Of Duties and Routines: A Chore System

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After the joys of living Christmas and Epiphany, our home is beginning to get back to some ordinary routine.  I love feasting, I do.  And I love the ordinary, too. I do!  Now is a really good time to sit down and invest some thought in how the home is working, and as a part of that, our chore routine.  I finished up our family’s new 2012 chore chart for posting on the fridge, and I thought I’d share it with you along with a few ideas that might help you brainstorm your own.Is there anything more satisfying than thinking about the home: the running of it, the chores and duties, and breaking things down so that each person (big and little) in the home takes a share of the work?  And then…putting it on paper?!  Ahhhhh!  Clearly written out explanations!  One central point for checking in!  It’s a family system that keeps us all working together, and sharing in the duties of our ordinary days!

Each year since our oldest child was old enough to help out (which has been since she was a toddler), I have carefully considered little jobs around the home and posted a chore chart.  The chore chart has grown and changed as our family has grown and changed.  Each year, we revisit the chore chart, rethinking it in light of our growing children and with an eye toward providing them opportunities to grow in skills and responsibilities in the home.
Some domestic arts have been enjoyable to delve into in more detailed ways with my daughter, just as more manly, hands-on, outdoor chores are being learned and completed by my oldest son now, but the regular stuff, the day-to-day stuff, we keep on a chore chart.
After some years of training our children in home-keeping responsibilities our home has provided the ideal training ground for them to learn to work, to meet expectations, and to be prepared to take care of their own homes.  (Please do not mistake *being prepared* to mean that the children delight in dishes or relish window washing!!!)  Children can work and they SHOULD work!  We do our children such a dis-service if we do not teach them the value of hard work and provide them opportunities to learn a good work ethic!  The best place for nurturing that work ethic, and not coincidentally, the most ideal place for learning basic home running skills is IN THE HOME!  Children can do much in helping to manage the home!  Even little people!
Do you have a chore system that works well in your home?  I’m amazed at the variety of chore systems there are out there, and I think it wonderful that as a family, we can choose styles and formats that fit our family, the ages of our children.  Ours doesn’t start as anything remarkable – my husband and I just consider our children, and our home, and pencil in tasks on small pieces of paper that we think each child can accomplish and post it….and then live it for a week or two.  Then, after we’ve worked out the kinks and trained each child on new jobs, it’s time to format it, print, and post it.
Would you like some ideas and pointers for coming up with your own chore system?  Whether you like charts, lists, pockets, calendars and rewards, or laminated chore cards – whatever your preferred format, a good chore system begins in the same way:
  • Sit down and think about your home, how it works, the little and big jobs you must do each week to keep it running.
  • Get a notepad and pencil and sit down with a glass of wine one evening and make a list of all the jobs that need to be done on a weekly basis in your home!  Everyone has toys to pick up and floors to sweep, but think beyond that – what kind of jobs might be unique to you and your family?  List everything, and don’t forget to list some small jobs!
  • Now go through your list and put your child’s initials next to each job they would be capable of doing.
  • Examine your list.  Are there some children that really don’t have many jobs?  Rethink jobs around the home with those children and their age and abilities in mind.  Do you need some ideas  and tools for putting little people to work?
    • We have a Dirt Devil hand vacuum cleaner and it sees a lot of action during the week.  Hand vacuums are great tools in the hands of any child over 3!  Have them vacuum under the kitchen table after meals, or up and down your stairs.
    • Little people are great at matching and sorting shoes, and every family I know has a plethora of shoes!
    • Swiffer dusters are fantastic in the hands of little people!  These dusters are good at grabbing dust so you don’t have to worry about the children spreading dust around.
    • Simple, unscented baby wipes are one of my favorite cleaning tools, and they certainly have applications and uses outside of that cute little baby tushy!  Keep your cleaning bins stocked with several packages and wipe floors, kitchen chairs, inexpensive furniture, tables, windowsills, and many other surfaces.
    • Sort laundry.  Yes.  They can.
    • Fold washcloths and towels.
    • Unload dishwasher.  At least the plastic stuff, or the silverware.
    • Tidy bookshelves – straightening books on the shelf that have been removed during the week.
