Monday, May 17, 2010

Teaching Kids Laundry

Mollie writes:

Anyone reading my blathering long enough will know that I have a laundry fixation.   I LOVE clean clothes; bleachy whites, sizzling reds, deepest blues and delicate pastels.  I've got a thing about fabrics, too, cottons, wools, silks, linens and all the man-made fibers.  Put clean together with touch and I'm in sensory heaven.

It goes to say that I've always been a committed laundress.  My husband's naval uniforms excepted; we took the formal ones to the dry cleaner and the polyester khakis were done in a separate load monthly after drill weekend.  The rest of the laundry was done on a daily basis, and I'd average two loads a day.

Diapers were a daily chore - I did the cotton drill and washed them in a mild soap (Ivory Snow comes to mind) with a nice rinse of bleach.  After treating all the burp stains on the remainder of the kids clothes, they would go with the regular family stuff.

After five years, it did get to be kind of a drag (I have a very high boredom threshold).  The oldest was starting kindergarten and the youngest was starting pre-school.  It was time to introduce the concept of "chores" to the wee ones.  We started with making our own beds and picking up our own toys.  We branched out to carrying our own dishes to the sink, and I moved on from there.

Teaching tykes about the mysteries of the laundry room is something else.  First, the laundry has to make it to the laundry room, an undergraduate degree in itself.  Long after I thought they were getting stuff to the laundry room, I'd discover all those missing socks crammed into the teeniest little cranny in their bedrooms.  But at some point, the majority of the laundry was making it to the laundry room, so we started graduate school.

No grade school boy likes pink briefs.  It's just Taboo - so the first laundry factoid my kids learned, despite my near perfection in the laundry room, was to wash reds separately.  They learned about the dangers of bleach at almost the same time.  Thus, I was able to teach them about sorting subtly.  

So . . .  they understood the concept of sorting.   Unfortunately,  I only had one laundry basket, and was so thrilled to see dirty clothes arrive there on a semi-regular basis, I didn't rule too harshly over sorting at first.  But it was hilarious to see red t-shirts stuck slyly beside the dryer instead of in the basket.  Strike one for the guys!

I'd honcho the machines since I was the only one tall enough to reach the washing machine.  But I did get the little ones to load the dryer and at some point, they learned the mysteries of heat.  You can only shrink so many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sweatshirts - eventually the kid learns that low is hot enough.  They also learned that cottons shrink (even the ones that say 'pre-shrunk') and permanent press wrinkles if you leave it in the dryer for a week (our vacation in '88).  

They didn't pay much attention to the delicates - they didn't wear any and I'm not perverse enough to expect them to do MY laundry, but eventually they'd see the random lacy thing hanging in the master bathroom and made an obvious attempt to ignore it.

Where they were a true help was folding and putting their clothes away.  We'd sort the clean laundry into piles - towels, whites, etc.  Included in the piles were a Peter pile and a Roger pile.  I'd get them folded and put them on the kids' beds.  They were usually put away the same day.  At some point, I had them hauling the laundry to be sorted and folded, but that evolved.

In the end, when the youngest was through grade school, neither of my guys was a stranger to the laundry room.  I still supervised things, but my little button pushers were highly capable button pushers.  I didn't teach them the mysteries of laundry in  a week - it took years - but I think that this is part of the mystique of it all.  

So, get started.  If I were doing this again, I'd start with a laundry basket in each room and take it from there.  And have fun, since that's what it's all about!

Millie Writes:

I, too, am a big believer in giving kids chores early (and often), and since I was doing laundry for 8 people at the peak of our bursting-at-the-seams years laundry was a GREAT place to start.

Like Mollie, our kids worked their way up to The Machines in slow, easy steps. I’d start when they were late One/ early Two with Sock Sorting 1A and move them up the ranks gradually, through Washrag Folding, How to Sort and (for the post-graduate courses) How a Dime Can Cost Daddy $1000 if it Goes Through the Washer in Your Pocket. We tend to divide chores into categories, so we’d have a Little gather the kid laundry, a Big wash and dry it, and a Middle fold it and put it on the shelves.

Now that we’re down to 4 at home – and now that we have bought Darth, my new Super-Powered Machine – I do the actual washing and drying and each kid has a designated day to bring down laundry. I have four shelves in the basement (one for each kid) and 3 bins above the shelves (colored/ heavy/ whites) and they’re expected to bring down, sort, and collect their clothes on the designated day. If they miss their day they have to wait a week – otherwise I’d be doing NOTHING but laundry. (Of course I will make an exception in an emergency such as a stained tux shirt before a concert or a stinky debate dress before a speech tournament.)

Giving each person their own laundry day has eliminated the horrible game entitled Whose Socks and Shorts Are These?, wherein Mom tries to sort and distribute white athletic socks and six thousand pairs of boxer shorts between four territorial males, each of whom wears the same size.

1 comment:

  1. Laundry for eight - OMG. Even I would need a superpower! I'm trying to decide what it would be, and am thinking it's either love or love.


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