Ugh! The dreaded chores. I don’t know about your house, but I HATE chores. Want to know what I hate even more? Trying to get kids to do chores. In our house, we don’t have any of those kids who “like” to do chores. Do those really exist? It seems like anytime I ask anyone to do anything, World War III breaks out. After struggling with this for years and working through programs that simply didn’t work for us, I decided to make my own family chore plan and reward system. If you want to skip straight to what works for us, scroll to the bottom. If you want to know how my life got this way in the first place, keep reading. I’m going to warn you, it’s not pretty.
Let me tell you what a typical day used to be like before we started our routine. Wake up time for the little nuggets, that’s what I call them, starts at around 6 am. All the lights in the house flip on, bathroom doors are slammed, and the morning begins with everyone else slowly getting up from there. “OK, we’re up!” Thanks, noisy kids!
The Breakfast Upheaval
Pajamas are thrown all over the upstairs hallway and bedroom floors. I am horrible at sorting socks on laundry day, so most weeks unmatched socks are typically kept in a laundry basket. This leads to socks flying all over the place each morning as kids are looking for a matching pair. Then breakfast starts. One of our kids eats dry cereal (gag) on the couch, which leads to crumbs everywhere.
The rest eat cereal like savages at the table or island. I’m really confused on what they are actually getting in their bodies because it seems like most of the cereal or milk ends up all over the place! Boxes of cereal and milk are left out, and bowls and spoons are everywhere.
Don’t even get me started on days they eat bagels, yogurt or toast. It’s as if they decided it was a good idea to create some sort of art project on the counter with the jam, butter, yogurt or cream cheese. It feels like little barbarians have come in and ransacked the place!
After breakfast is over the kids sit back and watch TV until it’s time to go to school. Mornings for us are a mom fail.
While the kids are at school, I tidy up and do chores that I don’t expect my elementary school aged kids to do. I spend time with the little nuggets who are still at home, run errands, and just do the “mom” thing.
The second the kids walk in the door it’s an explosion! Backpacks go flying at extreme heights, shoes in all directions, and coats and jackets end up in places I didn’t even know existed. And when its winter and they are wearing hats, scarves, and gloves….forget it! It’s as if we’ve had our own little hurricane each day.
Then it’s time for homework and chores. I’ve tried so many chore plans out there and have never found the right fit. I was so tired of everything failing that it got to the point that I was just telling each kid what they had to do on a daily basis. There was no specific outline or special routine.
Our Uniquely Challenging and Wonderful Kids
The Active Socialite
My oldest son likes to hurry through everything so fast because he’s eager to get out the door and play with friends. When I’d tell him what I wanted him to do each day I’d typically hear, “Nope, I’m not doing that. You can’t make me. I want to do something else.” Or “I did that yesterday; it’s not my turn to do that.” The whining and complaining that came from that child each day turned into a constant battle.
The Daydreaming Musician
The next child down wouldn’t complain; she just didn’t end up doing her chores. I would keep telling her and telling her that if she wanted to go doing something she enjoyed, she would need to get her chores done. Well, that never appealed to her and three hours later the dishes would still not be done.
By the end of the day we’d just be frustrated with each other. She was tired of me asking her to get her chores done, and I was tired of waiting for her to get them done.
The Funny Crier
Oh the crying! Our next son is six and when it comes to chores, what I ask from him is really not that hard. Still, he was crying as if he was an animal being sent to the slaughter! I couldn’t take the wailing, so I gave in and took away half his chores just to stop the madness.
When he was done with the living room, I find that he’d shoved a bunch of garbage under the couch and dirty socks in the hall closet. When asked to clean his room, he took everything off the floor (books, costumes, garbage, clean clothes, stuffed animals, legos) and threw them in the laundry room.
The Brute-ally Honest One
My three-year-old, who is too smart for his own good usually responded with, “No thanks, Mom. I don’t want to do chores today. I’m tired.”
