One of the major themes of larger-family life definitely seems to be chores. And, indeed, I want to teach E how to work and contribute to the home as much as she is able. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to use a two-year-old to actually accomplish anything useful. I can’t emphasize enough how much I’m still learning to do this! I do think this is an area where siblings probably make a big difference–I hope that R will observe E and learn how to do things even more quickly than E has.
- Sometimes her “helping” actually creates more work. E helps me unload the dishwasher–she pulls everything out and hands it to me to put in the cabinet. This takes a much longer time than if I did it all by myself, but she’s learning discipline. She also knows where the soap is (and how to open the childproof catch on the cabinet :-o) and gets it out and puts it in the soap tray. I think the next step is to have her unload and assemble the items into appropriate piles so I can just move the pile into the cabinet. Another thing she helps me do is the laundry. She can drag the bin from its home in the linen closet to the laundry room, and help me empty it into the washer. Technically, since we have a front-loading washer, she really physically could do all the laundry, but she has trouble distinguishing between dirty and clean clothes. So I try to help her know which pile of clothes goes where, and monitor closely that the ones in the dirty basket don’t get thrown in the dryer. One day, maybe, she’ll get the hang of this. Right now, her favorite part is pushing the start button.
- She can learn to be kind. Okay, this isn’t exactly a chore, but with a little toddling sister around, E definitely has to “share” sometimes. I try mostly to let them sort things out on their own–making sure E doesn’t take advantage of her size, or get too upset when R is being rude (as ten-month-olds are apt to be). I encourage sharing when I can, rather than forcing it. “E, I think R wants to play with the doll.” Nine times out of ten, E will happily hand it over at the mere suggestion, and the other time I figure–well, adults don’t want to share all their toys all the time, either. I’m trying to impart a pattern of selflessness, generosity, and wise decision-making, rather than a simple obedient slave mentality. Another, more chore-related way we try to teach kindness to E is by encouraging her to “help” R with her chores. If R makes a mess, E can help clean it up. (It helps that E loves to clean and would clean up her parents’ messes if she could!)
- She can clean up most of the messes she makes. Sometimes this isn’t time-efficient, like after dinner when the girls head up to their bath, but most of the time, E is required to at least help clean up after herself. Some of this she enjoys–cleaning up food, for instance–and some of it is definitely a discipline, like cleaning up her toys before she gets new ones out. I love our toy bins for this, because while things have a general place where they belong, it’s very easy for even a toddler to throw a bunch of Fisher-Price toys into a bin, or slide them onto a shelf. No complicated packaging or difficult finagling to get things back in their proper place. It’s like grown-ups having a drawer for all their cooking utensils rather than hanging each one back on its own hook: as long as the drawer is big enough and the contents sufficiently sparse, it’s a much quicker and easier system.
- She can fix some of her own food. She can open the fridge and get out her and R’s milk (another opportunity to be kind!). She also understands that fruits generally need to be washed, and will drag a chair over the sink and wash her own apples and grapes, which she often shares with R after taking them off the stem. She likes to make her own peanut butter sandwiches, although successful completion of that task requires so much supervision that I usually don’t go there!
E has learned how to undress herself pretty well, and I think learning how to dress herself might be one of the next things on our agenda. She also really likes to help cook, and has a vague understanding of how to operate the toaster oven (the only cooking appliance really within her reach), but since we have a gas range, that’s one “chore” I’d rather tackle when she’s a little more dependable around an open flame! In the meantime, she helps stir and mix things… usually only when Daddy’s home.