WHEN IS MY CHILD READY TO LEARN ABOUT (AND HELP WITH) LAUNDRY?

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Mom truth: the smaller the kid, the larger the piles of laundry. Still, there are loads of opportunities in this routine task for kids to have some fun learning new skills (think: matching, counting, and sorting) while they gain competence and confidence.

It’s laundry day—again! Whether it’s once a week or once a day, the task can seem never ending. So enlist the kids. It’s a perfect time to inspire a can-do attitude and teach a few lifelong skills. Here, Hannah Keeley, author of Total Mom Makeover and founder of HannahHelpMe.com, sorts through options for showing little ones how much they’re capable of doing.

My child is two. I know she really can’t do the laundry with me, but when will she be able to start putting her own clothes into a hamper?

Kids as young as two can put dirty clothes into a hamper, but here’s a slam-dunk trick that works: the hamper can’t have a lid. That one simple step—lifting the hamper’s lid—often derails any attempt to complete a task, so make it easier for your child to succeed. Aim for fun, too. Turn doing the laundry into a skill-building basketball game. Let her roll her clothes into balls and throw them in the basket.

Can I teach him how to carry and sort clothes?

Don’t expect him to lug laundry, but he may be able to help you sort clothes into whites, lights, and darks, and when he does that, he’s learning. To make it fun, set up three baskets to get started. Grab three sheets of white paper and draw a shape on each, such as a circle, square, and triangle. Color one shape black, one with rainbow stripes, and leave the third one blank, for whites. In other words, turn the task into a matching game. A preschool child can put a black shirt into the basket with the black label, a white pillowcase into the basket with the white label, and, depending on the child, light blue shorts and a green T-shirt into the basket the rainbow label.

How else can my child help?

Here’s something to try: measure out the detergent, fabric softener, and whatever else you use, and let her practice pouring by tipping the detergent into the washer. A five- or six-year-old may be able to do this herself—with your supervision, but at the very least, a little one can press the buttons! Once the cycle is complete, small kids can gain competence and confidence by helping you transfer the clothes to the dryer. You can also show your child how to push the buttons and turn the dial to different settings. At this point, it’s still a game, but she’s learning.

What is the best way to teach him to fold and put away his clothing?

Do it together! First, sort the garments into piles to be folded or hung on hangers. The folded clothes can be further separated into categories such as socks, underwear, T-shirts, jeans, etc. Even little kids can get involved with sorting: underwear here, socks there, and so forth—and, of course, applaud his efforts. With your help, and clear instructions, he may even enjoy delivering clean clothes to their respective owners. Demonstrate, don’t overcorrect, and don’t redo it for him. That will only ruin the teachable moment and convey to your child that his efforts aren’t good enough. Jumbled clothes in a dresser drawer aren’t going to hurt anyone.