Monday, January 31, 2011

What's Working for Us #3 - Child Labor

Child labor is working for us. 

I spent much of the fall exhausted from the sheer amount of work required to run our house.  I knew that adopting an older child would require a lot of emotional energy but I don't think I really thought about just how much physical energy it would require to clothe, feed and clean up after four kids and two adults.

Then one day, I read something that got me thinking.  If I could remember where I read it, I'd give credit where credit's due, but suffice it to say, this is not an original thought.  The author said there was a time in American history when kids were seen as a "labor asset."  You actually wanted as many kids as possible to have more hands to work your farm.  In today's American culture, kids are seen more as an "emotional asset."  They are valued for how they make the parent feel and not much work is expected from them.  We tend to put our kids on a pedestal and pamper them.

Hmm.  Interesting.

Now I'm not saying that I have four kids so they can help me do housework.  I have four kids because I love being a parent and I see great value in raising them to be great adults who'll do great things in this world.  How many times can I say "great" in one sentence?

But it occurred to me that if I gave each child several small tasks to do daily, it would greatly reduce my workload.  I could spend my time homeschooling and cooking good meals and still have a reasonably clean house at the end of the day.

Here's what I came up with:  Each child has a list of 8 chores that must be done daily.  If everyone completes their chores, I'm given the gift of 32 tasks that I don't have to do!  By doing them daily, the kids gain proficiency in their chores and the sense of pride that comes from being able to do a good job "all by myself."  I plan to shuffle the chores every couple of months with  a transition week in between where the kids train their siblings to take over their old chores.

For example, every day Nathan's list looks like this:

Make bed

Put away stuff on bedroom floor.

Clean off desk and dresser.

Dust bedroom.

Empty all trash cans in house.

Feed fish.

Clean up all toys and trash in the yard.

Put away all school supplies at the end of the day.

Notice that several of Nathan's chores could fall under the heading of "clean your room."  But in my experience, kids need specific instructions about what that means.  So I broke "clean your room" down into a number of smaller tasks and divided them between the kids who share that room.

Everyone makes his own bed and cleans up his own school supplies at the end of the day.  But the other tasks are varied.  Julie does a quick cleaning of the kids' bathroom (lucky Julia), Katherine waters plants, Wenxin cleans the sliding glass door.  Julia sweeps the sidewalk leading to the front door, Katherine mops the foyer, Wenxin cleans up the back porch.  You get the picture. 

Obviously, you don't really have to dust every day.  But consistency is important, so for the sake of consistency, the same chores are getting done daily.

I made a pretty chore chart from scrapbook paper and framed it in a $5 Hobby Lobby frame and placed it on a stand in the living room.  Chores get marked off, right on the glass, with a dry erase marker as they are finished.  The pretty chore chart makes it look like a big deal. 

This is going so well that Mike and I decided to add a twist.  As of this week, we will begin compensating the kids for their chores.  Now that everyone has finished "job training," they are qualified to "get paid."  Starting today, everyone has until 6 pm to finish their chores.  At 6 pm, I'll take a look at the chart, inspect the house, and record who finished and who didn't.  On Saturday night, Mike and I will sit down with them and each child will get $1 for each day they completed all chores.  If they completed them all 6 days, they'll get a $1 bonus.  So they have the opportunity to earn $7/week. 

One thing I explained to them is that "in our family everyone works."  While they are getting paid to do these chores, there will be many times I ask them to do extra work simply because they are in the family.  On those occasions, they aren't allowed to say, "How much will you pay me?"

So that's it for this morning.  Two posts in two days.  I'm on a roll.  See you back tomorrow!


  1. Carrie BaumgartnerJanuary 31, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    LOVE that, Dana! What a beautiful chore chart. We do a smaller version of that (and not near as pretty) but you've inspired me that they can probably handle a little more. One thing I do add to ours is the little school assignments that get overlooked. Each child has to complete his handwriting, math drill, and scripture memory as part of his check-off list each day.

  2. Dana - just catching up on your catching up! Can I just tell yo that you are my hero?? You have so many amazing thoughts & ideas on what works - so intentional...I love it & am borrowing lots:) Thanks for blogging & sharing -

  3. Sounds a bit like the chore chart we instituted...gotta post about it sometime


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