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7 Tips for Getting Chores Done with Small Children

admin September 12, 2012

I get asked all the time — “How do you do it with all those young kids running around?!”  People seem astounded at the amount I’m able to get done on any given day.

While we also have plenty of days where I don’t get much done at all (so please don’t think I am somehow magical!), I think that we do a good job of getting things done in general, and have developed some pretty good methods.  Please also understand that having more kids, especially ones who are getting a bit older (my oldest is 4 1/2) makes it much easier than if I only had babies or toddlers.  I’m pretty sure when my first two kids were between 18 months and 2 1/2, and newborn and 1 that I got absolutely nothing done.  If you’re in that little-babies-and-toddlers-only phase, don’t look at what I’m doing now and think you should be able to do it too.  You can’t — or at least I couldn’t, in that phase.

Still, I have some tips on how to get things done!

1. Weekends and Evenings

I get the most done when my husband is home.  He takes the kids out to the playground if it’s nice, or just entertains them with toys or a movie if it’s not.  Even if they’re running around, he’s on them if they need anything so that I can focus on the task at hand.  On the weekends especially, they enjoy their time with Daddy and I try to get as much done as possible.  I was able to can 100 lbs. of tomatoes in 24 hours just because my husband had the kids most of the time.

2. Make a List

When I have a lot to get done, I make a list — usually mental, but sometimes I really write it down — of what needs to get done.  I organize this in my head and try not to plan more than I think I can realistically get done.  I usually do this about a week at a time.  I might decide, for example, “This week I need to do three loads of laundry, make a batch of soaked bread, and can a bag of apples.  On Sunday night I’ll soak the dough and Monday I’ll bake the bread, and get to some apples if there’s time.  On Tuesday I’ll do a couple loads of laundry.  On Wednesday I’ll finish up the apples.”  When I know what my goals are and have even a loose plan, then I know I’m more likely to get things done.

3. Slow and Steady

Realistically, if I’m the only adult in the house, the kids are going to need me sometimes.  No matter how independent the older two are, they will fight, or have an accident, or need a snack they can’t get by themselves.  And of course the 1-year-old needs quite a bit more.  I plan to work for 20 – 60 minutes at a time, depending on what I’m doing, and do small tasks that I can stop if needed.  I can start peeling and slicing apples, then cover them and let the ones I’ve finished start cooking down while I tend to a child.  I aim to sit down at least every hour (unless it’s nap time) so that I can hold someone, read to someone, etc.  I move at a much slower pace, but I keep at it.  Once everyone’s been taken care of and is playing nicely again (or eating, or sleeping), then I go back to it.

4. Feed Me!

Snacks are something the kids ask for nearly constantly, and food will distract them for a good 15 – 20 minutes.  That’s long enough to finish one chore, sometimes a couple of smaller chores.  I usually get the kids set up with breakfast, then empty the dishwasher and refill the ice trays while they’re eating.  I can talk to them while we’re all in the kitchen together, but they’re not going to be jumping all over me because they’re eating.  My 1-year-old especially gets irritable if he’s hungry, so frequent small snacks also improves his mood, meaning it’s easier to get things done.

A silly summer day activity

5. Toys, Games, and Mud

I have a variety of activities for the kids to do to keep them busy.  They have a big box of Pipeworks that they love to build with.  They have Legos.  They have dolls.  They even have movies.  If it’s nice out, they are allowed to take my old plastic containers and dig in the garden and play with dirt.  I keep regular ol’ white flour and canola oil on hand, which makes “cloud dough,” and in a pinch I’ll set them up at the table with that (it’s messy).  I also have crayons, coloring books, paint (sometimes!), and various other art supplies.  Usually between their creativity and mine, we can find something for them to do.  I’m lucky that my 1-year-old doesn’t put small pieces in his mouth very much, so I haven’t had to worry about them playing with their “big kid” toys while he’s around.  He plays too and tries to mimic what they do.

chores with small children

6. Get the Kids Involved

Sometimes, they just want to be a part of what I’m doing.  My older two love to knead bread, shape meatballs, measure and dump, or stir.  They climb up in our Learning Tower (a wooden structure that is enclosed on all four sides so they can’t fall) and ask to help.  I try to give them jobs and let them take turns.  My 1-year-old likes to be up, too, but he usually just watches.  Sometimes I give him his own (plastic) bowl and wooden spoon, or various other (safe) kitchen tools to play with.  He just likes to be in on the action!  Sure, the pace is slower with kids helping, but they’re learning, and it’s a lot faster than getting nothing done!  See the above point about “Slow and Steady.”

