Teach Your Child To…Wash the Dishes

How to Wash Dishes (3)

I love Parents magazine’s new feature with a “Teach your Child to…” each month. Last month, my big kid tackled tying his shoes. This month, it was Veronika’s turn, teaching my 2 year old (yes!) to wash the dishes, or at least the rudiments behind the task.

Don’t expect sparky plates to come out of this activity; the idea is simply to introduce your toddler to this daily chore, and have some family fun in the kitchen while you’re at it. To start, I cut a regular sponge into a smaller piece; this was much easier for her little toddler hands to hold! Veronika seemed mesmerized the moment she spotted a mini sponge waiting for her right next to mommy’s bigger sponge!

How to Wash Dishes (1)

I filled the sink with a few dishes (think rubber spatulas or small metal pans for this first foray into the task, not breakable items), and then stood Veronika up on a chair so she could reach. She felt like such a big girl!

How to Wash Dishes (2)

Together, we started washing the dishes. I showed her how to add soap to her sponge and scrubby-scrub-scrub on the dishes.

How to Wash Dishes (5)

After each one was sudsy, we gave it a good rinse, which she loved!

How to Wash Dishes (4)

She also loved squeezing the sponge to make more dish soap bubbles, and then rubbing those bubbles all over her hand. “I need a rinse!” she would tell me each time she got soapy.

How to Wash Dishes (6)

When the dishes were clean, I showed her how to set them aside in the drying rack, and her lesson was done. But Veronika wasn’t finished! She loved her little sponge so much that she wanted to scrub down the chair, too.

How to Wash Dishes (7)

Toddler Helpers

Happy Helper Toddler (8)

If your toddler is anything like mine, then he or she loves to be a big helper (i.e. right underfoot) any time you clean. I have to keep Veronika safely contained when I do tricky chores like mopping floors or unloading breakable dishes! Here are a few tricks to keep your toddler as a true helper, not a hindrance.

Embracing your toddler’s presence makes all the difference. It helps to have a toy set of each item or tool for your child to use, although the “real” thing works too if you have duplicates or child-safe versions.

First up, dishes! When I’m washing dishes, I give Veronika a plastic set, along with a tray of just enough soapy water to get her dishes wet but not make a mess on the floor. This keeps her so busy while I knock out this chore!

Happy Helper Toddler (3)

She also loves to “help” empty the dishwasher. I give her the baby utensils to sort, and she feels very important while I tackle the fragile plates and cups.

Happy Helper Toddler (5)

Then there’s cleaning windows, a toddler chore made in heaven. Fill a spritz bottle with a little water, give your child a cloth, and let him or her go to town!

Happy Helper Toddler (7)

And then there’s the aforementioned mopping. Now that Veronika has her own mini mop and bucket, I can set her loose in a safe, dry part of our home while I make the floor truly slippery and clean elsewhere.

Happy Helper Toddler (6)

All this is fun and games, now, but it’s an important precursor to the first real chores down the road. How does your toddler “help” with chores? Laundry? Sheet day? Please share in the comments!

Sheet Day

Sheet Day (3)

In life with a toddler, it’s easier to do a chore (any chore!) if you turn it into a game. Here’s my hack for making it feel less like drudgery on the day I wash the sheets.

Strip the bed, but don’t toss the sheets into the washing machine right away. First, make a fort! You can mix things up each time, but ours always involves some variation of the couch cushions, cozy pillows and blankets to sit on, and the sheets strung across the top.

Sheet Day (2)

Veronika loves to pretend this is her house. A little pillow makes a handy “door” for coming to visit. “Ding dong!” she says for the doorbell.

Sheet Day (5)

Inevitably, it just becomes a cozy place to crawl in and hide.

Sheet Day (7)

Or relax and read!

Sheet Day (8)

Don’t forget about pillowcases. They are perfect for playing peekaboo.

Sheet Day (10)

Or for wearing as superhero capes.

Sheet Day (6)

When we’re done, I ask for Veronika’s help to throw all of the sheets into the laundry basket. She loves this part!

Sheet Day (11)

The sheet day fun is complete, and so worth it that I don’t mind making the beds up after.

Sheet Day (9)

Happy Helper: Floor Mopping

Happy Helper Floor (6)

At around a year and a half, toddlers love to copy everything you do around the house. This makes them the perfect participant for any household chores, but sometimes their “help” can feel more like a hindrance. To wit, Veronika has really wanted to help me mop, but that means dropping toys or brooms into the mop bucket. So today I turned floor mopping into a game to get it out of her system!

I filled a small beach pail with just a little warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Then I gave her a sponge and showed her how to dip it in the water, squeeze out the extra, and start to wash the floor.

Happy Helper Floor (1)

Squeezing excess water is great for muscle development, plus it’s fun to do!

Happy Helper Floor (2)

The idea was to have her work alongside me while I mopped for real, but Veronika had other plans. She upended the bucket, which immediately soaked through her pajamas. Both my kids thought this was hilarious.

Happy Helper Floor (3)

Soon they were eagerly scrubbing the entire kitchen floor – my happy helpers!

