If you have children with special needs, there’s no doubt you’ve heard the term “life skills” and have been told how important it is to foster independence in your kids. Although I firmly believe that relationship must come before this, we are now at a point in our therapy where we can focus more on this type of thing. My kids have always done some sort of chores but a couple of years ago we started habit training and I started thinking hard about something I had read early in my parenting. I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it (forgive me!), but the article said that kids should be able to run a household by the time they leave it.
Run a household?
As a college kid, I could barely hand wash dishes.
My first year as a new wife, I couldn’t cook a meal unless it came in a box with directions.
And as a young mom I had no idea how to get stains out of onesies.
It’s not that I didn’t want to do these things or think that they were important; I just didn’t have the skills necessary to do them.
Clearly, there is an need to foster independence in your kids but let me convince you a little further.
Why Spend Time on This?
It’s not just about the kids, although it will do them a world of good. Imagine what your day would look like if you had help. If you could delegate tasks around the house to someone and they actually knew how to do them. You would not only be teaching them a valuable skill, but it would free you up to do some other things. It would be easier to do it yourself, of course, but you are going to reap the benefits of your investment and so will your kids when they leave home and so will your future son or daughter-in-law and grandchildren. This will be one less area they need to struggle in as an adult.
Yes, but How?
Running a household is a ton of work but you can break it down into manageable chunks. Every home has different zones. These can be rooms (living room, bathroom, kids’ room), responsibilities (bills, meal planning, grocery shopping), or outdoor areas (garden, front yard, back yard). You make a list of every zone in your home and each week people take turns signing up for that zone.
I have created a printable I will give to you at the end that you can use in your home but let me explain a little more first…
I came up with twenty-two zones in our home and listed out everything that needs to be done in each zone:
- Kitchen & Dining Room: sweep, clear & wipe counters
- Master Bedroom & Bath: vacuum, clean toilet, tub, sink & shower, new towels, soap filled, trash, windows
- Living Room: clear floor, vacuum, dust, clean tables, windows
- Gracie’s Room: clear floor, vacuum, dust, windows
- Kids’ Bathroom: clean toilet, tub & sink, new towels, soap filled, trash
- Playroom: clear floor, vacuum, windows & mirrors
- Boys’ Room: clear floor, vacuum, windows, shelve books, dust
- Trash & Recycling: trash and recycling into big bins, take them to the curb Thursday morning
- Backyard & Porch: clean porch, dog poop up, lawn clear of toys, fort clear of toys
- Front yard: weeds pulled & plants watered
- Front Porch & Entrance: flowers watered/planted, porch clean, shelve clean & current
- Lawn Work: front grass cut and edged, back grass cut and edged
- Dishes: collect dirty dishes, empty dishwasher, fill dishwasher, hand was big stuff
- Laundry: collect dirty clothes, wash, dry, fold and put away
- Bills: balance checkbook, adjust budget, pay what is owed
- Grocery Shopping: make list & go shopping
- Meal Planning: fill out lunch & dinner sheet
- Garden: pull weeds, water, harvest, plant, check mulch & coverings
- Pets: food, water and pill for dogs, brush & bathe dogs
- Cooking: prepare lunch and dinner
- Set Table: put out plates, silverware, condiments and food
- Clear Table: put away serving plates, silverware, condiments and food
These zones might look different in your home but it at least gives you a jumping off point. The boys don’t do every requirement every day. For example, the garden doesn’t always need to be planted.
The point is to teach them to look and see what needs to be done and do it.
Pick your Day
We pick a new zone every week. We have our family meetings on Sunday afternoons so it makes sense for us to pick it then. You can do it whenever you’d like as long as it’s the same day every week. No one has zone work on Sundays because it is the Sabbath so that also makes it a good transition day.
Pick your Zone
Whoever is Kid of the Week gets to pick their zone first. They choose who picks next, and so on. Then dad picks from what’s left and I get the rest.
Each child is responsible for their bedroom. The boys share a room so they share responsibility. They pick one zone in addition to their room. Since Little Miss is only three, she only has her bedroom (and I still help her a good deal). I think five is a good age to add a zone.
Each week when the boys pick zones, I say the following to them:
“See the thing that needs to be done and do it. Your zone is your zone for a week. You are the boss of your zone. If you need help, you may ask for it. If the person has time, they will give it.”
Then I read off the expectations for each zone (listed above). They must agree to the expectations before they are allowed to choose that zone. This way there’s no conversations that start with “I didn’t know…”. Over all, the kids have all been happy with their zones because they picked them.
The kids must complete every zone before they repeat it. Once they have tried every zone, they can pick one zone to stay in and then rotate through the list again. This way they get to try everything and they find what they like. We will continue to add a zone every time they complete the rotation. Right now, they each have two zones but my hope is by the time they’re older the zone work is a little more even between us all (instead of me doing most of it ;)).
The boys are not old enough to push the mower yet, so we just skip the Lawn Work zone and that always goes to dad. They can shadow us with big jobs like doing the bills and grocery shopping. I still go through the process of teaching but it’s very different than teaching them to feed the dogs which they can learn to do to completion right now. With the bills, for example, I explain to them what a check book is, how to go online and check our account, and how I use math to figure out how much money we have left. They get to put stamps on the envelopes and run the bills out to the mailbox. As they get older, I will add more and more information as appropriate.
Fit it into your Routine
When will zone work get done in your home? For us, it’s right after Breakfast, Morning Time and Get Ready. Everyone heads to their zone and as soon as they’re done they have free time until school starts. The faster they complete their zone, the more free time they will have.
What about money?
We do not pay the boys for doing their zone work. Zone work is a natural extension of what it means to be a family and work together…many hands make light work, after all.
I have, on occasion, given a child a tip at the end of the week, though. I will give him a couple of dollars on Saturday if he has worked hard in his zone every day – doing it without being asked, giving his full effort, or taking extra efforts. This is the exception, though, not the norm, and I always explain why they earned it. I don’t want them to get it in their heads that zones are connected to earning money.
The boys do earn a monthly allowance – a dollar for every year of their age – but the purpose of this is to teach them money management. They can also earn money for doing extra work; i.e. I can “hire out” some of my zone work if I need help and they want to earn extra money.
To foster independence in your kids gives them a gift for life. Often times, people assume children with special needs cannot perform certain tasks or learn certain skills but they must be given a chance. For some kids that might mean doing just one task in their zone. You never know how kids will respond when asked to step up and work together as a family, though, and it is unfair to make assumptions that will effect the rest of their lives. Although a task may take longer for them to perfect, gaining independence will give them confidence. Responsibility is a gift to our children; not something to shield them from.
Enjoy your free copy of Zone Work.
If you like it as is (without our names written in, of course), go ahead and grab your PDF Version HERE.
If you’d like to customize it to better fit your family, you can download the Word Version HERE.
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