7. Do Lots of “Ignore” Jobs

Many of the tasks I do are not hands-on for very long.  It does not take very long to mix up a bowl of dough to soak — perhaps five minutes?  It does not take long to knead in salt and yeast and set it to rise.  It takes a bit longer to puree a batch of tomatoes or peel and slice a batch of apples, but not more than 20 – 30 minutes and I can stop part way through if I need to.  Most of my jobs require 5 – 10 minutes of active work; the bigger jobs require 20 – 30.  None that I would do when the kids are around require much concentration nor long periods of focused work.  Many of the jobs require a lot of “ignore” time.  I can be baking bread, making stock, cooking applesauce and apple butter, doing laundry, and soaking beans, all at once — and still be sitting on my rear.  If you have five minutes here or there to start something, you can get a lot done, without really “doing a lot!” Just remember that next time you feel like you can’t really do that much. 🙂

How do you get things done with small children around?

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10 Comments

  1. where did you get the Learning Tower?
    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Thank you so much for this article. It’s just what I needed! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Do you know at which age the children out-grow the learning tower? My twins are 3 and love to climb up on chairs, but I am really nervous about them falling. Maybe this could help?

    Reply

    • My 4-year-old still stands in it, and I’m sure she will for another year or so. Two kids can be in it at once safely, although not more than that! All three of mine try on occasion….

      Reply

  4. Love it – thankfully my almost 3 year old is at the point where he can be somewhat helpful AND also be encouraged to play a game or do an activity for 20 minutes or so without needing me allowing chores to begin and finish. I find it easiest to divide chores up as they’re more likely to happen. I clean the bathroom in parts – so instead of putting “clean bathroom” on my chore list, I put “wipe down sink.” It also makes me feel more productive as I check several things off now for something I used to do all at once.

    Here’s a post I wrote earlier this summer encouraging parents to get their kiddos involved around the house: http://twoortizesplusmore.blogspot.com/2012/07/household-cleaning-involving-your-kids.html

    Reply

  5. My children are now 10, 7, and 3 1/2, but I do babysit my 16 mo. old nephew on a regular basis. After reading this I realized you do exactly what I always have done, but i have never put it into words. I love the challenge of being able to have “ignore” projects going and doing other taks during that time or just doing things with the kids.
    I have just found your blog recently and find there are many things I can relate to, learn from and sometimes disagree with, but I enjoy it.

    Reply

  6. Great post Kate! I definitely second making sure little ones are fed. Now that Katie is 4, I can do almost anything around the house as long as she has a belly full of food.

    Another good thing about having them help is that they usually get distracted early on and move on to playing. I still feel like I get brownie points for being a good mom but get to do most of the job myself. 🙂

    One of my best tips is to feed them a small snack and get them set up with a fun project or movie when it’s time to get dinner started. My daughter loves to paint or play with water and various containers in the kitchen while I’m cooking. If it’s a total meltdown time no matter what you do, make dinner earlier in the day and just warm it up at dinner time.

    Reply

  7. I find making dinner before lunch or during lunch making, helpful too! I usually chop veggies, throw them in a pot with water and store in the fridge until time to cook. I do the same with the meat, prep, pot, in fridge for later. If were having a busy day, crock pots the night before are a life saver! Dont forget to double batch, make double what you need for one meal, and freeze the rest for lunch/dinner. Why cook twice when you can reheat and make a fresh salad instead? oh and we get the kids to “help” make meals and do chores to free me up. Even just washing walls with water and sponge, wash veggies, cut, shred and add to pots. They are young 3/5, but they can load a washing machine, unload a dishwaher with help and prep veggies for sushi.

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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