When I was in college, I could barely hand wash dishes. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I had grown up with a dishwasher, so when I got married and found myself without one, there was a bit of a learning curve.
That wasn’t the only gap in my homemaking skills. My first year as a new wife, I couldn’t cook a meal unless it came in a box with directions. When we moved into our first house, I was still repurposing dorm room decor. As a young mom, I had no idea how to get spit-up stains out of onesies. And let’s please not even talk about budgeting money.
It’s not that I didn’t want to do these things or that I didn’t think that they were important; I just didn’t have the skills necessary to do them.
Fast forward to being a busy mom with young children. I had muddled through becoming a homemaker and had a sense that I needed to give my kids a head start in this area. While scrolling through Pinterest, I landed on an article on this very topic. The writer closed the article by saying that children should be able to run a household by the time they leave it.
Run a household?
I was shocked. Overwhelmed. But mostly, I was intrigued. What if my husband and I taught all of our children to cook, clean, repair, prepare, mend, budget, and beautify?
I don’t think I’ll get much kickback on the idea of kids doing chores. Clearly, there is a need to teach valuable skills and foster independence in children, but this is slightly different. This is intentionally teaching our children to manage a home with pride. This is about launching them out into the world prepared.
And it’s not just about the kids, although it will do them a world of good. Imagine what your day would look like if you had help. If you could delegate tasks around the house and the kids actually knew how to do them. It would free you up to do other things.
It might be easier to do jobs yourself, but you will ultimately reap the benefits of your investment, as will your kids, your future son or daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. This will be one less area they will struggle with as an adult.
But how? Through “zone work.”
Running a household is a lot of work, but it can be broken it down into manageable chunks or zones. As I said, this is slightly different than chores and deserves a bit of distinction. While chores are a task you do, zones are an area you are responsible for.
Zones can be rooms (living room, bathroom, kids’ room), responsibilities (bills, meal planning, grocery shopping), or outdoor areas (garden, front yard, back yard). For my family, I came up with specific zones and listed out everything that needs to be done in each zone.
Here are some samples you can use as a template for your own home:
1. Kitchen & Dining Room: Clear floor, sweep, mop, clean window, clear and wipe counters and table.
2. Living Room: clear floor, vacuum, dust, clear and wipe tables, clean windows.
3. Front Porch/Entrance: water/plant flowers, clean porch, sweep, mop.
4. Backyard: clean yard, beautify porch, water/plants, pull weeds.
5. Trash & Recycling: take trash and recycling to bins, take bins to the curb.
6. Lawn Work: cut grass, maintain front landscape, edge, rake leaves.
7. Dishes: empty dishwasher, clear table, fill dishwasher, hand wash big items.
8. Bills: pay what is owed and adjust the budget.
9. Bedrooms: clear floor, vacuum, wipe surfaces, windows, change bedding.
10. Pets: food, pill, water, litter, brush and bathe animals.
11. Meal Planning: fill in weekly meal plan and create shopping list.
12. Laundry: collect dirty clothes, sort, wash, dry, fold and put away.
13. Cooking: prepare lunch and help with other meals.
14. Shopping: grocery (online or in store) and other errands.
15. Garden: pull weeds, water, harvest, plant, check mulch & covering.
Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. It could take years for your children to master some of these zones. I’m still learning in many of these areas. Give them, and yourself, time and reasonable expectations.
Of our four children, three of them have special needs including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and ADHD. Often, people assume children with special needs cannot perform certain tasks or learn certain skills, but they must be given a chance. For some kids, that might mean doing just one task in their zone or taking much longer to learn a skill.
You never know how kids will respond when asked to step up and work together as a family, and it is unfair to make assumptions that will affect the rest of their lives.
Once your zones are defined, it is helpful to set and explain the ground rules. Here are the ones we follow:
- Every person is responsible for their own bedroom.
- Every school-aged person (around age 6) chooses an additional zone.
- Rotate zones every quarter to allow time to grow and develop skills.
- Each child has to try a zone at least once. This way they learn the basics of everything and that part of life is doing things that you don’t always enjoy.
Not every job needs to be done every day (like meal planning) and not every task from their zone needs to be done every day (like washing the bedding). We also take into consideration that some zones are not yet age-appropriate and we adapt those a bit. Before our boys were old enough to push the mower, dad automatically signed up for that zone.
Being responsible for a zone does not mean we just hand it over to them completely. They shadow us on big jobs like paying bills and grocery shopping. I still go through the process of teaching, but it’s very different than teaching them how to feed the dogs, which they can learn to do to completion right now.
With the bills, for example, I show them how to go online and check our account and how I use math to figure out how much money we have left. They put stamps on the envelopes and run the bills out to the mailbox. As they get older, I will add more and more information as appropriate.
Consider where zone work will fit into your daily routine. We like to do zone work right after they get ready in the morning. The faster they complete their zone, the more free time they will have before we start school. We homeschool, so this works well for us because we can control the time we start school. For those in a traditional school, after school might work best.
The boys do earn a monthly allowance based on their age, but the purpose of this is to teach them money management. They can also earn money for doing extra work; i.e. I can “hire out” some of my zone work if I need help and they want to earn extra money. We have a small bulletin board hanging in the kitchen with a sign that says, “Work for Hire.” I glued clothespins to the board and clipped a sticky note that lists a job and a dollar bill or two under the clothespin.
While the planning and execution of “zone” work does initially take an investment of time and effort, it is worth it in the long run. Responsibility is a gift to our children; not something to shield them from. Fostering independence in your kids gives them a gift for life.
QUESTION: In what areas do you feel you were unprepared for in the “real world?” What household responsibilities do think are most important for your children to learn before they leave home?
CHALLENGE: Choose one or more of these responsibilities and work them into your children’s current household responsibilities.
Edited by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.
Images provided by the author.