Ever tell your kids to go clean their room and have them return in two minutes and say it's done? You don't really have to look to know that it's not done, but you go and look anyway. The bed isn't made, laundry is all over the floor, and there is stuff everywhere, maybe even shoved under the bed.
"I thought you said you cleaned your room?" you say.
"I did." they say.
"What did you do?" you ask.
"I cleaned my room." they say.
Oh dear. It is obvious that our kids don't know what it means to clean their room. Unless of course we tell them and show them exactly what we mean when we say it.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to get that. I know what a clean room is. It means everything should be in its place and nothing should be without a home. But the only reason I know this is because over time I learned what "clean" is. I wasn't born with this knowledge, neither were my kids.
The experts are always telling us that our children like to know what to expect and I wholeheartedly agree with them. When the kids have specific and reachable requirements, they are much more likely to meet them! And they have a great sense of accomplishment when they do.
For over a year I've had the bright idea to create a room-cleaning photo album for each of my kids. Chore charts haven't been effective, in part because my two youngest aren't strong readers. Also, it still requires a lot of enforcing on my part. But I figured that if the kids could each have an album with pictures in it, showing them what exactly to do to clean their room, they could take it and follow through with it more independently. I FINALLY made good on this bright idea. I took pictures of everything I could think of that needed to be put away and organized on Fridays, our big chore day. I took pictures of neatly made beds, storage bins, dress up chests, drawers fully closed, laundry baskets full of dirty clothes, and each child putting away clean laundry. I printed these pictures at my local Walmart and inserted them in an inexpensive ($1) 4x6 photo album, one for each kiddo.
When I handed them the album, I showed them how to use it. Open it up, do what the first picture tells you to do, then flip and do the next item on the agenda. I also made sure I went through the whole album with them so they would know what each picture was trying to tell them. Then, away they went to clean their rooms. And the results were extremely satisfying, for all of us. Mom wasn't frustrated because there were still Legos all over the floor (making for happy kids) and I didn't have to continually redirect them and stay on their case to get their work done (making for a happy mom). And the albums had the desired effect- the rooms were clean.
Giving our kids responsibility is important. Obviously our expectations need to be appropriate to the child. Each child is different. Motor skills, cognitive skills, reasoning skills- these all affect how much responsibility they can handle. But even a young child likes to have a little job of their own. For Petite it is putting the blocks and puzzle pieces away. As she matures, we'll give her more tasks. Not only does it take some of the work load off me, but it shows them what they are capable of. The more things they can do independently, the more we all "win".
So maybe you'll want to give this idea a shot! The visual reminder is a powerful teaching aid. For around $10 I bought the albums, printed the pictures, and also had an 8x10 photo collage of how to clean the bathroom made. Some quick tips from my own experience:
1. Make pictures very specific. I took pictures of each bin that toys go in. Pet net for the Webkinz, pink three-drawer bin for Beanies, and the purple tub for any other stuffies. Lego buckets, Bionicle buckets, dress-up chest, etc. It breaks each task into a managable chunk.
2. You can also take pictures of other areas in the home that can be cleaned and organized by the kids and assign them to specific children. Taking care of stray DVDs, the bookshelves, countertops, etc. You can switch the pictures from album-to-album if you want to circulate the chores.
3. Have reasonable expectations. The bed may not be made straight, the books may not be organized by size... but if you can tell they did their best, big hugs!
4. Make this fun! I found that this took a lot of the drill sergeant out of me because, again, the kids knew exactly what to do. If they need help, be there to give it. But nobody likes a bossy-pants.
5. Don't put a time limit on this. I have found that doing our Friday chores works best after school or any other things we have to do, so that everyone can work at their own pace. Brown-Eyed Girl is a fabulous and meticulous organizer, given the time. If I'm rushing her, it stresses her out. However, I do require that the work be completed before we move on to the next thing.
6. We already had a routine in place for house cleaning. Fridays is the big chore day and also pay day for the kids. When all their work is done, they get paid. If you don't already have some kind of routine, or haven't implemented a consistant way of getting chores done, give everyone time to get into the habit. Again, knowing what's expected can help, but so does simply getting into the mindset of doing chores regularly.
Let me know if you give this a shot or if you have other hints for helping kids gain more independence and take more responsibility!