The Awe-Inspiring Power of a Chore Chart

I never realized how often my son got away with having a messy room until he cleaned it recently.

When I went to tuck him into bed that night, I found myself habitually tiptoeing through the room, bracing for whatever toy was going to hurt my foot as I made my way to his bed. But, ah, at last the floor was clean — and I owe it all to our beautiful new chore chart.

I decided to “strike while the iron was hot” last week when the little guy’s daycare teacher told me my 4-year-old had a newfound interest in charts. They were charting the growth of a sweet potato in their classroom, for example. I knew exactly what kind of chart I wanted to make for him at home… and it was going to have “Clean Your Room” in big letters at the top!

Our first Chore Chart

On the drive home from daycare, my son and I talked about what kind of chores we could put on a chore chart. Later that weekend, we went online to a great website that makes your homemade chore chart look downright fancy — http://www.dltk-cards.com/chart/.

I think using the website helped my son really commit to the idea, because he helped design the chart, right down to the cool tow truck graphic we picked for the top. (There are also popular TV characters, animals, you name it… and you can print them in color, or in a coloring-sheet-style, black-and-white format).

I really challenged my son with the chart, giving him six daily chores: wash windows, dust, make his bed, and tidy each of the three rooms he always blankets with toys by the day’s end — his bedroom, the playroom and our livingroom. Now, these weren’t meant to be exhaustive tasks. I just figured there will always be at least one window in the house that could use a swipe, and at least one neglected table that could use a wipe… and it shouldn’t be too much to ask to have the toys cleaned up before bed.

Once we printed our chart, my son was so excited to get to work. He’s always loved washing windows with me — especially when he gets to spray the Windex — so he knocked that one out first. He was totally unimpressed with dusting, but he tried it, at least. Then we put two stickers on the chart, and my little guy had his first taste of success.

He wanted more stickers — and that meant more chores. He tried to toss a few toys in a bin and call the playroom clean, but mama knew better than to let him get away with that even on the first day. So I walked him through and pointed out all the ways he could tidy his tornado of toys. He went back to work. When he called me to take a second look, I couldn’t have been more proud. He had cleaned the room beautifully… even if he HAD posed about 65 stuffed animals and figurines on top of the bookshelf.

With that hard-earned sticker out of the way, he was on a mission to complete the chart. He wasn’t so good at making the bed… he just ended up playing tent under the sheet. But when I offered to help him, he really made an effort. And, by the day’s end, he completed every one of his six tasks. He stood very proudly in front of the chart before bedtime, repeatedly counting the six stars he had earned. The stickers were a thrill enough… he and I haDn’t even gotten to the part yet where I give him some kind of prize or reward for completing the chart at the end of each week.

My little guy’s figurine and stuffed animal pileup.

What I love about having a chore chart is that it teaches a child to take on a task, no matter how simple, and reap the rewards of a job well done. I know my son won’t always be fascinated with charting his chores, but this concept has legs because I can continue to offer different rewards for a job well done depending on his interests. At this age, a crisp $1 bill or a cool temporary tattoo will be a thrill enough. When he’s older, he can get a raise — but the tasks on the chart can get tougher, too.

Now, I know some families would say the child should do the job without having to receive a reward, and that’s fine, too. I just think it’s so valuable even at such a young age to teach a child to have a role in the family’s efforts to take care of the home in whatever way you decide to do it.

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