How to teach an old baby new tricks
March 13, 2014 12:52 AM   Subscribe

Our 11 month old kid loves to be helpful and tries to copy whatever we do. Unfortunately, he's about a year or two or three away from having the physical ability to do so. So what simple things can we teach him that would be sort of helpful in doing everyday things, or at least wouldn't break stuff or actively hinder us?

For example, he helps me stuff dirty clothes into the washing machine and pull them out when they're washed. He can open and close doors if I hold him in front of me. He 'helps' me carry folded laundry to the closet (I carry him while he's holding clothes). Bad examples: he can turn on the radio and the Roomba, and he loooves doing it so he's trying to do this all day and I have to physically move them out of reach or keep turning them off. Another bad example: pulling pots and pans out of the cupboard and scattering them all over the kitchen floor while I'm cooking so I have to jump over them.

I'd rather take 10 extra minutes to do things with him 'helping' than keep saying 'no' and dragging him away all day.
posted by gakiko to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I think Montessori is big on this... I bet there are some Montessori blogs that have tons of ideas for this type of thing ;-)

How We Montessori has an age index down the left hand side, starting at 10 months...
posted by jrobin276 at 1:25 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd figure this is what those busy box type toys are for - diverting a child from operating Roombas, TV remotes, or pressure washers or what have you, by giving him some buttons he can press that make lights and noises. Because they are not going to be able to resist pressing buttons that make things go, light up, or make noise. Maybe start playing with it yourself as part of the workflow of house chores, and he'll get the idea that it's your work, and he is helping?
posted by thelonius at 1:53 AM on March 13, 2014

So far the only "useful" thing I have taught my 13 month old to do is entertaining the cats with a cat dancer toy. Babies love waving things and making the funny cats jump around is a great game to her.

She can also turn off the light switch if I hold her up to it...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:07 AM on March 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

The kitchen trick is to give them their own drawer - put a sticker on the outside so he can recognize it- and put little plastic pots and spoons etc in it. Then allow him to play with anything in that drawer (plus play dough if you like) to "cook" while you're cooking and show interest in what he's doing.

He can water plants with a spray mister or a very small amount of water. He can help wipe tables with a cloth or sponge and dust non-fragile things. He can help set the table with non-breakable a. He can help feed pets. He can fetch and carry things.

It takes longer to do things, but including them early on in housework is worthwhile and they seem to enjoy it, not just the activity but for being useful.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:21 AM on March 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think you have my child! So it sounds like he's walking fairly well. This is what my son (almost two and a half) likes to do. Some will be in your baby's abilities, some not. I give him a spray bottle of water and a cloth and let him polish our floorboards to his hearts content. He empties the washing machine, helps me carry the basket to the washing line, shakes the clothes, hands them to me and then once they're dry, I pass him the clothes and he places them back in the basket.

He lives to sweep and mop, and will have a tantrum if he has to hand them over. He can put toast in a toaster and press down the handle. He can scramble eggs in a bowl with a whisk, pour them into a pan (I stir) and throw shredded cheese in. He can weed although he can't tell the difference between weeds and plants. He can pour kitty biscuits for the cat and call her. He can pack away his toys, although he doesn't actually enjoy this.

He can pour himself a drink and put the empty cup on the sink. He likes to push all the buttons in the car and pretend to drive - we have at least one 'driving lesson' a day where he chooses a cd to listen to and practises taking it in and out. He helps feed his baby sister, helpfully testing out her food so I don't accidentally poison her. He helps feed our fish. I'm sure there's more but basically whatever I do, he wants to join in and I encourage it. This is a great age, they learn so much - enjoy it! Oh, and I almost forgot, he has his own veggie garden that he planted with tomatoes, beans etc that he waters everyday and harvests from. He really enjoys that too.
posted by Jubey at 2:29 AM on March 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Our little guy loves helping do chores (and will put stuff in & out of the washing machine, same as yours). We got him a little broom, vacuum, and dustpan and brush that he loves to use (although still prefers the full size broom and vacuum sometimes!).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:44 AM on March 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I actually heard once that that kind of action isn't solely about him trying to "help", it's more about him suddenly realizing that it's not just Mom and Dad that can have an impact on the state of things in his environment - he can do it too.

Before this, doors either were opened or closed, unless Mom or Dad worked the magic upon them, and that was just that - and now he's realizing "wait....I can make a door be open or closed." And he's getting drunk on that power -he can MAKE the washing machine be full of clothes! He can MAKE the closet have things in it! He can MAKE the door be open or shut! He can MAKE the pots be out of the cupboard! HE IS OMNIPOTENT!'s kind of like how we'd be if we suddenly realized we could make our walls be different colors just by pointing at them and saying "Excelsior!" or something. You know you'd go through a phase of going through all different colors in the course of an hour just because you could.

