How Chores Build Children’s Character and Brains

Guest Post by Charity Hawkins

You probably know that giving your children chores teaches them responsibility and is good for your own sanity, but did you know it actually helps develop their brains?

Crafts and educational projects are fine, but your children can probably learn just as much by helping you clean the house.


Folding Washcloths (toddlers, preschoolers)


My favorite chore for my two-year-old is folding washcloths. It’s easy, he loves it, and it doesn’t create more of a mess for me.

I took a basket of washcloths to our homeschool co-op the other day and taught the toddlers and preschoolers how to fold: in half, then in half again (fine motor skills, pre-handwriting). What shape does that make? (shapes) What colors are they? (colors) How many washcloths did we fold? (math)


Cleaning Up (all ages)

When you teach your toddler to put her toys in the basket or hang her jacket on the hook, you are teaching sorting (pre-math). She is also learning character—responsibility and neatness.

Cleaning up teaches language skills (pre-reading)  and following directions. If you ask a preschooler to take something to the kitchen, put it in the sink, and come back to you, she has to a) understand the request,  2) remember what she’s supposed to be doing when she gets to the kitchen, and 3) remember to come back to you. These are no small things. In order to follow two- or three-part instructions, she has to hold an image in her head (pre-reading).

We play a Ten-Minute Tidy game. I’ll stand in the living room and give instructions to my kids: “Please take those dirty socks to the hamper,” “Put the bear in your room,” or something easy for my toddler like, “Put this book in the basket.” They have to answer, “Yes, Mommy!” with a cheerful smile, then come back and say, “What’s my next job, Mom?” It’s all very cheesy, but it teaches them to obey quickly with a cheerful attitude. And it doesn’t hurt that the living room gets cleaned up in the process.


Wiping Off the Table (preschool, grade school)


Every time you let your child use large muscle groups you are preparing him for reading. Children’s brains have to form in this order: large motor skills, fine motor skills, then ocular tracking (eye movement necessary for reading)[i].

One of the most educational things you can do is to let your kids move. Wiping crumbs off a table is a great way to do that. (We use a spray bottle with water and vinegar and a paper towel.)  Other great large motor opportunities include sweeping, making a bed, taking out trash, and collecting laundry.

The next time you are too tired to pull out an ‘educational activity,’ just invite your kids to help you clean the living room. You’ll be teaching character and preparing their brains for math and reading. And ending up with a cleaner house never hurts.

Charity Hawkins is a pen name, but the real author lives and writes in Oklahoma where she homeschools her three children and gives them lots of opportunities to clean up the living room.

[i] Most of the neurological information in this post comes from Jane Healy’s book, Your Child’s Growing Mind.



What are your favorite kid-friendly chores (real or play)? What do your kids love (or hate!) to help with?



  1. You know, I forgot to ask a question, but I’d LOVE to know: What are your favorite kid-friendly chores (real or play)? What do your kids love (or hate!) to help with?

    1. Great Post! My 5 year old loves to organize the plastic “tupperware” type containers. Great for sorting size/shape, matching lids to containers. She also likes folding washcloths. (We say fractions – like fold in half/fourths, thirds etc.

  2. Putting the silverware away – sorting is a fav around here. But my favorite is letting my 6 yr DD help with the toddlers’ bedtime. They love listening to her read and I love watching the sweet interaction between them as she ticks them in bed complete with a song.

  3. Great post! I love learning through real moments in life like this. My kids are 7,6&5. They help with putting dishes away, sweeping, laundry, and even having a role in our meals or making their lunch for school. Our latest project is having them keep their own bathroom clean. We’re teaching them the valuable skills you listed, but also helping them be better team mates in their future homes! My husband is a wonderful helper, thanks to his mom who taught both of her sons to clean and cook from a young age. My mom did everything for us, so when I first got out on my own I was shocked at how much work it took to operate a house!

  4. Last month my two girls said they wanted some work to do to help me so i said i will give youua job/chore. Everyday unless its been a crazy day Rebekah (6)clears the table and wipes it down, and the chairs if they have food on them. Then I sweep, then Laura(5) gets the swffer and mops the kitchen and under the table and highchair. they have enjoyed and Dad and i decided if they did it in a week without me reminding them they get $5, we owe them 10 right now.:) One day Laura dropped her pizza and i said its ok, and she starts crying and says ” no it’s not, i haven’t mopped the floor yet!” i thought that was cute, I gave her another slice . The job they dislike, like me is cleaning their room. Their is a lot finger pinting on whose toys are out or the clothes/pjs left onthe floor. any tips?

