Children love screen time, spending time with friends, doing arts and crafts, playing sports, and maybe even cooking or helping bake in the kitchen. These fun activities are critical to a child’s development but it’s important to balance them with life skills. Helping around the house will encourage kids to develop a sense of responsibility, a good work ethic, and an appreciation for what they have. There are simple tasks kids can start doing from as young as 8 or 9.
In this series, we’ll touch on some of the most common things kids can do to help around the house. In this first part, we’re looking at offering help around the kitchen. What can kids do?
Loading and unloading the dishwasher
A simple task kids can do to help around the kitchen is loading and unloading the dishwasher. They can handle everything but sharp knives, organizing items like glasses in the top rack, plates and bowls in the bottom, cutlery in the dedicated spots, and so on.
A spacious dishwasher will make it easier, including one with different racks to accommodate different types of dishes. Many of the latest, premium dishwashers have a third top rack, for example, where cutlery like forks and spoons can be positioned on their sides, in a neat row, leaving plenty of space below to fit more plates, bowls, and more. Adjustable racks make it easier for kids to load odd-sized dishware as well. While you might end up re-organizing everything before starting the wash, at least the kids will have contributed to the process.
Once finished, kids can lay everything out on the counter and even help you put dishes away if items aren’t too heavy and they can reach the cupboards. My 10-year-old son has his own eye-level drawer for plastic cups, plates, and cutlery as well as one for his school lunch containers. While most of these are hand-washed, he is tasked with putting them away once dry. He loves being able to organize “his” drawer as he sees fit.
Washing and drying their own dishes
Older kids might be ready to wash and dry their own dishes as a way to help around the kitchen. This might include plates and cups that just require a light scrub, rinse, and dry. Teaching kids to wash and dry their dishes right after they use them is a great way to help encourage them not to use multiple dishes when they aren’t needed. (My son often has two or three cups of water going at once!) It will also prevent the dreaded sink build-up. They’ll appreciate the work that goes into washing dishes and feel a sense of pride in doing the work themselves.
Organizing is a fun job and giving a child the freedom to organize a cupboard the way they want might even get them a little excited. Pick a specific cupboard in the kitchen that is in dire need of an overhaul. Kids can help clear it out and go through to toss expired items, or even put canned goods aside for a food drive.
I love food storage containers, and grabbing a set can make organizing easier. Have the child sort items then reorganize them in the cupboard, placing the most frequently used items up front, different categories of items together (like cereal, snacks, baking ingredients, and so on). This isn’t a task that will need to be done frequently, but it’s a fun one to tackle every few months as a periodic way to help around the kitchen.
Put away groceries to help around the kitchen
Speaking of organizing, kids can also help clean out and organize the refrigerator. This means helping put away groceries when they come in. Each week, my son organizes the fruits in a fruit basket and unboxes individually packaged school snacks to place into a dedicated bin.
French door refrigerators that have at least four doors including a middle drawer are great since the middle drawer is typically right at a child’s height and perfect for storing quick-access items like deli meats, cheese, juice boxes, perishable snacks, and more. Door-in-door fridges are also good for kids since they allow for better organization. Kids can focus on putting away the small and lightweight quick-access items, like condiments, as well as fruits and vegetables in dedicated crispers while you handle the larger, heavier and more fragile items, like milk and eggs.
We have a second smaller fridge with top freezer in the basement. Many families have one as well, or a secondary chest freezer. Kids can help take overflow items to those, putting away things like frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables, extra bags of milk, juice boxes, and more.
Organizing and separating recycling
Another good way kids can help around the kitchen on a weekly basis (or bi-weekly, depending on the pick-up schedule in your neighbourhood) is to organize recycling. In our area, city trucks will not pick up recycling unless cardboard and containers are separated neatly into two (or more) bins. He sets the bins on the porch and handles this task every Monday night before pick up. Large boxes that require cutting and breaking down are handled by myself or his father, and we take care of putting everything out to the curb the following morning. When he returns home from school the next day, my son puts the emptied bins back in the garbage shed.
It’s a simple task that even young children can take on with supervision. Make sure plastic containers and other items are rinsed thoroughly (this will prevent pesky raccoons as well!) and that there are no broken containers with sharp edges or corners. Not only does this help kids learn about sorting, it will also educate them on the importance of recycling.
You can make this task easier from the onset by having a neat kitchen garbage can with separate compartments for garbage and recycling.
Using small appliances to help around the kitchen
Allowing kids to use certain small appliances in the kitchen will depend on the individual parent and their comfort level. Every parent will decide for themselves when to teach their children to use an appliance. Never, however, leave a child unattended in the kitchen, particularly if they are using an appliance. We all want our children to stay safe, after all.
Some parents might allow older kids to use small appliances like a microwave for limited tasks. This might include using preset buttons for functions like reheat or 30-second add time. If they are helping melt butter for a batch of homemade cookies you’re baking together or want to reheat a snack, like a frozen homemade muffin, for example, you might be comfortable with them pressing the buttons as you monitor. Make sure to go over important rules, such as never to put metal or plastic inside, to verify the time before hitting the “start” button, and never stand too close.
Toasters are also relatively simple for kids to use, especially smart automatic toasters. These allow kids to simply press a button (touchscreen buttons for some!) and the toast slowly descends into the machine, then ascends once done. It’s the perfect task for a child to manage during breakfast. Make sure they wait a minute or two before grabbing the piping hot slices of toast, though!
Some single serve coffee makers are fairly simple for older kids to use, with a reservoir to hold water, a flip-up pod holder, and a spot to insert a pod. Press a button, and coffee is ready. They might not have steady enough hands to bring the coffee over to you (and you want to avoid the possibility of burns). But they can brew the coffee and have it ready.
With a standard drip coffee maker, you can also set the water, filter, coffee grounds, and empty cup the night before and task your child with simply pressing the brew button each morning. It’s a one-button press but a nice way for them to help around the kitchen.
Help around the kitchen: it can be fun!
With some guidance, even a chart to follow, and a good attitude, kids will really enjoy being a help around the kitchen. It will not only foster a sense of responsibility but also provides an opportunity for you to spend some quality time with your kids.
Any task can be made fun. Teaching your children to enjoy helping around the house, including in the kitchen, is a skill that will hopefully follow them through to adulthood.
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