Chore Sticks: A Child-Friendly Approach To Chores

I should stop being surprised at the excuses my children come up with for NOT doing work.

– My legs are tired.
– I’m feeling sweaty.
– I just did chores last week.
– I’d rather play Barbies.
– My sister isn’t doing her chores.
– If the world ended tomorrow, would cleaning my room be the last thing you want me to do?

Or, let’s say I convince them to be excited to do chores, because I don’t want them to become completely entitled teenagers and adults. They get off to a great start and then, in a few minutes, I go to check on their progress. That’s when I notice that they managed to get out all the cleaning supplies, wet the wash cloths, drag out the vacuüm, BUT … nothing has actually been cleaned and they are playing with Barbies, like there is no tomorrow.

There comes an age when a child really should be able to complete some chores without constant chaperoning. (Or there is a time in every mother’s life when she deserves a few minutes of peace while her children are off being productive.) I’ve tried lots of approaches over the years (as in every single chart and do-hicky there is), and I have finally landed on one that has worked for almost a year and it still is going strong. I think it works well because it is so flexible and can change over time as needed.

My inspiration for this method was at church – where a lot of good inspiration usually comes. The leaders of the children’s ministry at church use a jar with popsicle sticks to pick participants. They write kids names on the sticks and use a marker to make one of the ends of the stick green. They draw a stick out that has the green end sticking up, give that child a turn, and then put the stick back in the jar with the green side down. When there are no more green ends sticking up, all the sticks are turned back over, re-setting everyone’s chances of being chosen.

Isn’t that a perfect system for kids chores too? I think so!

I put all of my kids chores on over-sized popsicle sticks with cute paper strips glued around one end. This method is totally flexible to the time you have on different days for chores. We were in a routine of doing chores after school, before it was free-play time. During the summer, we do chore sticks before we go to the pool. Throughout the week, have your kids pull a stick out and complete the chores. Whatever sticks are left at the end of the week get finished on Saturday, and then all the chores are re-set each Monday.

I use different color paper on some of my chore sticks for the team chores. Maybe the most obvious thing I’ve ever written: team chores are things all of my kids do together. I give them direction each day on what color stick to pull out, though that isn’t necessary and I don’t think I’ll do that forever.

To see my list of chores I put on the sticks, links to posts about specific ones, and explanations behind some of them, go here.

The plan is simple. Simple enough to actually pull off! And we’ve pulled it off for almost a year … SUCCESS!!

**********Following UPDATE on November 8th, 2012*****************

I changed up the chores my kids do to the following new chore sticks. Chore sticks are still going strong and are one of my biggest secrets to keeping a clean house.

What do you think about this way of doing kids chores? Would it work for you?


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31 thoughts on “Chore Sticks: A Child-Friendly Approach To Chores

  1. FABULOUS ideas!!! And I had to laugh about the excuses kids come up with… my middle son almost always says that his legs hurt or that they aren’t working when I need him to clean up!

    would LOVE LOVE LOVE for you to come share at – our Heart&Home link up. Our mommies will love this idea!

  2. Great Idea! I don’t have as many kids as some readers, but three kids (and two parents) in a >1000sf house can create some chaos! Being that there are so many in such a small space, I would hope that it would be as easy to get picked up as it is easy to mess up… I was wrong! I recognized every one of the excuses you listed and I am hoping to try this method and be done with excuses. One question- and forgive me if you’ve explained it elsewhere, I just stumbled on your site today- why do the toothbrushes have to be brought to the kitchen?

  3. we have been using chore sticks since january and my 4 kids and my husband and i love them. for the first time our house is clean and everybody knows what we are supposed to do! i found a link on pinterest to a site that has printables to glue onto the sticks, each room a different color, with every chore imaginable. the site is

  4. Hi Mary — Chore sticks are a great idea! We successfully used a similar system when my older child was in elementary school. Now that older child is in middle school, the game-like fun of chores has evaporated. I know your children are younger, but do you (or any of your readers) have any positive ideas for motivating tweens/teens to do chores?

    1. Mary, I have a granddaughter that I watch after schools about 3 hours. She is an only child and her parents are divorced. She is 7 and loves to help. I’m thinking of starting this at my house. AND helping her mom make one for their house. The only problem I see is she is back and forth ALOT from Dads to Moms to mine. Should I make them simple chores so she is not overwhelmed and something she can do quickly? She doesn’t have laundry, her room, etc at my house and seldom gets toys out. She usually reads or plays with my puppies. But I feel it a great benefit for her to learn these things now.

  5. I LOVE this idea. I am a hoarder and an enabler (by that I mean that I don’t force the children to help as I can get it done more quickly and more perfect if I do it myself).

    I realise that I am raising lazy children who will be disabled by my hoarding and lack of making them motivated/responsible.

    I am currently working on making them empty the car of all their belongings each trip and putting said belongings WHERE THEY BELONG. The message still has to sink in that some people’s belongings DO NOT live just inside the entranceway!

    School shoes go with school bags immediately we get home so we know where they are the next morning in the mad rush (I have four boys aged 6-10 – perhaps now you understand why doing it myself is easier/quicker/saner?)

    After that is a snack and onto homework. First one finished homework gets computer time, but I think that I’ll change it up to first one finished gets to pick from the chore sticks and THEN gets computer time.

    Do you offer your children physical rewards for doing chores Mary?

  6. Hi Mary – I LOVE your idea of chore sticks. I have a few questions – is there just one stick per kid per day? and they only have to pick up their room or art area once per week? i need my kids to do that a few times a week, any ideas how to modify that? I was thinking of one color for each kid, and a few extra sticks? Also, what are the team chores? Thanks for the great ideas!!

      1. Not just for kids……is helping this 60 year old stay on top of a big house. Move them from one jar to the other so nothing (almost) gets overlooked!

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