    1. Well, my house is certainly not a shining beacon of cleanliness (as my friends would tell you), but what we’ve done on the kids’ rooms is this: I’ve made a list that is taped to the back of the door. So, first they do books, then shoes, then stuffed animals, clothes, etc. My daughter (5) will say, “I CAN’T do it!” and I ask her to go tell me what’s next on the list, so she does, and then I’ll say, “Okay, just put all the books away, then come tell me.” For her it helps to break it down like that. Sometimes I’ll sit in there with them to keep them on track. Also, when it gets too crazy with toys I put the toys they don’t play with a lot in a plastic container up and put it up high in the closet. I just did that after Christmas and it at least made the toys manageable again. I wish I could get it down to like 5 toys, but they seem to breed overnight! One thing we’re (well, I am) working on is to remind them to pick up their rooms after rest time each day so their rooms don’t get so horrendous by Saturdays. So that’s what I’m trying to work on.

      1. And on the finger pointing issue, sometimes I’ll just tell my older two (7 and 5) that they just need to put all the books (or shoes, or clothes, or whatever) away, no matter whose it is. Maybe you could say, “Well, this is a great opportunity to serve your sister. Jesus came to serve and we get to serve each other in our family. It’s good practice for serving others.” They may not buy it at first, but perhaps by the twentieth time it will sink in! :)

      2. Great idea – my 5 year old gets overwhelmed and really can’t figure out what to do next – I’ll have to try the list on the door!

  5. My little 2 year old Bub loves to help Mommy. He hands me the small things on the bottom rack of the dishwasher that he can reach while I put everything away, he hands me the dirty laundry (piece by piece!) to put in the washer, dumps the detergent in, shoves the wet clothes into the dryer, puts shoes away, picks up his toys (while singing his version of the clean-up song), he dusts whatever he can reach (with a damp cloth…I think his Sunday School teacher says “round and round” to him when he cleans his place in church because he says it now while he’s dusting!), he’ll throw trash away, toss his sister’s dirty diapers in their place, and his new favorite thing: I fill up the kitchen sink and he stands on a step ladder and washes the plastic things that don’t go in the dishwasher, like his little plastic plates or tupperware or whatever. He does a pretty good job and it keeps him busy for EVER while I clean the rest of the kitchen! There’s usually a puddle of soapy water on the floor when he’s done, but I’ll just do a quick mop-job of that area and my floors get clean, too!

  6. My two-year-old loves to help me put laundry in and out of the machines, and my 3-year-old helps fold. My 3-year-old also loves to help in the kitchen by washing potatos or rinsing out the cans and containers that we recycle. I’ve been trying to think of more chores that they can help with.

  7. My 3 and a half year old loves to help out around the house. I took the things she likes to do and made a chore chart on my iPad and she gets a check mark when she completes them. Her chores that she does are: helps to empty dishwasher (after I get all knives out first) and she will put away her dishes, cups, and silverware. She also helps to recycle by throwing our cans, milk jugs, and cardboard boxes into a plastic bin. She helps to set the table and just recently she has been helping to clean the table by bringing dishes to me to put in the dishwasher, emptying her plate into the garbage, etc. And although it’s not on her chart she LOVES helping with laundry. In fact, she cried because I folded all of the laundry myself the other day and didn’t have her help. But she folds the wash cloths and burp cloths and she is my sock sorter. She pulls all of the socks out and then matches them up (and I put them together). She is such a great helper!!!!! And the best part…. she loves doing it and being able to mark a check on her chart is reward enough for her!

    1. I love your responce, it sounds like my son. Although I usually do not let him help with the dishwasher (I don’t know why, because he always wants to) I am going to start letting him. Thanks!

  8. Thank you Charity, it is always helpful to know what activities are helping develope your child’s brain in a positive way. I especially love when the activites are things we do everyday-

  9. My children used to love to “paint” the shed or fence with a proper big paintbrush and a bucket of water!

  10. My three year old likes laying the laundry out to fold, matching sox, putting clothes on hangers, folding burp clothes, putting the laundrey basket back, dusting with an extendable swiffer duster, sweeming (he has his own broom, and dust pan) putting away paper towel rolls or toilet paper (stacking). He is wonderful and even though these things take longer to do with him the time flies and he is a big help! He cleans up his toys to, but he doesn’t like to do it alone. Love your article, it’s motivation and I have to admit sometimes he wants to clean and I don’t, so now I will think twice before I say not right now.

  11. My 2.5 year old and to some extent like to help me with the laundry. They put their dirty clothes in a hamper, then transfer them to the washing machine then to the dryer. My 2.5 year old also sets and clears the table (his setting). Those “chores” are the main ones. There are wonderful chore charts for children available on Etsy. I cannot wait to purchase one when the time is right.

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