Teaching Life Skills: Cleaning 101

Cleaning 101I need some help around here. Seriously. It occurred to me fairly recently that I would have more time to actually play with the boys if they contributed more to the household tasks. And I don’t mean contribute by adding to the tasks (more dirty laundry, more dirty dishes). I specifically mean helping me tackle the daily and weekly cleaning chores required to ensure our homestead doesn’t turn into a pigsty.

It also occurred to me fairly recently that the big boys (I have 8-yr old twins and an 18-month old baby boy) are capable of so much more than I require of them. Until Jax was born, they did relatively little around the house. Sure, they cleaned an occasional toilet, took out the trash, etc., but they weren’t required to help routinely. Kevin, my husband, and I set their priorities on academics, violin, and their chosen sports.  And quite frankly, when homework, violin practice and sports were complete after school (not to mention dinner) it was pretty much time for bed. As a result, we required them to complete very few chores.

But after Jax’s birth, I literally needed them to help. And they stepped up. They gathered dirty laundry, put clothes away, cleaned up after dinner … all because I couldn’t complete these tasks and tend to a newborn at the same time. But as Jax got older, I got better at managing a family of five and asked Chase and Noah to do less and less. But summer is here, and one of my goals is to teach them how to clean.

As a young girl, I learned to clean. It was one of my weekend chores. Because I’m a list-maker, I made a list of each task I needed to do as I cleaned each room of the house and checked it off as I went along. While my brother might have learned too, I don’t remember him sharing in the cleaning duties. He probably retreated to the bathroom for the hours I Mr. Cleaned the house. I’m not kidding. Every night he and I were required to clean up the dinner dishes, he would literally excuse himself to the restroom after cleaning his plate and not emerge until I was finished with the dishes. He knew I was too impatient to wait him out, and he won every time. But I digress.

Cleaning 101

House cleaning — like cooking, laundry, money management, etc. — are important life skills. Whether they live on their own, share a pad with a bunch of friends in college, or marry and live with their wives and kids, I want them to know their way around a broom closet. So I’ve enrolled them both in Cleaning 101 and I’m their professor. Here’s an overview of my syllabus:

Summer is 12 weeks long, which is plenty of time to learn the basics regarding what it takes to clean our abode. So, over the course of the summer, the boys will learn how to clean our bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen. They will also learn how to complete the other daily/weekly tasks required to keep clutter and chaos from taking over: dusting, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning windows, etc. Now, they know how to do to many of these already. But my syllabus also involves teaching them how often these chores need to be done: which need to be completed daily or every 2 days, and which only need to be done once a week. Their wives will thank me one day I’m sure.

If you’ve followed my blogs, you probably get the idea that I’m big on providing structure for my kids. Cleaning 101 is no different. I know that I need a fairly flexible system in order for it to work for us. While I like schedules, I need them to flex for last minute changes or just because we decide we want to do something different. I know that if I create a master cleaning schedule (Monday: change sheets, Tues: vacuum, dust, etc.) we’ll get off schedule. Once I’m off, I know I won’t be able to “catch up” and I’ll throw out the schedule all together. So that approach won’t work. To help structure a cleaning routine that works for us, while making sure that all the necessary tasks get done, I created Cleaning Cards and Chore Cards.  The cards also relieve me of having to go through my mental cleaning list each day and assigning the boys their tasks.

Cleaning Cards

Cleaning cards are simply laminated 5×7 cards that list the tasks required to clean the major rooms of our home that get cleaned once each week: bathrooms, bedrooms and the kitchen. (I used [Scotch Self-Seal Laminating Pouches] to laminate the cards.) While the other rooms will get cleaned too (dining room, living room, playroom), they don’t involve any tasks that require special training that I won’t cover when teaching tasks on my Chore Cards. For example, cleaning the living room requires vacuuming and dusting. I have Chore Cards for both of these tasks, so I don’t have a separate Cleaning Card for the living room. The boys can use dry-erase markers to check off the tasks as they complete them. We’ll erase the marker and use them again week after week.

Laminated Cleaning Cards allow kids to check off completed tasks with dry-erase markers.

Laminated Cleaning Cards allow kids to check off completed tasks with dry-erase markers.

