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A Montessori View on Chores + Favourite Chores at Three Years

Chores for a three year old at How we Montessori worm farm composting (1)

In our home, we don't make our children do chores and we don't have a 'chore chart'. However, we encourage and support our children to recognise and do the many tasks that contribute to our home life. We have children who are learning to:

  • be responsible for and have ownership over their own environment
  • be respectful of others in the environment
  • be problem solvers - recognise when there is a problem and take steps to fix it 
  • offer to help others - how to contribute to a family or social group

Our ultimate aim is the formation of the child. Rather than have children who follows orders, we aim to have children who are able to contribute to the smooth running of the family home, among other things. This takes time, a lot of role modeling, and work by older siblings and family members. I believe most Montessori-orientated families already know this but what does it actually look like in the home? 

In our home we:

  • never force or pressure the children to do chores - we do remind them and ask them when needed.
  • role model doing chores - in a positive light.
  • use positive language - around chores and other practical life tasks.
  • set basic expectations - each child makes their bed, puts away their own dirty laundry, and establish these as early as possible, a toddler can pull their blanket up after getting out of bed, or put their clothes in the hamper before a bath. 
  • do chores alongside our children - especially when they are learning a new skill, are struggling, or need assistance.
  • empower our children - provide them with the skills required to do chores and practical life tasks.
  • let go of perfection
  • break down tasks into smaller steps - when needed. Scaffold skills. 
  • provide child-size tools - when needed. This is most relevant to our three-year-old, who really needs child-size tools to do some tasks (like sweeping) or a step stool to do others (washing dishes, taking out the garbage).
  • be patient - and allow children the time to do master their skills and learn to do new chores and tasks.
  • demonstrate - how to do chores, using slow and deliberate movements, with as few words as possible.
  • identify which chores each child likes - or is more drawn to.
  • provide options for all ages - if our three-year-old wants to help we find a way to make it age-appropriate or find a way to allow him to help. 
  • lower our expectations - sometimes. Or take a reality check, our children are not going to perform the chores perfectly every time and we can't expect them to. 
  • make chores fun - this isn't always possible or necessary, but there are times when we can improve the mood with song or music while doing chores to make them a little more fun. 
  • highlight positive contributions - while we refrain from praise we can recognise hard work, chores can make a big difference in our home and we can highlight the child's help, "wow, the kitchen looks good now all those dishes are in the dishwasher" or "thank you for helping with the sweeping. the floor is so clean now".
  • observe the children doing chores - observation is always key, is the child able to do the task, do they need assistance, are they gaining satisfaction from it, enjoying it.
  • remove barriers to the child doing chores - if the child doesn't do chores as expected or as asked we can look at why and remove all barriers to them doing the task successfully. 
  • encourage or ask the children to do 'real' chores - not chores because it's 'their turn' or to keep them busy, the chores need to be meaningful so the child can see and feel their contribution is real. We don't use chores as a bribe or punishment.
  • support the child's developing autonomy - we can teach and encourage the child to do many chores that will support independence autonomy. 

We want our children to be and see themselves as capable, successful, and helpful contributors. Learning to do chores can assist with this. Contributing to meaningful chores in the family home can help foster a sense of belonging. Many chores also assist with the development of fine and gross motor skills. 

In the new release Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, author  Michaeleen Doucleff believes that a chore chart might actually inhibit a child from doing chores.

"Because the whole goal is for children to pay attention to the world around them and learn when particular chores are needed. If a chore chart tells a child to do the dishes on Tuesday, sweep on Wednesday, and take the garbage out on Friday, then a child may come to the conclusion that these tasks are the only ones they need to do. Then the child doesn't pay attention at other times, or they may even learn to ignore chores not on the chart."

We can all take something away from her findings on toddlers and young children.

"In many instances, parents with Western backgrounds tell their toddlers to go and play while they do the chores. Or give their child a screen. If you think about it, we are telling the child not to pay attention, not to help. We are telling them, this chore is not for you. Without realizing it, we cut short a toddler's eagerness to help, and we segregate them from useful activities."

"Psychologists believe that the more a young child practices helping the family, even starting as a toddler, the more likely they will grow up to be a helpful teenager for whom chores are natural. Early involvement in chores sets the child on a trajectory that leads them to helping voluntarily later in life. It transforms their role in both the family and community. They become a responsible, contributing member."

Chores for a three year old at How we Montessori

What are your children's favourite chores? My three-year-old will go crazy if someone else takes out the recycling or garbage and he likes to bring in the garbage bins on collection day, he loves to take the compost out to our worm farm and will vacuum all day with his handheld vacuum cleaner! He also likes to fill or empty the washing machine (just like most kids his age) and empty the dishwasher. He needs reminding to make his bed and to pick up toys but will always put his clean washing away. We are starting to encourage him to help set the table at mealtime. 

Other relevant articles about chores include:

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