Cleaning games

What it is: Games to play with your kids at home to get them to clean! Here’s a few we’ve used at our own house.

Best for: A family of young kids at home cleaning a house

What you need: A messy house

How to play: Ah, cleaning with young kids. Sometimes when the house is messy and it’s time to clean, it can be so tempting to get my kids out of my hair somehow so I can just get the cleaning done on my own. It goes so much quicker that way! Of course, that’s not always possible. And of course, we all want to teach our kids the value of hard work and personal responsibility. But come on, I’m the Game Gal here! Do you think we get through our chores without any play at all? Of course not! Here are some of the common “games” we use to get through chore time at our house.

Drawing for jobs

My mom used this technique all the time when I was a kid. She would write whatever jobs needed to be done on slips of paper, fold them up, throw them in the air, and then us kids would scramble for them. Kind of felt like a piñata being opened…but the opposite. Anyway, there was a fun feeling of suspense, unfolding your slip, wondering what job you got.

It was also a handy tool for the days she had some extra kids over, like friends or cousins. She would write more than one slip for a larger job (usually a room in the house like the kitchen or the living room) and anyone who drew that room would form a team or partnership. I think it was also a handy way for her to absolve herself from responsibility: How could we be mad at her if we drew a job we didn’t like? We were the one who drew it, after all.

What’s my job?

Another one invented by my mom. Basically the kids just say “What’s my job?” Then you give them a job and they do it. When they’re done they come back and say “What’s my job?” again. It’s not the most effective cleaning game in our house, but it can work.

Secret item

I got this tip from a friend. If you’re staring at a messy room, secretly choose one item, especially an obscure or tiny item off to the side. Tell all of your cleaners “go,” and then they start cleaning the room. Watch carefully, and as soon as someone cleans up the secret item, tell them and they get to sit out for the rest of the cleaning time. Repeat in a new room.

I like this because it encourages not only working but also speed – the faster you pick up toys, the more toys you pick up, the more likely you are to get the mystery item and get to sit out. Also, since the item is a secret, you can cheat a little so the secret item “magically” always ends up one of the last things left on the floor…

One job, one fun thing

This works well for big open Saturdays where we have a whole house to clean, but also time for some fun, too. At the beginning of the day my kids and I will make a list of all of the big cleaning tasks that need to be done, like clean out the car, weed the yard, clean the kitchen, etc. Then we’ll make a list of some fun things we want to do that day, like play with play doh, have a dance party, eat popsicles, etc.

I write all the things on slips of paper and fold them up and put the fun things in one jar and the jobs in another jar. Then we just alternate: someone draws a job and we all do it together. Then someone draws a fun thing and we all do that together. We go through like that until both jars are empty. It helps to have fun rewards, and it helps my kids stay motivated when they get a reward after each task, instead of cleaning the whole house all at once.

Obey spray

This is the most recent game we’ve invented. My son read a book at school – Dog Man, I think? I guess there’s a villain in the book who has this stuff called obey spray that will make obedient servants out of anyone he sprays? Not totally sure…but it’s the premise of our game, which is probably the most fun for my kids.

They get to “obey spray” me so I’m their obedient servant and then I help them clean! The trick is, I can only obey if they themselves are also doing whatever they ask me to do. So if my son tells me to put away the stuffed animals, I only do so if he’s also putting them away. If he stops, I stop. And then if a certain amount of time goes by without me getting any commands, the obey spray wears off and they’re left cleaning their room on their own.

I’ve liked this game better than “What’s my job?” because it puts the initiative in their hands and makes them own their mess more, makes them assess what needs to be done instead of me. And they also think it’s pretty fun, giving mom commands. Oh, and I guess in the book laughter reverses the effect of the obey spray? So when the room is clean, we end with jokes or a tickle fight and then I’m free. 🙂

Now a note from me as a mom instead of me as the Game Gal: Most of the time in our house, jobs are just boring jobs. The kids do them on their own, sometimes without complaining but lots of times with, sometimes without my husband and I nagging but lots of times with. When we all clean together, we don’t always play fun cleaning games. Still though, even if the cleaning games are the exception rather than the norm, I think the fun times will stand out in my kids’ memories. That’s how it was for me.

2 Comments

  1. These are great ideas! Long ago, I recall seeing the idea of putting household jobs inside balloons. Kids choose a balloon and that’s the job they get. We never implemented that idea since the kids amicably chose jobs on their own.
    Our kids are now 12, 11 and 9 and we’ve been doing Saturday cleaning jobs since they hit Kindergarten. We began with me listing what jobs needed to be done and them simply selecting which one they wanted to do – no fighting was involved – at the beginning.
    Now, since they “fight” to get a few particular, favorite cleaning jobs, we had to come up with a different plan: a rotating schedule on our wall calendar. They now look forward to “getting” a particular job whenever their turn comes around.
    I’d like to try “One job, one fun thing” someday. We do reward our kids with a small, special treat at the end of their job each Saturday but I like the idea of getting more than one job done per person (!) and also of us doing the fun things together as a family.

    1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! The balloon one does sound fun – just have to make sure to assign someone the job of picking up all the popped balloon pieces from the floor 😉 I’ll have to try that one sometime!

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