# Around the House

Chore Chart for Young Kids

Chore Chart for Young Kids

At the beginning of the year, I talked about our new dinner chore charts. Six months later, I can happily say they are still working. They work better than I even imagined.

One of my favorite features is still that the kids only rotate chores with each new month. That gives them a whole month to get proficient at their chore. They and I both also love that we don’t have to keep asking who does what chore. We can actually remember when it doesn’t change daily or weekly.

A month ago, I made up a new chore chart to go along with the dinner one. I added in a new chore that gets rotated monthly. They each have a zone for the month. Our zones are backyard, toy area, couch area and upstairs hall.

That is really their only new chore that they have to do. The others on the chart are make your bed, straighten your room, and their dinner chores that they have already been doing. The other “chores” on their chart are read 20 minutes, piano 20 minutes, take a math facts quiz (a summer goal of ours), do a STEAM project, and pay outside 30 minutes.

I added those in, because the deal is that if they do all those things, they can have unlimited screen time for the rest of the day. I figured if they got everything done, they would have already had a pretty full, physical, and educational day. Then, they could relax with movies or play learning games and I wouldn’t be picky about it.

I’d have to say that so far the new charts are working fairly well. Malena is loving it. She really likes getting a check mark to show her accomplishments, and she earns her movie time almost every day. Some kids feel like it is too much to do to earn screen time. They get paid 10 cents for each check mark (yes, even for playing outside), and they all manage to get enough in a week to feel like they accomplished something.

I wanted to give them a way to earn more money too, since I want them to get used to handling money. I wrote more about that after they each bought a stuffed seal at a gift shop. They are also required to buy some of their own craft supplies. I heard of some families requiring older kids to pay for clothes or gas, and I came up with craft supplies since mine are younger. I want them to learn to use their resources efficiently. So far, they haven’t had to replenish the initial supply I bought for them though. Maybe that’s because they are being so efficient and/or using recycled things…look at me go, teaching them to be good to the earth as well.

Oh, I almost forgot! I also started paying them 5 cents per sock collected from around the house. They each have a zip lock bag taped to the dryer to put them in during the week. I’m a total sell out, but I am so tired of picking up socks from all over, I needed some help.

So, that’s how it stands for now. I’ll have to update you in another six months on whether these charts are panning out or not.

What about you? How do you handle chores and allowances at your house?


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# Adventures

Orange County Fair Imaginology – Full S.T.E.A.M Ahead

OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Shhhh, a few weeks ago, I pulled Finn out of school a bit early on day to attend the Orange County Fair Imaginology. They made a fuss about it in the school office too. School administrators, sheesh.

Imaginology takes place at the Orange County fairgrounds, and involves activities and booths set up by schools, organizations and companies to teach kids about STEAM topics. The kids had so much fun, were asking some really intelligent questions, and were learning a lot.

I wanted to share some of the fun toys we got to play with, and some other fun things they had there.

LEGO robots at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got to play with some robots built with LEGO robotics parts. The robot shown above was a golfing robot and we got to control it to hit the ball into a hole.

LEGO robots, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Another robot could pick up a cup and set it down in another location.

Snap Circuits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids Build your own circuit with Snap Circuits at OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finn spent some time building with Snap Circuits, which he has at home, but there more parts there. Snap Circuits are electrical components that snap onto a board and to each other to create fun little circuits. It comes with an instruction book with a whole bunch of projects. My favorite is one where you run a little motor in reverse. The motor powers a fan, so when it is in reverse the wind generated by the fan is blowing downward. If you give the fan a little touch upward it flies up into the air a few feet.

EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Meanwhile, Jules, Malena and Leto could not be pried away from this awesome kid microscope. It was called an EyeClops. You put the hand-held piece up to your specimen, and it will magnify it 200 times and display the image on any TV, using A/V jacks (RCA cable). I was searching online to see if they had one with a USB or something for a computer screen, but sadly I couldn’t find one. They do have some other fun stuff, though. Night vision goggles, anyone?

Image displayed on your TV from EyeClops handheld microscope, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto was entranced by magnifying a cockroach. Jules and Malena liked seeing all the details of a piece of wood.

Little Bits, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

We got see some displays of LittleBits, which after reading this review, I really want to try. They seem one step more advanced than snap circuits.

