Kids love to clean -- just like they love sharing, eating stringy vegetables and asking only once for something they want. Every parent knows that getting kids to help with household chores easily triples the time it takes to do all of the work yourself, on a good day. But then, you wouldn't be teaching them important life skills, including self-sufficiency, organization and how to get off their lazy duffs and share some of the load around the house. So how do you get them involved in housework? Yes, bribery, shouting and punishment are all good answers, but today we're thinking of a more positive approach. If you try all 10 ideas listed here, one or two are bound to work. Good luck.
1. Icky Archeology
Sweep a room thoroughly, collecting all debris into a central pile. Using chopsticks or other "scientific tools," dig through the pile to find the grossest and most perplexing items. Try to identify the origin of mysterious (often petrified) objects. Encourages kids to get deep into every nook and cranny, where the really weird-looking stuff is found.
2. Dust Gloves
Everyone dons a pair of clean, light-colored cotton or knitted gloves (tube socks work well, too) and dusts the house literally by hand. The very idea is to get the gloves as dirty as possible.
3. Swap Meet
Pick up in a room or, preferably, the entire house. As you work, select 5 to 10 valued items to keep for the swap meet; these should belong to someone else in the game. When the pickup is complete, swap the items one-by-one, taking turns and bargaining up for higher-value items (Mom's long-lost diamond earring is worth a mint in game pieces, for example).
4. Swiffer Hockey
Using two doorways (or other openings) as the goals, play a Hints from Heloise version of hockey with Swiffers and a plastic container lid. Important rule: Swiffers must stay on the floor (no high-Swiffering). Legal checking is optional.
5. Beat the Clock
A timeless classic. Establish a cleaning goal for each participant (adjusting for age and efficiency aptitude). Set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes, and have everyone get to work. Participants who finish their task before the bell rings win a prize. Those who don't receive either a "Good effort!" or a "You call that clean?!!," depending on your parenting style.
6. DJ D-Klutta
A musical variation on Beat the Clock. Each participant chooses a song to play while everyone works on a specified task. The goal is to complete the task before the song ends. Tip for parents' selection: Heavy metal is best for pumping-up adrenaline without distracting kid-friendly rhythms.
7. Couch Cushion Collage
Clean in, around and under a couch, collecting all found items and debris into a container. Create artwork by glue-sticking the found objects to paper. Add funny labels and arrows identifying the objects. Tip: Sweeten the deal by allowing kids to keep any money they find.
8. Mop Race
Establish an imaginary finish line running down the center of a dirty floor. Starting at opposite ends of the room, two participants compete to mop their half of the floor, racing the other to the finish line. The looser (or if you prefer, "the one who tried hard but wasn't as fast as the other...this time") gets his/her feet mopped by the winner.
9. You Hoser
(Don't worry, kids won't get the reference to Bob and Doug McKenzie, provided they never have access to the internet.) This one's fun for adults, too: Cleaning everything outdoors, including windows, with a hose. Attach a bottle of outdoor cleaning solution to a garden hose, and spray away! Be sure to follow the manufacturer's safety precautions.
10. Sponge Skating
Attach sponges to participants' shoes (one internet source suggests hot glue, which is removable). Dip your feet into a bucket of soapy water, and triple Salchow (sow-cow) your way to a clean floor. You didn't think Scott Hamilton uses a mop, did you?
Parents' Word of the Day
This real English gem was recently brought to light by Ammon Shea in his book, Reading the OED. The word is hindermate, describing a well-meaning helper who does more harm than good.