Okay, you are looking down at your eighteen-month-old toddler and saying, “Sounds great, but I guess it will have to wait.” Not so. A child of that age can be asked to fetch items, fold washcloths, pick up toys, and carry plastic dishes to and from the table. We can ask and train, even at this age. And as they mature, our children are capable of much, much more.

The following chart gives some ideas of what is possible at what ages. These are merely guidelines—your child may do more or less. Knowing that learning life skills is a process, don’t expect perfection from him. The intent here is to give you ideas to try out in your family.

Ages 2-3

  • Begin to dress self
  • Put silverware in dishwasher
  • Help make bed—at least pull covers up
  • Help feed animals
  • Help wipe up spills
  • Pick up toys
  • Dry unbreakable dishes
  • Hang clothing on hooks
  • Sweep
  • Carry laundry to and from laundry area
  • Bring in newspaper
  • Mop a small area
  • Help fold towels
  • Pour from a small pitcher
  • Empty light trash cans
  • Pull weeds
  • Dust
  • Fetch diapers
  • Carry plate to sink after meals
  • Help pick up living room

Ages 4-5

  • Dress self
  • Help in kitchen—stirring, ripping lettuce, drying dishes
  • Make own bed
  • Clear dishes from table
  • Help carry and put away groceries
  • Set table
  • Retrieve the mail
  • Wash toys when needed
  • Dust
  • Help rake yard
  • Water plants
  • Help wash car and clean interior
  • Sweep patio
  • Sort clean clothes by family member
  • Wash floors, low walls with sponge
  • Sort dirty clothes by color
  • Put away own clothes—put dirty clothes in hamper
  • Hang towels after bath
  • Help load dishwasher

Ages 6-12

  • Make bed
  • Straighten up house
  • Take care of pets—clean cages and feed them
  • Wash, dry, and put away dishes
  • Clean bathroom completely
  • Cook simple foods—use simple recipes
  • Rake leaves, shovel snow
  • Weed and water garden
  • Make school lunches
  • Use washer and dryer
  • Help with yard work
  • Take out trash
  • Help wash car
  • Strip and change beds
  • Wash, hang, and fold laundry
  • Iron
  • Vacuum, sweep, and mop
  • Polish shoes

Ages 13 and up

  • Any of the above, plus:
  • Cook meals
  • Change light bulbs
  • Do all laundry functions
  • Replace vacuum cleaner bag
  • Iron clothes
  • Wash inside and outside windows
  • Do clothes mending, repairs
  • Mow lawn
  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Trim yard
  • Clean stove and oven
  • Wash and polish car
  • Prepare a meal
  • Maintain a bicycle—fill tires with air, oil squeaks
  • Make grocery lists
  • Shop for groceries
  • Help paint and caulk

Ages five to twelve or so are golden years for teaching children at home. These kids are increasingly capable and yet not too preoccupied with school and extracurricular activities. Make sure you start to give both boys and girls the opportunity to do outside chores and to do maintenance-type tasks with Dad. Don’t neglect teaching both your son and your daughter to do chores inside the home, like cooking and cleaning. You will shortchange them for life if you do.

Excerpted from Life Skills for Kids by Christine M. Field, Copyright © 2000 Chris Field. Used by permission of Shaw Books, an imprint of WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colo. All rights reserved.