As we are really getting into our summer break groove (we are 3-4 weeks in) I thought I'd share what is working for us this year, that's been quite a struggle in the past.
- Find the right incentive - I messed this up for years. I always thought it was money. Their interest in earning waned quite quickly. So I changed the currency, took them shopping more often so they'd re-gain interest, and even tried changing what chores they needed to do for what amounts. Turns out for them, money was just a very short lived incentive. This summer they work for electronics time and it has all been in short increments. They do certain chores for an hour, some simpler ones like switching the laundry for 15 minutes. Electronics time for them is TV, movies, Netflix, computer games, phone time (for the oldest), internet research, etc.
- Use the right time-frame - Like my failed incentives I found that the time frame from work to pay wasn't right for the age group I was working with. I had my kids write down the chores or reading they were doing and keep a "log" to be paid a large amount at the end. After all this kind of pay system works for adults, right? Kind of, but for kids it isn't the ideal. Through trial and error I found that my kids were most motivated by immediate reward and ongoing negotiations. Therefore they come to me either to propose the chore they will do or ask for ideas and then we set a time. One of the regulars lately is unloading the dishwasher which earns an hour of electronics. That one they can do without asking, so it is often done early in the morning when they are super excited to start their summer day :).
- Pace myself for the work - Yes, MY work. If I've learned anything over the years its that the chores are for their benefit, not mine. At least at first. Implementing a system and/or just teaching basic skills to kids isn't necessarily fun or efficient. But it is an investment worth making. So knowing that this is my summer work, not really a vacation, is a good mental position for me to take. Examples of this include laundry amounts that fit into the washer, reminders about cleaning the lint trap, and physically demonstrating a pattern of vacuuming to cover the whole floor. Sure, after a few times they learn these basics but nothing can frustrate a new learner of a skill than to just throw them to a task they've never done with no instruction. We adults hate that in the workplace, so its fair to give kids plenty of advice and stick by them their first few times.
- Breaks are Good for everyone - A reason it has turned out well to go chore by chore with the work and then the reward is that it makes an automatic break in the activities. Health-wise, after an hour playing a computer game, getting up to stretch and move is good anyway. Kids (at least mine) don't have the self control to take breaks like that of their own choosing. But I've found that having an adult enforced break and doing something physical keeps their mood positive over the day, in addition to the obvious benefit of learning the cleaning skills and relaxing in a more peaceful environment.
- Creativity Time - My kids aren't little cleaning robots. They have their limit :). And I'm okay with that. My intention isn't to have them work their carefree summer days away. When they decide there is no incentive worth doing anymore chores for, they are still free to enjoy their days. Since the incentive is electronics they simply forego time with those. As a result we have had a lot of baking, impromptu dance parties, kid-directed plays, water bucket filling outside, dirt "road" construction behind the house, and a LOT of reading. Open ended time is what I love about summer, so its been a win on cutting electronics use. They still work for some but it is much more concentrated and planned and enjoyed.
Those are my newly learned tips. What works for you?