Chore Cards

Like Cleaning Cards, Chore Cards are laminated. But they are the size of business cards and simply have the name of the task written on them.

Kids choose Chore Cards once or twice a day. These tasks generally take 10 - 20 minutes each.

Kids choose Chore Cards 1-2 times/day. These tasks generally take 10 – 20 minutes each.

Our Cards in Action

This is how we use our cards … The cards are inside a small index card box, which sits in a larger bin [Command Strip Large Organizer]. The large bin is attached to the side of our refrigerator. I’m sure you could find two cute matching boxes to use, but I wanted to stick to something I already had around the house. Each day the boys choose one or two Chore Cards (depending on what we are doing that day). They choose one when I’m cooking dinner (see my [How We Do Summer] post for info on our summer schedule) and sometimes another during quiet time. When they choose a card for the very first time, I teach them how to complete the task. When they are done with the chore, they place the card back inside the small box if it is one we do every day or two. They place it outside the box, but still inside the larger bin, if it is one we do once a week.

We used Command Strips to hang our bin of Cards to our fridge.

We used Command Strips to hang our bin of Cards to our fridge.

They complete the Cleaning Cards on the weekends, during rainy days when we are inside longer, or during their quiet time if they want to get it over with and avoid doing them on the weekends — it’s largely their choice.

I don’t require them to do every cleaning and chore task every week by themselves. I pitch in as does my husband. Cleaning is a family responsibility, and we all share in the work. I also don’t require perfection. I do expect them to give a good effort toward the job. If the end result is shoddy, and I can tell they were simply going through the motions, I’ll call them back for a repeat. But, they are 8, and I expect an 8-yr old’s end result.

While it’s certainly tempting, I don’t use the Chore or Cleaning Cards as consequences for bad behavior. Chores are just a part of life, not punishment for living. (I do use other cleaning jobs that the boys are not routinely in charge of, like cleaning the van, as consequences though.)

And Don’t Forget the Toddler

No, I don’t expect Jax to literally pitch in. But, he doesn’t want to be left out. So, I supply Jax with his own pint-sized vacuum, broom, mop, spray bottle (filled with water) and feather duster. This way he can follow along with us, mimicking our behavior while feeling like a part of the action.

Providing young siblings pint-sized cleaning tools helps them feel a part of the action.

Providing young siblings pint-sized cleaning tools helps them feel a part of the action.

My hope is that the boys will learn some domestic tasks while gaining an appreciation for what running a household requires. Albeit they won’t realize they learned the later nor appreciate it until they are young adults. And, their help really does ease my burden a bit. Now I can say “yes” to the request to play Mouse Trap one more time or go for another bike ride instead of shutting it down because I have to gather dirty laundry. That eases my mommy guilt (a bit). While they don’t love (okay, some days even like) doing these chores, I see the pride in their eyes when they know they’ve completed it well. I also notice that they plan out how they will tackle the tasks: Will they complete them in the morning to get them over with? Will they check off their Cleaning Cards on Thursday so they can save Saturday for all-day fun? Those unintended lessons too are life-skills that, I think, are even more valuable.

Get the Printables

For PDF versions of the Cleaning Cards and Chore cards click here: Printable PDFs. Want editable templates instead? Comment below with your email address, and I’ll send them your way. Happy cleaning!

Add a Chore and Reward Chart to your System

I am a big fan of charts and used them for various reasons until the boys were around six years old. They add structure to kids’ chore lists, provide a visual reminder of their responsibilities, and help both parents and kids track what tasks have been completed. There are hundreds of great charts out there, so I’m linking you to a few that I like.

Find a chart that is easy for you to use. Complicated systems might look ultra organized, but their multi-step approach is often a set-up for failure. And remember to use pictures that represent chores for children who cannot yet read. Personally, I like charts that allow me and my kids to choose different chores for each day/week because that flexible system better fits our family’s needs. But if these charts provide too little structure for your style, simply Google “chore charts” and you are bound to find one that will work for you.

