Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our Plan for Household Chores

Like lots of parents, I have struggled to find a good way to get my children to help out with household chores. Sometimes I felt like I was expecting too much, other times like I was being too lenient. Almost all the time there was resistance, arguing and resentment over doing chores. It gets very old very fast. (I hazard a guess here, that you know exactly what I mean.) I have been feeling my way along for some time now, looking for a system that will be effective: that will get my kids doing necessary chores with a minimum of fuss but without violating some of my parenting philosophy. I have recently implemented a plan I've been brewing for some time, and so far I am very pleased.

First of all, I wanted the boys to have some chores that they simply must do. There is no reward, it is simply their responsibility as members of this family. I wanted the chores to rotate, and to be spread out as fairly as possible. However I did not want to spend a lot of time each week writing out a chore schedule. At some point I stumbled upon Chore Buster, which I have been using ever since. It takes care of the "have to" chore charts automatically, and even allows me to key in all sorts of variables that refine its methods for our family. (For instance, I can mark chores as only for certain people, I can rate the relative difficulty of each chore, and note which family members should do more or fewer chores in general.) I tweak our system often so the computer generates just what we need.

So, each day at breakfast (except Tuesdays, their day off) I look online and see what the kids' chores are for the day. Generally it's just one or two things for each older boy, besides "brush your teeth". (Babyman doesn't really participate in chores yet.) As soon as breakfast is done the boys are supposed to complete the day's chore list. We've been doing this for some time, so by now the whining is minimized. We are still struggling with focusing on the job at hand, so it can be completed in less than oh, say, all day long. Two things have helped speed things up a bit: first, that there will be no computer time until chores are complete. Second, they cannot earn any points for extra chores unless their daily "have to" chores are completed first. These are the only two positive incentives I've found that actually have motivating power.

Now, on to those "extra" chores. I created a long list of chores that are within the abilities of the boys. Each chore earns a certain number of points. For instance, "Pick up and sweep the kitchen" is worth 12 points, and so is "Sweep the deck and porch". "Dust the bookshelves" is 10 points. "Brush the dogs" is worth 5 points, "Fold laundry and help put away" is worth 5 points per 1/2 load, and "Clean your bathroom sink, counter and mirror" is 10 points. "Comb your hair" is worth 3 points, and "Pick up and vacuum your room and the hallway" is 10.

I chose points based on how much the kids hate the chore (thus hated sweeping is worth a bit more than fun vacuuming), how difficult or time-consuming the chore is, and how much I will need to be involved- the more I have to be involved, the less the chore is worth. (Thus folding laundry isn't worth a lot because I have to "help" so much- but it's on the list because they need the practice.) I tried to keep each chore of a manageable size, breaking them up by room or task when necessary. Also, some tasks are worth less but can be repeated several times to earn more points- brushing the dogs and folding laundry, for instance, and also "Pick up toys".

Underneath each chore is an explanation of what needs to be done for it to be completed to my satisfaction. For instance, to earn 5 points for brushing the dogs, the kid has to fill the dog brush with hair. "Clean the bathroom floor" means pick everything off the floor and put it away, shake out bath mat, sweep well, put all dirt and hair in the trash and replace bath mat. (It's an easy job, worth 5 points per bathroom.)

I pretty much stuck with just household chores. "Comb your hair" and "Read a book to Mommy or Daddy" (5 points for Littleman, 10 for the Pirate) are the only exceptions. This is because personal hygiene is not optional, and I don't want to tie our "school" tasks to a rewards system.

Finally, I made a list of rewards that the boys may redeem their points for. Here it is (subject to plenty of future revisions, I'm sure):

* Play with Play-doh - - - - - - - 15 points
* Get one fruit roll-up - - - - - - 20 points
* Make popcorn - - - - - - - - 20 points
* Earn $1.00 - - - - - - - - - 25 points
* Go to Sonic for a slush - - - - - - 30 points
* Go to the library an extra visit - - - - 35 points
* Get 30 minutes of computer time - - - - 40 points
* Watch a movie of your choice - - - - - 50 points
* Make cookies with Mommy - - - - - - 60 points
* Go to our favorite playground - - - - 70 points
* Buy a book at the bookstore - - - - - 80 points
* Go out for ice cream - - - - - - - 85 points
* Visit a new park with [their Grandmothers] - 90 points
* Have a friend spend the night - - - - 100 points
* Go play mini-golf with Daddy - - - - - 165 points
* Get a family field trip to the aquarium! - - 200 points

So far this seems about right- some things may be more or less "expensive" than they ought to be, but we will see. I tried to keep the list heavy on the "activity" rewards as opposed to "give me" rewards. This puts a greater burden on me, but I feel better about it. As you can see, earning money is still an option. If one of the boys wants to save money to buy a toy (or whatever), they may do so by earning dollars. However if they want to buy a book, they only need to earn 80 points and I will purchase a book for them. I wanted books to have a distinct advantage, here. :) Each boy has a chart with days of the week, in which I use tally marks to record how many points they earn each day. They've been using a lot of math skills keeping track of their points, and figuring how many points they still need for various goals.

Obviously if you choose to try something like this in your home, the lists can be customized every which way to fit your family.

I realize this is a bit complicated, but it combines a lot of elements that I really like:
- there are daily chores that are not optional, but the list is short
- there is an incentive to complete non-optional chores quickly (so they can have time to earn points afterwards)
- if they choose not to do any chores beyond the daily list, it's OK. The burden does not fall on me to force the issue
- if they choose to do extra chores they are rewarded
- the more they do, the more they are rewarded
- they can earn money, but the focus is not on money in particular
- saving points and patiently working toward goals is encouraged (a good habit), but there are faster rewards if needed
- they practice their reading and math skills (and more!) while interpreting the charts
- the system is very flexible for our busy schedule
- it is also easily edited as our needs change or problems arise
- I now have the ability to occasionally reward points for unrelated things, at my discretion
- other family members can get involved by offering prizes or outings the kids may choose to earn
- and probably more benefits I'm not thinking of right now :)

The boys are actually enjoying it thus far (though we've only been doing the "extra" chores and points system for a few days, so we'll see how things progress in the future.) The Pirate has only earned a few points, but Littleman has enthusiastically racked up 31 points in a couple days. His goal is a trip to the bookstore to buy a book about Legos.

Sorry for the long explanation- I know several of you were interested in finding out more, so I hope this helps! :)


Grace said...

WOW! That is quite a plan! That is too complicatd for me - I'd never keep up with it. I'm glad you have found something that works for you. We pretty have what works for us too but I always like to hear the ways other folks go about it. Thank you for sharing.

Kit said...

I realized when I was writing that it would look ridiculously unwieldy. It doesn't feel that way, honest! It helps that we've already been doing the "have-to" chores for some time, with the Chore Buster website. The only new thing is a list of extra chores, and what they can earn by doing them.

Kyddryn said...

It looks a lot like a plan I was noodling with a few years ago, before Bird was old enough to do many chores. I wanted to have a plan ready, actually. He's old enough to have a chore every day. I may borrow some of your system, too!

Shade and Sweetwater,

Kit said...

Great! I hope some of it's helpful. :)