Accomplishing tasks with little ones underfoot

Since posting my schedule, I’ve been asked several times about how I am able to clean and accomplish so much with very young children (mine are 3 and 9 mths). First of all, I just want to let it be known that I do not accomplish my schedule perfectly every day! Not even close!

It is a guideline, a helpful reminder of what I should be doing to keep me on task. It is a way of splitting up the things that need to be done to make them more manageable and more organized. It offers structure and routine to our day, so that I do not give in to the temptation to just do whatever I want and idle away my time.

That said, there is probably no such thing as a day when I accomplish everything on my schedule perfectly. One of the key aspects of life with young children is flexibility! That is why I switched from a “schedule” over to more of a “routine”, the main difference being that I am not ruled by the clock. So if the baby has a really fussy morning, or the toddler dumps honey all over the floor, plans just shift a little and our day is not ruined.

Ok, disclaimer finished. On to my real post. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, how do I manage to clean or work on household projects and the like with littles underfoot?

Believe it or not, it’s rarely during naptime. The toddler is awake pretty much all day, except I try to achieve an hour in the afternoons where both children are down for a nap/quiet time at the same time, so that I can work on blog/computer tasks. Other than that, one or both of them is always with me.

Theย  most important way that I get my jobs accomplished throughout the day is by doing them with my children, teaching them to work alongside me. Over the last couple of years, I have been inspired by several articles in one of my favorite magazines, Above Rubies (a free magazine), to train my children to work alongside of me and to teach them diligently to help around the house when they are young, in order to reap the rewards of this as they grow older and more capable. I wish I could just invite you to sit down on my couch, put up your feet, sip on some tea and read the articles… since I can’t, I’ll try to briefly explain them to you!

The first article was called “The Life of a Queen”, and was written by a mother of 16 (maybe only 11 at the time when she wrote it- lol, only 11). She described how she trains each of her children, as soon as they are old enough to learn a task. When something needs to be done, she considers who is the youngest child, capable of learning, who needs to learn to master this task and then asks them. But she does not only ask them to do it- she trains them how, and afterward inspects their work and offers corrections.

Now, with a house literally full of children, she has worked herself out of a job. She no longer does any of the cleaning or laundry, or even much of the cooking! Instead, she is home schooling, teaching, training, mothering, gardening, and loving on her kids! Sounds like a pretty great end goal, for being diligent to train my children now.

The second article was about teaching young children to work. The mother in the article had only a 4 year old and 2 year old and was pregnant at the time of writing it, so it was very encouraging to hear from someone in a more similar boat. She wrote about how even very young children can be trained to do many jobs around the house, and how they can be taught to do them cheerfully, quickly and diligently. She has taught her children to help put laundry away, to put away the dishes, to set the table, etc.

I was inspired. If it can work for these two moms, surely it can work for me!

When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I began thinking of chores that our almost 2 year old could do. I began to teach her to put away the clean silverware from the dishwasher, to wipe the table, to spot clean the floor, to bring things to the garbage for me, etc.

Now at 3, I have added things such as clearing dishes from the table after a meal, putting items back in the fridge, helping me sort laundry, wiping the bathtub (I still do a quick follow-up scrub for good measure), wiping walls and doors, learning to sweep and mop, making her bed, putting hers and her brothers dirty clothes in the hamper, etc. Next I plan to work on vacuuming.

You may be wondering what I do with the baby in all of this! Usually it is one of four options.

  1. He is sitting on the floor near me, playing with a few toys or books that I have brought to where we are working.
  2. He is on my back in the Ergo, my most beloved baby carrier!
  3. If I am in the kitchen, he is sometimes bouncing in his jolly jumper in the doorway, or sitting in his high chair, with toys, a cup of water, a spoon, a wet cloth to chew on, etc.
  4. Sometimes, he is napping and I try to take advantage of these naps to do more laborious tasks, like mopping or really deep cleaning.

Another thing you may be wondering is “Does she really let her 3 year old mess around with household chemicals?” The answer is no! Because I don’t use chemicals- all of my cleaners are natural and non-toxic, so I can feel safe letting her scrub away at the tub, under my watchful eye. Using non-toxic cleaners without dangerous fumes can make a huge difference in our ability to clean near our children!

Here are a few practical links to help you out further:
Above Rubies article- How we taught our children to work
Natural household cleaners (a series I wrote last fall)- Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
Homemade cleaning recipes using simple ingredients from Passionate Homemaking
Crystal has a few wonderful articles that have also encouraged me in this area- Cleaning with children and Children Playing by Themselves

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  1. My 4 yo daughter has been in charge of her table for over a year now (we have a child sized table in the kitchen). She clears it, wipes it, and sprays it if necessary. We use vingear and water spray around here!

    At age 3 and 4, our littles are chore helpers (hold the dustpan, etc.) Around age 5, they graduate to the real chore chart. The only thing I have not taught them to do is the laundry, because I don’t trust that they’ll spray all the stains. The oldest boys (8 and 9) do know how to wash their sheets though!

  2. Oh, and also Tammy from has some great articles about working with children too. Anyways, I so resonate with this post. My two year old helps me in similar ways (putting the silverware away for instance, but I take any knives out first), and I think it is SO important to involve the kids in all the chores you can. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Ohhhhhhhhh, I am so glad I found you! I think we might be mind-twins, except you are (really) far more organized and on top of things than I am. My oldest (three) is really into helping me “clean this mess” (where on earth did she learn that?!) so we are slowly working on chores. I hadn’t even thought of the ones you have your three year old doing!

    And my baby is most likely to be found on my back in the ERGO, too, whilst I whisk around randomly doing chores and getting sidetracked. Thanks for posting your schedule. I need the structure and the inspiration!

  4. this is great! at age 2 all of my kids know how to scrub a potty.. hey, they are already there so why not learn how to use the brush? My friends think it’s crazy but they do a great job!
    making beds start at 3 but they do much better at almost 5…
    sorting colors.. at 3 or so- they can begin to organize really well at this stage!
    dishes.. never so fast do I clear a dishwasher when my 2 year old is by my side emptying out the china! lol! my 4 year old and 7 year old do the silverware, set the table, put things away after dinner…
    all kids know how to cut olives nad such with an egg slicer so salads become real fun!
    I figure as soon as you can get them involved the sooner they feel a part of belonging to the family and home…

  5. Great post! I do most of my housework while my kiddos are awake as well (1 year and 4 years)–the baby follows me around with a dry rag and mimics my cleaning and my four year old knows how to clean his room, but I hadn’t thought to thoughtfully train them to really clean!

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