My most despised chore used to be laundry. Mostly because, with three small kids, it was such a never ending story. The monotony of sorting, washing, folding and getting it all away just in time for it to be pulled out and dirtied again was super demoralizing. When our third baby was born we actually hired someone to come and do laundry everyday for a year. True story. It ate up all our disposable income, but I still refer to that year fondly as my “laundry holiday.”
Once my holiday came to an end, I had to figure out a system that worked for our family. Here is what I know about getting your children involved, while making them smarter in the process!
1) Location, location, location: Have a look at where the clothes are piling up and invest in a good quality laundry sorter with wheels on it. We have three kids so our sorter has three bins in it. Children as young as two can be taught to put their soiled clothes in their assigned hamper. We keep ours in a hallway alcove outside the kid’s bedrooms. Make it part of the bedtime routine to put their clothes in their hamper. Which leads me to…
2) Don’t mix and match: Separate the kids’ laundry from each other as much as possible. For the most part, while your kids are young, there are no delicates and the colour palate of each child’s wardrobe is reasonably similar. When you have everything in one load, it makes the sorting way easier at the other end. But if you do end up mixing laundry (because you strongly believe your whites won’t be white without bleach), don’t forget to…
3) Keep it simple: I buy different types of underwear and socks for my two boys so there is no confusion. Even though they are different sizes, everyone knows that the briefs are for A and the boxer briefs are for R. Experiment with different colored socks and styles until it works for your family. My three year old can sort laundry when it is this simple. And hey, did you know that sorting laundry is one of the best early math activities you can do with your preschooler?
4) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Not everything has to be washed every time your child wears it. Socks and underwear? Absolutely. But for the most part, on days when the slides at the park are dry, clothes can be hung up to be worn again on another day. Invest in good quality outerwear and you’ll see a dramatic reduction in the amount of laundry piling up.
5) Pass the torch: Children as young as three can be helping with every stage of the process. Put a step stool in front of a top loading machine so little ones can get the laundry into the machine. Have your preschooler carry a small load of one item (like socks only) to their room and put them in the correct drawer. Older children can be totally responsible for their own laundry. By the time a child can safely reach to the bottom of the washing machine (this readiness is determined more by size than age) they are ready to take on the responsibility of their own laundry. Which leads us to…
6) Exercise their brains: Learning to take responsibility for your own laundry is a life skill that everyone needs to learn. The importance of executive functioning is becoming a hot topic in education. It is defined as the ability to plan, organize, make decisions and regulate your emotions. It is the skill that allows us to learn from our mistakes and see a task through from start to finish. Once you have shown your child how to complete their laundry step by step, make a checklist together that will trigger their memory of how to execute each step. Add photos or drawings to the checklist. Supervise the first three loads and then leave them to it to learn from their mistakes!
Megan Zeni is a play advocate, elementary school teacher and blogger.