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Teaching and Parenting Young Children with Special Needs

IEL Blog: Teaching and Parenting Young Children with Special Needs
Chores and Children: A Time to Learn About
By Susan Fowler, February 2014

S. Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a professor of special education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of the Illinois Early Intervention (EI) Clearinghouse. The Illinois EI Clearinghouse identifies, collects, and disseminates research-based and best-practice materials and information on EI for parents, practitioners, and EI professionals in Illinois.

Dr. Fowler works with students who are preparing for careers in EI and early childhood special education and with graduate students who do research in the area of EI and preschool services. Susan also provides professional development at national and state conferences related to the topic of transition from EI services into preschool and from preschool into kindergarten. Dr. Fowler is past president of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the largest international organization for special education professionals.

Feel free to contact Dr. Fowler through this online form.

Real Work: Preschoolers Can Help is the topic of a popular Tip Sheet. Even young children can help at school and home with simple chores. We’ve added adaptations for children who may need extra help in following routines or making daily transitions.

Start small and take time for training

Preschoolers need step-by-step instructions for new tasks and time to practice. Keep the tasks simple. Demonstrate as needed. Most children will learn quickly from observation.  Other children benefit from friendly reminders and visual supports.

For example, a sequence of photos can show the steps for starting, doing, and ending a chore. If the child is helping to clean tables before or after snack, consider using a picture board. The first photo shows the supplies (sponge and water spray bottle), the second picture shows spraying the table, the third shows using the sponge to wipe the table, and the fourth demonstrates putting away the supplies.

If the task has too many steps, break it up and start with one step a day, adding more as the child shows confidence. If a child is uncertain, ask a peer to be a “chore buddy” to show and help the child the first few times.

Assign chores wisely

Let children choose from a list, using photos of each chore (e.g., feeding the fish, watering plants). A child is often motivated by the opportunity to choose and to do a preferred chore.

Note: Tasks for preschool children should not involve hot water, heavy equipment, animal or human waste, or toxic chemicals!

Encourage with words and fun

Have fun while you work together. “Let’s pretend that the table is thirsty and wants a squirt of water!” “You make the table sparkle. I like working with you.”

Focus on effort, complementing the child for trying. “You filled the cup with food for the hungry fish!”

Focus on completion; children like to check off tasks. Consider a picture list of chores with space for children to make a checkmark when they are done. To help children finish a chore in a timely way, consider setting a timer and play “beat the timer.”

Plan for the next activity

Does the child know what to do when the chore is finished? Afterward, suggest a preferred activity, such as finding a book or rejoining a group.

Set a good example

Help children see your satisfaction with a chore you’ve completed. “The supplies are so easy to find since I organized the shelf.”


IEL Tip Sheet

Other Resources

Increasingly, children with developmental delays or disabilities are attending community-based programs where teachers may have limited information about ways to help a child with special needs be a participating member of their community. Parents who have a child with special needs also may want to know more about adapting family activities to more fully include the child.


The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.