Happy Helper Floor (7)

They wanted to play for so long, and when the fun was done, it was immediately upstairs for a change of clothes. And my floor was sparkling!

Happy Helper Floor (5)

“Owl Do It” List

Owl Do It (6)

Fall is here, and with it a return to routines and responsibilities. If your child is having a hard time adjusting to the steps involved for school or sports or around the house, then you can put together this adorable chore reminder list.

To make the chart, I cut owl pieces from felt, using light blue for the body, dark blue for wings, yellow for beak and feet, and black for feathers and eyebrows. I used hot glue to affix all these owl parts, minus the wings, and then glued on wiggle eyes.

Owl Do It (1)

For the wings, poke a hole in the felt and use a brad to attach them to the body. Now the wings can move up and down!

Owl Do It (2)

Glue a piece of dark blue cardstock onto a cardboard rectangle. Add a smaller square of light blue cardstock on one half; glue the owl to the other half. Glue a post-it notepad on top of the light blue square.

Owl Do It (3)

Now write in chores, reminders, or anything else that’s helpful for your child! Travis felt proud crossing off steps in the morning.

Owl Do it (4)

If you like, glue a felt loop near the bottom and slide in a pen. That way your child will never have to go searching for one. You can also glue a magnet onto the back of the cardboard so the list hangs up on the fridge.

Owl Do It (5)

Hopefully soon you’re hearing, “Owl do it myself!”


Laundry in the Fast Lane

Laundry Games (1)

It’s getting harder to keep Veronika entertained while I do laundry,┬áso today I upped the ante; instead of seating her next to me with her own laundry center, I put her right in the laundry basket!

Laundry Games (8)

She instantly was intrigued with her new surroundings. To keep her occupied, I dropped in easy, small items – baby socks, washcloths – and soon she was playing happily with them.

Laundry Games (2)

Next I played a game of peekaboo, draping a small hand towel over her head and asking, “where’s Veronika?”

Laundry Games (3)

I lifted the towel for a big reveal: there she is! She loved this one.

Laundry Games (4)

Now it was time to turn the laundry basket into a car.

Laundry Games (7)

I zoomed her around, including back and forth to the dryer to check on a load, and announced “Pit stop!” when we came to a stop. These words got a giggle every time.

Laundry Games (6)

One note of caution: big siblings are going to think this looks so fun that they’ll want a turn! Needless to say, this is one way to take the drudgery out of laundry.

Laundry Games (9)

Share the Chores

Swap Chores (1)

If daily tasks around the house feel like drudgery with your baby around, then it’s time to invest in tot-sized versions of some daily household chores. This not only keeps your little one entertained while you work, but will be so darn cute you don’t mind all that drudgery (truly!).

Today, Veronika joined me with her own little “laundry” machine. She loved everything about this; the felt paints and shirt she could put it in and take out of the washer over and over; the door to open and close; the spinning feature on the door that went round and round; the iron to zoom back and forth.

Swap Chores (2)

Plus she had a laundry detergent bottle that could safely go to her lips!

Swap Chores (4)

Meanwhile, I got all the folding done next to my little helper.

Swap Chores (3)

Babies and toddlers love to imitate you and that’s what makes toys like this worth the investment; big brother Travis loved playing mini-me with toy vacuums, toy mops and brooms, toy dish washing sets and more, and Veronika can help with all of these, too, as she gets older. Toy oven sets are also perfect for this in the kitchen.

Swap Chores (5)

Another idea, if you’re feeling bored of your chores, is to swap with your partner for a day or a week. If one of you tends to do one thing and one tends to do the other, consider a temporary switch. Truth be told, I prefer to do the lion’s share around the house, but I challenged myself to tackle a chore I’d normally hand off to my husband: hanging pictures that were idling on the ground still after a recent move. It was unexpectedly fun be the one wielding hammer and nails.

Swap Chores

So mix it up, and perhaps you’ll find a new task to make your own. How do chores get divided up in your house? Please share in the comments!

Toddler Chore Jars


Is your little one at an age where they reflexively say “no” to every request? If you’re having trouble getting a toddler or preschooler to complete the little tasks each day – brushing teeth, cleaning up toys, putting on shoes – these cute little chore jars might just trick them into it!

Cover popsicle sticks with colorful craft tape, and label each with a chore. For kids who can’t read yet, you might consider an illustration as well (of, say, a toothbrush), but Travis simply liked having me read him what each stick said.


Now label two clear jars, one marked “Not Done” and one marked “Done.” Clean baby food jars are the perfect size. As each element of the day gets accomplished, your child gets to move the popsicle stick proudly from one to the other.

I tested out the system for the first time this week, now that Travis likes to give me a stubborn “no!” sometimes just for the sake of it! But he was so eager to move the sticks, it turned recalcitrance into excitement. When he initially didn’t want to put his toys away, but then learned he’d get to transfer a stick at the end, he jumped off the couch to help.


Let’s hope he doesn’t catch on to my secret agenda any time soon!