When I was growing up, my mom tried all sorts of chore systems to encourage her four children to get off their lazy rear ends and help out. Ultimately she went with this innovation: a sheet of scratch paper on the table with everyone’s name on it and a list of chores to complete under each person’s name.
Maybe that doesn’t sound too innovative to you. But with my mom’s system, if my older brother or sister flaked out on their chores, she could simply cross it off their list and add it to mine. Everyone thought this arrangement was brilliant. Except me. And I harbor absolutely no resentment about it. Can you tell?
Following in mom’s footsteps, I have tried various methods to light a fire under my kids to contribute. I have purchased fancy chore apps, made lists, tried schedules, and attempted everything from allowances & financial incentives to “you are part of this household so I don’t have to pay you to participate” systems. But still I find myself needing to lecture and nag my kids if I want some work done around here. Or, in keeping with my mom’s wise plan, I just assign chores to the ones I know will actually do them.
This year I was bound and determined to try something new. We are a homeschool family of six with both parents working and a menagerie of animals to take care of. I am tired of feeling like Miss Hannigan all strung out and harping on the kids to earn their keep. I searched Pinterest, polled my friends, reviewed the plethora of parenting books in my library, and hemmed and hawed about what I should try.
My favorite two systems were this one for its simplicity:And this one for its thoroughness:
When I asked my pal Michelle (second pic) if her system was actually working she replied, “It changed my life.” Those are some p-r-e-t-t-y strong words and Michelle doesn’t subscribe to hyperbole (thats my department). I mean, did it rank just under her salvation in the life change department? I didn’t know but I sure as heck was willing to find out.
I liked the idea of breaking chores into morning, afternoon, and evening and I wanted a reward system. I also loved how tactile and visual both systems are. However, I could not envision cutting, framing, &mod podging a bunch of metal sheets and oh-my-word I am not laminating little cards. I wasn’t about to paint a gazillion wooden medallions, either. This had to be fast, cheap, and easy to throw together.
I had a huge old white board not being used and decided I was going to fit the whole system on there. I grabbed a friend for reinforcement and we scoured Michaels for something to use as the little wooden chips. There were lots of cute options of all shapes and sizes in the wood craft aisle – hearts, circles, squares, even little people. I settled on the ovals because I liked the clean lines and figured they would be easiest to write on. We grabbed cute tape to section off the whiteboard, a roll of magnets with adhesive backing and sharpies so I could write the chores right on the wood.
My friend a great idea to color code the chores. She also wondered if I was planning too many chores. Say what? There are never too many chores. Do you think Ma Ingalls let her kids slack off? No way. And we all know I am JUST like Ma Ingalls.
Simplified Color Code:
- blue- household
- green – animal related
- orange – outdoor
- pink – personal
I realized writing on the wood with a Sharpie doesn’t work because it bleeds. I decided to use clear Avery labels instead even though they’d need to be trimmed to fit. I did type them up because making Avery labels is one of the very few computer skills I possess. While I was at it I added pictures on the preschooler’s labels to promote his independence. I sectioned off the whiteboard with the tape and prepared for life change.
The top third is for holding the extra chores and the top right corner is a big square for note and/or extra chores with special incentives. The three sections are morning, afternoon, and evening. The kids have to move the assigned chore from “to do” to “done” throughout the day. They can earn up to three tickets per day for completing their chores by the assigned time. (9 AM, Dinner time, and bed time.) I was inspired by my friend Michelle to include everyday tasks that aren’t necessarily chores but I sometimes need to remind my kids to complete. Different kids need nagging about different tasks and this allows individualization. I don’t need to remind my oldest to brush her hair or my youngest to practice piano, etc.
The kids store their tickets in jars. (We use jars a lot around here because we use them as drinking glasses, too and I always have some handy.)
Here is our redemption chart:
This can be highly personalized for your kids and teenagers. I wanted it as simple as possible rather than list tons of prize options. My kids want everything from American Girl Dolls to Lego sets to iPads. My kids are old enough to know what their big ticket items cost but for little kids you might have to go ahead and list their coveted items. My husband had been wanting sleepovers to be something the kids earn so we built that into the reward system. I am sure plenty of tickets will be used on those. I wanted the big prize levels to be achievable but not too easy. At least one of my kids would earn the Lego Death Star to the tune of $400 every month if I made it too easy. (He also used to do all the chores just ’cause I asked him. He’s such a great kid. But I digress.)
So the million ticket question is … Does this thing work?
Yes! I would say this is working really well. The kids are being much more independent in their chores and I have definitely done less nagging. Here is what I especially love about it:
- I really like that I can see both the “to do” and “done” chores rather than having the kids remove the chips from the board. This allows me to keep it equitable when I set up for the next day. I don’t want the same kid always getting stuck dealing with the chicken water or the litter box. Already they trade chores and it cracks me up. “I’ll do the goats if you get the eggs.”
- Another benefit to seeing both “to do” and “done” is that if certain tasks are not quite up to snuff I can see who was responsible. “Hey – you were in charge of the living room and it looks like you didn’t quite finish.”
- It takes less than a minute to assign chores every day. I LOVE THIS!
- I like the color coding so when I assign tasks I can balance out indoor/outdoor/personal chores. Its fast to grab from each category.
- It isn’t too babyish for my preteen but also works for the preschooler.
- Its very flexible – I can add chores on an as needed basis (like laundry days) as well as give incentives for extra chores and special projects.
- We sometimes “run the board” just like we do in the emergency room where I work to see where we are at for the day.
- The kids are really liking the ticket system and I have seen them doing extra chores to try to impress me into giving extra tickets. (Be still my heart!)
I feel compelled to mention that the system also lends itself to hijinks. My budding comedian likes to add chores like “shovel manure” to her big sister’s tasks every day and peels with laughter at her own hilarity. I’m not gonna lie, it is funny every time.
Note: A couple of the magnets fell off (I easily stuck them back on) and we found the ink does bleed if touched with wet or sticky hands. Now that I know I like this system I’d be willing to spray paint clear paint over the tops and take the step to glue the magnets on if this becomes a bigger issue. So far it hasn’t bothered me.
I’d say give something like this a whirl if you are looking for a new chore system. Be sure you think through how it will need to work for YOUR family, YOUR chore needs, and the ages and personalities of YOUR kids. I am not sure this thing has changed my life but its definitely a keeper.