Household work, chores, are great for developing motor skills, motor planning, coordination, work ethic, responsibility, and well-being for children with autism. You might not be a big fan of household chores, but we therapists like to think of those activities that require bending over, squatting, grasping, pushing, pulling, twisting, balancing, and motor planning as gross motor skills with environmental and personal benefits. Adults rarely ask a therapist when is a good time to start chores, but once they understand that chores can provide a mini-physical therapy session, start great habits, encourage family responsibility, and build self-esteem, they are all on board. It’s never too early! As soon as your child can walk, they can help push, gather, pick up, and wipe down.
The Benefits of Household Chores
- Happy Mindset: Though chores may not be your go-to-activity, movement releases endorphins and endorphins provide a general sense of well-being. All that cleaning, vacuuming, sweeping, and organizing also stimulates the frontal lobe which may, in turn, quiet the nervous chatter in your mind leading to an overall sense of calm and good feelings.
- Coordination: When we move we use both sides of the brain which improves our coordination and ability to cross midline (middle of the body) providing us with better balance, eye-hand coordination, and accuracy.
- Healthier Body: Learning to clean means learning new skills and new ways of doing the same activity. All that wiping, pushing, pulling, picking-up, dumping, carrying, and moving means stronger muscles and bones as well as better overall circulation.
- Responsibility and Work Ethic: Having chores to do, remembering to do them, doing them well makes us more responsible and teaches us something called work ethic: doing a job well. These are life-long skills that teach us that reward comes from hard work.
Household Chore Tips for Kids:
Be Consistent. Doing chores once in a while will not have the same benefit as taking out the trash every Wednesday evening. So keep the chores routine and consistent so your child will know when to do them and that the responsibility is not going away.
Adapt the Chore. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, you will need to adapt the chore or break it down into segments. Younger children and children with limited abilities can learn to put clothes into a laundry bin, wipe the table, or push in chairs, for example. Older and more able children can do higher-level chores such as sweeping, emptying a dishwasher, or taking out the garbage.
Practice Not Perfection. Remember, that you are building confidence and work ethic as well as responsibility. Aim for practice and not perfection. As children get older and more capable you can ask them to do a thorough job, but be sure you are clear as to what that means. As children are just starting and learning, practice is more important than the quality of work.
Use Visual or Auditory Aids. Visual charts with icons or words and timers can help keep your worker bee on task. You can create a visual chart with steps toward a certain task or with a list of chores to be done. You can also use a buzzer or timer as a reminder or to help stay on task and to finish the chore within a certain amount of time.
Reward Good Work. Be sure to choose words of praise for even small accomplishments. Reward good work, doing more than what is asked, or doing an exceptional job. On that note, do not nag. If a chore is forgotten, a naturally occurring consequence may be more effective than a lecture on responsibility. Forgetting to do laundry and there not being clean clothes might resonate more than a constant reminder that falls on deaf ears.
Work Can Be Fun. Chores can be fun! Sing along while you work, play music in the background, dance while you vacuum. With that said, it is good for children to see that sometimes we just have work to do and it has to get done. Yet when they understand and hear encouraging conversation, it can help promote a lifelong skill of self-care, environmental responsibility, and hard work.
Physical Therapist Recommended Chores for Kids
Pet and Plant Care
Taking care of a family pet such as a dog, cat, bird, or fish may require walking, feeding, watering, cleaning, and playing. These skills can encourage bending, squatting, balancing, lunging, carrying, and motor planning. For younger children putting dry food into a bowl or watering a plant may be enough. Older children can be taught to rinse out bowls, handle wet food, walk a pet, and clean out a cage. Engagement with plants and pets can lead to life-long caretaking skills and well-being.
Bed-making first thing in the morning has been known to have a positive impact on the rest of the day. This is a higher-level skill, but making a bed can be broken down into segments. Younger children can be encouraged to simply pull the covers back into place each morning and place stuffed animals back in place. Older children can be taught how to change sheets, tuck in sheets, and make the bed ready for the next evening. These skills encourage crossing midline, upper body, and handwork, and weight shifting.
Children as young as two can help with laundry by putting worn clothing into a hamper or basket or placing items into the basket from the dryer. Older children can sort their clothing and learn to fold. Teens can be asked to complete the entire process by being responsible for washing, drying, sorting, folding, and putting clothes away. These skills require focus, attention, and organizational skills in addition to movement (gross motor and fine motor) skills all fostering responsibility.
Young children can use a step-up stool and with supervision help to wash plastic plates, cups, and utensils. Older children can be asked to load and unload a dishwasher or hand wash dishes. This is a sensory-friendly activity that involves water but also works for the upper core, shoulders, arms, and hands while using the lower body for stabilization.
Sweep, Vacuum, and Rake
This might be a top choice when it comes to building gross motor skills. Sweeping, vacuuming, and raking all work the entire body pulling in the upper body, lower body, and core muscles while crossing midline and balancing. As you work and pull leaves or dirt from one side of the body to the other and scoop, squat or bend to retrieve it, the entire body must work in coordination. Also, a good bilateral handgrip is encouraged as well. And you can top this one off by having your “yard helper” place collected leaves into a yard bag and drag them to the curb or place of your choosing. You may even like to add in some pruning, trimming, and pushing a wheelbarrow to top it off. Need to change out the vacuum bag? Ask your teen! For your little ones, they can help with picking up sticks and providing them with small child-friendly brooms, rakes, and tools. Older children can be asked to complete a full activity.
Basic Meal Prep
Time for dinner! Or breakfast, lunch, or snack. Whatever time it is there is time for your children to learn how to help prepare and make a small meal. This can involve decision-making, making a grocery list of items, shopping, preparing, and enjoying! Younger children can help with simple activities such as carrying a small bag of groceries, emptying a grocery bag or contents of a bag, stirring ingredients in a bowl, or filling up a cup with water. Setting or cleaning up a table can be started as young as age three. Table setting skills require planning, sorting, eye-hand coordination, and organizational skills with a few fine and gross motor skills tossed in.
Older children can help prepare an actual meal and learn how to pull out proper ingredients, measure, stir, cook, bake, or even grill with proper supervision. Basic meal prep can encourage skills such as standing balance, eye-hand coordination, and motor planning. Start simple and then as your children get older and more comfortable in the kitchen they can advance their culinary skills. The beneficiary of that will be everyone who eats!
Mail, Garbage, and Recycling
Not a favorite among most tenants in our homes but taking out the garbage is a necessary part of living. Emptying smaller garbage cans into a larger one or placing recycling items in a bin can be accomplished by toddlers and young children. Taking garbage or recycling to the street, bringing back the empty bins to their proper location, and collecting the mail can be a great help and regular household chore for older children.
Chores by Developmental Age
- 2-4 years of age: put toys away, put dirty clothes into laundry bin, help set table, make a bed, feed a pet, water a plant, dust furniture with a wet cloth, wipe down the table
- 6-9 years of age: sweep the floor, get trash from smaller bins and put into a larger bin, fold clothes, peel vegetables, walk the dog, put groceries away, make scrambled eggs, bake cookies
- 10-12 years of age: wash laundry, clean a sink or toilet, vacuum, rake leaves, make a simple meal, clean the kitchen, mop the floor, change bedsheets, help shop for groceries
- Teens: adult chores including: plan and cook a full meal, mow the lawn, car maintenance, organize the shed/garage, purge a closet, grocery shopping, errands