Therapeutic Benefit Of Household Chores
Occupational Therapists (OTs) talk about activity as being in three categories:
Productivity: eg: school, work, voluntary work etc
Leisure: things we do for fun eg: socialising, craft, sports etc
Self-care: looking after ourselves eg: showering, cooking, mindfulness etc
From a purely activity-based perspective then, household chores are likely to either fall into the productivity or self-care categories and have a therapeutic benefit just by being part of a well-balanced activity checklist, but if we analyse each household chore, you will see that there are additional sensory, motor and physical benefits too.
I thought it was important to talk about household chores because they are a great example of how the normal everyday can benefit us and, in uncertain times, the normal everyday becomes very important. Also, with children off school and parents trying to work from home, provide education, and keep family life running as smoothly as possible, we can now ask the kids to chip in with the housework, knowing that it is benefiting them now as well as preparing them for life as independent adults.
So below, are the benefits (from an occupational therapy perspective) of some typical household chores:
Tidying away toys:
Just like playing with toys, tidying them up provides opportunities for developing hand strength, grasp and fine motor experiences eg: breaking up building blocks, undoing puzzles etc.
Having designated spots for toys to be put back to helps with sorting and following instructions.
Tidying can be turned into a game eg: ‘find all the red blocks’, or ‘only use your left hand’, which provides opportunities for increased body awareness, coordination, and visual scanning.
Provides opportunities for visual scanning by helping children to learn that they have to scan the entire surface to make sure that the dust is gone. It also promotes midline crossing and increases stability of the elbow and shoulder, both of which are essential for fine motor skills and handwriting.
If you’re using furniture polish, pressing the nozzle down promotes finger isolation and strengthening.
Most of us will automatically use our dominant hand to dust with but remember to encourage your child to use their non-dominant hand too.
There are many benefits to this chore: hand strength as the handle needs to be held for a reasonable amount of time, as well as shoulder and elbow stability. As with dusting, vacuuming promotes visual scanning and is a good task for coordination.
It also provides sensory feedback (proprioception and to a lesser extent, vestibular) as it’s heavy work that requires movement. For those children with sensitivities to auditory stimuli, being in control of when the vacuum is turned on and off (is noisy or quiet), might be important for self-regulation and desensitising.
By far the most beneficial of household chores! By picking up the dirty clothes from the floor, direction following and sorting are practised. Carrying the laundry basket provides proprioceptive input as well as promotes bilateral coordination, shoulder stability and grip strength, as does taking the wet clothes out of the washing machine.
Folding clothes helps improve shoulder, wrist and development as well as dexterity and precision. Folding clothes can be graded, so children can practice folding simpler items such as towels first before progressing onto smaller items such as t-shirts and underwear.
There might even be an opportunity to practice doing up/ undoing clasps and buttons.
Pairing socks is a good task to improve perception.
The process of doing the laundry has multiple steps and this can be great for practicing sequencing skills.
Loading/ Unloading the dishwasher:
This allows children to practice grasping items of different sizes and weights which requires bilateral skills. If children are encouraged to dry off extra water, then this is another opportunity to practice using both hands differently to complete a task. Shoulder, elbow and wrist stability is also practiced with loading/ unloading the dishwasher and, if children need to stretch up to high cupboards to put things away, balancing is also practiced.
Provides a wealth of sensory experiences: the feel, temperature and pressure of the water, the smell of the washing up liquid etc.
It also provides a good opportunity for mindfulness: tune into breathing, notice sensations and body movements.
This has the same benefits as dusting but is a more challenging task because it’s often completed standing up. It’s also likely to promote increased proprioceptive and vestibular input as it’s ‘heavy work’ with a large space to clean and so more stretching is required.
Potentially, there can be a social component to this task too and some fun mirroring games can be played if someone is cleaning the other side of the windows at the same time as the child.
Emptying the bins:
There are sequencing elements to this task, along with opportunities to practice bilateral skills and strengthen muscles in the shoulder, arms, wrists and hands. It also promotes proprioceptive input.
There is a huge long list of benefits from gardening, including emotional well-being, and development of physical skills. Gardening can develop balancing skills, core stability, strengthening, bilateral coordination, grasp development, hand strength - the list goes on.
There are also sensory benefits too: the auditory and visual environment on the garden can be either calming or stimulating and gardening work provides tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular input.