Happy Helperz: Making Chores More Fun for Kids

Filed under: Mealtime, Cabin Fever, Chores

We're all looking for ways to simplify our lives, do more activities together as a family, and to make our homes happy and productive spaces. Heidi Girvan, a former primary-school teacher and mother of three young children, did more than just organize her own house: she created a line of products to help other parents do the same -- while engaging their children in the process.

"All children love to help," Heidi tells Cabin Fever. "It gives them a great sense of independence, accomplishment, and happiness."

There are currently three products in the Happy Helperz toolbox. The Self-Set Placement shows kids how to set the table without assistance (we'll take six, please!). Tidy Toy Labels help kids clean up the playroom. And the Backpack Buddy teaches children how to pack their own belongings.

We asked Heidi: can clean-up time really be fun?

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Happy Helperz?

A: When I started running a household, I found it much more challenging than running a classroom. I was home with three children under the age of five, and I needed systems and routines to make it until dinner. I realized that if my kids did not participate in the daily chores, I was going to drown in the mundane and redundant tasks. As a former teacher, I was equipped with tools to distract children, and to engage them in tasks that needed to be done. I started employing the same systems that had worked when I was a teacher.
Q: I like that you see running a household as a cooperative venture, rather than a one-person job. What tasks do your kids do to help around the house?

A: My kids help set the table, empty the dishwasher, clear their plates, sort socks in the laundry basket, get dressed, etc. No task is too small -- I need all the help that I can get!

Q: At what age can children begin to help out? How much responsibility should we expect of our children as they get older?

A: I believe children should start helping around the house by around age two. As a mother, you have to tailor your instructions and requests to best fit the child's level. For example, my three-year-old can tidy up his toys and set the table (using my placemat!), my five-year-old can make her bed, sort socks, and load the dishwasher, and my seven-year-old is able to feed the kids cereal on Sunday morning so that we can have a little sleep in. These are examples of what they are capable of doing ... but they don't always want to. The one thing I've learned as a parent is: raise your expectations! Your children will rise to meet them.

Q: So...how do you make clean-up time fun? Are there easy ways to motivate children?

A: We do little games such as using a timer and challenging them to beat yesterday's time. Or, I put on music and their job needs to be completed by the end of the song. Sometimes I just close my eyes and count, and then act really surprised when everything is put away. All of these systems make them feel really good about themselves. I also like to have a marble jar on the counter. When all of my kids are working together, they get some marbles dropped in the jar. These marbles are accumulated to earn a prize, such as a later bedtime, or a movie.

Q: My last question: You seem like a very organized person. Do you have practical tips or suggestions for those of us who are not as naturally organized? Where do we begin?

A: I think organizing can be overwhelming. I like for everything to have a home. Plastic bins are easily stored and have a clean, finished look. I try to sort by how my children think and play. It's important to teach them how to sort and classify items.

In terms of organizing a playroom or a house, I try to start on a macro level and scale down to a micro level. Clean and purge all the rooms first, and then tackle one room at a time. I love to make lists and break the tasks up. Tackling one thing at a time (ie. organizing a closet) helps break the tasks into manageable chunks, and gives you an earlier sense of accomplishment -- it is so satisfying to cross things off a list! I try not to multitask or get distracted by the phone. I also find setting time limits on tasks makes me more efficient.

Happy Helperz products ("helping kids help at home") are available at select stores in Canada, and online at the Happy Helperz website.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.