Bedtime is my favorite. Being the mom of these little nuggets is hard! My toddler is currently emptying out my junk drawer while I write this and spreading the contents over my kitchen. Please tell me your day looks like this too and it is not just my life!
Needless to say, we needed a chore change-up. Our lack of structure was just not working for us. My kids are happy, healthy, smart and loved, which I feel are all parenting wins. But when it has come to teaching them hard work and keeping them structured with chores, I feel like I have failed.
The Zone Plan (With Printable Charts)
Now let me just tell you, we are only into this new plan about a week. It could just be that change is good and everyone is excited about it, and the excitement could wear off. Or, it could be that I am really on to something long term that will work for us and be the change that we really need. If you are looking for a change-up, this may be a good plan for you too. But it may not.
I did a ton of research and looked through a bunch of different ideas before I found that there was really nothing that catered to exactly what my family needed. So, feel free to take some of my ideas, but I encourage you to make a plan that works for you. Every family is different with their needs, goals, and expectations.
Here is what we started. Each kid has their own chore chart of tasks that we’re struggling to complete on a daily basis. I taped the chart on our pantry door so it can easily be seen. They are expected to get certain things done before school. Then there is a section that is to be completed after school but before bedtime.
The main chores for the afternoon are ZONE chores. I will talk about their ZONE chores shortly. Their ZONE chores along with homework, backpack clean-up, cleaning their room, and piano practice have to be done before they get to do fun things like playing with their friends. If everyone’s boxes are all checked off each week and each month, we all get a reward!
- Dirty clothes must make it to the laundry room and IN the laundry basket.
- Breakfast clean-up means that their bowl, cereal, spoon get put in the sink when they are done. The box of cereal and milk get put away. If they spilled milk or anything on the counter they wipe it up. If they are having toast or bagels or anything other than cereal, everything they used or any messes they made need to be cleaned up.
- They need to get their school reading done before school. It always seems to be such a battle later in the day when they are tired. So mornings it is.
- If there is time, they need to tidy up their ZONE.
- They need to brush their teeth. Maybe for most families this is a no-brainer and you don’t need to put something like this on your list. For us, it is something that we struggle with. Don’t tell our dentist, but our kids are not great at brushing their teeth in the morning. Don’t judge.
If they finish all their morning chores they are more than welcome to start on their afternoon chores or they can turn on the TV and wait until it’s time to leave for school.
- Backpack clean-up means that they must hang up their backpack and coat. Their shoes go in their designated bin in our mudroom. If they have gloves, hat, and scarf in the winter, they put them in the labeled bins. Yes, it really is that simple. I’m not sure why they exploded in the first place when I have already had everything so organized and labeled with their names and a place for everything. It seriously takes an extra 30 seconds to do this chore.
- Homework. Do it. The right way, not rushed.
- Clean your room. The right way, not rushed.
- Piano practice. Some of our kids play, some don’t. We are not great at practicing. This chart is helpful. (the L on our chart is the day we have lessons)
- Zone Chores. I will tell you about these shortly.
After this set of chores is done, the kids can go do what they’d like to. They can go out with friends for a while, play games, play outside, and do what they enjoy doing, except for video games; we’ve set up a specific time for that on the weekends, not on school nights. That is another article for another day.
- Take a shower. Don’t tell anyone, but we are not great about being on a regular kid shower/bath schedule. We have 5 kids. It’s just not going to happen every day. Don’t judge. So I highlighted in gray the days they have to shower. This way I am sure to hit the days where basketball practice has happened and the night before church.
- Scriptures. We are a religious bunch and this is important to us, but with everything we have going on in the evenings, this can be hard for us. So we have put it on our list so we are sure to do it. As long as it gets done before bed we consider ourselves successful. Some days it’s even getting done in the mornings.
- Set out school clothes. It makes the next morning go so much smoother.
- Brush teeth before bed. Yup.
