Cover of "Clean-Up Time (Toddler Tools)"
Cover of Clean-Up Time (Toddler Tools)

I have been a classroom teacher, and teacher’s coach, for a very long time. I think it is absolutely important that teaching kids to be independent is as important as teaching them to read.

If only my own children were as independent as my students in my class became! And I’ve been a parent, and a grandparent, for as long as I’ve been a teacher. Sigh.

There’s something about being related that makes teaching behavioral expectations and routines different from teaching them in the classroom. We become so emotionally invested in the behavior of our own kids (“You will NOT [embarrass yourself/disrespect me/sully the family name/misbehave/create an international incident/attract military attention (select one, or more)] when we are [you fill in the location, here]). I remember telling my college-age children (who ARE very good kids, but were kids, nevertheless), just before Spring Weekend, to have fun, be safe, and not 1) burn anything they might need the next day or 2) end up in the police logs. (I’m not making that up… you can ask them.)

I remember teaching preschool, many years ago. We had a morning routine, where I would ring this cute little, teeny-tiny bell, and the kids would holler, “Clean up time!” then begin singing the clean-up song. By the time the (short) song was done, toys would be put away, the first bathroom line would be heading to the lavatory, and the table washers (kids) would be preparing the room for snack. Helping parents were in awe to see their 3-year-old child acting, well, so independent! One mom exclaimed, “I HAVE to get one of those bells for home!” Sadly, I had to tell her that it would not be the same at home. This is not because it’s not possible, but I knew, from my own family experience, that so many other things factor in, not the least of which is the fact that our children inherit their personalities (and habits) from, well… someone (must be the other parent…).

So I have, with various of my own kids, at various times, used checklists to help address areas where both they (and I) needed to tighten up things. These were usually instituted after an extended period of exasperation on my part, as I picked up yet another pair of dirty socks, and a wet towel, and turned off the bathroom light AND the bathroom faucet… AGAIN (who exits the bathroom and leaves the sink still running? Oh, I know … MY kids!).

Malik learns to cook
Learning to help prepare, serve and clean up after family meals not only teaches responsibility, but prepares kids for taking care of themselves as adults.

Here’s the good news: these checklists WORK. And you won’t need to use them forever. You can adjust them as you clear up problem areas, and then phase them out, altogether. Here are some reasons why I love to use checklists to solve problems with routines:

  • Lists immediately take the energy out of the arguments, and allow me to get on with things that make me feel better;
  • Lists put the mental responsibility for task completion back onto the child, who has to check and recheck the list, and off me, so I can focus on my own to-do lists – this is called LEARNING;
  • Kids like the visual reminder, because, after all, if they could remember to do all the little things, they’d be doing them, already!
  • It give kids satisfaction to check off all the things they are remembering to do without the list (because it’s likely that we have been over-focusing on what they HAVEN’T been doing, up to that point);
  • They are easily adaptable for the very young, by using pictures and fewer items;
  • Putting the reminders on paper (instead of delivering them, myself) allows me to resume a more loving, less stressful way of interacting with particularly forgetful children or challenging behaviors (after all, even the best parents sometimes have children that require a lot of extra “handling”);
  • Lists provide an opportunity for kids to talk about what is easy for them, what is hard for them, and helps them set goals for themselves, instead of following orders set by us;
  • I can focus on a small, particularly problematic part of the day (e.g., room cleaning) or the whole day, as needed;
  • Lists accentuate the positive, not the negative.
  • You can build incentives into the lists, to season the deal (in our house, “screen time” is a powerful incentive to get jobs done).
Learning to be independent at home
A snowstorm is an opportunity to help out at home, and to practice charity, by shoveling the neighbor’s walkway (without telling them).

We have a very unusual home schedule (I guess), because both my husband and I have irregular work schedules outside the home (he is a musician, and volunteers part-time at the local middle school, I work as a teacher’s coach all over the state), and our youngest son hybrid homeschools (meaning he completes some tasks in a public school, and some at home). So we need to have daily to-do lists because we all have to pitch in to keep things running smoothly. And we do. And it does. But, as my son gets older, it’s fair for him to assume more of the routine tasks, especially for his own things, but also for the parts of the family chores that are well within his ability, such as garbage duty and dog-walking.

I developed the featured set of checklists as a way to teach my son the routines for morning, afternoon/afterschool, and evening. He loves lists, and so do I. And it helps my husband and I be of one accord in reinforcing expectations, preventing that gray area where one busy parent allows a treat (such as XBox time) when the other busy wants the dog walked first. And, by clearing up routines together, our family time can be devoted to actual time together, instead of feeling like bootcamp. What a concept!

There are three sets of checklists: morning routines, afternoon/afterschool routines, and evening routines. All are fully editable, so change them as you wish. There is also a blank 10-item checklist, and a 2-page, 20-item checklist, for you to use as you wish. Please feel free to download and print out as many copies of the checklists as you need. And do share on Pinterest, your own blog, or any other way, but PLEASE link back to this post, and not to the .pdf, when you share. Thanks so much for helping with my page rank.

I’d love to see how you modified the forms, if you’d like to share that.

Teaching routines through checklists

Best wishes to you for a fantastic November weekend. And don’t forget to set your clocks back tonight!