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6 Ways to Turn Chores Into Family Fun

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For many families, the back-to-school rumpus is less than a month away. So why not use these last weeks of summer to combine family togetherness with some new approaches to household chores?

When my three daughters were under the age of ten, Sunday nights were the most stressful. Stuffed animals lined the living room, shoes of assorted sizes littered the floor and bikes decorated the front path.

After tucking the culprits into their unmade beds, I worried whether or not I was raising responsible citizens. My friend Sandra told me, "My kids never do anything. It's easier to do it myself. Then I feel resentful." That's when I decided to make the dreaded chores fun for my family.

1. AFTER-DINNER DATES. The "Who wants to wash, who wants to clear?" approach to the after-dinner mess would send my daughters skipping to far corners of the house. Even being upstairs (with robbers who lurked there when you were alone) offered a preferable alternative to being elbow-deep in Lemon-Fresh Joy with me. Then one night, I reframed the question, "Hey, Em, how about a date? You can be my helper," I said. "Just you and me." Her sisters, with that sixth sense kids have, came to check out what they were missing.

"Scram," I said. "Emily and I are having a private date."

"No fair," they whined. My heart leapt.

"Eliza, tomorrow night it'll be your turn. Sabrina, you'll be the night after."

Satisfied, they cartwheeled back to finish a gymnastics show for their dad who was reading the paper.

2. SUPERMARKET SWEEP. After scrambling into the station wagon for our weekly shopping excursion, each girl received her assignment. Then, at the market we paired up and fanned out, seeing how fast we could pile groceries into two carts. One team unloaded at the checkout while I selected fruits and vegetables. Emily and Sabrina ran last minute items to the cashier for the final tally. Before we left, each child got to choose a pack of sugar-free gum.

At home, I hauled bags to the front door while Eliza dragged them to the kitchen. We all helped put the food away then rewarded ourselves with bowls of melting low-fat ice cream.

3. WATCH AND FOLD. Everyone was glad to help if we watched an old video of the family while we worked. The younger kids matched socks and folded underwear. After putting the clothes away, we'd make s'mores.

4. FAIRY TALES CAN COME TRUE. Our middle child, the fantasy buff, announced one afternoon that she wanted to play "Cinderella," starring herself in the title role. She buzzed around the house, merrily filling requests until all toys were put away and the table was set for dinner.

5. SCRUB A DUB DUB THE TUB. The children donned bathing suits, filed into the bathroom, and slipped hands into rubber gloves. I provided buckets of suds and sponges. When the fun was over, not only did our bathroom shine, but so did my kids. That was when I rewarded each with an extra pair of gloves for their feet. Instant ducks.

Be careful. The rubber gloves become slippery on wet surfaces. Allow the ducklings to play on dry floors only. To maintain the novelty, the only time I permitted them to wear the costume was after they cleaned the bathroom.

6. DINNER A LA KIDS. All week, my children looked forward to the night they got to prepare dinner. The little ones helped plan the menu from the choices Eliza found in cookbooks. Under her supervision, they washed, cut, and mixed. Eliza added the garnishes, like carrot shavings on the fruit salad. I removed hot creations from the oven, drained pasta, and stepped in for sharp-knife assignments. Once, when I had the flu, I was grateful they were able to help make dinner every night for a week.

It wasn't perfect. I put the potato masher in its proper place after they went to college.

Now that my daughters are in their twenties, I have different worries, which you can read about on my blog, Confessions of a Worrywart.

How does your family deal with sharing the chores? Let me know by commenting below.