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Chores and Children: A Time to Learn

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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.”

Susan Fowler

Susan Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a retired professor of special education at the University of Illinois. Susan’s doctorate was in developmental and child psychology and she was one of the pioneers in early childhood special education and developmental disabilities. She also is a parent of a young man with exceptionalities.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2022