Participating in kitchen clean-up is good for kids and for parents. Here’s how it works at our house.
I remember when my eldest child was just five years old. We gave him the job of busboy. I bought a small plastic dishpan. After each meal, he would load it up with the dishes and take it to the kitchen. We had a veritable dining room in those days, so it was helpful to have his assistance in hauling things back to the kitchen.
Ever since then our kids have had what we call “kitchen jobs”. We’ve rotated chores in a variety of ways over the years. Currently, chores are assigned for a month at a time and then we rotate.
Other families rotate on a daily or weekly basis. We’ve tried that in different seasons. I’ve found that for us, it’s better to have a significant amount of time on a job so that one can really learn how to do. Frequent switching means that there lots of relearning to do.
Some kids are better at some jobs than others. It’s tempting to just leave each kid to his strength. But, how do you get better if you don’t get practice? So, I bite the bullet each month when it’s time for someone to get better at his assigned task.
It’s easier in some respects just to do it yourself. But, it’s good for kids to learn life skills and to contribute to the running of the household. And you’d be surprised to know that it’s not always the oldest kids who are the strongest in certain skills.
Here are the tasks that our family assigns for kitchen jobs:
Clear the table and wipe it.
This is the easiest job, one that even the youngest of the kids can do. It rarely goes through the rotation since it’s just easier to leave the easy job to the little ones. Our daughters, 4 and 6, take care of the table: setting, clearing, and wiping.
Special tools: dust pan, wash cloth, vinegar spray, though they wish we also had fancy tablecloths and napkins, which we don’t.
Load the dishwasher and wash the pots.
We’re blessed to have an automatic dishwasher. Each of the boys, ages 9, 10, 12, and 15, know how to rinse the dishes, load the machines, and wash any hand-washables like pots and knives.
FishPapa often does this job for them, just to be nice. I don’t. He’s the good cop. I’m the bad one. Ha! Just kidding. Believe me I have my fair share of dishpan hands. I typically take care of this during freezer cooking or recipe testing. But, for regular meals, it’s a kid job.
Our four- and six-year old daughter can do this job with supervision, so FishPapa often does this one with helpers.
The dishwasher man is also responsible for letting me know when we’re running low on dishwashing detergent and Lemi-Shine. I’m going to need to tell you about Lemi-Shine sometime. Can’t live without it.
Special tools: rubber gloves, scrubby sponge, dishsoap, dishwashing detergent, Lemi-Shine
Unload the dishwasher and dish drainer.
Another of the boys takes care of putting away the dishes. This can get tricky if they don’t nest the dishes in the cupboards. My head starts to spin around when I open a cupboard bursting at the seams because the dishes aren’t stacked, but shoved in haphazardly.
The younger kids (4 and 6) can do most of this job, but not all. Glasses are stored in a higher cupboard, so an older person does that. They help sometimes with the silverware and the plastics.
Special tools: careful attention to detail
Sweep and mop the floor.
Three times a day the floor is to be swept. Ideally the floor is mopped weekly. Notice that I say ideally. Ahem.
All the boys can do this job, with varying degrees of success. The youngest guy needs help with the mopping.
Special tools: broom, hand broom, dustpan, mop
Wipe down the counters and appliances.
This is probably the second easiest job, but it’s also one that is neglected the most often, unfortunately. I think that’s because it’s the last in the lineup. Folks are ready to move on to other activities, and so the counter man gives it a quick swipe and escapes.
Unless I catch him and make him do it again.
Special tools: dust pan, wash cloth, vinegar spray.
Take out the papers and the trash.
Since taking out the trash and recycling are unpredictable in when they are needed, those tasks are assigned as needed. I find the youngest person capable of doing it and start singing. Yakkety-yak.
That’s it for us. We spend so much time in our kitchen, either cooking or eating, that there’s a rare moment when it’s all clean and sparkling. It’s nice to have help. And all the kids are learning how nice it is to have things clean.
They also know that it’s not done by some fairy with a magic wand. A girl can still dream, though, right?