Over a year ago, I posted about Teaching kids about money using chores. That post has proven to be one of the most popular on this site. Getting kids to do chores seems to be a struggle in many families! This past week, my heart went out to a woman whose children aged 11 and 7 “barely put their laundry away.” No wonder she was feeling stressed! In light of that conversation, I thought I would share the updates we’ve made to our family system over the past little while. If you haven’t read the original post, this one will make more sense if you go back there first.
Kids’ chores 2.0
Once we mastered the “getting it done” phase, I wanted to move on to the “taking responsibility” phase. I started to dream… what would my life as a mom be like if I didn’t even have to ask my kids to do their chores? How amazing would that be?! One of my friends told me it was completely impossible, but I decided to give it a whirl anyway. We were already paying our kids with Monopoly money (aka “Happy Dollars”) for their chores. They exchanged those dollars for screen time. I needed an added incentive, so I decided that doing chores without being asked was worth double. Instead of 5 Happy Dollars for sweeping the floor, they would get 10 if they got up after breakfast and got the broom on their own. This worked… a bit. The problem was that there was no visual cue for them – the pile of Cheerios on the floor didn’t do it for some odd reason. I had been using checklists (printed out Excel spreadsheets) with their household chores on them. These sheets usually sat on the counter. I was also writing our academic-type tasks (we homeschool) on a whiteboard each day. They would do the whiteboard stuff because they saw it as soon as they came downstairs each morning. The checklists just weren’t on their radar screen. So, I decided to combine my two systems into one that was more visual and in-their-face, so to speak.
The magnet system
We dropped the checklists and now use magnets instead. I bought 4 pieces of sheet metal from Lowes (2 for each child). Each sheet measured 2’ x 1’. They come in bigger sizes but they are a lot more per square inch the bigger you get. My husband drilled them into the drywall in our kitchen. Martha Stewart wouldn’t approve, but I’m quite sure she has full-time paid help and wouldn’t need this system anyway.
I also bought these magnet sheets from Staples. I typed in every possible chore and school task that my kids do into a Word doc, along with the Happy Dollar payments for completion and completion without being asked. I printed these on the magnet sheets, cut out the individual magnets, and stuck them on the sheet metal. We have our boards divided into 4 quadrants. I put all the magnets in the top left to start. Each evening, I move the magnets down to the bottom left for the tasks that the kids will be responsible for the following day (we obviously don’t do every task every day). As they complete their tasks, they move them over to the right side. If they do the task without being asked, it goes to the top right section. If I have to ask them to do it, it goes to the bottom right. At the end of the day, I tally up how much they have earned and move the magnets back over for the next day. I printed their tasks in different colours to easily distinguish which belong to each child and because when the printing is in a colour they like, they are more apt to do the task.
If you’d like to download the chore magnets that we use, you can find them here (French version). We use them in French so that we incorporate language learning at the same time. For those of you who don’t want to do that, you can get the English version here.
I’m happy to say that it’s working really well. I still often need to prompt the kids to start their lists, but they choose the order in which they complete their tasks and once they get going, they are pretty good and moving through. My 6 year old does complain when there are a lot of items on his list for the day, but he is starting to realize that not every item takes that long. Getting the cats their water takes less time than trying to negotiate your way out of it!
The original rewards mostly consisted of screen time at $1 per minute. Now, they only redeem a small portion of their Happy Dollars for TV or computer time. For quite a while now, the most anticipated reward is “the sleepover”. My husband moves the kids’ mattresses on to the floor in one of their rooms and they camp out there for the night. The price for this is high – 500 Happy Dollars – but it’s usually their first choice. We also offer them special options when it works with what we’re doing. For example, when we went to Upper Canada Village last week, I told them if they wanted to buy lunch in the cafeteria, they could pay me 300 happy dollars. Otherwise, I would pack a lunch for us to bring.
As I mentioned in the first post, we only choose rewards that we’re willing to completely remove if they don’t earn them. For example, I wouldn’t make them pay to go to museums, play dates, or the park. Those things are too important for their well-being.
New money learning
I used to add up the day’s totals on my own. Now, both kids can tally up what I owe them – especially when they are running low and need to use that day’s dollars right away. They are also able to figure out how much more they need to earn before they have enough for the desired reward.
Kids’ chores 3.0
For the next phase of this project, I’d like them to see beyond the first reward – to be able to keep a list in their minds (or on paper) of multiple things they want to do and then save up for each of those at the same time. Right now, they will use some of their money for screen time and save the rest for a sleepover, but they find it difficult to save for both a sleepover and a lunch out at the same time.
I’d also like to get them more involved in meal preparation (especially my 8 year old). If you have any advice for me on that front, please let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for your input!