Work is Fun… When You Are a Toddler 

By Donna Howard
Columnist for the Journal

Why is it that the most cooperative helpers are generally the shortest people in the house? Why can’t willingness to help be directly proportional to height and not inversely proportional?

It has never ceased to amaze me how much a two-year-old likes to help his mommy. It is also surprising how fast that changes when the child actually has assigned chores.

But what can a small child do to help? What chores are they capable of doing?

Heavy lifting is out. Making beds could be highly amusing. Emptying trash cans could involve a backup cleaning crew. And vacuuming? You try doing the job with a vacuum that is seven feet tall and weighs about as much as you do. Then you might know how a four-year-old could be feeling.

But they still want to help, and it’s wise to let them. It’s a great time for them to learn how to work while it’s still exciting and fun.

Some chores are too hard for someone who still wears diapers. Others are within the range of a toddler’s abilities, but the cupboards aren’t even close. So when we ended up putting in a new kitchen, I kept my little ones in mind.

What could they reach? What did I want them to reach? What would they be able to reach whether I wanted them to or not? And finally, what could they do to help?

The biggest change is the cupboard where the plates are kept. I think our house is the only house in five counties that has the plate and bowl cupboard underneath the counter. We put it right next to the dishwasher. The utensil drawer is right above it.

Obviously, there are no glass items in that cupboard. The good glasses are kept in a higher cupboard. Our dishes don’t break easily, and plastic cups are all the rage now, at least in our house.

There is a method to my madness. A child as young as 18 months old can learn how to empty most of a dishwasher. It’s easy to at least put the plates and bowls and cups in the cupboard right next to it. Even though I might have to put away the pans and knives before the child gets involved, it is a great way to teach this tiny person how to do a chore. It also gives me a reason to praise him as we work together.

The silverware is a different matter. It comes out of the dishwasher too, but the best we can do at that age, and height, is to allow them to just dump handfuls of forks and spoons into the drawer that is still over their head and barely within reach.

I don’t mind. I might actually get it put away properly, but if I wait long enough, we will just use those utensils at the next meal. At that point, the job disappears, at least for a few hours until the dishwasher is run again.

There is another benefit to putting the dishes in a lower cupboard. The cups are there, too. A child might be able to get his own drink of water from the refrigerator or the bathroom. With six little ones all under the age of eight at one point, they had to learn how to do some things for themselves. My job was to facilitate that.

After a while, my children would generally be ready for another challenge, so I would teach them how to set the table. After all, the dishes were within reach, so it was easy to do.

Involve children in daily chores while they are still very young and it is fun for them. It’s creating a habit of helping and also builds confidence in themselves that they can tackle hard things and accomplish them.

Donna Howard has ten children, has had foster children, runs a business, is a musician and composer and teaches adjunct at BYU-Idaho. She can be reached at

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