids to sing backup or tell them you’ll back them up. Vacuum with style to the music and let them take a turn.
7. Intermittent fun breaks: One of the big chores around our house during the summer is weeding the garden. On hot Idaho days, sometimes weeding the garden is the last thing anyone wants to do. It becomes a little more bearable when we take it in small increments and interchange it with running through the sprinkler. Before had, we make a plan. For example, weed a row and you get to run through the sprinkler or jump on the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath. You can do this with anything. Find a fun, motivating activity and interchange the chore and the activity. Go back and forth between the two.
8. The toys clean up: Most kids are great at make-believe and it takes away the monotony of the task when they can make their toys actually do the cleaning. Yep, have the G.I. Joes clean up the mess or use the dump truck and bull dozer to clear the area.
9. Switch up the chore chart regularly: I find that most parents that use a chore chart say the same thing about it, “It worked at first but not anymore. The kids got bored with it.” Chore charts can be helpful to make chores more predictable and structured. It helps them know what to do without all the reminding and nagging but it can become too routine. It loses its novelty and then it loses it value. The secret is to switch it up from time to time. Create a new system or just a new chart together with the kids. This helps to keep things novel and gives the kids some ownership of the process.
10. Race mom: Give the kids a chore and tell them what chore you will be doing. Make them somewhat comparable. Make a win/win wager with them. Tell them, “If you finish first you get to pick a small treat, if I win, I get to take a break and play Legos with you guys.” Then race. Don’t fulfill the prizes from the race until both chores are complete.
11. Make a silly song (life’s a musical): Remember the “Happy Working Song” from the Disney movie “Enchanted”? Make something up. My wife and sons do this all the time. Sometimes the song is about the chore, sometimes it’s about something else entirely and sometimes, well, it’s just nonsense.
12. Tell a story during “mindless, monotonous chores”: You know the chores I’m talking about. These are the chores that are time consuming but take very little thought. They are repetitious and often quite boring; things like, folding laundry or washing dishes. During these mindless sorts of tasks, it can be fun to tell stories to your kids or invite them to tell you stories.
13. Pretend. Create “make believe” scenarios: There are a million kinds of make believe activities that can turn boring chores into play. You can pretend you are archeologists digging up dinosaur bones and sending them to your lab. You can name each bone as you pick it up and put it away. You can make believe the room is a battlefield that has to be cleared, or that you are giants picking up all of the town people’s things and carrying them away to your castle (the toy box).
14. Timed work and breaks (work together, play together): This is really just a variation of number 7. You can set certain periods of time or a certain number of items or tasks and then a subsequent break.
15. Clean with a “playful limitation”: This can be challenging and fun. Tell the kids they can’t use their right arm or they have to hop on one leg. They could try to get it done without talking or even with a blindfold on. The most amazing thing to me about doing this with my kids, is how hard they try when they have a new impairment of some kind. Their motivation, all of a sudden, goes through the roof. Now it’s a challenge. Now it’s something to master!
Each of these ways of making work more fun starts off as a joint effort between parent and child, but over time kids begin to apply the methods on their own. They become more responsible for their own engagement in their work. They know that work does not have to be drudgery and that “sitting on their buckets” only steals away their own happiness and takes away from their own pursuit of what is most important and fulfilling to them.
The challenge to upgrade ourselves by improving our own response to work and sharing these joyful experiences with our children, lead to better relationships and help to teach them valuable, lifelong skills and virtues that will lead to greater success in all of their endeavors. Make it fun. Teach them that life is awesome. Even chores can be awesome!
Question: What chores do you have the hardest time getting your kids to do? What do you do to help your kids make chores fun?
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