Teaching Young Kids to Clean

Teaching young kids to clean
Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

A few weeks ago I confessed that the once-a-month cleaning system I had used for a while was no longer working for me. I mentioned that I wanted to find and implement a method that would allow my children (ages six, seven, & eight) to help with more in-depth chores.

Before I share the exact how-to’s of our new system, let’s discuss some good criteria for developing a plan to get your young kids involved in home care.

I wanted the cleaning strategy I came up with to adhere to the following four ideas.

1. Simple

I have no interest in complicated chore charts that require upkeep from me or the kids. Instead of lightening my workload, this would increase it.

2. Fun, Not Stressful

My day already overflows with character-building opportunities and moments that require me to enforce our household rules. I wanted my cleaning method to lessen stress, not add to it.

3. Introduction, Not Efficiency

I reminded myself that I wanted to slowly introduce cleaning tasks and allow the kids to increase in their proficiency over time.

The most important factor was that we spent time learning together–not that the jobs were done to “my” level right from the start.

4. A Way to Nurture Relationships

Everything goes back to love and relationship–including cleaning. Isn’t that the whole point of a clean house–to have a peaceful space in which to live together? Close relationships matter more than an immaculate home.

With those goals in mind, here are some steps you can take to develop a cleaning plan with your children.

1. Decide on a frequency.

What needs to be done when? I don’t clean a lot. Thankfully I don’t need to–our home is clutter-free, which leaves less to do.

I chose one day each week as our cleaning day, and we alternate areas. One week we clean upstairs; the following week downstairs.

2. Decide on a plan.

Developing a specific plan involves answering a few questions:

  • What needs to be done?

My upstairs list: Vacuuming, Dusting, Changing Sheets, & Cleaning Bathroom
My downstairs list: Vacuuming, Dusting, Cleaning Bathroom, & Mopping Floor

  • How are you going to do it?

Here’s the method I came up with: I wrote the different jobs on small pieces of paper. Each child gets one room or area to dust, one bathroom job (cleaning the sink, toilet, or tub), and one room to mop (if downstairs). That’s three small jobs each.

I cut the papers out, put them in a bowl, and let each child pick one.

We set a timer for six minutes and each child goes to do the job they chose. When the timer goes off, we come back and choose again. I usually spend my six minutes alongside whichever child is doing a bathroom job, since the level of cleanliness in that job matters most to me.

The total time this takes? 3 jobs times 6 minutes = less than 20 minutes. With prep and switching time (& kid interruptions!) it’s more like 30.

3. Decide on a celebration.

I generally stay away from bribes when it comes to my children’s work. At the same time, I do want to encourage a good effort as well as good attitudes. And don’t we, even as adults, often motivate ourselves for certain tasks by rewarding ourselves in some way afterwards?

We “celebrate” our clean house each week with a bowl of ice cream as a mid-morning snack. Technically, yes, it is a reward, but in this one case it has worked out well.

4. Troubleshoot.

After you begin cleaning with your kids, you’ll probably need to troubleshoot to find what works best. That’s part of the process.

In my case, I realized that I prefer working with each child one-on-one, instead of all of us cleaning together. Now I’m experimenting with ways to incorporate that idea into our routine. Eventually I plan to transfer more tasks over to the children, but that will be in a few more years.

5. Think long-term.

Remember that our kids have decades in which to learn to help around the house. Personally, I never had any assigned chores growing up, yet I somehow turned into quite a responsible adult.

Don’t worry about whether or not you’ve found the “right” way to teach your kids to clean, just experiment with ideas, involve them, and the right way for you will unfold.

How have you involved your children in the cleaning process?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Jamie,
    We love the Eloise Wilkins book, “We Help Mommy.” When my oldest (4) helps out she always says, “We are like Martha and Bobby.” These are the two children in the story.
    Age appropriate chores and setting the timer are great ideas. Thanks for your thoughtful approach to mothering.
    Brooke’s latest post: Fair Enough

  2. Oh, goodness–I need the prompting on this one! I’d printed off Tsh’s chore chart download over a month ago but it’s been languishing at the bottom of my paper pile so long I’d forgotten that was once a priority!

    Thanks for the motivation and the getting-started tips–I needed a push in the right direction 🙂
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: The Tyranny of the Library

  3. What great ideas. I have older kids that already have learned how to clean well, so I let them do the bulk of the chores, and haven’t really started teaching my younger ones — especially about cleaning the bathroom. These are good ideas. I think I will try it today.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Kids in the Kitchen: Kids Cooking Together — Cowboy Cookies

  4. I love these ideas – picking tasks and timing to keep it short is so sensible. I have been amazed at how my 4 and 6 year old boys are actually really capable when given a chance to help. Now I just need to get over needing the dishwasher packed in “my” way!

  5. Thanks for this! We don’t have kids yet, but I am sure this will come in handy. In fact, I need to let go of my level of perfectionism with my husband as well.