So I think thelonius is right with the "busy box" idea, and EndsOfInvention is right with the play stuff. It'll give him stuff in the environment to wreak his power upon, and will also let him copy you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on March 13, 2014 [17 favorites]

He's not so far away from being actually helpful! My 16-month-old is a considerable help, and has been for a few months. All it takes is walking plus the verbal skills so they can follow basic instructions.

For now, your son can still help with some things:

- My son starting at about 10 months loved to put things into containers. I therefore would pull out his drawer and give him all the socks that I just put out of the laundry, and he'd put those in; then change drawers and put the shirt in; etc. (We don't fold his clothes, which helps considerably).

- He also would put coins in a coin container at the end of the day or when you get home; help unload groceries by putting appropriate items on lower shelves of the fridge; help "tidy" at the end of the day by putting his toys in a toy box; etc. Basically anything that involves putting things into containers is something you can use.

Once he has more mobility and more verbal skills:

- Use him as an errand boy. My son loves to put things in the bin (trash), no matter how many trips it takes. He can also go get things from other rooms and bring them over to me when I ask. This is genuinely helpful because I'm a lazy ass and this way I can sit on the sofa more often. He will also put away his clothes (I don't have to take the drawers out any more, I just direct him to the appropriate ones and away they go!).

- Tidy! At this point my son will put his books on the bookshelf, his toys in his toy box, his shoes in the corner near the door where they go, and his laundry in the laundry basket. Usually this requires prompting but he's getting to the point where he won't even wait for it, because he knows what the system we have is.

- Start sweeping. My son loves to "sweep" by brushing the broom ineffectually over the floor. So far it's not actually helpful but he is pretty useful for using his 20/20 vision and proximity to the floor to point out spots that I've missed.

- Cooking. My son sits on the counter and puts food in bowls etc as appropriate and directed by me. Someday soon when I'm feeling optimistic I'm going to try to let him stir.
posted by forza at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Seconding his own space in the kitchen filled with things he can pull out and mess with. We used a cupboard since we didn't have any drawers low enough. A kid sized broom is also a lot of fun for some reason, just be careful that he doesn't spill things on purpose just to have something to sweep up. Some crafty pompoms would solve this problem. Bonus points if you cut a hole in a clean margarine container for him to stuff the pompoms in one at a time.

My kids also liked "washing" the dishes. I'd put them on a stool or a chair in front of a sink full of soapy, warm water and some of the dishes from their cupboard. This would usually give me a good 15 minutes of undisturbed cooking time. Just be sure to put a big towel down on the floor by the sink, splashing is part of the fun. I'd also do this while I was loading the dishwasher, I could still use the sink with the disposal for rinsing things before they went in the machine.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:47 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work at a preschool and these are things that children of that age help teachers with:

- wiping down table with a spray bottle of water
- picking up tiny bits of whatever from the floor and putting it in the trash
- putting lids on things (this could mean putting lids on all your leftover dishes, tupperware etc. once it comes out of the dishwasher)
- tearing up paper to put in the recycling bin
- washing chalk off the sidewalk outside with wet sponges (so that other groups of kids have a clean slate later)
- pushing in chairs
- bringing the teacher their diaper and the box of wipes at diaper changing time
- carrying a canvas bag full of supplies to the playground

And then there are the things we give them to do in lieu of helping. They can do these along side you and they resemble your tasks.
- when we are fixing something or doing fine motor tasks too difficult for them we offer this Lock Activity Box it is easily the second most sought after toy in the room
- "washing" toys and baby dolls by putting them in a small tub of soapy water and letting the babies play with them
- asking them to find things we don't really need. "Where is that pink ball? Can you bring it to me?"
posted by Saminal at 6:03 AM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

If he already likes taking things out of a cupboard, just clear out another cupboard then when you are in the kitchen he can "help" by moving things from one cupboard to the other. You can also throw some tupperware in there and have him match up containers/lids. This builds on things he is already doing and keeps the pots out from underfoot. When he's ready you can transition this to something actually helpful - putting things away from the dishwasher, etc.
posted by mikepop at 6:24 AM on March 13, 2014

posted by cestmoi15 at 6:54 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Hold this" works really well, sort of akin to "asking them to find things we don't really need."
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:57 AM on March 13, 2014