Reward charts can be very motivating for children as the promise of an earned reward can make the difference between doing the chore and neglecting it for days on end. Remember kids aren’t inherently intrinsically motivated … it’s our job as parents to teach them them using baby steps over the course of their childhood. I believe that offering rewards for jobs well done when kids are younger, then phasing them out as they develop the habit of helping, is an effective teaching strategy.

I’ve used reward charts in many different ways. When it comes to chores, if a child has completed the agreed number of chores each week, then he receives a sticker on the reward chart for the week. When he receives the agreed amount of stickers, he earns the reward. Consider your child’s individual personality and motivations when deciding how many stickers are required and what the reward will be. If he loses motivation quickly, choose a small number of stickers and a reward that costs little money (as you’ll be offering rewards more often). A trip to the ice cream shop or the promise of family movie night are great ideas. If your child is older and shows more maturity, maybe he works for 12-15 weeks over the winter to earn a new bike for the upcoming summer months. Whatever the reward, I like to print off a picture of it (e.g., an ice cream cone, bike) and tape it right on the reward chart so my kids are reminded of what they are working toward.

As your children mature, you might consider linking their allowance to their chore responsibilities instead of offering separate rewards. To read how we do it, click here: Teaching Money Management.

Here are some chart links to get you started:

Chore Charts: I Should Be Mopping the Floor, Homeschool Creations

Reward Charts: Activity Village, Choretell, Reward Charts 4 Kids



38 thoughts on “Teaching Life Skills: Cleaning 101

  1. This is so great, Jessica! I just noticed the nice gray ring in our toilets today, and this is a easy way for my two girls to pitch in. Thanks for your templates, too!!

  2. Pingback: Teaching Life Skills: Money Management 101 | jaxinthebox.com

  3. These sound like a really good idea. I have taught my kids a little about cleaning but they really need to pick up the pace! I would love some editable cards.

  4. I saw this on my local news the other morning and I thought it was great. I would love to be able to print them for my kids but the link isnt working for me.
    I would love a Set myself please and thank you.

  5. Hello, for some reason I can’t pull up the printable cards if you can please email them to me. I want to give it shot, i look this may work for my family. Thanks in advance!!

    • Hi, Latricia,
      I just emailed you both the editable and PDF versions of both the chore and cleaning cards. Just click on the link to the chore charts (I think that’s what you were referring to when you mentioned charts), and you’ll be taken to the sites where you can download those charts (they aren’t my originals). Hope that helps. Enjoy your summer!

  6. Just found this on pinterest and it’s just the thing I was looking for as I prepare for summer! I would love the template to the editable chore lists! Thanks!!

  7. I saw you on the news the other morning and would love to start this with my kids. But I can not get this to download.

  8. Hi, I LOVE your ideas, but can’t get anything to download. Could you please email the printables and templates to me? 🙂

    • Hi, Jennifer,
      Thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure why some folks can download them while others can’t 😦 but I’m happy to send them your way! They should be in your in-box. Enjoy!

  9. I would love the editable templates…mainly because I tried to click on the pdf and it said the page wasn’t found. Thanks!!!

  10. I found your blog on Pintrest and absolutely love this “teach your kids to clean” approach! My kids are a little older (7 & 10) but have been spoiled with me being at home with them and doing everything! I started working now that they’re in school full time & it’s time for them to pitch in! I’d love the “editable” file if you’re willing to send it. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  11. Pingback: Teach Your Kids About …. Home Ec | The Canadian Homeschooler

  12. Pingback: Life’s Not Fair and Other Lessons Via Laundry | Jax in the Box

  13. I would love a copy of your editable lists. I have been looking for a way to teach my girls to really clean this summer!!!!

  14. I just found your blog on Pintrest and would love to try your system with my two boys. Will you please send me the editable versions of the chore and cleaning cards?

  15. Just found your blog and LOVE your printables? Could you send me the editable versions so I can expand on them for my bigger kids? Thanks!

  16. Loved your post and ideas–and I would love the editable versions! Thank you…this might just help me get motivated and a little more organized this summer!

  17. I have been looking for something like this to do with my 3 teenagers this summer but haven’t found exactly what I wanted because I want to be able to edit the cards and stuff to make it appropriate for our family/home. If you could email me the editable versions I would appreciate it so much! cdwinters75@att.net


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