Imagination Playground blocks, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Leto got some little boy wiggles out with some Imagination Playground blocks. (Okay, the bigger kids really like these too.) An apartment we once lived in had these in a common play room. They were fabulous to play with during the winter when we couldn’t go outside.

There were some local entrepreneurs and their fun products too.

Fine motor skills development for kids on the autism spectrum, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
One guy built this toy (called Z Occupational Therapy ToolZ or ZOTTZ) for his autistic son to encourage him in his fine motor skills. When you use the scissors, mini clamp, button, or key a song would play (different one for each object). My kids played for a half an hour, and really I had to pry them away from it to go see more stuff.

Another guy sold kits that he put together himself from electronic components. On display was a robot car that would drive 20-or-so feet, make a U-turn and come back.

Keep them learning at mealtime with a Math Tablecloth, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

One local teacher created a tablecloth full of math problems. You could write on it with washable marker and it would wipe right off with water. My kids wanted to stay and solve all the math problems on the whole thing. I dragged them away, and later regretted not buying one.

Digging for fossils, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids
Finally, we found a few other fun things to play with.

We dug fossil shark teeth out of a rock similar to GeoCentral fossil or Dr. Cool ocean fossil. The group that bought them actually made the little fossil-containing rocks themselves. I think they must have bought a bag of shark teeth (did you know you can buy a bag of shark teeth?) and plaster of paris, and used plastic cups as molds…or maybe cupcake pans. It’d probably pop out of the silicone ones link, right?

clay teapot - TheEngineersKids
We played with clay and made some cute figurines.

clay seal - TheEngineersKids

It was me that really made Malena’s seal. She sometimes prefers to manage the projects rather than do them herself, so she gave me step-by-step instructions. I used to get annoyed when she refused to do the work herself, but then I realized that she has the vision and is using the resourses available (not always me, she gets the other kids to work for her) to accomplish that vision. Although, I do think she does it because she is also a little scared to mess up.

clay elephant - TheEngineersKids

Jules made this elephant all by herself, and frankly I think it is a lot better than my seal. It has more personality.

Carrot music, OC Imaginology - TheEngineersKids

Finally, there was this really fun circuit and display that you could play music on a computer by touching carrots. Each carrot completed a different circuit, so a different note would play. The electricity (of which there was obviously a very small amount) would travel through your body. You could even hold hands with a few kids and still complete the circuits. I don’t have any links for you on this one, so you’re on your own to google electronic carrot music and buy the parts yourself. Update: I tried this and learned all about people who make musical instruments out of carrots and other vegetables. People come up with the craziest ideas, I tell you.

Whew, that was a long post. Kudos to you if you made it through. It was a really fun day though, and so worth missing a few hours of school. We didn’t even get to see everything. Next year, anyone local to Orange County should check out the awesome OC Fair Imaginology. We will be there for sure!

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# Family Life

Life with a Husband in School

Life With a Husband in School - TheEngineersKids

When my husband started law school, I came up with an analogy for the differences in our family life between attending law school versus an engineering graduate program. I compared our life in graduate school to a long distance run, maybe a 10K or something. Things started off slow, but throughout the semester Scott had more and more schoolwork, and thus I had more evenings and Saturdays on my own with the kids. At the end there was a definite sprint to the finish line, and then a dead stop. Scott was home. We had no commitments. We could play all day.

In law school we just began at a dead run. What type of race would that be? An 800 meter maybe, where it’s short enough that you never really pace yourself, you just sprint the whole time? Except that the length of semester didn’t get shorter. So a dead run right out of the gates (to mix metaphors a bit), and then a full, very hard sprint through finals. And dead stop. It was harder than graduate school, but there was still a finish line when the semester ended.

That’s the awesome thing about having a husband in school. There is always a dead stop between semesters.

Now that Scott has been working as an attorney for a few years I have a new metaphor for our life. We are running. That never stops, we never slow down, we just keep a fast clip going, just take that as the assumption. We keep this fast pace going, but to make any progress on anything, to get any points in this game, you have to jump up and hit multi-colored balls. There’s the cook a healthy dinner ball, the write a blog post ball, the Jules and Mal have special reports at school this week ball, laundry ball, help Finn with reading ball, take kids to soccer practice ball, by new T-shirts for myself (since the rest have holes) ball, etc.

