Before I had Baby #3, I knew I needed to help my daughter (6, at the time) and son (3) become a little more independent because our lives were about to get even crazier. I thought about all the things I did on a daily basis and chose which skills I felt they could master.
I started with small, age-appropriate goals like having them open their own applesauce (mamas know what a wonderful skill this is to have!), wipe their own butts (I’m telling you, the second half of your life begins when you’re no longer the Resident Butt Wiper), and do their own laundry.
Yes, you read that right: I wanted my six-year-old and toddler to do their own laundry. Now, did I go into this venture assuming my children would naturally become laundry aficionados? No. Did I prepare by telling myself that it might be easier to teach a chimpanzee algebra? Yes. But now, a year later, my seven-year-old can do an entire load of laundry from start to finish independently and my four-year-old has mastered various steps of the process. Am I a witch? Sadly, no; my Hogwarts acceptance letter never came. But this is how I did it:
I Started Small
Before I even started talking about detergents, fabric softener, and spin cycles, I simply had the kids take their laundry baskets to the laundry room and empty them into the washing machine. That was it. I had them do this several times before we moved on.
I Showed Them The Process
After the kids would load their clothes into the machine, I’d say, “Now I’m going to put in the special soap that cleans my clothes! I’ll close the lid to make sure the washer starts. Then, when the clothes are all clean, I’ll move them to the dryer.” I’d have the kids help me switch over clothes from the washer to dryer–sometimes we’d make a game out of it and see who could toss the most clothes into the dryer without missing! Then, when the clothes were dry, I’d show them how I sorted and folded my clothes.
I Made It Kid-Friendly
My kids are still so young that they can’t really read. So instead of using a step-by-step guide, I had to use visual cues. I marked the settings on the washing machine with small, yellow stickers so my daughter would know where to turn the knobs before loading her clothes (she LOVES that part). And, instead of difficult-to-pour detergent, I switched to the pods (I asked the kids if they were allowed to eat them; they thankfully said, “Ew! No!”).
I also had my kids sort their laundry. I made cards with a drawing of different articles of clothing on them (short-sleeved shirt, underwear, sock, etc.) and had them lay out all the cards on their bedroom floor. Then, they would sort their own clothes using those cards (i.e., put the socks by the sock card, pants by the pants card, etc.). Having the visual aides really helped them grasp the concepts! Added bonus: they were learning about sorting and classifying!
I Managed My Expectations
I knew my children wouldn’t fold their clothes like Marie Kondo. I also knew that their drawers would be a complete mess. But you know what? I. DON’T. CARE. Why? Because the laundry is clean, dry, and put away…and I didn’t have to do it. It was difficult at first for me to let go and not allow my O.C.D. to cause me to say those five words every mother has said: “Just let me do it.” I knew if I kept investing in this process, I’d eventually see huge dividends.
And, as corny as it sounds, I really look forward to laundry day. Our days are so hectic and harried that true, quality time can be hard to find. Taking the time to teach my children this life skill was such a fun experience because it made us slow down and take time. Plus, while we sorted and folded, we had time to chat about anything and everything. They’re still little so most of our conversations are about Mario Kart and poop – but even so, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Teaching young ones to become more independent may seem overwhelming at first but I firmly believe that teaching self-sufficiency in the early years builds character, grit, and confidence. Plus, there’s nothing like leisurely sipping on a cup of coffee while your kiddos fold clothes.