Exploring fun, safe ways to involve your little one in housework.

It's hard for me to imagine being desperate to wash windows, but my preschooler certainly is. For Mom, it's an item to be checked off the fall cleaning to-do list. For Daughter, it's a hands-on adventure in squirting and shininess that -- until I discovered there are safe and fun ways to clean -- made me uneasy.

This fall, because of what I've learned, my 4-year-old will not be a passive by-stander in the rituals of fall cleaning. She won't be gated off, full of questions and pleas to help, while I call out, "Don't touch that! Wash your hands! Don't take the mask off and don't take a breath until you reach the backyard!"

No, together we will tackle the big stuff in our little environment: shampooing carpets, scrubbing floors, polishing woodwork, washing walls and, yes, making the windows of our home sparkle. Most importantly, we will feel comfortable taking deep breaths while we work and laugh together.

The safe part
"There's freedom in knowing that your children can touch or even put their mouths on the things around them without damaging their little systems," says Christine Scott, owner of Go BioBased, a Reynoldsburg manufacturer of all-natural cleaning supplies that is enjoying success with a recently developed Nursery Cleaner. "Petrochemical cleaners aren't good for adults but can be devastating to the much more vulnerable body of a child."

Scott, also a mom, started her "green" business when the family dog got seriously ill from a lawn treatment a few years ago. Now Scott and her team manufacture dozens of specific cleaning supplies and plant sprays that won't harm developing bodies.

It's not new information for parents, who have been warned for years now that harsh commercial cleaning agents may be to blame for a host of health evils. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posts on its website a call for parents and caregivers to protect children from pesticides found in cleaning supplies and lawn applications, stating "adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders," and the warning goes on to note that Americans use more than a billion pounds of pesticides each year in homes and in public places like schools and parks.

"You have to use common sense when you're cleaning with your little ones," says JoAnn Wentworth, owner of Dust Bunnies Cleaning Service in Johnstown and mother of four children under the age of 10.

"Don't let them clean with any agent in an enclosed space, and have them wear rubber gloves. If you're still uneasy, make spray bottles for them with even further diluted products."
With their little bodies guarded against nasty chemicals, parents can move on to feeling good about the life-long lessons and values their kids are picking up while they're picking up the floor.

The fun part
"I think including your children in cleaning teaches them so many things about helping and thinking of the needs of others," says Janelle Pickens, a Worthington mom of a 2- and 4-year old. "They learn that we all have to work together to take care of the home so we have more time for other fun things."

Wentworth, too, who says she and her kids put hankies on their heads to turn themselves into "mini maids," feels family bonding time is too often lost amongst distractions like video games and computers.

"Cleaning together, that's a time for conversations, for laughing, for having fun and making memories. Moms and kids have been doing it for thousands of years!"
Wentworth and Pickens both say they make projects fun with a few simple and extremely non-toxic ingredients: imagination, silliness, music and challenges. "Draw in the dust before you wipe it away," Wentworth said. "Let them get their grubby little fingerprints absolutely all over that window pane before they have the thrill of wiping it clean."

She said the secret is in letting go of the concept that everything has to be perfect, and in complimenting your kids for a job well done. A little friendly competition is never a bad thing either, she says: for example, the little Wentworth who gathers the most sticks from the lawn gets to ride in the wheelbarrow to throw them away. "Even putting away toys can be more fun if you race against a timer," suggests Pickens. "Or put on a bathing suit to scrub down those outside toys."

I find myself intrigued by the fun I might have making it shine as I prepare to shut up my house for the long winter ahead. Armed with some kid-friendly cleaning agents, a radio and a lot of imagination, my daughter and I are ready to attack the family grime accumulated over a summer of trips to the pool, sandbox and playground.

For more information about local environmentally friendly cleaning products, visit www.gobiobased.com or call Christine Scott toll free at (877) 865-7984.