For your family's schedule to run smoothly, all family members must do their part. Preschoolers want to emulate the older members of the family, which gives you the perfect opportunity to get them involved without any hassle. All you have to do is remember to keep their involvement fun.

Selecting Appropriate Tasks

For you to be successful both in terms of getting cooperation from your child and in terms of getting something accomplished, you'll want to select tasks for your child that match his abilities. Children of preschool age generally have eached a stage in their development at which they have fairly coordinated large motor skills as well as the reasoning ability to do tasks that require matching objects or counting small quantities. They also enjoy most things that involve water. With these characteristics in mind, you can put together a short list of chores for each of your preschoolers. If you need some help getting started, look at the list in Table 1. About 15 minutes of chores a day is a good target amount to use as a starting point.

Table 1. Age-Appropriate Chores for Your Preschooler
On his own:With some help:
Pick up toys.Bathe.
Set the dinner table.Brush teeth.
Wash the bathroom sink.Get dressed.
Fold towels.Match socks.
Put away the clean cutlery from the dishwasher.Feed the pet.
Put dirty clothes in the hamper. 
Water the plants. 

Things You'll Need 
  • A timer

For a hard-copy preschool planner:

  • 3- by 5-inch index cards in assorted colors

  • Stickers, stamps, or pictures illustrating your preschooler's chores and activities

  • Colored pens, pencils, or markers

  • A large magnetic surface

  • Several small magnets

  • A container for the cards

For a computer-based preschool planner:

  • A desktop computer with a mouse

  • Clip art illustrating your preschooler's chores and activities

  • Drawing software

Giving Your Preschooler a Personalized Planner

Just because your preschooler can't read or tell time doesn't mean he's too young to begin using scheduling tools. Even though he can't look at the clock and tell you if five minutes have gone by, if you set a timer for five minutes, he'll know if he finished the task before the buzzer went off. You may find that he can get the job done in an amazingly short amount of time just to make sure he beats the clock. You can play a game in which you reduce the amount of time you give him each time he does the task until he reaches his most efficient performance. (You may even be inspired to try this technique with your own chores!) Or you can set up a race between you and your child to see which one of you can finish your chores faster.

If you want a system that requires less participation on your part, start by considering that children learn to identify objects and colors before they learn to read. With that thought in mind, set up a system as follows:

  1. Select different colored cards to indicate the time period of the day a chore is to be done. For example, blue cards could be used for tasks your child is to complete right after breakfast, and red cards could be used for tasks to be completed while the older children clean the kitchen after dinner. As you can see, one of the keys is to tie the time frame to events that the young child will recognize rather than to a clock.

  2. Add stickers or stamps, or draw pictures representing your preschooler's chores to create a card for each task. Be sure to use a card of the color that represents the time frame when you want the task completed.

  3. Include cards for activities in which the child participates as well. For example, use a card showing swimming if your child attends swimming lessons or a card showing groceries if your child goes with you to the grocery store.

  4. At the beginning of each day, place the cards for that day in a specified place or attach them with magnets to the refrigerator.

  5. As your child completes each chore, he should move the card to a storage box. 


The I Did My Chores! system, shown in Figure 1, is designed for children ages 4 through 12. Suggested retail: $19.95. Website: www.ididitproductions.com

Figure 1. The I Did My Chores! system holds pictures of chores on hooks representing the time of the day that the child is to complete the chores. As she completes each chore, the child removes the card from the hook and places it in the “I Did It!” box.

If your preschooler likes to work with your computer—and more and more young children are computer-savvy these days—you may want to create a special electronic chore chart for her. The principles of using graphics rather than words and of making the chart interactive remain the same:

  1. Find clip art to represent the various tasks.

  2. Arrange it on a page in a way that indicates when each chore should be done.

  3. Set up a simple system for your child to use to indicate that the task has been completed, such as

    • Dragging the image to another area on the page

    • Deleting the image (make sure you maintain a master copy of the document for reuse)

    • Marking the graphic with another graphic that indicates completion

Depending on your own level of computer literacy and the amount of time you have, you can decide how creative you want to be in designing the system.

By providing your preschoolers with simple planning tools that work for them, you'll be encouraging them to take an active interest in your family's schedule as well as providing them with a solid foundation on which to build more sophisticated time management skills as they mature.
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