The Merit System: Use Badges to Get Your Preschooler to Help


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If the sticker system or chore chart has become a little ho-hum in your household, try this method inspired by the Girl Scouts merit badge system. Yes, there is a “sticker” badge reward involved, but getting the kids in on the greater concept of what/why/how just might be the boost you need the next time you ask for help cleaning up.

kid doing dishes photo: Jenny Lee Silver via flickr

Badge: Totally Awesome Dish Washer 

What: The dishes

Why: So you don’t have to eat on gross dirty plates next meal.

How: Prop the kids up on a stool at the sink and let them wash up the non-breakables. For real littles, you can even put a little tub with some soapy water on a towel on the floor next to you while you do the dishes. Yes, it’s true you may have to wash everything again and mop to boot, but you’ll inspire your kiddos to be involved in cleaning. By the time they are school-aged they’ll be asking to help!  Easier still, have them help you load the dishwasher, squirt in the soap, and press the start button.

Go Beyond: Have them draw a picture of a dirty gross plate and clean plate!

Award the Badge!


Badge: Master of Getting Dressed

What: Getting dressed, all by themselves!

Why: Because being naked outside all day would be pretty cold. (If it’s hot you can explain how clothes absorb sweat.)

How: If you’ve got a reluctant-to-get-ready preschooler, this one is for you. Start by checking the weather, using a weather app or checking the weather channel or paper together. Figure out the best clothes for the day. We know your clothing arsenal already contains plenty of easy to slip on pants and shoes, but try making the clothes easy to reach for the kiddos. Whether it’s labeling in bins or sneakily picking out Tuesday’s outfit in advance and putting it somewhere easy to grab, if they “pick them out” they are more likely to enjoy putting them on. 

Tip:You can up your game by using a kitchen timer or timer on your phone or watch and ask them if they can do pants and a shirt in under 2 minutes, for example. 

Go Beyond: Have the kiddos draw the right outfit for each kind of weather or just ask them, “What would you wear if it was sunny out? Raining? Cold and sunny?”

Award the Badge!

toy garbage truck photo: chris via flickr 

Badge: King or Queen of Trash Taking

Ages: 3-6

What: Taking out the trash or recycling.

Why: Because it would really, reallly stink if you didn’t.

How: Kids love to think about stinky things, but a quick read of “Sara Sylvia Cynthia Stout” by Shel Silverstein should set the mood. It’s also a good lesson in sorting out recycling or compost from trash to make less trash, and where trash goes: a topic of delight for many a preschool-aged child. Kids can help take out smaller bags of trash or “help” you carry a bigger bag. If your can is mighty full and you need a compactor, put some good boots on your kiddo and let them stomp the trash down. You can even lift them up and down and let them crunch it down from the safety of your arms.

Go Beyond: Visit your local sanitation department’s website. Many sites now have interactive games and easy-to-follow graphics that show kids how garbage and recycling are handled.

Award the Badge!

Did any of these systems work for your or do you have a tip for getting kids in on household chores? Share it with us in the comments below! 

—Amber Guetebier

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