Yes, that’s what I just said, “Do the laundry” to aid your child in learning and success. There are many excellent skills learned in doing the laundry. Let me explain …
The laundry is a task that everyone should learn to do for themselves regardless of their circumstances in life. This comes under the category of those ‘Self-Management Tasks’ that one just needs to know (watch the next couple of columns for the others). Aside from getting clean clothes, there are actually skills one learns from the process.
What skills are those, you ask?
Sorting and Categorizing: One learns that washing the clothes is a step-by-step process. You learn to sort and categorize by dividing the articles of clothing into the right groups for washing. One learns that reds that run should never be washed with whites. One learns to sort by types of material. One learns by reading the labels on garments to understand which fibers require different temperatures of water as well as specific kinds of treatment altogether.
Laundry can’t be done in any order except the one dictated by logic: sort, pre-treat, wash, dry, iron, fold/hang, put away. Repeat. Built-in structure!
Well, let’s put it this way: If you don’t schedule to do your laundry, you are going to run out of underwear. When working with college students, a big hurdle is to learn to properly schedule and make time to do the laundry; otherwise, there may be nothing clean left to wear. That’s not something one wants to find out during finals week. The same applies in most people’s lives.
How many of you get the clothes washed and dried, but then leave piles of clean laundry on the floor, bed, or even sitting in the dryer before ever getting around to completing and putting them away? Okay, I won’t make you admit it, but I hear about it when coaching not just teens and college students, but parents, too! Getting the clothes clean is all well and good, but if left in a lump afterward, you’ve just exchanged a pile of dirty clothes for a different pile. They become wrinkled and often mixed up with dirty items and back it all goes through the wash cycle. If you keep finding yourself with heaps of clean but wrinkled laundry, hold off on the next wash load until after the load in the dryer is folded and put away. Learn to finish.
By putting clothing away, one learns to neatly put items in practical places based on how often used, type of item, and color. Closet organizing is a huge issue for a large part of the population. The amount of clothes and related items in our closets can get out of control. When doing one’s own laundry, assessing this weekly comes into play, and the issue of order (or lack of) can be addressed on the spot.
When children must wash their own clothes, they learn to respect their belongings plus they gain respect for the work you may have been doing for them up to this point. They see that clothing doesn’t just miraculously appear clean in their closets and drawers!
At what age can this be introduced? Well, every child develops slightly differently, but before kindergarten they can do a couple of things … here is a list of ideas:
4 Years Old: When my kids were about 4 years old, they were able to gather simple items into a pile, such as all the towels. They could also bring their clean clothes back into their own room.
5-6 Years Old: Children can learn to hang clothing on hangers nicely. They can begin to place items into drawers, versus shoving them in.
7-9 Years Old: In addition to the above tasks, sorting and reading labels can be introduced, which dovetails with their learning to read. They can learn to iron simple items now, too. While much of our clothing requires little ironing, this is a skill one should learn. I recall my mother teaching me to iron pillowcases at about age 6 or 7, and I enjoyed it. I felt very grown-up then, and to this day ironing is a relaxing task, and I don’t ruin anything. I learned all about how irons burn on those pillowcases!
10-12 Years Old: They can most likely help by sorting their own clothes into proper categories for washing and bringing them into the laundry area. If they have enough for their own load, they can be taught to wash their laundry now, otherwise they can see about combining with other’s articles for efficiency and conservation of water, etc. They should also learn what can go into a dryer and what needs to be line or flat dried. They can be your helper now for all laundry steps.
13-14 Years Old: This was the time I let my own kids loose on washing their own clothes. If they wanted to have clean clothing (which by this age tends to be a social issue for most), they would have to make that happen. I will never forget the morning my son cried out, “Mom, I have no clean underwear!” My reply, “Gosh, I’m sorry; guess you should have figured that out sooner.” He learned!
Both of my adult kids can wash and care for their clothing beautifully. They weren’t always too keen on this back then, but as adults now, they have since thanked me for the lessons.