Monday, July 23, 2012

On Chores...Part Two

Part Two: Chore Charts

I think at some point, every parent attempts to create a chore chart for their child(ren).  It seems like such an organized way to go about assigning tasks and keeping track of what got done each day.  There are probably many websites (in fact, I know there are, because I've searched for them) with printable chore charts to use if that is your desire.  Some people find success with this method, but we have not.

For one thing, I am here with the kids every day.  When I was growing up and both parents worked outside (and inside) the home, chore charts worked because we knew what was expected of us even when our mom wasn't around to remind us.  My sister is a single mom of four kids and she has a chore chart for her daughters so they know what to accomplish before she gets home from work.  They have to pull together or they'd never make it as a family.

We went the chore chart route in our house a year ago or so.  But maybe we're just too active a family, I don't know, but things on the chart rarely got accomplished.  What tended to happen is that feeding Nova would be assigned, for example, and then that kid had something else scheduled at that time, so Nova wouldn't get fed.  I tried making a rule that they needed to find a replacement for themselves if they were going to be gone at a particular time, but it didn't always happen and then I had to assign a replacement.  We'd get days and days behind on stuff.

I created many riots this way.

Besides the fact that no matter how many items I put on the charts, it never fully encapsulated everything that needed to be done in the house.  When you're a homeschooling family, there are regular messes being made all day long.  There is no end to the chaos.  There is no break when the house can just be in a holding pattern till everyone gets home from work and school.  No, we're here a lot.  I mean, when we're not at the park or the pool or the museum or the movies or in a class elsewhere.  But otherwise, we're here more than anywhere else.

So then I added a component to the chore lists.  I called it the "Basic Math Rule."

It goes like this:

1 + 2 = 3

"Pick up one thing as you walk from one place to another in the house (this means hallways are constantly being picked up or checked, theoretically); pick up two things when you get to your destination (this means that when you get to the family room and you notice two things out of place, do those before you plop on the couch to watch TV or read or whatever); if you do 1 + 2, you'll get 3 Cheers (hip-hip-hooray) from your Father in Heaven because you're being a good steward and serving the family."

Sounds complicated when I'm explaining it now, but it worked for a little while because I just started calling out, "Don't forget 1+2," when I'd see kids transitioning from one room to the next.  I was even doing this myself.  Trying to live by example.

The problem came from the messes they left behind.  I'd call out "1+2!" and they'd do that, but leave behind a pile of toys on the floor in the room they were leaving.  So the equation was imperfect.

So now we go about things in a new way.  This method might not work for everyone and it certainly requires a parent to be around pretty consistently to have a chance at working.  It's called Volunteer and Delegation.

With delegation, there are a few times in the day when I make a note about messes or jobs that need completing and when I get a handful of these in mind, I start asking for volunteers to do the jobs.  Now the trick is to ask for the least icky stuff to get done first.  My kids have learned that if they don't step up and volunteer for the first or second job, then I'll start delegating the rest of the work to certain individuals and it might not be the job they'd want.

For example, I might see that the floors need sweeping, the bathroom needs to be picked up, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded, dog doo duty needs to be performed and nobody wiped the table after lunchtime.  So then I'll say, "Can someone please unload the dishwasher for me?"

I get quick responses on that one because while it's a chore for anyone (I don't even enjoy it), it's less icky to pick doing that job than to be assigned dog doo duty and there's a risk to them that it might be one of the other things I have in mind to get done.  Which, in this case, would be a correct assumption.

The other thing that I've focused on with the oldest two kids (and a little with the younger ones) is helping them stop and observe things that need to get done on their own.  It's reminding them that we all need to work as a team to keep the house running successfully.  So if they go into a room and they see a cheese stick wrapper on the floor, they should just pick it up even if they didn't leave it there.  Or if they walk by the kitchen and see that the counters are all cluttery, they can help out by putting a couple things away or at least moving dirty dishes to the sink.  And believe it or not, they see that by helping out in this way not only gets good praises from me, but I'm less stressed out in general.

I like it because it teaches them individual responsibility for their environment, which they'll need in life as they grow up and move out.

Finally, I make it a general rule that if the kids ask to go to a friend's house before their room is picked up and bed is made, the answer is no.  What happens a lot now is H or another kid will come to ask me about a friend and before they speak, they say, "Hold on, I'll be right back."  Then I hear them clamber up the stairs and a mad dash to pick things up before they come back to ask the question.  Love it.

Also, if they ask to watch television or go on the computer (both require permission in our house ... no one is allowed to just turn on the television without asking and our computers are locked with passwords for everyone's protection), I say to them, "What have you done to help the family today?"

Now, the smart ones have figured out that I'm going to ask them.  So they'll list off two or three jobs they did just prior to my asking.  The ones who are slow to catch on say, "Um ... I can go do something now."  But the fact is, either way they do something helpful.  They have to do a job reasonably well or they know they'll never get permission to do what they want and/or someone else might come ask before they get the job done.

This method of volunteering and delegation has decreased tantrums in our house, has stopped people from crying out as often that things aren't fair between sibling responsibilities, and has kept our house a lot more pulled together from one day to the next.  The system is not without flaws, but it is better for our lives than any other chore system we've tried.

I see that it has improved the attitude of responsibility for things around here and we're all benefiting because of it.


  1. I think you've figured out some really clever ideas! Love the rule about picking up your room before asking to go to a friend's house!

    I like how you basically implied that some of your kids aren't smart. ;)

    As for the volunteering for the non-icky jobs, that's totally me at work. I try to speak up and pick jobs I like, mostly to avoid responsibility of the ones I don't want to do. :P It sounds all manipulative when I say it like that, but I just see a good opportunity and take it instead of waiting to be assigned. :)

  2. All of our children are smart -- in various ways. Not all of them have caught on yet about how the Volunteer and Delegation system works.

    I forgot to mention that some chores get delegated when they misbehave, too. We use some chores as consequences. I usually save the ickiest ones for that purpose. :)

  3. I'm totally interested in these chore delegation ideas. Even though I don't have kids at home, there are some good ideas for those I babysit.

    Thanks, love, Mom

  4. This is a smart system! Good for you for figuring out what works for YOU and not feeling pressured to do what all the other moms are doing. And for flexibility to change the system as it evolves.