When you're leading such a busy life, it's easy to just do everything yourself sometimes. It's quicker and it gets done just the way you like. But what is that really teaching your toddler? Even allowing just the smallest tasks our toddlers are capable of helps build their self-esteem, teaches self-help skills and encourages their independence. Here are some toddler chores that you can start introducing to your child. Remember, each child develops at his own pace, so some may be ready for many of the things on this list while others will only be able to perform a few of the tasks here.
For every task listed here, remember to start with many examples of how to perform the chore before you allow your child to participate. Don't expect perfection either and resist the urge to scold your child or correct the work that he did. There's plenty of time for that later when your child is more competent at the task and has more confidence. What you want to focus on now is rewarding your child's effort.
Help Set the Table
Start by handing your child napkins (which are soft and unbreakable) and allowing him to place them on the table, one for each person/seat. If plates are in place first they serve as a guide. Later, when your toddler has this task down, you can let him try to put the napkins in place first. Older toddlers can carry one plate at a time to the table (thus increasing the amount of physical activity they get and decreasing the likelihood of a dropped plate) and place silverware. (Save the knives for older siblngs or yourself, however.) Toddlers can also carry bottles of condiments or salt and pepper shakers to the table with supervision.
Help Clear the Table
Clearing the table is a great habit for your toddler to get into. It's also a way to teach about the division of responsibilities in the home if parents are responsible for cooking and children gradually become responsible for clean-up. Even if it takes several trips from the kitchen to the table, that's fine. It's all part of learning. Encourage your toddler to carry just one thing at a time and use both hands to carry to minimize spills.
After the table has been cleared, give your child a wrung-out, soapy washcloth and help him wipe the table down. He'll probably have to stand on a chair or step stool, so be sure you're giving him a hand with this task.
Help Unload the Dishes
I've always felt that it's not a great idea for toddlers to help load the dishwasher. There's the possibility for contact with things like E. coli and salmonella and it's a bit of a complex skill. I'd liken it to teaching a toddler to play Tetris. (Not to mention sink height being a problem if you like to rinse before loading.)
What toddlers can do, however, is help unload the dishes. First, unload any dangerous or heavy items (like knives or big skillets) and then allow your toddler to individually hand the remaining dishes within his reach to you. As you place them in their proper place describe what the dish is and where it goes.
Laundry is a wonderful proving ground for your toddler's emerging skills. Everything is unbreakable and small mistakes can easily be overlooked or turned into learning opportunities. Folding washcloths is easy and teaches math concepts like geometry and fractions as well. Talk about the washcloths being square (or hand towels being rectangular) and how you fold in half and then in half again.
Sort Whites and Colors
Toddlers are beginning to show their love of classification and categorization. Start with just whites and colors and later work up to other variations like dark colors and light colors. You can make it a little easier with laundry baskets that are also white or colored.
Sort Clean Socks
Another categorization activity for toddlers is sorting clean socks into pairs. Folding the socks together may not be possible so encourage him to just stack the matching socks or get some fine motor practice by clipping the socks together with clothespins.
Deliver Laundry to Bedrooms
Once laundry is folded, toddlers are capable of taking small stacks to bedrooms and placing them on beds for household members to put away. Older toddlers are also capable of putting away their own clothes in drawers.
Run Errands Around the House
I used to think that my parents were being lazy when they'd call me over to take a glass into the kitchen or fetch a book from a shelf. Little did I know they were just teaching me how to follow directions and keeping from becoming a couch potato. So don't feel guilty about sending your toddler around the house to do some errands. Later in life, my mom told me that she regularly invented little tasks for me to do just when I'd been sitting for too long. (Thanks, Mom.)
Hang Clothes Once They're on the Hanger
If you don't have a low bar in your toddler's closet, I highly recommend installing one. Not only can your toddler start handing up his own clothes once they're on the hanger but he can start taking responsibility for making choices and getting dressed himself when all his clothes are accessible to him.
Pick up Toys
Every toddler should be taking responsibility for cleaning up their own toys. A good rule, too, is that before playing with a toy, the other toys he was playing with must be put away. This keeps clutter under control and can help you and your toddler avoid being overwhelmed by a huge mess. Toddlers are notorious for their love of dumping buckets of toys and it's perfectly normal. That doesn't mean you have to put up with an untidy environment, though. Limit the amount of toys on shelves to minimize dumping and remind your toddler constantly that the consequence of getting toys out is having to put them away.
Get Trash from the Bathroom or Other Rooms
Since trash cans in bedrooms and bathrooms are usually small, let your toddler go around the house and bring these to you on trash day.
While large-scale dusting is probably something you want to do yourself (especially if you're using a spray of any type or have breakables around) you can pick out a few low tables or shelves and reserve those for your toddler to dust when you do your own regular dusting.