How I Taught My 4-Year-Old to Do Laundry

Learning How Capable Your Children Are, On Giving Kids More Responsibility
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Today, I’m going to tell you how I taught my 4-year-old to do laundry, but first the backstory.

I don’t know about you guys, but I can never do all the things.

Some weeks, I’m fantastic at meal planning.

Other weeks, I’m a rockstar organizer.

Some days, I am a laundry maven.

While other days, my house is clean as a whistle.

Often, I fail at all of the above.

But, I am never all of these things at the same time. I can never achieve that balance. In fact, I’m beginning to think balance is for the birds.

As a busy homeschooling mom, I’m constantly on the quest to find ways to make life easier, lighter. I want to spend less time on laundry and cleaning and more time on family.

This is why I was over-the-moon excited one evening in October when my two oldest children, then 7- and 6-years-old, surprised me by making their own beds.

From scratch.

They stripped their bedsheets, brought them to the basement laundry hamper, and then made their beds… and then surprised me with the news. Folks, I know of more than a few people who learned to do this in college.

It was the best surprise.

And so I did what any proud mama does in these sorts of situations. I quickly snapped a photo of the proud moment, gave my big kids a huge hug, and then we danced like crazy to celebrate.

How I Taught My 4-Year-Old to Do Laundry, Learning How Capable Your Children Are, On Giving Kids More Responsibility
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

There are milestones that they don’t talk about in parenting books: getting dressed independently, wiping one’s own bottom, putting on snow gear without assistance, etcetera.

This was one of those moments.

You could say that my children showed their hands.

I was proud of them, and I also realized something: We don’t give our children enough credit. They are capable of far more than we realize.

Not only are children more capable than we realize, but they love a little responsibility!

I recently finished this book and this book and both books got my parental wheels spinning. They changed the way I approach teaching gratitude and responsibility and important life skills.

My kids have always helped out a little bit:

  • They clean their rooms.
  • They help sort laundry.
  • They put clothes away.
  • They set the table, clear dishes, empty compost.
  • They feed the dog and the fish.

But now, they do more. They help me cook.

My baker boy this morning! Birthday cake makin’!

A photo posted by MyLittlePoppies (@my_little_poppies) on

They vacuum, sweep, and mop floors. They have even learned to do their own laundry!

They have delighted in these grown-up responsibilities. They have a sense of pride and accomplishment, they feel more mature. Just look at this proud little face:

How I Taught My 4-Year-Old to Do Laundry, Learning How Capable Your Children Are, On Giving Kids More Responsibility
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Yes, that’s my 4-year-old and he’s doing his own laundry.

Here’s how we did it:

  1. I made a huge deal about how many teenagers don’t know how to do their own laundry. This alone was motivation.
  2. I spent several weeks just showing them how I do laundry. Monkey see, monkey do.
  3. I put an old step stool in front of the washer.
  4. I grabbed a permanent marker and used it to:
    – Clearly mark the detergent on the cap
    – Write arrows on both washer and dryer so that the kiddos are aware of approriate dial settings
  5. I made sure the kids had smaller, easy to carry laundry baskets. This enables them to carry laundry up and down stairs.
  6. The kids keep these baskets in their closet as hampers. When it gets full, they tell me they need to do laundry.

Now, I’m not naive. I know they won’t always rejoice in this newfound domestic responsibility, but I’m also not a fool and I plan to ride this train until they kick me off!

How I Taught My 4-Year-Old to Do Laundry, Learning How Capable Your Children Are
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Now, you may be sitting there thinking I’m bonkers. And maybe I am. All I know is that this is working for us right now.  Our family feels lighter, more balanced.

The best part of these new developments has been the time that we now have together. It’s amazing how many hands do make light work. Sure, it might not be accomplished quite to my standards. We’ve had moments of forgotten detergent, crayons in the wash, LEGOs in the vacuum, and countless culinary failures… but all change starts small. Despite the mishaps, it has been worth it. I feel less stretched as a homeschooling mom and I know that my kids are learning skills they will need later on.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me: What have your children surprised you with lately? What responsibilities do your children have? Share here!

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast. She is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and G+.