My daughter loves the internet, especially playing online games. It started early with her playing educational games from Sesame Street or games where a player can decorate ponies, princesses or monsters. Surprisingly, many of these games, mostly aimed at girls, involve cleaning. Cleaning games that feature a big-eyed avatar cleaning up for a party or picking up after a party or cleaning up their rooms so they can go to a party…you get the point, right? The societal problems of hundreds of games aimed at girls that center on cleaning-as-fun aside, what fascinated me was how monotonous even the cleaning games were. Still, it gave me an idea about how to get kids to pitch-in with household chores.
In the past, I had used cleaning as a kind of alternative to time-out which had the unfortunate side effect of associating the task with punishment. So, I had to come up with some real-life cleaning games that, while never making the chore something Madison wants to do, has helped it be somewhat less excruciating.
When she was still young, the games could be simple. We would have contests, such as who could pick up the most toys or gather the most dirty laundry in a given time period. The prize would either be simple bribery—a treat or the promise of some activity (like video games) if the task was done to standard—or a schoolyard-dare kind of consequence. The game that seemed to motivate the most effectively, was one where the winner got to draw in washable marker on the other person’s face. Winning or losing was still “fun,” and—by taking some strategic losses—could go on for hours.
As she got older, these tricks failed to work as effectively because her tastes changed. While she still might get a kick out of drawing a butt on my forehead (butt-head, get it?), the game didn’t motivate like before. Now, we’ll hold “dance parties” wherein we play music while we clean. As certain benchmarks are reached (e.g. vacuuming is finished), Madison gets control of the music. As long as we are working, she gets to pick the playlist.
Another cleaning game, that isn’t so much of a game, is called “Keep it or Throw it Away?” Whenever it is my daughter’s specific stuff that is the source of the mess—such as a giant dollhouse or hundreds of interlocking blocks for toddlers—I imitate a cheesy gameshow host and ask Madison what to do with it. This both empowers her and makes getting rid of sentimentally valuable old toys a little easier.
Of course, sometimes all of this fails and I resort to plain, old-fashioned bribery. What ways do you try to make cleaning fun at home?