Play house: How to get your kids to cook, clean and organize

Summer chores often bring groans from children who would rather play all day. Take advantage of extended time with your children by teaching them life skills in fun ways. This article offers several ways to encourage learning in successful ways.

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  • I have a list of life skills I want to teach my children before they leave the house for college and life as young adults. The list includes skills like cooking, cleaning, basic sewing, managing personal finances and personal care and grooming. If you’re interested in teaching your children how to be self-sufficient, read on for ideas to get started.

  • Be patient

  • Children don’t notice details the way adults do. Kids might not recognize a dirty bathroom or the extent of a mess they made. They also take for granted the steps involved in cooking food and maintaining a household. As you teach your children, be patient with their lack of knowledge and limited skills. I can fold a load of laundry in just a few minutes, but my 6 year-old takes much longer. We divide the job into parts each of us can do, and assign the 3-year-old sock sorting.

  • A friend of mine pointed out a frustrating, but true, fact about kids. They forget the correct way to do chores even if they’ve been taught several times. Her advice is to pretend like each time you teach a task is the first time, thus avoiding feelings of frustration. Teaching skills like sewing and cooking can be done in several small lessons, making it easier for kids to learn and retain.

  • Be enthusiastic

  • I think very few people actually enjoy cleaning their homes constantly. Although I love living in an orderly space, I don’t often feel excited about doing another load of dishes or mopping the floor yet again. However, when teaching children, enthusiasm is important. I play “Cinderella” with my younger children, encouraging them to clean a room or do a chore quickly, before the “wicked stepmother” comes home. This game excites them into working quickly and efficiently.

  • With the older kids, it helps to acknowledge that work is not always fun. Set an example by working alongside children and refrain from micromanaging their efforts. A really good playlist of music also helps. When teaching cooking, ask kids what dishes they’d like to learn to make. You could add more creativity to the mix by making a “cooking show” while teaching. I also try to tell my kids the real world applications to the skills I’m teaching, even if they do roll their eyes every once in a while.

  • Be thorough

  • Pointing at a room and saying, “Clean it,” will probably not get a good response. Checklists are a great way to teach children the steps to cleaning — much like a detailed recipe helps make a successful dish. Checklists also work for helping maturing children learn to take care of their bodies. Some children catch on quickly, but others may need detailed instructions on how to wash and condition hair, cut nails and style hair. Be thorough in your explanations and kind when answering questions.

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  • After children complete a task, be complimentary of their effort, but hold them to an appropriate standard. I have sent my children back to finish a job correctly several times. Sometimes it’s hard to be the enforcer, but learning to do a task correctly will help them as they join the work force and complete tasks for employers.

  • Be flexible

  • Some kids are natural workers and learners, while others (like my son) moan and groan over simple things. I find that offering options takes some of the pain out of work. I recently taught my two oldest kids how to clean their bathroom, with the expectation that they will now take over that task. However, if some weeks they’d rather do extra dishes and have me clean their bathroom, I’m willing to trade. Making a list of chores to learn to do and having children choose one per day might make things easier. Offering a small reward, or an allowance, is also a good idea.

  • If your child doesn’t respond well to your instruction, have your spouse, another relative or even a family friend help teach your children. I remember learning to iron at my neighbor’s home, then rushing home to offer to iron for my mom. She was thrilled. Grandpa might be able to teach basic car maintenance to a teenager, and a favorite aunt might offer a lesson in hair styling to a young girl. Children who don’t have a knack for cooking can help with grocery shopping and organizing food in cupboards. Being flexible keeps everyone happier.

  • Watching children grow and mature into capable people is rewarding. Help them along the way by making time to teach them important life skills. You might be surprised how fun it is to “play house” in a new way.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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