Updated May 7, 2020
Do you ever feel like you’re always picking up after your kids? Towels are always on the bathroom floor. Clothes never make it into the hamper. And there’s a permanent pile of jumbled shoes by the front door. Sound familiar?
Your kids could probably do these little chores themselves. But everyday homeschool life gets crazy busy. And sometimes we feel like we’re saving time if we just do everything ourselves.
But think about it. Wouldn’t you love to know that chores would be taken care of each day without your constant supervision? But chores are only the beginning.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if your children felt capable of doing their homeschool classwork and reviewing for tests all by themselves, instead of asking for your help for every single problem?
Here’s a 6-step strategy that can help start to give your kids the confidence they need to be independent workers.
1. Assign them jobs.
Start by picking specific jobs for each of your kids. Depending on their ages, select chores like picking up toys, setting the table, or loading the dishwasher. Each new responsibility will build expectations for your children that will transfer over to their home school work.
If the bathroom gets a bit chaotic after showers, assign someone to “spiff-up-the-bathroom duty.” Have them empty the trash, straighten towels on the towel racks, and wipe the wet counter with a paper towel. Learning to take care of important tasks that may not be considered “fun” will help train them to endure through the tough parts of school too.
Even your little ones can do simple jobs like “shoe duty.” Just show them how to match pairs of shoes together, and let them organize all the shoes by your front door. Make it fun by giving them an important job title.
2. Clarify your expectations.
Make sure they know what you’re asking them to do. Requests like “clean your room” or “study your spelling words” make sense to us. But do your kids understand exactly what you want?
Try to ask for specific, concrete tasks like picking up toys off the floor, folding their clothes, or writing a spelling list three times.
You’ll also want to provide them with a deadline to complete the task—and tell them to be ready for mom and dad’s inspection! Deadlines train children to use their time wisely. Plus, you’ll be preparing them for working for an employer or studying in college one day.
3. Give some on-the-job training.
Teaching independence isn’t about handing your kids a list of tasks, without any instructions. If you want them to fulfill your expectations, show them how to do the job well. Then, supervise their first attempt at it.
4. Inspect what you expect.
At first, check their work every day at the end of their time limit. If they consistently meet the goals you set, inspect every other day or spot check randomly once a week. If their work doesn’t meet your expectations, show them how they can do the job better next time, and keep checking for improvement.
For schoolwork, you’ll always want to check and grade the big things like quizzes, tests, and projects. But your goal is to reinforce the need to do their chores and daily work—like homework and assigned reading—so that these tasks become innate.
5. Praise good work.
Whenever they do their jobs well, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work. Words of affirmation help children feel loved and confident in their abilities. So make sure you acknowledge their effort!
Kids love surprises, even little ones. If they did a good job cleaning their room, hide their favorite candy bars somewhere for them to find later. If they finished their reading homework without being reminded, put a little note with stickers into their next lesson’s reading. These unexpected treats are the perfect incentive to keep your kids motivated.
6. Let them raise their own standards.
It’s tempting to compare our kids to each other or to other people’s kids. But the best standard for each child is his own best effort. Use that as the standard—not how fast a sibling can do the same task.
Try to find a standard that stretches but isn’t too challenging. And remember to consistently build your expectations. If you switch from very high expectations one week to very low
standards the next, your kids won’t believe you care about their work—and they’ll be less motivated to work hard.
And last but not least, don’t feel discouraged if it takes a while for your kids to adjust. Just know you’re preparing your children for real life. You’re giving them the confidence to handle responsibilities. You’re investing in their futures and ultimately freeing up time that you used to spend picking up after them. And “extra” time is always a good thing!