I truly feel this entire concept was inspired by the Holy Spirit, or maybe even Mother Mary whispering wisdom into my ear. Whatever the case, one moment I was standing in the kitchen calling my children to attention (with frustration and despair bogging down my mind) and the next moment, four of my children (ages 10, 8, 7 and 6) were happily and busily cleaning the entire house without one grumble or complaint! Follow these simple steps to get similar results in your home.
Step 1: Breathe. Remember that they are children and children will make messes, explore and be creative. Remember that they are capable of amazing things and allow them the room to show you their strengths. Don’t expect perfection.
Step 2: Divide the main areas of your house into Zones. Don’t include bathrooms, bedrooms, or other “private” areas in your Zones. Try to create one Zone per person.
Step 3: Let the kids pick their cleaning Zone. So far, I have had not arguments over who gets which Zone. If a disagreement should happen then come up with a fair way of choosing: have them draw straws, roll dice, go from youngest to oldest, etc.
Step 4: Explain the scoring system to the kids and put it up on a chart or white board as you explain. Stay with me here as this is where it can get complicated. Maybe say something along these lines:
Your Zone will be scored on the following points: cleanliness (how well you do in picking up toys, trash and other misplaced items and putting them in their proper place); speed (how quickly you get the job done WELL; not just hurry up, but diligently work on your task to do the job well and completely–think perseverance and diligence); and attitude (Are you joyful or grumpy?). These will be scored on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the best possible score. These scores will be added together to get your subtotal. Everyone with me? [demonstrate on the white board].
Then say, “Now, you are all different ages and have different abilities. To account for this, I will assign a Degree of Difficulty to your Zone based on your age and ability AND the extent to which you clean the room.” A Degree of Difficulty of “1” is the basic pickup of the floor and flat surfaces; but a “5” would be if you cleaned under the sofa, organized the book shelf, vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, etc. The more you do, the higher the Degree of Difficulty becomes. The reason why this is important is because your subtotal will be MULTIPLIED by your Degree of Difficulty to get your final score. [Demonstrate on the board how 15 x 1 is 15, but 15 x 5 is 75] Let them give you different scores to see how it affects the total. [Bonus math lesson here ;-)]
Step 5. When the children complete their zone to their satisfaction, have them come to you and let you know that they are ready for scoring. Then, with your full attention go into the room and inspect their job. Be sure to give lots of positive feedback on the work they did well. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions of where it could be improved, or hints about items that were overlooked. Be generous, but honest with your score. If my kids worked hard and gave it their all, I rarely score less than a 5. In the above example, Zone 4 got a “4” in cleanliness because there was still quite a bit of trash on the floor and items on flat surfaces. The Degree of Difficulty is the clincher here. How much were they willing to put into their efforts? My Zone 1 in the above example was the kitchen. The 12 year old chose it with vigor and she delved into organizing cabinets and drawers, in addition to counters, floors and hand washing that her brother overlooked that morning. That kind of effort deserved a perfect score for sure! The Degree of Difficulty of 3 in the above example was the oldest child who chose to do the minimum effort. He still had a great attitude and the room was picked up and vacuumed, so I explained that he could have earned a higher Degree of Difficulty by going under the furniture and straightening the bookshelves. He did a great job, but it wasn’t going to be enough to win the contest.
Step 6. Reward the top score with a prize. I give 1st place 5 cents per point, 2nd place 1 cent per point and everyone else a quarter. My children are still young at ages 6 to 13, so the prize is minimal. If you have older children, then you might consider a higher payout–how much is a clean house worth after all? The prize doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just a well-deserved reward for their effort. At the end of this contest, your entire house will be picked up, vacuumed, spot mopped, and better organized than when you started. Allow the reward to lift EVERYONE up, but still make the winner feel special for his/her effort. Bask in their incredible efforts and boast on how enjoyable the home is when it is tidy and everyone works together well. Sometimes we play a game, go swimming, or the kids watch a movie following the clean up—an activity to enjoy a job well done.
Step 7. Repeat as needed to maintain the orderliness of the home, but not more frequently than once per week. We decided to do “Zones” on Friday afternoons so we can enjoy a movie night and focus on family projects or outings on Saturdays. This week my kids decided to do it on Thursday because the house had become quite messy and even they wanted the order back! Hey, I’ll take it any day.
I would love to hear your feedback on how this works in your home, what changes you made, and what rewards were given. I pray that you have as much success with it as I have had. Truth be told the greatest reward for me has been the feeling of connection, that we really work well as a team, the Domestic Church’s version of the Body of Christ in action.
Edit: I am usually working on my paying job while they are cleaning. Sometimes, I clean an area as well, but don’t get scored in the contest. Yesterday, they actually did all of the cleaning while I was gone for an appointment. It was especially rewarding to come home to a clean house and to know the kids had matured to this level of responsibility without my direct oversight! My goal here is not the clean house. That is just a side benefit. My goal is to grow relationships with my children as they learn to be responsible and independent members of our family and community.