by Melissa Morgan
ealthy, active toddlers create a
whirlwind of activity, leaving behind a trail of boo-boos, messes,
and toys. Wishing you could bottle some of that toddler energy, channel it and employ it to get more
work done? Teach your toddler these top 20 fun, age-appropriate chores; they’ll love you for it!
Number one is not for the faint of heart. Toddlers covered with smocks or old shirts can
create a colorful, unique work of art using
washable paint on items such as old rusty rubbish cans, metal toy
wagons, a dilapidated wheel barrel, or dusty clay planters. Just remember to put down an old sheet
or shower curtain first, if you don’t want the ground to be multi-colored, too.
Reminder service. Perhaps because their lives are relatively simple, toddlers often remember
everything that you are supposed to be doing (although maybe not what they are supposed to do.)
Enlist your toddler as a junior “executive assistant” to remind you, or another family member, to
get milk on the way home, or to wake up earlier for an appointment. Pay them a small fee, if you
wish. Beware, however, that you don’t nurture a little tyrant—explain that they are helping, not
Feeding a pet—dog, cat, bunny, hamster, or fish—is an essential part of every preschool. But too
often poor Fido or Fifi often gets neglected after a short time of intense interest. It helps to
make a Chore Chart, to add accountability. Attach a marker to the chart, and teach your child to
make an X every day next to the chore, after completion. Next time your child asks for a treat, a
video, or a game, have them check the chore chart first and make sure they have done “work before
If you read to your toddler at bedtime, he or she can remember details of the story to entertain
their baby sibling the next day.
Assigning a toddler to “read” to a younger sibling or friend can
nurture close family bonds. Most toddlers love to show what they know. Your toddler probably can’t
read well (or at all) yet; however, turning the pages, pointing at pictures, and identifying objects
and animals is well within capabilities for most youngsters. This works well at the table, for just
a few minutes while you’re preparing for a meal. Your toddler has a captive audience in a high
chair, as well as an incentive to be at the table—food is coming! It also helps to let your toddler
be in charge of stocking a box or tray of picture books, books about animals, or “I spy” type books,
within reach of the table.
Setting the table is also a great way to keep little ones active but in view while you’re
preparing meals. Out kids loved setting the table with their own plastic dishes, which they had
decorated themselves with child-safe, non-poisonous paints. If you keep non-breakable dishes in a
low cabinet, tots can reach them independently. As they count the number of guests and utensils
needed, they can practice simple math and category skills.
Little kids can carry their own dishes to the sink, as
well as help clean up after guests. They
can learn to treat guests with honor, by carrying their dishes to the sink for them.
In most cases, you will want to wash your own fine china yourself. However, your little one can
do their own dishes, too. Perhaps you can have a soapy dishpan on the back porch for them to wash up
their own non-breakables.
Getting dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them away can be a back-straining burden;
youngsters have the advantage of being shorter. You can make sure that any sharp knives or highly
breakable items are put away, and then allow your toddler to take out and sort the non-breakable
Floor sweeping and dusting seem like unpleasant chores to adults, but most little kids think it
is a game—especially if they can use their own feather duster, child-sized dustpan, and broom.
(Montessori supply shops have these and other child-sized tools.) We give these as gifts, and most
kids need little encouragement to use them. You might even see a temporary increase in messes—floors
soaked with soap, or dirtied on purpose—to make an excuse to clean. Of course, you can’t expect them
to actually clean effectively at first, but eventually you will reap the reward of a child who
cleans after him or herself.
After sweeping, comes mopping and swiping with a small child-sized mop (or cut an adult mop down
to size). Your child can develop large motor muscles, while keeping down some of the dust and
stains. Kids can also have fun, using large colorful sponges to wipe sticky finger prints off walls.
(They may even make a few extra marks, just to have a reason to clean.)
You also might consider assigning a toddler to wash a younger child’s hands before eating,
remove the baby bib after eating, and wipe the baby’s face. You’ll want to be very careful, of
course, to carefully ensure your toddler treats siblings with gentle kindness—an essential life
It is really amazing that many teens don’t know how to wash their own laundry—a skill that a
toddler can begin to learn. Sorting laundry into categories such as whites, lights, and darks help
children practice skills they will need in learning to read, write, and do math. If you give them
their own child-size laundry basket, they will feel ownership of their own clothing, and they can
transport it to and from the laundry area. If your toddler still has accidents, a nonchalant,
practical attitude can make the cleanup easier for you and your toddler. Even a two-year-old can
take soiled bedclothes or clothing to the laundry area.
Small children can learn to put away their own underclothing. They can sort and match socks, and
gain knowledge of their colors at the same time. Talking about pairs and matching sets promotes
logical skills and vocabulary.
Let’s face it—picking up toys seldom seems as much fun as getting them out. Yet, kids must be
kids; you have to make a little mess sometimes, in order to have any fun. The easiest solution is to
teach your child to contain the toys as they get them out, by providing large trays and boxes for
sorting. It helps to have strict rules such as “We must put toys away before getting more out” and
“Only play with the blocks on the tray table (so they don’t end up all over the floor).” It is great
fun to dump toys out of buckets, but you can provide containers (such as large cookie sheets) to
corral and contain the mess. All toddlers will test you in your rules, of course, and the
consequences must be firmly enforced. Honey works better than vinegar, however. So model how to
make a game out of putting the baby dolls to bed, galloping the toy horses into the corral, and
driving the model cars into the garage.
Take out the trash. No, your toddler probably isn’t strong enough to take large trash cans to
the street, but can carry a small bag of trash from the bathroom to the garage.
Still sending out snail mail? Your toddler will love sticking address stickers and stamps on
envelopes. They will also enjoy bring in the mail from the mailbox, and you might even nurture a
budding interest in geography and philately.
Weeding with plastic, child-sized tools—if your garden looks like mine, there are areas where
literally everything is weeds. With your close supervision (as some small children might put
inedibles in their mouths) they can learn science skills and strengthen their muscles. They might
even find an interesting new pet, such as a grasshopper or toad, so make sure you have a bug jar
handy. After the weeding, hopefully, comes the reward—delicious harvesting of red ripe tomatoes or
Raking! Who doesn’t love raking multihued fall leaves into a humongous pile, and then jumping
into it? Demonstrate how to push the leaves into the compost pile with safe plastic rakes, and teach
a little about environmental science. Encourage your energetic toddler to tear the leaves into bits.
You’ll probably still need to shred them with your lawnmower, however, to get them to fully
Watering indoor and outdoor plants is great fun for toddlers. If indoors, it is a good idea to
plan the mopping chore for after the watering, and put your plants in moisture-friendly rooms, such
as the kitchen and bath.
There are far more ways your toddler can help—finding Grandpa’s keys, turning off the lights,
stirring the cookie dough, licking the icing beaters, using good manners and saying “please” and
“thank you.” This last one isn’t a chore, but it means more than all the rest—toddlers can give
great hugs when they are “all done!” Enjoy!
Do you sing joyfully or whistle while you work? A good work attitude is contagious. Through chores,
your toddler will learn to follow directions, increase his or her communication skills, grow in
independence and develop a sense of self respect. They will love hearing you praise their efforts,
and want to imitate you in your daily work. Chores will help them grow, and make them want to please
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