    • And definitely have them work alongside you or older siblings so they can always be learning bigger chores!
  • Now that you have a nice list of chores and jobs that can be done, time to divide them up amongst the children.  Pencil a simple list with your children’s names and the chores and jobs you expect of them.  Post it.  Let it be messy, simple, penciled, non-descript.  That’s fine!  
  • Live your simple little penciled ideas out for a week.  Work with your children to train them.  Show them how to do a job, how to put tools away.  Have a place for their tools. 
  • Pencil some changes on your chart through the week.  Shift jobs, rethink what you’ve assigned.  As you live it, you’ll find a few things that you can improve.  Now’s the time.
  • At this point, you’ve got a pretty workable plan!  Choose your format.  Here’s where I can’t help you.  🙂  Choose a format that seems workable for your family!  We prefer a chart and we use it as a check-in point.  We train from it and the kids learn it within a couple of weeks.  It remains posted for reference.  There are a variety of different chore systems out there so look around and decide which format works best for your family!  There was recently a really good discussion on chores and chore systems on the 4Real Message Boards.
  • Remember, you’re going to want to re-think this chore chart in just a few months.  Don’t make it so pretty, so full of bells and whistles that you won’t be able to throw it out in a few months….because that’s exactly what you’ll need to do! Your children are going to grow, your home needs are going to change, and your chore chart will need to be able to grow and reflect changes.  Keep it simple!  While it’s good to invest some time and thought in your system, don’t allow it to become so big and formatted and flourished that it has taken too much time and is impractical in the living out.  
  • Lather, rinse, repeat in 6 months to a year.
A little note about our chore chart system and its particulars:
  • We prefer a single page chart format.  It’s easy for us to reference and can live in a common area of the home so everyone can see it.
  • I print our chore chart in a font that my youngest reader can read (Futura).
  • We don’t do checkmarks or tokens or other motivational tools.
  • We do give our older children a little weekly allowance for cheerful (no complaining or grumbling), complete, well-executed chores for the week.  We do not pay for work that was completed with grumbling or not completed on time.  It’s a good way for us to reward good work ethic, the valuable contribution to the running of the home, and for the children to begin to earn money and manage their own money, which we believe very strongly in!
  • The children’s names have been removed from this published version, but would normally be on the chart to designate who does what.
  • In our home, for this particular chore chart (and for the first time), we chose to break out our kitchen and animal duties on a weekly basis, and allow one older child to focus on one set for the week.  They trade jobs (either animal or kitchen) weekly.  We designate which of the older children has a set of duties for a week by using a simple button magnet and covering a child’s name if they are NOT in charge of those duties for the week (you can see in the blue row above the duty descriptions that there is a place where two names are listed – one of them is covered each week, and the child’s name that is left uncovered is responsible for the chores listed below.)  I hope I didn’t make that sound more complicated than it is!
  • The little people chores don’t change.  Learning their chores is done best when there is consistency provided in the home routine.  And though it isn’t explicitly stated on the chart, the two smaller children shadow the older children in many of the chores.  This is a perfect way for them to learn.
  • Though not listed in detail, nor pinned to a certain time of the day, we do list a Quick Tidy on our chore chart and it is the pivot about which our livable, comfortable and reasonably tidy home turns.  A daily quick tidy keeps spaces livable so that we can manage our home a little at a time rather than our home (and the stuff in it) managing us.  Oh my, I do need to write a detailed post on our Quick Tidy, but it isn’t rocket science, folks!  Spend 15 minutes every day tidying your main living spaces.  You and the children.  15 minutes!  Now seriously, we’ve all got 15 minutes to give best effort in whisking things to their places.  See how doable that is?  We try to tidy twice daily in our home – before lessons begin in the morning, and before Dad gets home – but one tidy a day will do!  This post gives some detail on the quick tidy (this is a Q & A post, scroll down to the last question).
  • Email me if you’d like a pdf or a Pages for mac file of the chore chart I posted.

One last idea for you: provide the right tools for the job!  We use inexpensive dishwashing tubs to contain tools and each child has their own tub.  We fill the child’s tub with a package of unscented baby wipes, Swiffer dusters for younger children, Murphy’s Oil Soap dusting wipes for older children, toilet cleaning tools, clean rags, small trash bags, bottles of liquid soap.

