I Turned Cleaning into a Game—and Now My Kids Love Helping Out

Updated: Apr. 10, 2023

The author found a creative way to trick her children into helping out with household chores and make cleaning fun for the whole family

Cleaning Kids.jpgcourtesy Anna Rollins
The author’s two children, pretending to clean

I first began turning my household chores into games subconsciously. As with any parent who has young children, there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. Between my work and their homework, soccer practice and bath time, my house was constantly in disarray. I didn’t want to spend precious moments after my kids were in bed vacuuming the living room or throwing in loads of wash. But I also didn’t want to sacrifice quality time with my two boys, 4 and 6 years old, to dust the baseboards or force them to do the usual chores for kids.

Then one night, inspiration struck. The house was finally quiet, the kids were in their beds and the dogs were in their crates—but instead of unwinding with a good book, like I wanted to, I had to face the basket of clean laundry that was still waiting for me, piled with clothing to fold.

As I found myself using “me time” at the end of the day to fold underwear, I turned on some music to make my task more enjoyable. In the time it takes to listen to one Taylor Swift song, I silently bargained to myself, I’m going to have this entire basket folded.

Then I was off, working swiftly against Swift, on a race to finish my chore in the arbitrary amount of time I’d set for myself. I wasn’t able to fold all the laundry in the span of “Anti-Hero”—but I came close. The song forced me to complete my chore quickly and focus on the task.

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Challenges make cleaning fun for me

Keeping house was always much more enjoyable for me whenever I framed it as a game. So, soon enough, I decided to involve my children too.

One morning, when housecleaning was on the agenda, my two sons were sitting at the dining room table, arguing about who was better at drawing, at soccer, at school, at life. Rather than attempting to dissuade their sibling rivalry, I decided to lean into it. “I bet George can pick up the toys in his room faster than Charlie can,” I said.

“No way,” Charlie, my youngest, replied.

George, my oldest, raised his eyebrows. It seemed he was on to my manipulation.

But before he could overthink it, I said, “Tell you what … I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes. Whoever gets the most toys picked up before it goes off gets to choose the first TV show.”

The kids were enticed and got to work. Eventually, the timer beeped. And, like a miracle, the house was tidied. George won. I turned on an episode of Pokemon, at his request.

Games make chores fun for children too

I realized I might be on to something, so I continued to invent ways to make cleaning fun for my kids rather than a chore. Dusting became a dance party with a cleaning playlist. I handed Charlie a rag sprayed with Pledge. After choosing his favorite song, he swiveled his hips to the music as he dusted our coffee table. George practiced dance moves with his upper arms as he reached to dust new heights.

Filling a bucket with soap and water for mopping was its own sort of science experiment. Before mopping the kitchen linoleum, George considered the optimal water-to-soap ratio for the production of bubbles. And many of these activities—like wiping mirrors with vinegar and water—were rewarded with stickers on a chart.

Multitasking what I needed to do with what my children wanted to do made everyone in our home happier. It saved me time. It taught them valuable life skills. And achieving these goals didn’t have to feel like a chore. I have such happy memories of the days I’ve invited my children into participating in the seemingly mundane parts of life. Soon, they’ll be old enough to turn making dinner into a game too.