Using a Family Chore Chart to Establish a Regular Routine

Summer is over, kids are back in school, and all of a sudden, sports, music lessons and everything else are in full swing again. Sounds like it's time to get back into a regular routine. Summer is a carefree time for kids with endless weekends, hot sticky weather, and freedom from school and most organized activities, making it difficult, and unnecessary to stick to a strict schedule. However, when school and extracurricular activities start up again, a lot of families scramble to get back on track in their routines. Enter, the Family Chore Chart.

Every family is different, so every Family Chore Chart is going to be unique. I want to provide you with a few helpful suggestions for how to create an appropriate chart for your family, along with a few tips on how to keep up with it. Don’t forget, it’s not just your kids who have to keep up, the chart’s creator will also have some obligations to fulfill. The goal of the Family Chore Chart is not to make your kids into your personal housekeeping staff, but rather, a way to teach younger family members responsibility, while ensuring that household jobs are distributed fairly to take some of the load off the parents.

So, how do you set up an evenly distributed chore chart and ensure that everyone in your home keeps up with it?

How to Set Up Your Family Chore Chart:

  1. Get the whole family involved – Everybody, young or old, appreciates a chance to help decide their fate. Call a family meeting to discuss the chore chart, but come prepared. Create a list of all the chores that need to be accomplished in your home, on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. From there, start to assign tasks to each family member for the day, week and month. It may help to assign specific days on which tasks should be completed – such as collecting all of the garbage from the house the night before garbage day.
  2. Make it visual and interactive – There are many different ways to set up a chore chart; you will need to try a few different ones before you settle on the one that works. It’s best if you have a way for kids to mark chores as completed, rather than just a static printed list on the fridge. For example: chore cards with Velcro on the back can be moved from a “To-do” column into a “Done” column, allowing kids to have a visual reference for their accomplishments (also allowing parents to quickly see what has not been done and who is falling behind). Using cards & whiteboard markers will allow you to change up the chores, add new ones and rotate assignments. There are some great examples of different charts here.  
  3. Choosing the right location – Put your chart somewhere that’s highly visible. It should be in a high-traffic area, such as your kitchen, entryway or dining room. Don't hide it in a dark corner of your laundry room or the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” will quickly become true! Large-format, interactive charts are best to keep kids engaged and to keep responsibilities fresh in their minds.
  4. Assigning Chores – Make sure that tasks are both age appropriate and distributed fairly – older children can take on more responsibilities and more complicated chores. Younger children will take longer to accomplish the same tasks, so don’t overwhelm them.  There may be some tasks that everyone receives, such as “making the bed” (daily) or “cleaning your play area” (weekly). Revisit the chart once or twice a year to add new tasks, remove tasks that didn’t work out, and to re-assign duties to children as they age and their dexterity improves.
  5. Training – Kids need to understand what they are trying to accomplish and how to get there. If you are asking them to clean up their toys once a week, make sure there is a place to put toys away. Set good expectations from Day One to avoid doing the bare minimum. For example: you are teaching the kids how to sweep the entryway. Show them where the broom is kept, and how to use it. If you are expecting kids to sweep under rugs and shoe trays every week, tell them that, and show them how to do it safely. Finish up the lesson by teaching kids where to dump out the dustbin and how to put the cleaning tools away again. Explaining the value of every step, and why you want chores done will help the lessons stick.
  6. Set a good example – Start by preparing your home for success. If your house is disorganized, asking children to clean or put things away is going to be a losing battle. Your home must be setup to make it possible for your family to actually do their chores. You can also set a good example by doing your own chores without complaint. Don't let your kids embrace a mindset where chores are a bad thing, instead, establish the attitude where chores are a worthwhile accomplishment.

How to Keep Up with the Family Chore Chart:  

  1. Change it up – Change the rewards, rotate the jobs amongst family members, give ‘em a break sometimes! One great way to keep kids interested in the chore chart is to surprise them by assigning “fun chores” like going swimming at the local pool, or a special arts and crafts project that you want to do with them. Leave room for some enjoyable stuff once in a while and your kids will stay more engaged with their regular tasks.
  2. Make it part of the daily routine – Assign regular timeframes for chore completion. Perhaps when they arrive home from school, or after dinner while you are cleaning the kitchen. Getting everyone working on his or her chores at the same time everyday makes it into a group accomplishment instead of making someone feel singled out. Establish that chores must be done before “fun stuff” and kids will be motivated to get their tasks done to get back to playing!
  3. Observe and Supervise – Do not assume that the chores are going to get done just because you’ve added them to a visual chart. You are going to be an equal partner in this endeavour. Even though you’ve taught everyone how to do the chores on the list, young ones may need reminders on what to do, or help improving the way they do things. Be patient! This is a learning experience to develop responsibility, not an opportunity to create an aversion to housework.
  4. Have reasonable consequences – Yes, once in a while, kids aren’t going to stick to the chores. Playdates, homework and sporting events are going to happen, preventing chores from getting done. Before handing out punishments, examine the reasons why chores didn’t get completed. If you’ve set up multiple play dates this week and kids have been distracted by visits with Gramma, it may not be entirely their fault that chores didn’t get done. When that’s the case, and kids have fallen behind, offer to help them out! Get them caught up without letting them off the hook completely. However, when kids simply aren’t doing their chores, you’ll need to get a little harsher.
  5. Do not confuse regular household chores with punishments – Never use the tasks on the chart as punishments. They are regular duties that need to be done as part of maintaining a household. It’s really important not to get into the mindset that chores are a hardship. If you are already using household cleaning as a punishment, the chore chart will quickly become an uphill battle. If you do decide to use household chores as a punishment, assign something that is not part of the regular duty roster to avoid associating ordinary tasks with bad behaviour.
  6. Homework, play & extracurricular activities – Always remember that kids have obligations and interests that aren’t chores! Make sure your kids have ample time for homework, playtime & sports or other activities that they are involved in. If your children seem to be struggling to achieve the tasks they are assigned, it’s time to make some adjustments. This is meant to be a helpful way of teaching responsibility, not an overwhelming demand on a child’s time!

Final thoughts – a chore chart is not going to work for every household. Those with only one child may not find this useful, though it will be easier to enforce. Also, if chores are a form of punishment in your household, a rotating schedule of “punishments” is not going to form an effective, or pleasant routine. Be flexible and patient on the road to figuring out how a chore chart can be effective for your family.