Goodness, I sure hope you are enjoying this time of getting back to ordinary routine and order after the joys and delights of feasting through the holy season of Christmas and Epiphany!  As you look toward the ordinary routine, I pray your efforts to manage and order your home, as well as providing your children purposeful and helpful jobs, are blessed!

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  1. Hi Jen~
    Thank you for this helpful post! So timely for me. I am in the process of “re-thinking” the timeframes of our days and this was very helpful- especially the visual of how it actually works out in your week. I always find such practical helps here! Thank you!

  2. I'm right there with you–it's time to refocus and adjust our chore routine. I've found the biggest part of having my teens help out, is me being on top of my game. They seem to know when I'm not paying attention and things start to slip.

  3. Great post, Jen! Are your children still the ages listen in your blog sidebar? (helps me figure out what might be transferable to my own family). BTW, is that a new picture of you in the top right sidebar? You look lovely, as always! 🙂

    I love the idea of giving each child their own tub of supplies. I don't think I have a space to store that right now, but when I do, I'm going to try that! I have this vision of someday handing my daughters their supply baskets, perhaps all prettied up with a new apron stashed in it, as they go off to their first home. I doubt they would find that as touching as I would though, LOL!

  4. Hi Jen, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. I am a mom of one and still find it hard to keep my home as organised as yours but I have to admit that you are a real inspiration! Can you please post you ideas and practise on training yout children in home-keeping responsibilities? How do you discipline? How do you make them follow your instructions? DD is 3.5 year old and I struggle with making her tidy toys for example. Please, share with us your motherly wisdom. Best regards, Teodora, UK.

  5. Love the idea of the allowance being tied to work done cheerfully and on-time!! I've never wanted to pay for chores being done nor give them money “just because”. What a perfectly simple solution. I'm guessing we're not the only home where work is not always done with a smile!

  6. I'm so glad you ladies enjoyed the post!

    Amy asked how old the kids are. Yes, the blog is up to date and reflects their current ages.
    15 yo
    11 yo
    7 yo
    and almost 4 (she'll be 4 in February).


    Teodora asked an important question: how do you get the littles to obey and do their jobs? We implement simple, common sense consequences for disobedience….for all children.

    For my 3.5 yo, IF she balks or doesn't give right-away-obedience (which we require) THEN I walk to her and take her hand and move her to the spot she needs to be. With her hand in my hand, we pick up the toys, one toy at a time, together. Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy their independence! If they don't give right-away-obedience, I must assume they need help obeying. I don't make a big deal, or yell, or ask twice, I just implement the consequence: and in this case it is to physically “help” the child obey.

    In the case of older children we still expect right-away-obedience, we just adjust the consequence to fit the child and their choice. As a parent, I try to remain pretty firm, calm and detached. The consequence does all the talking I need.

    I'll have to see what I can do about a post detailing the training and practice of some chores, Teodora. I still have a couple of jobs I'm training my 3 yo to complete – maybe I can bring my camera along with me one day as we work together and see if I can't give you some ideas for training and implementing simple chores!


    And Kristin….no indeed! You are not the only home where jobs are not done with a smile! LOL!!! That's fine. We don't require smiling! I tell the kids all the time they don't have to like it, or even pretend to like the work! We've all gotta do things we don't like, and as adults they're sure going to meet up with that! All they have to do is be agreeable, obedient, non-grumbly and give their best effort. I'm very content with best effort!


    Happy home keeping and chore-chart-making everyone!

  7. Oh…and Amy! I'm always amazed when someone notices that I put up a new picture of myself on my blog! You're so observant! YES! It's a new pic! I took it the other day with photo booth, but I'm not sure I really like it. But your compliment made me smile!

  8. Jen,
    I wish you lived next door to me! Your blog conveys such a sense of peace, beauty and order with nary a whiff of smugness or seeming “too perfect.” When I read it, I feel so inspired that I, too, can have a home of beauty and order.
    Thank you. You've been a blessing in the last couple of years that I've been reading. May your 2012 be filled with blessings beyond all you've asked or even imagined.

