Kids Helping Voluntarily

If you don't have time to read them all, scroll down to Joyce and Lyle

We put up our Christmas tree on the weekend. In the lot it looked like a good size one—not too big. Once we got it home, and Ethan cut the twines, we soon realized that we are the proud owners of a wonderful tree that takes up most of our living space! We all stood back and smiled when we saw that. A moment later, Ethan turned and skipped to the kitchen, picked up the broom, and proceeded to sweep the entire space of all the pine needles that had dropped from our wrestling the tree in place. My attention quickly went from this giant-for-our-home tree, to this ten year old boy who has never been asked to do chores, choosing to sweep without any prompting. Sweeping wasn't even mentioned aloud. I thought about it, sure. But, in *my* mind, I thought "Later. Why ruin this moment cleaning?" He swept the whole floor, then went and got the dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it out. When he came back to his place in front of the tree, he didn't look to us for approval. He looked to the tree and room again to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Amazing to me.

Karen James, December 2012

Earlier in the week I went to bed with one kitchen counter really cluttered up with stuff and crumbs. I woke up to a clean counter with the fruit and my teas all organized nicely and the crumbs wiped off. A note left by my 11 yr old daughter written in pink marker on a paper towel was in the middle of the counter that said, "I love you."

It's not uncommon for Olivia to go on little cleaning bursts late at night. She also likes to leave me notes to find in the morning. Recently I work up to a note on the refrigerator that said, "Make muffins." So before she got up for the day I made some banana chocolate chip muffins. I melted the butter in the microwave and forgot to add it to the muffins. I didn't realize I'd left it out until after they were baking. The muffins were good enough .. we ate them all.. they were just a little solid and dense.

The next morning I woke up and my 9 yr old son had added to Olivia's muffin note .. It said, "Add butter!!!" So I made more. :)

My mom has been telling me for a couple years now that the kids are old enough to have chores. She gets frustrated with me and tells me I would be helping them learn responsibility, but I'd rather have the love notes.


Karl takes out the trash (even sometimes replaces the bag), takes dishes/glasses to the kitchen, sometimes to the sink, sometimes even rinses sticky food and drink from them, and also folds clothes, puts them away sometimes, etc. The trash is waist high on him so he's helping a lot more than I would have thought he even could. :) He brings in hefty bags of groceries too and puts a few up too.


I came home yesterday to a freshly vacuumed floor and sparkling clean counters. The dollhouse furniture and dolls had all been put in their bins, and the dollhouses neatly set aside. All the Hotwheels and the associated "bumps," which are magazines, had been put away.

As I walked in the door Nena (8 on Thursday) told me she wanted to give me a birthday surprise (today's my b-day) by giving me a clean house. So sweet and thoughtful!

Kristi Beguin

Oh yeah, I forgot that she also cleaned out the pantry and then neatly organized it...it looks awesome!

My 11 yo daughter cooked dinner for the 4 of us last night & the night before. Totally her idea. Fixed the table up fancy. Cleaned the dishes afterwards.

A friend told me, "yeah, she's had her 2 kids cook dinner once a week at their house." As if her imposing the cooking chore was the same thing as my daughter coming up with the idea on her own...

heather (swingdancechick)

On Father's Day, my 10 year old deep cleaned the entire house. She moved all of the furniture and cleaned underneath, cleaned the baseboards. She worked really hard. I commented, "what a nice Father's Day present!" She replied, "oh, yeah, really I just wanted to see if I could clean a house all by myself."

~ Amanda

I bought a gazebo for the back yard. This morning Rosie said she had an extra hour and did I want to get started on putting it together. She's 19 and she knows she's good at putting things together. We worked in the hot sun for an hour and she said, "We got most of the hard steps done, mom, so we can probably get it finished tomorrow."

My husband invited people over to watch the World Cup Final on Sunday. He forgot to tell me until late Saturday night. Sunday morning we got up and all three of us scrambled around cleaning the house up. We didn't ask Rosie to help, she just jumped up and helped because it seemed the right thing to do at the moment.

Pam Sorooshian

Quite often Shaena (8) will just pick up the broom and sweep the kitchen floor. She usually sings while she is doing it!

Just a couple of days ago we had gotten into a discussion about things we are looking forward to doing. Makayla (10) asked me to write things down. We had ideas about outings, and arts and crafts, and so on... you know... fun stuff. Then Makayla said that she wants to clean the bathroom. Shaena said "Oh no...* I* wanted to clean the bathroom!" They were on the brink of an argument about who gets to do it. I reminded them that sometimes they have done it together, and it worked out well. The bathroom is shining again.

Renee Boisvert

There is something oh so sweet about a child doing something without being asked.

