It only took me 2 years, but I finally implemented a chore list this last month and so far it’s going fairly well.

Here’s what our chore list looks like.  It’s along our hallway with one of those protective sleeve covers so we can re-wipe weekly.  The chore list word doc is here.



How I Arrived at My Chore List

The second hardest part for me was coming up with this chore list.  I’ve been asking around various FB group for ideas and collecting info for awhile.  What finally pushed me over was joining the free Chore Chart Challenge on Simplified Organization website, run by the same woman who does the Scholé Sister podcasts.

Apparently what I was missing was sitting down and doing a big huge brain dump, no filtering, on paper.  The on paper part is very very important because what kept happening is I have a list of chores in my head and then I always started by trying to organize them.  It was much simpler to organize and cross things once I had the list on paper.

An equally important second step was writing down the goal of wanting to make a chore list.  It sounded a little hokey and I was kind of reluctant to do it.  But since I’ve been trying to create a chore list for awhile, I figure I will try to give the “system” a go.

What I discovered is that having goals helped narrow down the chores I created in my brain dump.  The goal of doing chores for me wasn’t to teach kids good habits but to have them help me around the house so I would have time to teach them.  A big realization last year was that a messy house makes me cranky and feel disorganized and in turn I can’t get the motivation to teach or prep.  In addition, I realized I really did not want chores to get in the way of us doing school work, which it had a way of doing because I made too long of a list.

Admitting all this to myself allowed me to let it go and not get overly ambitious and start with a shorter list.  Since I realized I wanted the kids to help out with tidying house, I selected items that would annoy me on sight if it isn’t done daily.

The Chore Chart Challenge categorized chores as personal hygiene, daily, and occasional chores.   But I found it more useful after reading one mom describe her children’s chores as daily, weekly, and even monthly chores.

In making my brain dump, I also doodled ideas for when we wanted to do chores.  Last year, what was really hard was the kids never finding time to do fold laundry even though it was on their list.

Lastly, part of my brain dump and processing was thinking about how many chores the children had to do.  I’d heard of 1 chore per age starting at 3 for example.  So 1 chore at 3, 2 chores at 4, etc.

All of this was too much thinking though and I couldn’t decide.  So instead, I came up with a list of chores that Thumper and Astroboy must do and other potential choices.  Then we held a meeting to come up with the final list.  This way I would get more of their buy-in then simply dictating what they must do.

Here’s my cheat sheet that I used to guide us during our meeting.

Chore List Meeting

The children started the meeting with a white board and markers.   With the list I pre-generated as reference, I walked them through the day and we discussed the chores I wanted them to do.  For example, after they wake up, they must get dressed brush teeth and get ready for the day.

Once I got their agreement that they were willing to do this, they wrote it down on the whiteboard.  Next we spent 10 minutes discussing what getting ready for the day meant.  We had trouble with this last year with me getting mad often because the kids just weren’t ready to go when I was, often missing a hat or a sun screen or socks.  Even though I kept telling every day what getting ready to go meant.

A perfect illustration of why having physical reminders of chores totally help.


Out of the things we discussed, packing hats, water, food, books, etc, the children took turns picking what they wanted to do.  Then on their white board this list goes.

Then it was onward to setting tables and clearing tables and what not.  I’ve seen other people’s chore list and always wanted the kids to do more than this.  But as I mentioned, realizing that I don’t want chores to cut into school time too much and that chores related to meals are very important to me, I gave the rest (mostly) up.

As I counted the chores we had agreed to, I quickly decided that sticking to the  “one additional chore per year” is something I wanted to try.  For Astroboy, this meant that all his chores I came up with.  But I gave Thumper a list of chores to pick 4 from to fulfill her total of 10.

Next it’s the creation of the chore list.  Do a Google and there are tons of beautiful ones out there.  I especially loved the one on Valerie.US‘s website.  It’s very visual.  Then there is of course the chore wheel and children having designated xx minute chore time where they get that chore done.

Implementing Chore Lists

And…I think this brings me to the hardest part of designing a chore list system for me, the actual follow through.   I was so very stuck wanting to implement the ideas I saw out there.  They all look so pretty.  But I couldn’t fit the list of chores I had in my head with the implementation ideas I saw.

Which brings me to my point.  Forget other people’s, figure out what works for you.  So for us, a list that looks eerily similar to the work plan we’ve been using last year works for me.    I put them up on the wall with sleeve protectors, and the children circle the ones they’ve done throughout the day.

The other reason I’m fairly sure our chore list will last at least a few months is because we’ve been informally been doing the system for 3 years.  So the actual list is just the last piece of the puzzle.

I find that in general, it takes me 1 year to instill some new habits to the children.   So:

  • 3 years ago – Getting the kids to always set and clear the table
  • 2 years ago – Getting the kids to always brush teeth, hair, dress before starting breakfast or school.
  • last year – Getting the kids to fold their laundry and start school by 9am.

So by the end of 1 year, the habit is mostly there.  They still need reminding, but they don’t fight the fact that it’s something they must do.

Wow, you’re thinking, you only got your kids to brush their hair and teeth 2 years ago?  Yup.  I’ve always been a mom who gets a bit overwhelmed with the details of caring for kids.  Thank goodness for Baba.  I envied my friends who were implementing chores when the kids were preschoolers.

I’m fairly sure, given my track record, were I present this chore system and tell my kids that this is what they’re going to do from now on, it will fail.  Too many new habits to learn at the same time.

The Power of Habits is a really great book if you want to learn about how habits work.  However, I was always at a loss at implementing new habits until I read this blog post by a doctor in Taiwan.  His post said that if your child has behaviors you don’t approve of and you want to correct, list them out and choose the top 3 and work on them for a month.

Essentially he’s saying, work on one habit at a time by deciding on the one most important to you first.   I’ve found this to really apply to many aspects of my life, mainly because I have trouble with follow through and am messy myself.  So focusing on just one habit at a time helps me actually achieve my goal.

For example, once I decided that the kids always had to set and clear the table, we did it everywhere, not just at home.  Costco for pizza lunch?  Set the table and clear the table after the fact.  Chipotle for dinner?  Get the children to set the table while the parents are in line for food and they must put their own empty containers away.  Now it’s a habit and the kids don’t even need to be reminded most of the time.

Similarly, I had a one painful 6 months where I had to yell, cajole, plead, do it myself with Thumper go get her to brush her hair every morning as part of her morning routine.  If I find out she’s not doing it, I make her drop everything to come and brush her hair right that minute.  I felt kind of bad doing it but I knew it would only be a short term, until she created that habit.

And she did and now I don’t even think about whether or not she’s brushed her hair in the morning.  (I do want to say that it is entirely of my own doing she didn’t brush her hair.  Because I couldn’t be bothered to do it when she was a child.  You reap whatever environment you put your kids in.)

Did the Chore List Work? 

In any case, we’ve been using this chore list for about a month.  What hasn’t worked are the items on the list that have never been habits, like cleaning their room 5 minutes a day.  So we will continue to try and figure out the best time to do this chore and for me to help the kids create that habit.  Otherwise, the chores that they already had as habits, we do accomplish them most of the time.

So what’s the point of having that list then?  It didn’t necessarily help them do chores.   But I think it helps, especially Astroboy, to have a reference sheet he can refer to.  Something about the physical aspect of having to walk over, read a list, mark them off that helps the body create that habit.  I’m sure there is an explanation in The Power of Habits book.


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