Rethinking Chores (again)

Chores. Just the thought of them makes both parents and children cringe. How do we get them all done? How do we get our kids to learn some responsibility and pitch in a little around here? How do we stay sane when we do the same things over and over, day after day?

We have had a variety of chore systems in place. At times it has seemed like our system was “No chores are done by anyone, let’s live in total squalor!” At better times, we have had chore charts, internet-based chore lists, check-lists, dad-gets-mad-and-scrubs-everything, mommy’s-pregnant-and-nesting, and variations on the above. We have linked chores to allowance and un-linked chores from allowance.

And yet, it has always seemed to be a big struggle to keep our house presentable enough for us to be comfortable and for the kids to be able to have friends over to play without a major cleaning operation happening ahead of time.

Finally, this school year, I came up with a new system so that very basic responsibilities were happening. Since allowance money really didn’t seem to motivate our girls, I turned to the only thing that seemed to be motivational: screen time. My girls love to go on Club Penguin or pbskids or watch their favorite shows (or play on my iPhone), so I decided to combine chores with limiting their screen time, which had been getting out of hand anyway.

I divided the two hours maximum screen time per day that I wanted them to have into four “tickets” that they could each earn. I really meant to make up some cute little tickets and then laminate them, but I never got around to it…and it didn’t seem to matter. Each “ticket” was worth 30 minutes of precious screen time, and each ticket had a responsibility that the child had to complete before enjoying it.

To earn the first ticket, her bed had to be made, her previous day’s clothes had to be put in the laundry basket, and her pajamas from the night before had to be either put away or put in the laundry basket. The second ticket was that the floor in her room had to be picked up. Toys, books, dirty, and clean laundry had to be put away. The third ticket required that she walk around downstairs and put away anything that was hers (shoes, jacket, crayons, homework, backpack…). And finally, the fourth ticket was that she had to read for twenty minutes.

This system worked extremely well for us for several months at the end of the school year. Our house remained relatively picked up, and they were putting their clean laundry away. As a bonus, Rich and I could take away “tickets” for poor behavior (fighting with each other, disobeying, etc.) and they were not overdoing it on the screen time. In fact, the older two girls rarely had time to spend two hours in front of a screen on school days.

I knew that for the summer, I wanted to both cut back on screen time and add to the list of chores that were required. So this spring, I saw an idea online that has, so far, helped a lot at our house. To be honest, I’m not really sure what is so different about it than any chore chart. But it has worked, so who cares why!

To Do List Jars are fun and easy to make. Each girl got a jar and some popsicle sticks. They colored one end of the stick with a marker, and I wrote a task at the other end. Then each morning, they pull out a stick and do the task. When they are finished, they flip the stick over so the colored end is in the jar. That way, they can easily see what more they have to do.

Each girl has a different number of sticks (Audrey has the most), and each has one that says, “Mommy’s choice of chore.” This has become my favorite, red-puffy-heart stick. There are just so many options for them to help me out! They could sweep under the kitchen table…sort laundry…unload the dishwasher…match and fold clean socks…put all the bikes away in the shed…the possibilities are endless!

I don’t know how long this honeymoon period will last with the to-do-list jars, but I’m going to embrace it as long as possible. I am beginning to see that even though four kids can create more work, it can also create more hands for helping out!

How do you work chores at your house? I’m going to need more ideas for when my jars lose their appeal!

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