Vega who is 8, cleaned out our fridge one day because he saw it needed it. Dutch 6, came over on his own to help bring in plates from outside. He hated helping out when I used to make a big deal out of it. These small instances happen more and more often and are very special moments for me.

Joanne Lopers

3 yo ds has his own 'playroom' where he keeps most of his toys (he sleeps in the family bedroom) and I probably tidy it around 1x a week, which we are both comfortable w/ (unless he needs help finding something, then I help him and probably pick up a lot of things in the process.) Picking up toys and such is not something he typically does.

A few weeks ago, he said to me "Black Widow is picking up" (he loves Ironman and pretends to be one of the characters—Black Widow—all the time...) He (she—Black Widow is a girl ;) was picking up toys, putting them into bins, picking up books, etc. I was surprised as its not something he usually does. He did it w/ his Black Widow walk as well, which is a slow, calculated and quiet way of moving (so it was really cute and funny.)

He often will wipe up a spill of a drink (he knows where I keep hand towels) or take down the broom and try to sweep the floor (he has little ones but prefers to use the big ones, and I help him when/if he wants.) He does these things when he sees the need and/or feels like it, without being asked. He also tells me if he spills something on the table or rug, etc, so I'll be able to clean it up quickly (which I totally appreciate).

Loving these stories! Lauren :)

My 10 year old daughter was frustrated yesterday because I hadn't done her laundry yet. When I offered to show her how to do it (I offered it as a possible solution, not as a punitive "do it yourself" thing), she was very excited. She delighftully did several loads of laundry yesterday and today and told me how much fun it is to do. Today my 8 year old saw what was happening and has done two loads. I happen to like doing laundry so I'm sure that helped - there's been none of the martyr energy I have around other household work.

Deborah Donndelinger

Since this comes up alot, I thought I'd throw this out there. About half an hour ago I headed outside to clean the van. The kids brought out scooters and bikes, and I asked Sarah to help me take the seats out. Other than that, I did all the shoveling LOL. Well, I asked Logan if he'd go get the vacuum for me and he said "Sure, as long as I can vacuum the van!" I ended up actually bringing out the vacuum cleaner (he got distracted) but as soon as he saw it he said "Ok, cool! I'm ready to vacuum!" and that's what he's busy doing right now. Gracie wanted to come inside for a minute so while we're inside I thought I'd set this out there as another example of how willing to help kids can be when they don't have to help!


Sandra: I hope you don't mind I added it to this public collection: /chore/tales

Beth: No, I don't mind! Thanks! He vacuumed til he was tired of it, then the girls took turns til they tired of it, and I finished the rest of it. No takers on wiping down the inside walls, but Megan did ask to wipe the windows!

I had a wonderful experience of how this works this morning. When I woke up and came downstairs my house was clean as if the cleaning fairies had come last night to rescue me. My 19 year old son was bored last night and decided to clean several rooms in the house. He cleaned the kitchen, living room and upstairs playroom. He even put the furniture back where I like it. (Furniture gets moved around a lot to make forts and special rides, as my 6 year old calls them.) He did it because he wanted to, not for me or to get paid or so he could use the car. It was still a nice gift.


A skeptical person, describing older stepsons who were not homeschooled in any way but whose behavior she ascribed to parental "hands off" wrote:

I do not want my kids turning out like this just because they never had to deal with consequences, never learned respect for elders or other people of position, never learned to take care of themselves, and become bums living at home their entire young adult life.
Deb Cunefare responded:
I know it's hard to believe that children will want to clean if you don't make them. Still, my 13yo son vacuums the basement playroom every Thursday, because he has friends over on Fridays, and he wants a clean floor for them to sit on for playing YuGiOh and video games. I admit, I was surprised the first time he hauled the vacuum out of the upstairs closet. I asked "what are you doing?" like a doofus. :) He's been vacuuming that floor every week for a couple years now because he likes it clean for his friends. I never "made" him vacuum that floor, or any other floor. He just likes it clean and knows how to get it that way.

It's know hard to believe that children will be respectful if they aren't prodded and reminded. Still, my 13yo son makes a point of shaking hands with his instructors after classes, and thanking them for the lesson. (currently, fencing and indoor "rock" climbing) I don't know where he got the idea to do that, frankly. I've noticed that the first time he does it with any individual, they're a little startled by it, but they seem to really appreciate it and look forward to it after that.

Deborah in IL

In the midst of all the discussion about chores and such, I mentioned that Julian never spontaneously notices that something needs to be done and does it.

Then this morning, as we were leaving the house to do errands and to have me drop him off at a friend's house, he was ahead of me a bit. I watched as he went over to the empty trash cans on the sidewalk and put them back next to the garage.

I told him I owed him an apology, and explained what I had said. He mentioned that he usually remembers to put dishes in the kitchen, etc. So he DOES do things spontaneously, and I need to notice more.