Every ball I hit gets me one step closer to the goal of that category. See, we just have so many different areas of life going right now. It’s not bad, it’s fun, it’s motivating to have goals in so many areas, and I’m not really overwhelmed by it, but if I have a glazed look in my eye at 4pm some days, it’s just that too many of those balls were hit when I probably should have been sleeping.

But, here’s to reaching some of those goals. We are improving in so many areas, even if we have to be satisfied with continual progress rather than getting to graduate from something in the end.

How about you? Am I the only one who thinks up silly ways to describe my life?

# 4-7 Years, Counting

The Enchanted Forest Board Game

The Enchanted Forest Board Game - TheEngineersKids

I mention a lot that we like to change up the rules of games to suit the kids better. Enchanted Forest by Ravensburg is a game of ever-changing rules at our house.* But it has allowed us to keep playing since Finn was 4, and Jules and Mal were 3 (they are 7 and 6 now).

How you’re supposed to play it:

I actually had to go look up the rules to this game, because until the other day we had never played the real rules. Once I found them out though, I’ve been itching to play full on “for reals” with some grown-ups.

The Enchanted Forest -TheEngineersKids

Basically you have a some paths that lead you through the enchanted forest and to a castle. There are thirteen trees in the forest, and each has a picture of a treasure on the bottom. The pictures match a card in the deck. You turn the top card face up and wander the forest looking for the tree that matches the card that is face up. And try to remember which trees house which of the other treasures.

You roll the dice and can go either direction the number of spaces shown on each die. So if I rolled a 1 and a 2, I can go, left 1 left 2, right 1 right 2, left 1 right 2, or right 1 left 2. And you try to land on a space with a tree, so you can check the picture on the bottom.

Board game review of The Enchanted Forest - TheEngineersKids

Once you find a match to the face-up card, you high tail it back to the castle to go tell the king which tree the treasure is under. Watch out though, because anyone who knows you’re headed to the castle can try to land on you on their turn and send you back to the start.

First one to correctly tell the king three correct treasure locations wins.

There’s also magic. When you roll a double you can jump directly to a tree space, move your piece to a certain space right by the castle, or shuffle the cards and turn over a new face-up card.

Who wants to come over for a game night, so I can try this real rules thing out? It sounds so exciting.

How we play – version super-small-kids:

To avoid contention and speed the game up, we always kinda played as a team, by sharing information. Each player does have their own piece to move though. Each player rolls the dice, and you always use your whole count on the dice. If you come to a tree, check the picture and show everyone. If you haven’t gone your allotted number of spaces you can keep going on to towards the next tree.

When you find the tree that matches the face-up card, you get to take the card. Keep looking for all the treasures, and help each other, so everyone has roughly the same number of cards, and no one’s feelings get too hurt.

When all the treasures have been found, make your way to the castle. Keep taking turns until everyone gets to the castle.

How we play – version slightly-older-kids:

Play as in version super-small-kids, but don’t share information. Everyone is on their own looking for the treasures. Once they are all found, the first one back to the castle gets bonus points or kudos or a pat on the back. Finn sometimes gets tired of looking for treasures and heads to the castle claiming to be the winner for getting their first.

Recently, we added in the “magic” feature of the game. The kids have been liking that one.


* We love to modify the rules of every game. There’s value in making a game work well for your family, and I love giving a few ideas of alternative play. And sometimes we just dial the competitiveness down a notch to avoid kid fights.


Anyone else have any tips to keep make Enchanted Forest fun for kids?

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This week we played - TheEngineersKids
# This Week We Played...

This Week We Played…(week 1)

We’re starting a new weekly series, where The Engineer’s Kids give you a peek at all the fun things we play. Maybe you’ll get a sense of how truly amazing, and fun, and chaotic our life of five kids under 8 really is. The kids are learning so much. Also, man are they ever messy. I can’t keep up with them.

So, without further ado, I give you This Week We Played…

Measure with a Balance - TheEngineersKids

Here’s Leto measuring popsicle sticks and trash in a balance. The kids keep wanting to measure liquid in this thing, which you totally could. I just don’t want that much water being poured into things inside the house.