    Sometimes we just need to be grateful that someone else is doing it, rather than worked up that they are doing it differently.
    Jennie’s latest post: The Tool You Can’t Clean Without

  6. We just started a new simple system. The children accumulate time for chores done. The time is used for the weekend as computer and television minutes. I love it when my 9-year-old boy wakes me up with a pile of my folded laundry! 🙂 However, I know that every system out-lives its usefulness, so thank you for your fun ideas!

  7. This is great, I’ve been trying something similar but life has meant that we’ve fallen off routine and its going to be that way for a while. I’ll get back into it once I have my baby and recover for a long while 🙂

    I had to laugh at your note for “dusting birth room” I remember the story behind that but it still makes me laugh.

    I was talking to my aunt and she said that one thing she wishes she had done differently was not requiring perfection from her kids (now in their 30’s and 40’s). She would have them make their bed, for example, and then she’d pull it part, make them do it again and again to have it be “perfect”. To this day her kids hate cleaning, don’t clean well at home, some hire a cleaning lady since they hate it so much, and they don’t really have the greatest relationship with their mom. 🙁 I am trying to stress that my kids try their best with each thing I teach them, but not perfection. I’ve noticed the benefits of this is that they actually WANT to help and ASK for chores. Maybe that’s just my kid’s personality too but its good that they don’t hate it for fear of failing at it.

  8. We use a modified chore pack and GTD method. Around age 2, each child has a chore pack, which is a lanyard with some index cards and pictorial representations of the work items (including things like wipe table, sweep floor, Bible memory or write an encouraging note to someone). They are done every day. Around age 3 or 4, these cards are transferred into the child’s very own “tickler file” which is just an index card box. But it’s quite a big deal, and goes with some ceremony! Smaller kiddos get no dividers and bigger kids get weekly or daily dividers. Eventually the pictures come off the cards as the child learns to read.

    I wanted something that I could use to transfer work items easily from one child to the next youngest child, and this was a snap! I just let the younger children know that we are cascading some work items, so be aware of new ones! Then I move one or two cards to the next youngest child from another child’s file. I take cards from my own tickler file and put them in the older childrens’ boxes. They feel a little bit “bigger” when they get a work item from mom or dad’s box.

    After each meal and especially after breakfast, the tickler files get referred to. There are also weekly work items in there. I have my own, and so does the hubby. It’s easy to maintain and feels good to get the cards done.

  9. Thanks for this post, Jamie! We are on the cusp of this and I am figuring out how we want to handle it. Great ideas!

  10. I love these ideas! I’m just starting to (slowly) get my girls involved with helping me clean. I’ve always done it all myself and although I really don’t mind, it’s getting to the point where I can’t handle it all! I don’t care for chore charts and adding more requirements to their day (or mine) so your suggestions were very helpful. 🙂
    Amy’s latest post: When She Went to School

  11. Jaime, I like your 4-point strategy. They are great reminders and goals to keep in mind as we implement our own family’s chores system.

    It is SO much easier for my husband and me to just do the chores & cleaning ourselves, but I can’t tell you how much we regret not instilling in our kids more responsibility right from the start. I feel I’ve done them a diservice by not doing that, and I’m suffereing for it now as the kids are having to learn new habits to which they were not already accustomed.

    We now have a Responsibility Poster. It lists the kids’ age-appropriate Everyday responsibilities, their 1x/week Saturday responsibilities, and their Sunday responsibility (verses about the Sabbath). All of these responsibilities are expected of them (they don’t get the option to not do them). We apply the “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” method (II. Thessalonians 3:10). Cleaning up the table and toys are among the requirements before meals (well, we aim to implement this at least 1x/day…doesn’t always happen).

    Now that we are officially home schooling, we are teaching our kids that a child’s “job” is learning. Daddy’s “work” is at his office. Their “work” is at home (a.k.a. homework). So, we grade them on a 0-5 scale for 3 things: Attitude, Responsibility and Effort. Scores are totalled at the end of the week and each point equals an amount of money. (For our very young kids who are still learning how to count by 5s, 10s, etc., we have decided on each point equaling $.05 for now.) Once the kids help me add up their points, we count by 5s to figure out how much they’ve earned.

    My older kids are boys, so we have “Budget Boxes” that are decorated with Pirate stickers and we call them our Budget Booty Boxes. Each box contains 6 zip-lock baggies and a stack of tiny envelopes. Each baggies containes a laminated card with the title of that budget category and Bible verses that explain why we are to allot money for that particular budget category. The envelopes are for 1 of the 6 budget categories = tithing.

    After the kids help me total up the points they earned for the week and figure out the amount of money it equals, I then divide it by 6 (since we have 6 budget categories). I distribute their money and they divide their coins into 6 euqal piles (remaining coins go into the tithe category) and put them in the appropriate zip-lock baggie in their Budget Booty Box.

