In preparation for purchasing my daughter’s second birthday present, I polled my parent-friends to see what was the one toy their kids couldn’t live without. The answer was unanimous —a play kitchen—since it provides endless hours of play for a wide variety of age groups. In the back of my mind I thought, “I could just let her play in the real kitchen and give me a break from making dinner and doing dishes!” Of course that scenario presents a few safety concerns, so I went ahead and purchased a play kitchen. My friends were right! All my daughter’s other toys keep her occupied for an hour or two at the most. There is something about food preparation, serving meals, and washing dishes that can entertain her for hours and days on end. But it doesn’t stop there. She also loves to sweep, vacuum, and dust. Pretty much anything that I see as a chore to do myself, she sees as a fun way to play. I know she isn’t alone because of the array of domestic products available for children, such as washer and dryer sets, ironing boards, and barbecue grills, just to name a few. The Strong’s curators know this kind of play is important and the museum’s collections include numerous examples of domestic playthings such as a Hoover WindTunnel Play Vacuum. It is a functional vacuum that can pick up real messes on the floor such as small bits of paper. Why pretend to clean when you can make yourself useful by doing the real thing?
So what is the appeal when it comes to domestic chores as play? My daughter loves to imitate mommy and daddy. So perhaps watching us cook and clean makes her want to do the same. She also prides herself in being mommy’s helper. If I ask her to wipe up a spill, she is happy to oblige and brags about what a big girl she is. There is a sense of accomplishment that is obvious in her beaming face after she makes a pretend meal of peas and carrots for me to enjoy, or sweeps up a bowl of cheerios that her younger sister has dumped on the floor. So when do chores stop being fun and start to feel like work? That is a question I don’t want answered. I will just enjoy the extra help around the house while I can get it!