How to Use Household Tasks as Learning Opportunities for Adolescents

Having the entire family at home for an extended period of time might feel like vacation at first, but the extra meals, laundry and bills start to pile up quickly. Whether it’s summer break or state-mandated social distancing, extended stays at home may create learning opportunities for children and adolescents from household tasks, as parents supplement lessons children might be missing while they’re out of school.

The Importance of Learning and Participating in Household Tasks

Because of public health measures requiring people to stay home, many adults are now managing their workloads and their children’s schoolwork while maintaining a home. While these responsibilities can be overwhelming, having the family at home means there are more people around to pitch in—you just need to create a routine that works for everyone.

Tips for Motivating Kids to Do Chores

Frame chores like an exclusive opportunity. Many activities are usually framed as off-limits to children because of their age, especially when adults use language like “maybe when you're older.” Reframing the task as an exciting opportunity for kids to get to do adult activities can make it seem more appealing.

Be clear about expectations. What constitutes a job well done? Make sure kids know what a completed task should look like before they begin.

Create a schedule. Using a chore chart or a checklist for tasks that need to be done each week can allow kids to pace themselves and make progress each day. A schedule avoids piling on too many chores at once.

Involve kids in the decision-making process. People of all ages respond positively to having agency over their lives. Giving kids a choice in which chore to do first can maintain motivation.

Make sure the entire family participates. Emphasizing a collective contribution is key for cooperation on all fronts. For example, when doing folding laundry, make sure it’s a team effort instead of each person only taking care of their own clothes. That way, kids understand that chores are for everyone’s benefit, not just for their own.

Work gradually toward independence. A child might need a lot of guidance the first time they complete a task. With repeated practice, they can work toward doing the job on their own or with minimal supervision.

Give positive feedback. Tell kids when they’re doing something right. If supervising them while they’re doing the task, point out what they’re doing well along the way. If they make a mistake, demonstrate the right way to complete a task.

Create a rewards system. A sense of accomplishment and productivity is often enough of a reward for adults when they finish sorting all the laundry. Children may respond to more tangible rewards like having extra screen time or playtime or even choosing their next chore for the next day.

Cleaning and Organizing Activities for Kids

Taking the time to show kids how to clean up after themselves and each other will help them maintain their living space independently and effectively while learning leadership skills like delegation, following instructions and taking part in teamwork.

Small tasks that parents can teach their children include:

  • Making the bed
  • Folding clothes
  • Vacuuming or sweeping floors
  • Cleaning windows or mirrors
  • Organizing a closet
  • Putting away toys or sports equipment
  • Wiping down sinks and counters
  • Washing dishes
  • Sweeping sidewalks and outdoor areas
  • Pulling weeds and watering plants

Cleaning tasks are also an opportunity to build on kids’ scientific knowledge about germs, illnesses and the spread of disease. Teaching kids about cleaning at home can supplement lessons from biology, chemistry and health courses.

Handwashing: A Family Activity, Centers for Disease Control: A guide for families about teaching their kids the importance of handwashing as a tool to prevent diseases and kill germs.

Getting Kids to Wash the Dishes, Cleaning Institute: A guide for parents teaching their kids to do the dishes for the first time, including advice for demonstrating the basics, using motivating language and making cleaning efficient (and fun).

Parents should avoid framing cleaning as a punishment and instead teach children that cleaning is crucial for everyone to stay healthy and safe. Modeling positive behaviors can help children understand that cleaning is important and create positive outcomes for the whole family.

Cooking and Food Preparation Activities for Kids

Cooking can be complicated. Keep tasks small and realistic so kids understand the order of food preparation without making a mess. Cooking and baking can build upon kids’ existing skills and supplement lessons they might have learned in school about science experiments, chemistry and math.