I am very big on letting my child be a "helper" often to my own detriment. What I did was teach him how to undo the things he's done. For example, after taking all the pots out of the cupboard I would say "wow great job! maybe when you're older you can stack them back inside. it's a pretty big grownup job so you might not be able to now." Of course he gets right to cleaning up the pots after that! Reverse psychology works! Maybe once they're a little older than yours now, but it's good to keep in mind. They're only little once and you are absolutely doing the right thing by letting him help, it's the best way to teach self reliance. They are so proud when they do things "all by myself!" Keep cultivating it!
posted by katypickle at 7:18 AM on March 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Note though that teaching him this can backfire if you don't keep up with boundaries. I am writing this from a hospital ward (precautionary, she's fine) as our toddler decided she could give her own medicine and swigged a massive cough syrup dose from what we thought was an out of reach shelf and childproof cap. (Sink and several acrobatic lunges, plus practice opening other bottles). Every skill needs to be taught with guidelines like the washing machine can only be turned on when mama is standing here, if you open a bottle you ask mama what it is first. It's fine now when you can supervise him but they get fast and a skilled confident child at home can get into a lot more trouble than a kid who has been trained only to play with their toys. Don't just teach the skill, teach the limits too.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:04 AM on March 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have photographic evidence of the fact that my mom used to hand me a few light/safe/babyproof kitchen things to play with while she cooked dinner in the evenings.

She'd be cooking at the stove, while I'd be on the floor stirring oranges around a tupperware with a wooden spoon, probably thinking with my baby brain that I was totally doing an important dinner prep task.
posted by Sara C. at 9:10 AM on March 13, 2014

When my children were little I put the Ikea toy stove (meant for a playroom) in the kitchen. They were "cooking" (dumping raw macaroni in a little pot and stirring it around) at this toy stove while I was cooking.

Seconding Two Few Shoes that babies love to wash things, so let them wash plastic dishes. It doesn't even have to be soapy water. Just giving the baby a tupperware or two with the water running at the sink is physics for babies.

Plus, it really does help you with a side effect: when my baby was into playing at the sink my kitchen floor was always clean because I was constantly mopping up the spilled water.
posted by third rail at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2014

A kitchen draw full of old pots, wooden spoons plastic containers he can bang together, and cook with.

His own dust pan and broom.

My mother was great at getting her grandkids to help around the house at this age, when she was babysitting and actually would put them to work. Funny thing is they are now 10 & 14 and they still like to go and hang out with her and "help" her in the kitchen or garden, only now they are actually helpful.

Dusting, my mum used to get her grand kids at that age (and up) to wipe the skirting boards etc for her so she didn't have to bend down.

A dustbuster of his own or even a toy vacuum, now a days they like to help so they can use her fancy Dyson vac.

Weeding around established plants in the garden is fun, just don't let them near any seedlings. Watering plants, give him a slow trickling hose and point him at the pot plants, also filling the bird bath. Putting weeds in the wheelbarrow/compost bin.
posted by wwax at 10:14 AM on March 13, 2014

A great montessori blog is How We Montessori, you can find the blog posts from when the author's son was your child's age which is super helpful for new ideas and to see what your child might enjoy next.

It sounds like you are doing everything right, and things like the roomba being irresistible is just part of the age, but keep offering new other activities to distract/focus him/her. Some kids are more intense/persistent than others. For mine wires/electrical sockets were the super fun thing that took me forever to get him to stop going after.
posted by lafemma at 11:28 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to cook together, I've found that very small children can actually help make pizza and cinnamon rolls. Basically, you roll out a large piece of dough (whether you've made or bought it), and let your child decorate it. Butter, cinnamon, sugar, and raisins for cinnamon rolls; olive oil, tomato sauce, veg, meat, and cheese for pizza. A brush for oils and tomato sauce helps them be less messy, though doing this together does mean a pretty thorough floor cleaning afterwards.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:10 PM on March 13, 2014

I just remembered! I'd also let my kids "help" with folding the laundry. When they were really little I'd have them pull all the socks out of the pile of clean clothes and maybe try to match them. (I like to fold everything else and then do the socks.) As they got older they learned to fold washcloths, then dish towels, and then bath towels as their arms got big enough. (T-shirts and pants came in sometime between dish towels and bath towels.)

You could also have him help with dirty laundry sorting, "Can you find me something black?" "Can you find me something white?" This was a fun way to practice colors with my kids. It made doing laundry a little longer, but far more enjoyable.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:28 PM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I forget what age kids quit using a high chair, but I used to pull it into the kitchen near where I was baking and give the kids a bowl, a big spoon and some flour or water or a bit of chocolate pudding or whatever, and let them stir things just like I was baking. I added chocolate chips to mine, and they added them to theirs. A cup of sugar for me, a bit of sugar in a cup for them.

Once they got old enough, they stood on a chair to help with cooking and dishwashing. We bought a set of kid-sized baking utensils, so they had their own rolling pins and safety knives. They also had small sized brooms, rakes, shovels and other tools. Not just the plastic pretend ones, but real usable tools made of wood and metal, just like mine.

Also, figure out what kinds of errands he can do and then load a low cabinet with those items that you frequently want him to bring you - juice box for his sister, napkins to help set the table, coasters for your drink while you watch TV, his own diapers and wipes, etc. Just store a few of each in low cabinets and he will happily go get it for you when you need it. And he'll put it back when you are done.
posted by CathyG at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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