Kelly Lovejoy wrote:

Making it fun only works if you're making it fun for yourself. Making it fun *just* to get them to do it for you only makes them resent your stupid efforts! Like playing a game so they'll learn math. It needs to be real. Actually take pleasure in what you're doing. They'll catch it like a fever!
Deb Lewis responded with a beautiful story:
Yesterday was David's birthday and we had guests. I left dishes in the sink when I went to bed. I got up early with the dogs but then went back to bed. When I got up later Dylan had done the dishes. He said " I know you really like to do the dishes mom, so I hope you don't mind, but I just felt like doing them."

Dylan is twelve.

I *know* living life joyfully makes a difference in the way our kids see us and the way they see the little things that make life better.

Deb L

By Jenny Cyphers (Jenny) on Saturday, April 10, 2004 - 02:39 pm:
The way my 10yo dd helps is by putting away clothes that belong to her and putting dirty clothes in the laundry. I don't ask her to do it and I've only occasionally asked in the past. It as is simple as this: if she wants clean underwear or any cloths really, she knows they will get cleaned if they are put in the laundry basket. If she doesn't put them there, there is no guarantee that they will get clean when she wants them. I usually put her clothes all folded in a stack in her room next to her dresser with the intent to put them away. She just usually gets to them first.

As for the rest of the house, I do it all. Sometimes my dd will do things here and there when she sees a need. She has on many occasions vaccumed the carpets because she sits on them more than me and it bugs her when there are crumbs on them.

Here's an interesting insight: the kids in the neighborhood prefer to play hide and seek at our house because it is messier than other houses. They claim it makes it more fun! They also play here more in general because there are more things to do and play with and they aren't afraid to make messes because there is no one that makes a big deal of it here. Only sometimes do I have them all pitch in to help me clean up their messes. The bonus for me is that they do things like wash my car and sweep my floors because it is fun and I let them, not make them or tell them no.

By Bugsmom on Saturday, April 10, 2004 - 03:07 pm:
Yeah - this morning DS and I went to a birthday party. DH was using the time to move a video rack from the basement (including some serious cleaning!). We got home and while DH and I chatted a bit and ate (DS having eaten well at the party), DS up and put up the stacks of DVDs, VHS tapes, and video games that were sitting on the floor waiting to be put away. He enjoys being the "laundry forklift" and taking stacks of folded clothing to the proper locations.

The thing is, we have (mostly) avoided the nagging and harping - when we -ask- it is a question, just as when I ask DH if he would clean the toilets while I am outside picking up after the dogs. He can say yes or no or later. So, DS doesn't have to vamoose because he knows it won't be something coerced.

By Sandra Dodd (Sandradodd) on Saturday, April 10, 2004 - 11:09 pm:
Two examples from today:

I had given up waiting for Kirby to bring laundry down, but I knew he was out of socks, and I happened to be in his bathroom, so I gathered up all his black socks and t-shirts.

When they were dry, I just yelled upstairs and asked Kirby if he could help me do something when he got to a stopping place. He was there pretty soon, and I said I wanted help getting his stuff into his room.

We sat side by side and folded ten t-shirts and paired up seven pairs of socks. We talked about the night before and the plans for the day. It was really nice.

Later in the day I had the urge to clean behind the refrigerator. I was the only one in there, and I scooted it out, unplugged it, and Holly passed by. I said "You want to see something gross?"

Lots of dust. LOTS, greasy yucko dust-layer and regular back-of-fridge excitement.

She was doing other things in the kitchen while I was doing that, but ended up interested in a few bits. I asked if she would help me down from the chair when I wanted down (when I was cleaning the top).

She got interested in doing the other side of the top, and then the walls. She moved on to cabinet doors. I hadn't intended to do those, but she was having fun. So when the fridge was scooted back into its hole, I asked her if she'd be willing to do the ceiling fan if I'd hand her rags already set up with hot water and 409. Sure, she said. So we did.

That wasn't planned, and all I had asked for was help getting down from the chair, because I'm still spooked about falling.

Sorry it was so long, but I think the answer is be happy even if they don't help, and give it time.


By Jfetteroll (Jfetteroll) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 05:40 am:
I also noticed that age helped too. When Kat was 11 she started helping voluntarily and now at 12 asks several times a day if she can do anything to help. Before that if I asked if she wanted to fold hand towels and sort socks she acted as though I's asked her to carry me up Mt. Everest. ;-) But I can see the ease with which she does them now and it really was hard for her before. There's been mental growth and going from not being able to do tasks around the house to being able to do them is like the leap from non-reading to reading.


By Lyle (Lyle) on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 07:42 am:
I'm getting in on this late, but I agree with most everything that's been said.