  9. Dear Jen –

    Thanks for your post, I always appreciate seeing what other families are doing to try to keep on top of all those things that need to be done to keep a household running along smoothly. I just recently redid and finessed my process too (and wrote a blog post about it as well). The beginning of the new year is such a good time for that! I generally redo mine at the new year, the start of summer, and the beginning of the school year… and sometimes around Easter too.

    And I like your new picture too – I noticed right away!


  10. Hi Erin!

    Age for allowance?

    We begin offering very small allowances around age 6/7. As the children get older, and their responsibilities increase, we offer more for their allowance.

  11. Hi Jen
    I really appreciate this post. I had a really great mother and I credit most of mothering skills to her, you know, it just comes naturally. I have some friends whose mothers weren't so 'motherly' and they've had to research, read many books and talk to many people to educate themselves on grace based parented. Thankfully there are plenty of great resources around. Well, I have a similar thing going on with cleaning. I'm pretty sure the house my sister and i grew up was clean (I don't ever remember mess or dirt) but I have no idea how it got to be that way. So to have a chore chart like this is a great help to me in understanding some of the tasks needed to be done to keep a house clean. I mean, I get the basic cleaning, but I do remember some tips from a book called Home Comforts (a brilliant resource but for me it's bit 'over-resourced') about vacuumming the curtains. It was amazing the difference it made, and yet I never heard of doing such a thing. It's a bit embarrsing really.
    Anyway, the point of this long comment, is to ask, would you mind sharing what you do on a weekly basis to keep up with the house work?
    PS I alreay have our new chore chart (VERY similar to yours:)) up on the fridge right now. SO GOOD. xox

  12. Hi Francine!

    First thanks for your dear note!

    What do *I* do on a weekly basis to keep up with housework??? Let's see, I'll try to answer as best I can:

    1) I stay involved. I don't let the chore chart run itself. I quietly call the children back if they need to repeat a chore so that it is done satisfactorily.

    2) We live, for the most part, in a reasonably tidy home that is really maintained to a large degree by the children doing the simple jobs on this chore chart. Things are put away at the end of the day (or at the end of the week in the case of kid's rooms). We do our quick tidies and that keeps our home welcoming, tidy, and enjoyable to be in. We can find things when we need them.

    Homeschooling 4 children and managing the home takes a lot of my time and effort. I don't vacuum curtains! LOL!!! Although, maybe I should! I do most of the laundry (the washing part), and spearhead all of those projects that come up mid-week while the kids keep the predictable routine rolling with regard to household chores. It's a good system for us, and it keeps the home manageable.

    My system and philosophy has always been that I do those chores that ONLY I can do – like writing lesson plans. I train the children and delegate the rest.

    NOW…..we do some deep cleaning of the house two times a year: Advent (the period of 4 weeks before Christmas) and Lent (the period of 40 days before Easter.) I take charge of these efforts, but again, the children help. We sort through closets, clothing, toys. We sort through books (mine, the learning rooms, and the kids). We sort the kitchen, the pantry, the garage. A little at a time I go through everything asking myself:

    ?? Am I being a good steward of the material blessings I have?

    ?? Can I/we find it when we need it?

    ?? Do I/we use it?

    ?? Can I pass it along to bless another family?

    The two seasons we do this deep cleaning help us spiritually in detaching from material things and letting them go, and in doing so, we always end up with less. The older I get, the less I realize we need. In order for our home to be reasonably ordered, and for us to find those material blessings that are useful, that assist us, that are tools or enjoyable toys that light up the imagination – there cannot be an excess. So, these deep cleans we undertake are all about working in:

    1) one space at a time
    2) looking at it with an eye toward how that space serves the family
    3) putting back ONLY the stuff that serves the family in that space
    4) cleaning as we go (to include things like washing curtains, wiping out inside of cupboards, reorganizing materials, etc.)

    I'm not sure if that's what you were looking for, Francine??? I have the book *Home Comforts* and really like it! The important thing is to make tasks like –> vacuum curtains <-- fit within the scope of your family. Most of us aren't going to vacuum the curtains weekly....but we might toss them in the wash once a millenia if we're reminded by a neat book like *Home Comforts* that those things could use a cleaning every now and again! 🙂

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