The first lesson my children learn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the answer to the question, “Why did God make us?” The answer is simply “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in Heaven.” What does this have to do with life and chores? Well, we are told that “To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love and serve God in this world.”(St Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2) We have to live in this world before we can be happy with Him in the next. And living in this world requires that we have food, water and shelter. These are the basic requirements to sustain human life on earth and they are not just handed to us by the angels. If you are handed food, water or shelter it is another human being who served it to you. Living in the United States, even in our depressed economic times, it is easy to take for granted our source of life, God; but also the basic needs that are met by service of others for God. In our home August is the time of year where we call our children’s attention to those basic needs and just who is meeting them. In short, it is time for our annual family meeting where we divide out the chores and responsibilities required to sustain our family lifestyle. My kids actually look forward to it. As a matter of fact they have asked me when we are having the meeting because they look forward to the change of responsibilities it brings, new chores for the new year.
Running any household requires a lot of work. Someone has to pay the bills, wash the dishes, clean the house, make the meals, maintain the yard, maintain the house and vehicles, etc., etc. You know the drill. It is not possible for the mom and the dad to do all that work alone. And it is not practical for everyone’s budget to pay for that work to be done. In the end some human person has to do the work. I make a list in Excel of all the chores that need to be done on weekly basis that are within the children’s ability. At the meeting the children take turns picking their chores until all the chores are covered. I go back to the Excel spreadsheet and fill in their names, print it out and highlight their chores with their “color” (Yes, my children each have an assigned color. I will explain later). This makes it easy to identify who belongs to any particular chore. Simple. Now all the kids happily get up every day, look at the chart and merrily complete the task without any reminders from the parents and we all live happily ever after. The End.
If only . . . The reality is that we have to continue to teach our children self-discipline while weeding out our own selfish traits and working on knowing, loving and serving God in this world. So, I will share with you our time-tested system that has worked wonders in our home with need of very little punishment-based-discipline. I think we have used this system for five years now, maybe longer. In the main gathering place of our home, the dining room/school room we have a large magnetic dry erase board (a refrigerator would work well) with each the child’s name at the top. My sister got us these really cute key chains that were easily converted to magnets. Then we use simple square magnets as “marks” (these came from a Melissa & Doug Chore Chart that was too small for our family, but the markers proved useful). Every morning begins a new chart, a clean slate to start the day. Every time a child completes a chore or does an action that benefits the family he/she is rewarded with a mark. It is up to the child to place his mark on the chart and keep up with it. We don’t typically go back and recount marks as should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. You mark it as you get it or you lose it. This is just me, feel free to adapt it to your personality and style. The important thing is praising your child for doing good. Recognize the service that your child is giving and thank them for their efforts. At the end of the day the marks are converted into stars. We typically give 1 star for each 5 marks earned, but the younger children only need 2 marks for a star.
Now, we convert the “stars” into rewards. If you notice there are dots above each child’s name. These are stars. I used to draw actually stars, but for the sake of space we just put a dot to keep track. In our home 3 stars equals $1 to be used at the Dollar Store. We go about every 6 weeks to trade in our stars for toys and prizes. My kids love this trip! Each child’s stars max out at $5. I mean 8 x 5 = 40 and $40 each month adds up. (Which is another reason I take them every 6 weeks instead of monthly). In addition, we put $1 per star earned over 15 into a college account for that child. It could be a jar or piggy bank; but we have an account set up and just add it into that account. This way the child is still being rewarded, but is learning long-term goal setting as well. On occasions where money has been tight and $40 at the Dollar Store isn’t an option, I have watched for bargains or bought items that the kids will need for school and let them pick treats from the bag: things like pencils, markers or erasers and the occasional candy treat. They also use their stars to buy gifts for sibling’s birthdays or Christmas gifts for family. This is teaching them the sacrifice of using their earned rewards for the benefit of others. We have taken stars in trade for items that they have lost or broken, but we do not take stars as punishment. They cannot lose the stars they have earned.
The point of this exercise is to teach service and discipline and to help weed out selfishness and sloth; but to do it in a way that lifts up the child. After all when we do God’s will he sends down grace in abundance and we can hear in scripture his reply, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Shouldn’t we be doing the same with our own children?