My kids work really well when they get something in return, so we sat down as a family and let them come up with what they’d like to get for completing their chores. We wanted them to have a say in what the reward was so that they’d be excited to get their chores done. We decided that the reward would be an “all-or-nothing” plan. Meaning, all the kids have to have ALL their boxes marked off in order for everyone to get the rewards. We’re hoping that they’ll work together and encourage each other to do their chores to accomplish the goal and gain that reward. Fingers crossed.
So here is what they came up with.
They wanted a big monthly reward but didn’t want to have to wait clear until the end of the month. So, if they ALL finish their chores and every box is marked each week they get an extra hour of video games the next week. I don’t love that reward, but they do. I really try to monitor their video game time. Again, another article for another day. I have found that too much screen time leads to behavior issues at our house. So we will try this reward for a month and if it becomes a problem we may need to change it up for next month.
If they complete ALL their chores for the whole month and ALL their boxes are filled, they decided that we will go swimming as a family. I thought this was a GREAT reward. We have a local indoor pool that is a part of the gym we go to. So, it is free for our family–WIN! Everyone loves it–WIN! Everyone is excited about going at the end of the month. I have a feeling all those boxes will be filled in–WIN!
Now, I understand that kids will have “off” days and sometimes life gets in the way with various activities. Our plan includes the possibility that a kid or two hasn’t filled in all their boxes by the end of the month, but doesn’t want to keep the family from going swimming. For the last week of the month, those kids who are missing checked boxes can do make-up projects (special projects that I can assign) in order to earn back their checked boxes. Everyone feels great about that.
Alright, let’s chat about the ZONE system I’ve set up. I did some research and found a few different zone plan ideas on Pinterest and other sites. None of them really catered to my family so I created my own. I think it’s best to come up with the same amount of zones as children you have who are able to do chores. I have four kids who can do chores, so I have four zones.
It’s also important to realize that even though my zones will stay the same, the kids who do them and their participation will change. My older kids who are 8 and 10 are fully capable of completing their zones all by themselves without any help. My 6-year-old needs a little bit of help, mostly just teaching him how to do certain chores. My 3-year-old needs full parental participation.
With that in mind, my husband and I understand that his zone is our zone. Saturday chores are a bit more extensive so as parents we take the extra time and patience to teach each kid the right way to do these chores.
I’d suggest breaking your house up in specific areas that make sense according to the layout of your house. If you can keep a kid in one specific area, then they don’t feel like they are running around the whole house the entire afternoon.
We have a kitchen zone, dining room zone, living room zone, and basement zone each with various chores. Zones are set for the entire week. I feel like this gives each kid enough time to perfect the chore, learn how to do it the right way, and then move on to the next area of the house to learn the next set of chores the next week.
Like I said earlier, we’ve only done this one week, so I hope I’m not getting too ahead of myself. That being said there has been a complete switch around in our house. I wish I would have taken a video of a day in our lives last week vs this week: Night and Day.
The kids are excited. They get up each morning and clean their rooms, pick up their breakfast, and read. There has been no TV on at all. They’ve been getting home from school, putting away their backpacks, and starting on their zones right away. It’s no longer taking three hours to do the dishes.
They love the satisfaction of marking off boxes and seeing their chart fill up. The first couple of days I followed them around, taught them how to do their chores the right way, and told them they can’t just tuck toys under the couch and shove the garbage in the corners. Now they are starting to do it the right way on their own.
The best part about this whole thing is there has been NO COMPLAINING. Chores are just getting done. Everyone is getting along. I am less frustrated. Even the child who complains and whines the most about helping out and doing chores came to me the other day and said, “Mom, I really like this plan!” It blew my socks off. I looked at him with huge bugged out eyes and checked his head for a fever.
I will check back in with you in a few months and let you know how things are going. I’m feeling good about it, though. Hopefully, you will find something in here that works for you, or at least gets you thinking about ideas that help to make chores in your home run more smoothly. Happy Cleaning!!