Stop asking, stop expecting, and plan on doing most of the cleaning on your own for a while. Try not to complain about it (when the kids hear you complaining, they will figure there must be something to complain about, and that means whatever you're doing is not fun.), and do it as happily as you possibly can. You didn't have kids in order to have a fully staffed cleaning crew (I hope), so let them do their things and you do yours. They will get around to helping when they know that you're not going to harp on them about it anymore. It takes time.

I think Joyce is right about age. Doing things that are not fun, like folding laundry, are unpleasant enough for adults. Think about what it would be like to fold laundry when you didn't really know how, you have trouble with every single piece, and someone keeps piling more on the pile you're doing.

Try folding all the laundry with one hand, the wrong hand, and you can't use the other. Kinda frustrating. Maybe that's what it's like for a kid that is too young, and doesn't have the mental or physical dexterity to do the job effeciently.

Another thing I've wondered about with things like laundry is that some kids may view it as an adult job. And if so, how can it be fair to make a kid do a crummy, boring adult job, and at the same time tell that kid that he can't do most of the other fun "adult" stuff? You may tell him that he has to fold the laundry, but when he asks if he can go to the store by himself you say no because he's too young. To the kid, that may sound like, so I can do the crappy jobs, but I can't do the fun stuff. NOT FAIR!

Anyway, just do your best to not harp on the kids and take care of the cleaning when you get the chance. Your house may be messier for a while, so expect it. Living with the mess will be worth it after the first time one of your kids pitches in and helps without being told to.

It will take some time, but it's a really cool feeling when it happens.



In response to

I feel I would do my children a disservice not to require some sort of responsibility to the family.
Pam Sorooshian wrote:

My oldest daughter is getting married in 2 1/2 weeks. We JUST found out about some relatives coming who are expecting to stay with us. We have an extra room, but it has been used as a storage room for a couple of years - piled very high with boxes and all kinds of stuff. We also have a loft/attic kind of place that is great for storage, but it was a big mess and very full.

On Monday, Rosie asked me how we were going to get that back room cleaned up for the relatives. I said I thought I'd have to get a storage unit and move all the boxes there. She said she'd help me on Wednesday. This morning, she said, "I think if Roxana and I go up in the loft, we can rearrange stuff and also there is a lot of stuff in there we could donate to Goodwill. So they did - they spent several hours up there and the back of my car is filled with goodwill donations. THEN, in the afternoon, she asked her boyfriend to come over and help move all the boxes from the extra room into the loft. That took another hour or so and was very hard work - most of the boxes are full of books. Rosie is 19, Rox is 22, and Daniel (the boyfriend) is 24.

Just when they finished moving the boxes to the loft, Cyrus came home from work. We all sat around on the patio for a bit and they asked Cyrus and me if we wanted to go to a movie with them. We declined for various reasons and they were leaving to go to the movie and Rosie said, "We'll be back right after the movie - not going out to eat or anything tonight because we have a lot to do tomorrow and don't want to be out too late."

ALL this from kids who never had an assigned chore. Today was kind of amazing even to me - they worked most of the day completely and totally of their own volition. They don't always do that. There are times they sit and watch tv for hours while I work around the house and I sometimes wonder why they don't get up and help. I sometimes have to talk myself out of being resentful about it and it helps to remind myself that they do not even know I'm resenting it - they don't have the same issues about housework that I have.

What works best around here seems to be to ask very directly for very specific kinds of help - "Can you take those dishes to the kitchen and rinshe them off, when you get a chance?" "Do you have time to unload the dishwasher this morning?" I made it my policy, over the years, to not ask much and to only ask once - not to nag. If they don't get to it, they don't. Not a big deal. I'd just do it when I had a chance. I also sometimes make myself to-do lists and say, "If you have time to help me out today, I have my to-do list on the table." They'll almost always pick something off the list and do it and cross it off. Sometimes they'll just start going through the list and do it all.

Back in the days when I used to make them do housework, everybody did it with great resentment and anger. They did the minimum they felt they could do, they banged things around, did a lousy job, glowering and unhappy and snapping at each other and at me. I tried to make it more fun. I tried to pay. I tried reasoning with them. I tried all kinds of things. What worked was to stop all of it. I'd done damage, so I stopped for YEARS. And they slowly became helpful until, in their mid to late teens, they became super helpful and we no longer ever ever have any hard feelings about housework and I don't go around feeling like a martyr - I do what "I" want done and I slowly began to ask, gently and very open-endedly for help and I get a lot of it. Best part is I get help that is cheerful. Today Rosie and Roxana talked and laughed for hours while choosing to do hard housework. Music to my ears!!!

Pam Sorooshian

More on chores and other parenting considerations for unschoolers.