    If you’d like to read more specifically about our method, go to: http://rustedroots.web.officelive.com/Money.aspx

  12. I have a two-year-old so we’re starting with simple chores. The chore he loves doing right now is cleaning up his magnetic links (there’s probably two hundred pieces of them!) and putting them back into the bucket. He loves it so much that whenever he even hears me putting them away, he’ll run over and say, “Clean up links!” and join me. Other chores he does is putting his clothes in the hamper after he’s done changing into clothes.

    I like the idea of instilling pride and even joy (!) into doing chores. So far we’ve yet to nag or harangue him on the importance of cleanliness; he seems to genuinely enjoy doing them and doesn’t see them as the opposite of fun.
    Sleeping Mama’s latest post: How to be a frugal mom and still buy Pampers

  13. Really enjoyed this post. It’s always been my goals in my family to make cleaning a part of life–just something you do, not a series of chore you whinge about!–quite a challenge as someone who’s natural inclination is to whinge about how much I hate folding laundry. My kids are 9.5, 7, and 2.5 and yesterday, as we were all tiding up the kitchen post-dinner, I had one of those wonderful Grace–“Aha! I got it right–at least for now”–moments. While I was doing the dishes, the two year old was running around with a wet cloth “spot cleaning” the kitchen floor, the, the 9.5 y o was sweeping (and trying to keep the 2 y o from washing all the dust piles), and the 7 y o was scrubbing the table. The dog was also pitching in eating the crumbs (the husband, alas, was working late). It was all inefficient, rowdy (lots of noises, most of joy, some of frustration with the toddler), and kind of messy and we were probably at it for 30 minutes. I could have done it all myself in 7 minutes… but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, or as important.

    Like you, I’m not interested in chore charts, systems, or anything else that makes my life complicated. All I want is an acceptably clean house–and a shared feeling of responsibility for that across the family, without resentment, possibly with joy. There are three things that I consciously ensure we all do together: the kitchen after supper, laundry, and the “big clean” before company comes over. I’m about to add cleaning the bathroom to that list, as the eldest is now tall enough to clean the mirror and the toddler almost sane enough to be trusted with a toilet brush. (The last time we tried it, he started to suck on the toilet brush and, well, things just went downhill from there).

    Anyway, thank you for the continued inspiration and ideas.

  14. I know what you mean about the chore chart system….for us it just complicates things. My kids are all 5 and und 1, 3, 4, and 5 years old so right now I will just use the excuse “Why don’t you keep me company while I (fold laundry, clean the kitchen, clean the bathroom)” I use that time to talk to them and then slyly say “here why don’t you grab a wash rag and help me while we talk” Sometimes they do and sometimes they say no thanks, and that’s ok with me, they may just want to hang with me. I will require things of them in a few years but right now I don’t want cleaning to be another thing to argue about.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: On Keeping It Simple

  15. Great ideas! Thanks so much for posting them. I’m definitely not interested in charts or anything I have to prepare for. It’s just not real life for us! I hope to have a cleaning day when the kids are older (4 kids 5 and under). To make it fun for them, I turn them into Agents and send them on Missions. I talk to them in a whisper and it’s so cute to see them run to complete their Mission.

  16. Great ideas! It is so important to teach your kids to clean and involve them. One is so that they learn how to care for a home. Secondly, it will lighten your load! Especially if you have several children spanning years, having a few older kids who can help you while you are still caring for littles can make a big difference!
    I also think it is important overall that they are taught from a young age that they are part of a team (family) and that everyone is needed to pitch in and help, in all ways!
    Bernice @ The Stressed Mom’s latest post: 10 ways to use shoe organizers

  17. I love it! My 4-year-old is just starting to help out, and she loves to do it. There are only two of us (she and I), so I’m not sure if your plan specifically will work for us. Still, I’ve gleaned quite a few things that will help me. A bowl of ice cream for a mid-morning snack after cleaning? Brilliant!

    Also want to thank you for Steady Days. I’m working through it right now; I love it.
    Tara’s latest post: Images from 2.0

  18. those are brilliant ideas and strategies. cleaning should be fun too!
    Dhana28’s latest post: Chinese New Year Foods

  19. Whenever I plan cleaning, I derive my inspiration from Mark Twain’s best selling story ‘Tom Whitewashing the Fence’. It actually tell you the difference between work and play. What we enjoy is play and what not is work. So take cleanliness drive as play and enjoy it. Thanks for sharing those wonderful yet simple tips 🙂

  20. Love this! My daughter has been helping unload the dishwasher since she was about 14 months. She loves to help with it, and gets excited when I ask if she wants to put away dishes with me. She’s always been with my when I clean for the most part, and tries to help with most tasks like folding laundry, cleaning spills, bringing items into different rooms to straighten up, etc.
    Michelle’s latest post: Dear Relatives, Here’s Why You Can’t Give My Kid Cake

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Never miss a blog post,
PLUS get Jamie’s FREE ebook: