Category Archives: Housekeeping

10 steps to create a chore chart system for kids

As children grow, the twin issues of nurturing good habits and encouraging personal responsibility arise.

Two years ago when I had 3 kids aged 5 and below, it was only a matter of time before necessity demanded that we start addressing these issues. There were more beds to be made. More heads to comb. More mayhem to get out of the door on time.

Here are 10 steps I’ve learned on how to encourage young children to grow in personal responsibility, beginning with learning Practical Life Skills and then practising those skills habitually using a chore chart system. The process of learning Practical Life Skills can begin with a 2 year old toddler.

Learning Practical Life Skills: 4 Preliminary Steps

1. Be an example.   There is a lot we might need to change, as parents, before we can expect our children to mature. If we haven’t been particularly consistent with time or healthy personal habits, we can’t expect our children to learn from us.

2. Let them participate in daily chores.   Children learn a great deal by active participation. You might like to check out this previous post on encouraging autonomy in toddlers through kitchen play.

3. Be encouraging.   When kids help, sincere and kind words, saying “good job” or “that was really helpful of you”, goes a long way.

4. Teach basic practical skills.   A toddler can start learning how to comb his hair, put his toys away, take off his own shorts, wash his hands before and after meals, put dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and clear his own dishes to the sink.

Gradually, as he becomes a preschooler, he can move towards dressing up, combing his own hair, hanging up his pajamas, tidying his own bedroom, learning to set a table, helping to put away groceries and fixing basic snacks like buttered bread, or a cheese cracker sandwich. Once a child has learned these skills, it becomes reasonable to expect that he can do those things independently over time.

Move from Readiness Skills to Habit

It’s one thing to be able to tidy a room on a one off basis, it’s another to do it regularly. The purpose of a chore chart is to move kids to the next step – to cultivate an independent habit of doing certain tasks.

5. Create a chore chart.   Write a list of essential tasks you’d like your child to accomplish on a daily basis. These should be tasks he is mostly capable of doing independently. Alternatively, you could list tasks you’d like to begin helping your child through initially, with the goal of him becoming more independent later on.

List the tasks in order of when they should be done.

Our Chore Chart (current)



If you have more than one child, it helps to print each Chore Chart on different coloured paper. I encase each chart in plastic so the kids can tick off their lists with a water based marker. Their charts are taped behind their bedroom door at a suitable height. Markers are kept in a stationery holder on their dresser table.

For children who cannot read yet, it helps to draw a representation of the activity directly next to the word (eg. for “brush teeth”, draw a toothbrush).

Lamb's first chart

Lamb’s first chart

6. Introduce the chart.   Go through the list with your child. Take him on a practical trial run, explaining and also demonstrating what needs to be done. This is important so he can visualise what you expect, before he goes through the motions on his own.

7. Delineate boundaries clearly.  Keep expectations clear. We have a separate chart that specifies exactly what Kitchen Helpers and Laundry Helpers do.


I listed Farm Helper on this chart initially thinking the kids would rotate roles but it didn’t work. Everyone wanted to be a Farm Helper on gardening evenings! I then replaced this with “Mama’s Helper” (see Step 5, above). Mama Helpers “do anything Mama needs help with” – my trump card!

8. Follow up, and be patient.   Learning to be habitual about something takes time. Check periodically on whether tasks are done, if the room has been tidied satisfactorily and so on. If your child forgets (and he will, possibly many times at first), you can refer him to the chart again but without specifying all the tasks. We say “Lamb, please do your Chart now.” He knows what that means.

9. Allow reasonable consequences to happen.  When a child doesn’t “do his chart” or refuses to do it, try to understand your child from his point of view. Is he tired because he had a few late nights in a row? That might call for you to help him again through his morning jobs.

If outright defiance is clearly showing in a capable 4 year old, I usually remind him of consequences. “Since you’re refusing to do your chart, I’m going to have to spend extra time to help you through it. This will mean us being late and you’ll have to miss your morning park outing because it’ll be too hot by then.” This has worked effectively for us.

Never present your child with a consequence that you know you will find impossible to allow. For instance, saying that the whole family will leave him at home alone while you all go out for lunch. Your child will soon learn that you don’t mean what you say.

10. Reward.   Affirm your child from time to time when he does a consistently good job. Have special family time. Go out for a nice meal. Have a picnic in your garden.

We don’t like to reward using toys or sweets because that would bankrupt us, spoil their health (think of the number of sweets we’d have to dish out!) and we want our children to appreciate the inherent value of the task.

Part of the goal is training children to understand that the real reward is two-fold. First, children learn independence. Second, everyone can enjoy family time when the whole family pulls together, each doing their respective jobs so that no one is unnecessarily burdened and worn out by nagging. Everyone is more relaxed – and happy.

Download our free Happy Habits printable here.

Related posts:
Teaching children to serve; 10 ways to help my kids enjoy housework; Bunnies in training.



Do you use a chore chart system? What other ways do you use to instill practical life habits in your kids? I’d love to learn from your experience.

Mama goes beserk

Have you ever had those days when everything just adds up?

Our entire family had been camping out downstairs in the living room for 3 weeks, ever since Sweet Man started repainting our bedroom during the school holidays. The air-conditioning unit in the children’s room got busted and the blistering hot, humid weather that we’d been having for months was simply too hot to tolerate.

Everyone was thrilled by the move.

Everyone but me.

The living room is one of the most well used rooms at home where reading, music practice, playing and general horsing around take place. Now there was a queen sized mattress, 2 single ones, 3 pillows and 5 blankets added to the mix. Plus a whole range of soft toys that insisted on belonging to the bedtime ritual. It was all as neat and cosy as possible but I simply couldn’t see us doing this for as long as it’d take for the hot season and smell of the low-VOC paint to wear off.

After a few days though, I had become somewhat accustomed to the change. It started to get fun seeing everyone sprawled in contorted positions all over the floor. The nights were cool and the scent of the breeze that came in across our vegetable garden and into the room made it a refreshing place to sleep in.

But as the 2-week school holiday ended and the prospect of resuming homeschooling with bed arrangements continuing in the living room arose, the inner clutter control freak in me began to feel slightly flustered.

Then even more. For, apart from hoping to return to a bedtime routine upstairs and failing because of unavoidable delays in the painting work and the continuing general heat upstairs, we had all began to itch.

Itch we did. Terribly.

At first, Sweet Man and I thought they were simply mosquito bites. We could hear the infernal creatures whizzing around our ears at nights and lost considerable sleep slapping at them. Poor Piglet had it especially tough. He couldn’t stop scratching, even in his sleep, until the spots became open wounds.

A sleepy Mama, a sleepy Papa and 3 sleepy kids – the days went by painfully slowly.

Gradually, we noticed that certain bites were distinctively itchy and left blotchy red marks on everyone. Last Thursday evening, we saw an even series of red marks all over Lamb’s right and left calves. It hit us immediately that these bites weren’t just mozzie ones, they were bed bug bites. Or possibly dust mite bites.

So Friday morning the next day, after about 5 days of really bad sleep and still retching from a 3 day cough that had somehow developed overnight, I set myself on a bug exterminating warpath.

I was going to kill them. All of them. I was going to get my sanity back.

I cancelled morning homeschool with the boys and somehow dragged all the mattresses outside to sun in the blazing heat for which I was suddenly thankful.

I vacuumed and mopped the floors with my whole might like a crazed woman who’d permanently lost her marbles.

I washed all the bedding and laundry that had touched those mattresses at 60 degrees Celcius. As soon as each load was done, I lugged out the bedding to dry in whatever space I could find in our front yard and started another load. I was never so thankful for a dryer in which I could dry the clothing at least.

While all this was happening, I had a whiny Piglet pottering around for lack of attention and a tearful Lamb because he’d scratched his blotchy skin until some parts had became sore. Applying a thick baking soda paste to wash off after 30 minutes and then a slathering of aloe vera (thankfully we have a plant) worked for awhile, but when the moaning started again I finally dumped both 4 year old and 2 year old in front of the screen to watch Jojo’s Circus. That did it.

When Puppy came home from morning school, I informed her of the current happenings and of the consequence that everyone had to expect only rice porridge with preserved vegetables and leftover roast chicken for lunch.

Kids are perceptive and I was glad to have some cooperation. Puppy didn’t complain as usual over her rice porridge and Lamb drew pictures of me resting in a village house (how we shared the same heart!). Piglet napped downstairs after lunch without a fuss and we somehow managed a quiet hour of schooling in the afternoon.

I was so thankful for that bit of an afternoon breather with the kids that I made orange-lemon ice lollies for everyone to have as a treat after dinner. I got breathless, juicing 6 oranges and 1 lemon (physical exercise lacking, obviously) but the little oohs and aaahs of anticipation were well worth it.

We had – or rather, I had – done so much on that day that I felt pretty much like a superhero. We had gotten through lunch and dinner at home with nice freezing lolly desserts, the floors were finally clear of invisible biting creatures, plus I had done 6 laundry loads and dried two-thirds of them all in one day. Six!

In reality, I was quite ready to expire. It was 7.00pm and I wanted to quit.

We decided to move the kids upstairs to their bedroom again, heat or no heat. Sweet Man had to go out to work again, so I hurriedly put on fresh sheets, tidied the room and started the usual bedtime routine.

The little ones were excited at being in their own room again and found it difficult to settle down. I couldn’t blame them. It was like returning to base camp after a long adventure.

The normal mom in me would’ve let a few minutes pass and gradually herd the kids together. But normality had somehow, somewhere, disappeared at some point and I wasn’t sure I knew how to get it back. Harried with post-dinner clean up, impatient to shower off the day’s grime and after a few calls in vain to stop little voices whispering and laughing, I finally did what I thought I’d never ever do.

I didn’t shout. Or yell.

I threatened to eat up their extra ice lollies.

Every. Single. One.

That provoked several giggles but they stayed quiet after awhile. I went to shower, feeling rather flat.

When I returned to check on the kids, everyone but Piglet was asleep. He pottered quietly across the room to me and said, “Milk, Mama. Milk.”

“Cow’s milk?” I asked. Then, “Oh no, we just ran out of milk!”

“Mama’s milk?” he quipped, hopefully.

I tried to stifle a sigh of exhaustion and lay down in the darkness to nurse him, something we hadn’t done in weeks. He gazed up at me happily, then covered his face with his hand as he always did while nursing.

He was still so small. And yet so big.

I breathed in the distinct smell of his wee little head, caressed his fine hair, and savoured the moment.

All at once, I felt that I’d come home. I was as dependent as a helpless babe on God the Father and everything would be okay in His hands. The bugs would go completely after I’d give the living room couches the same treatment and we’d finally get our bedroom back in about 10 days after some carpentry jobs got done.

Piglet finally turned away to drift off to sleep. I went downstairs, guzzled 8 pineapple jam tarts in a row without feeling too badly, did some reading and finished another laundry load.

Then I made some extra orange lollies and had a little laugh at myself for being such a bully.

What does a beserk day look like for you?

The truth deep inside

Nobody can do it all. That’s the truth, plain and simple.

Sitting here, writing at 2.33 am, I am breaking my first cardinal resolution of 2013 – to sleep earlier each day so I can be a better wife and mother. It’s complex though and difficult to follow through especially on days I accidentally fall asleep nursing Piglet back to sleep at an hour I am supposed to be awake.

Today was a case in point when I had to settle him at 10.30 pm and awoke with a startled jolt at 12.30 am to the memory that I’d left hot chicken broth out to cool, unfinished laundry soaking in the tub and a study program I am hurrying to rewrite and edit because people want to use it by 23 February.

And then there are all those unanswered emails and facebook messages because I have been too occupied with life to get online properly, slipping in here and there just when I have to send an urgent email or quickly check for a reply and trying hard not to feel terrible about my growing inbox with all those blue dots glaring at me in the face.

But now the urge just to sit down and do something truly non-functional (non-household or homeschooling-related that is) is too compelling to ignore – even at an ungodly hour such as 2.33 am. Sometimes the need to have this kind of quiet time trumps the schedule, because that is going to make me a better wife and mom the next day. I’ll cope with lots and lots of prayer and a cup of coffee. Not too much of the latter because then Piglet will be too wired up to nap properly.

(For those who are new to my blog, yes I am still nursing Piglet and won’t be weaning him anytime soon unless he directs himself to it. He turned 2 just a couple of weeks ago and nursing is still akin to that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow so I am hard-pressed not to force him to wean.)

I am writing this post because from time to time many people have asked how do I do it all.

It’s so difficult to answer that question and I have been avoiding it mostly because it seems any explanation will be bound to have some gaps in it. The short reply is: I don’t.

I don’t do it all. (Even though I wish I could.)

Two weeks ago I went to the doctor about pain in my right hand and was finally bludgeoned to face the fact that my over-worked hands have been experiencing osteoarthritis for over half a year now. Stop all the hard scrubbing, the doctor said. I’ve called in domestic help once a fortnight for all the violent cleaning jobs I used to do and am trying to live with toilets that are less than perfect. Once in two weeks won’t relieve me of all the everyday work but at least it will stop me from stretching for the ceiling fans and shimmying up the windows with a rag cloth.

After a torturous period of surviving on 2-3 hours sleep a night for a few weeks copy editing last year, I have decided that I will not take on any major projects with short deadlines even though the money will probably help pay for our car quite a bit.

And speaking of more day-to-day things, last week I baked a lovely carrot cake with cream cheese icing but then had to contend with double laundry loads and lots of our homeschooling books to sort out into their various study corners. By the time I had to clean the house I found old, hardened chocolate tucked discreetly between the couch cushions.

Last week also I had a guest who came to stay with us for 8 days and we stayed up late some nights chatting in between my edit jobs and toilet cleaning (I can’t wait for a toilet to be washed only after 2 weeks can I?) but then I was so tired after that I felt like hanging myself from the ceiling one evening.

At this point I have triple laundry loads because we made a spontaneous drive out to the beach an hour away yesterday for a few hours of evening sea fun and dinner and I have the wet laundry to contend with along with the usual load, towels for our family of 5 and guest bedlinen.

Some thing always has to give.

Thankfully now the house is all cleaned up nicely for a fresh week of school but as I sit here a pile of work files loom up behind the computer screen. Strewn across this one table I haven’t cleared are toys, the whole range of stationery you’d find in a shop, a rag cloth, okra seeds for planting and a whole lot of mish-mash that will have to wait till tomorrow because I’m blogging.

I’m going to hit publish soon and when I drag myself out of bed in a few hours I will once again live with the regret of having stayed up late but I will also feel strangely happy that I am connecting somewhat with people I love even though writing is a little one-sided, admittedly.

Deep inside I am so grateful for friends who are patient when it takes a few days for me to respond to emails and text messages. When I don’t reply there and then I am probably attending to some soup and wailing at the same time because someone pee-d on the floor.

Right now I’m wondering when I’ll be able to watch Les Miserables with Sweet Man. It might happen, it might not happen, but I’m okay with it not happening anytime soon. Someday it will, when the time is right. When will that be?

I’m pretty certain that I’ll know when the time comes. By the wonderful grace of God, life is full as it is with big things in life like wee children who don’t come with reset buttons and have a knack of making time stop for a moment when they churn up delightful, horrific messes just 10 minutes after I’ve deep-cleaned the house.