Daily chores teach children responsibility, not just doing something because you want to. I think this is a great lesson for a four (or five or six) year old and if these chores become habits and a seamless part of everyday life then it will benefit everyone.
Daily chores teach children life skills. What could be more important? Surely it is our responsibility as parents to ensure our children know how and are empowered to look after themselves and their environment - in an age appropriate way.
Chores take practical life activities one step further. Children can (and will) learn the skills required to do their chores through earlier practical life work. A child who learns to neatly fold using Montessori folding cloths can later put the skills into practice and fold laundry at home. And the child can take the Montessori sense of order and apply it to the home environment, keeping their room tidy, putting away clothes, sweeping up a mess.
For a four year old in our home daily chores are mostly about self care. They are about teaching the child to look after themselves and to take responsibility for certain actions. In our home these chores are compulsory, must do, everyday.
- Make bed (really just pulling up the sheet/blanket)
- Getting dressed (including putting shoes on)
- Putting pyjamas away or in the dirty clothes basket
- Putting away breakfast dishes, placemat and napkin
- Brush teeth, wash face, brush hair
- Prepare bag, hat, sunscreen, water bottle for school
- Put any rubbish in bin/waste in compost
- Tidy up any activities (may involve wiping down art table, cleaning up paper scraps)
- Hang up towels (from bath/shower)
- Put away shoes and dirty clothes
- Hang up hats, bags at home
- Tidy bedroom and work spaces
- Clean up any spills or breakages
Chores also teach children respect. Respect for themselves, others and their environment. We keep our environment clean because we respect it and the need for others to use it. We create beautiful environments out of respect. While the above chores are non-negotiable this is the time to have the child participate in as many other chores as possible.
In our home the four year old doesn't have to do any extra chores but will be invited or asked to do them, perhaps not everyday but frequently. My four year old is still at the stage where he enjoys many of these and therefore we make the best of this and use his energy and the experience to teach him how to do these things (do them well, with skill, with some accuracy). These are all optional, done in a fun way and usually done with a parent or sibling.
- Wash or dry dishes/empty dishwasher
- Sort cutlery
- Feed pets
- Fold laundry
- Take dirty clothes to laundry
- Hang up washing
- Empty garbage
- Sweep, mop, rake, possibly vacuum
- Set table (placemats, cutlery, napkins, pitcher, glasses on table)
- Dust/wipe down surfaces
- Dust/wipe down indoor plants
- Clean mirrors
- Prepare snacks/mealtime preparation (wash/cut/peel vegetables, make salad)
- Put away groceries/help with making list and grocery/market shopping
- Water plants
- Harvest fruit and vegetables from garden, weed/mulch garden
- Sort and tidy books, toys
- Change sheets/take sheets off bed/make bed
I also think this is the age to prepare children for extra responsibility. So for now the four year old isn't responsible for a pet, he does take (for the most part) responsibility for a few plants (planters on our deck). It would be years before he would have full responsibility for a pet however he can be shown how to fill up the water, see how much food the pets need, what they eat.
From toddlerhood children learn many of these good habits and then later it's not a big leap for them to do these chores, it is then a natural step. As the child gets older the chores can increase in difficulty and possibly in amount. In our home daily chores are expectations, these are expectations we build upon as the child gets older.
My eldest is seven and we are still a pocket money, rewards chart, checklist free home. Chores or responsibilities are what makes our lives and our home run smoothly and everyone needs to participate (in some way) in that. In no way are my children doing all the housework but they are making age appropriate and real contributions. It's a win-win.