Small food preparation tasks that kids can do include:

  • Putting groceries away
  • Setting the table for a family meal
  • Loading the dishwasher
  • Feeding pets
  • Planting and watering herbs
  • Putting away leftover food
  • Mixing and chopping ingredients

Once these skills are mastered, children can also learn to help with more complicated tasks, like cooking a meal for the family. Reading a recipe teaches the importance of following directions, understanding chemical reactions and tapping into problem-solving skills.

How to Read a Recipe, A guide for parents supervising their kids as they read a recipe, including specific focal points like ingredients, instructions, serving sizes and kitchen equipment at an age-appropriate level.

A Guide to Cookery Skills by Age, BBC Good Food: A list of small tasks and educational approaches for teaching kids about cooking at home, broken down into age-appropriate categories.

As children learn cooking skills, they develop independence and self-sufficiency—skills they’ll depend on long after they move into their own homes. Beyond building science and home economics skills, cooking together is also an opportunity to bond and create family memories.

Finance and Budgeting

Elementary and middle school math lessons often include financial literacy concepts like fractions, percentages, decimals and simple and compound interest. Parents can recreate these lessons for their kids by teaching them how to complete finance and budgeting tasks.

Parents who pay their kids for doing chores can use their allowance as a teaching tool for budgeting and finance. These math concepts apply to real life scenarios of saving and spending money.

Small finance tasks that parents can do with their children include:

  • Setting personal goals for saving money
  • Depositing money into a bank account
  • Collecting and rolling change to be exchanged for bills
  • Playing board games that involve currencies
  • Earning money or a fake currency from completing chores
  • Calculating interest earned from money saved

Developing self-sufficiency with personal finance can prepare kids to budget money once they’re old enough to apply for a job. Parents can supplement school lessons about math and economics by focusing on budgeting and financial literacy.

Resources for Kids, U.S. Mint: Engaging activities for K–12 learners, including games about money, budgeting and other finance challenges.

Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy, National Education Association: Lesson plans and games that parents can use for educating their kids about economic concepts, budgeting and financial literacy.

Economics & Personal Finance Resources for Grades 6–8, Council for Economic Education: Economics lessons for kids in grades 6 through 8 that can be completed online or at home.

Physical Activities and Sports Activities for Kids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day of the week. While most kids are used to exercising at school during physical education classes and extracurriculars like team sports, finding recreational activities at home can be difficult when families have a limited amount of space.

Healthy Activities to Do at Home, Action for Healthy Kids: A list of physical activity ideas for kids to get their bodies and minds moving to improve physical and mental health.

Virtual Resources for Health & PE, SHAPE America: Comprehensive guidance for families and educators about recreating physical education activities at home, including games that families can play inside the house or in their yard.

Parents can also encourage physical activity through household tasks like raking leaves, gardening and indoor cleaning activities that require a lot of movement. Dividing family members into teams or racing each other to finish tasks can also make activities fun and add a sports or teamwork element to the job.

Acts of Service

Adolescence is a time that young people form their identities and begin to think about their place in the world. Focusing on acts of service is an opportunity to channel that identity formation into a positive outcome for young people and their communities. Just because kids are required to stay home doesn’t mean they aren’t still able to contribute to the world around them.

Talk about ways to help those in need by performing acts of service and kindness that can be done from home or virtually.

Merit Badges for Scouts During Social Distancing, Scouting MagazineMembers of the BSA can make use of an updated list of merit badges that can be completed at home or in a small yard. Though all merit badges have certain aspects that can be accomplished at home, this shortened list is limited to the 58 badges that can be completed while adhering to social distancing measures.

Host a Digital Food Drive, Capital Area Food Bank: Many families are able to stock up on food at their local grocery store, but people who depend on food banks or the national school lunch program for their meals may face more hurdles getting supplies. Hosting a virtual food drive can help kids learn about food insecurity and the importance of sharing resources within the community.

Serving the community builds character, strengthens relationships and shows kids that they can make a difference.

When children learn new skills, they also gain an appreciation for people who use those skills to earn a living. Understanding the hard work that goes into performing skilled work can translate into respect for people from all walks of life and even develop a passion for learning a professional trade or pursuing a specific career.