An interesting book crossed my desk last week. It's called "Mrs. Cleanjeans' Housekeeping with Kids," by Tara Aronson, which seems like an oxymoron. Don't kids mean the opposite of a clean house?

The point of her book is to enlist your family in helping with cleaning chores and to quit making the messes that make more cleaning chores. The kitchen is potentially one of the most messy places in the house, so from a Food section standpoint, I was interested in seeing if she had any solutions for keeping it under control.

It's true that it's a lot easier to keep your kitchen tidy if your children are working with you, not against you. Kitchen chores also give kids ownership. The person who cares most about how many plates and cups get used is the one who is on dish duty that week.

But most parents will agree that assigning is easy; the hard part is getting them to do it. I've heard suggestions over the years — but they all pretty much boil down to three things: bribery, threats and nagging.

Maybe you've also tried the ignoring tactic, with the theory that if you don't say anything they will finally step in and do the job. But this may take until that person goes to eat breakfast and finds there are no clean cereal bowls or spoons. (Mrs. Cleanjeans says if a child doesn't do his assigned chores or whines about them, he gets an added chore the following week. Forgive me for being negative, but it just sounds like this would be one more chore that doesn't get done!)

How do you know if you're expecting too much or too little for your child's age and ability? Mrs. Cleanjeans says that to figure how many chores a child should do per week, divide the child's age by two and round up when needed. (Wow, this means my 16-year-old should be doing eight chores a week — and my husband should be doing over 25!)

Mrs. Cleanjeans suggests the following age/task guidelines when training kids to help in the kitchen:

Ages 2 and under:

— Wipe feet before coming inside

— Close cabinet doors and drawers

— Turn on the dishwasher

Ages 3 to 5:

— Place dirty dishes on the kitchen counter

— Sponge down the play table

— Help unload the dishwasher

Ages 6 to 9:

— Help make breakfast

— Do simple cooking tasks such as rinsing vegetables

— Set and clear the table

— Put dishes in the dishwasher

— Wipe up spills

— Wipe kitchen table, chairs, high chair, counters and cook-top or range

— Wipe down interior of the microwave

— Feed pets

— Sweep or vacuum kitchen floor and damp-mop any spills

— Bring groceries in from the car

— Put away groceries

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— Empty and wipe wastebaskets clean, using disinfecting wipes

— Take out trash and recycling

Ages 10 to 12:

— Pour beverages for meals

— Help hand-wash dishes

— Make lunch for school

— Unload the dishwasher

— Disinfect kitchen counter-tops

— Do a surface cleaning of fridge (this could include a lesson on reading package expiration dates)

— Mop floors and dry- or damp-mop wood floors

— Clean windows

Ages 14 to 17:

— Prepare meals

— Clean and disinfect sink

— Organize pantry

— Scrub or strip and wax floors


E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com