You can see our sight word flash cards in the background. I was trying a new system of moving them around on the wall in random ways every few days. I thought it might attract the kids’ attention and make them read them more frequently. I’m not sure it worked.

TheEngineerKids build a house with TRIO blocks

We love TRIO blocks at our house. They are the perfect bridge between Mega Blocks and LEGOs. Plus they come with cool instructions (you can see one behind Leto) to build all kinds of things: lots of boats and planes, a crab and a dinosaur, and tons of houses.

TheEngineersKids saved their own money for these

The kids asked if we could check the balance on their family bank accounts, so they could buy some stuff at Knott’s Berry Farm when we went the other day.

TheEngineersKids learned a lesson in finances, when one didn't have enough money to buy something at the souvenir shop

Finn didn’t get to buy anything, because he only has 50 cents to his name. Poor guy. I think he spent it all when we bought the seals.

TheEngineersKids break the ice

Our next door neighbors were cleaning out some closets and brought over a few toys. They are grandparents, and wanted to get rid of all the noisy toys. I accepted the noisy toys with not a little apprehension. Despite the noise, Don’t Break the Ice has been really fun. Even little Eva can break out the ice chunks with her hammer and has a lot of fun.

TheEngineersKids make a jacaranda flower sand cake

The twinners made this awesome flower, sand cake. Take a bite!

That was our week in toys and playing. Until next time on This Week We Played…


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Visit a nature park - TheEngineersKids
# Adventures

Get Your Kids Into Nature – Coastkeeper Nature Garden

In Orange County it’s a little difficult to find places in nature to go exploring. Honestly, a few school assignments to bring a rock to class have proven rather difficult. The landscapers remove all the rocks…it’s a little weird, but anyway. There are a lot of hiking trails, but sometimes I don’t want to go hiking by myself with all the kids.

On those occasions we love going to the Coastkeeper Nature Garden. It’s half drought-tolerant demonstration gardens, to teach people how to plant drought-tolerant plants in different design styles (traditional, mediteranian, craftsman); and half free-play area for the kids. I actually love the demonstration gardens, and dream of planting all drought-tolerant plants when we someday buy a house. The kids have learned a great deal about different plants and it is a great place to answer a thousand why questions.

Get Your Kids Into Nature - TheEngineersKids

The kids area is really fun too. Lately, I’ve been on toddler-following duty, while the kids run around on the tree stumps, through the tunnels, up the rocks, and all around the paths. They find new picnic spots each time we go. There’s a small adobe structure, which brought up a conversation about when I lived in a rural part of Argentina where they lived in houses like those, and how while there some friends of mine built an adobe house for a woman who had no home. I take any chance I have to give them an inkling about how others live, the needs they have, and how to show charity.

All in all, we love the nature park. It’s dusty, and sometimes hot, and lets kids get their energy out.

Get Your Kids Into Nature - TheEngineersKids

For anyone in Orange County, or for anyone planning a visit, you should check out the Fun Orange County Parks website. We find so much good information about which parks to explore from that website. Here’s their review of the Coastkeeper Garden.

Anyone care to share fun nature parks in their area? You know, in case I want to go on vacation and check them out.

# Family Life

Bloom Where You Are Planted

bloom where planted

A few years ago, I was at the swimming pool with the kids. We were just enjoying the kiddie pool and being refreshed from the humidity. It was a relaxing day, not a day you expect to learn something that you think about on a regular basis for the next five years.

A friend of mine had joined us at the pool, as well as my friend’s sister. I commented that each of us had four kids. Then my friend casually mentioned that her sister had to have a hysterectomy when her fourth was born, so she was done having kids. I think because we were all in similar situations in life, this one difference stuck with me. I thought, “well, now she doesn’t have to make the decision of when to be done having kids,” she can just accept her four kids, and make her family into an awesome four-kid family. But I realized that my friend’s sister might not see it that way. She might have been sad or angry that she couldn’t have more kids.

The whole thing sort of made me step back and wonder what in my life should I just accept and do the best with. I had another friends who had one child and was struggling to have more. I could easily imagine just having fun with one child, enrolling them in whatever activity they wanted, giving them your full attention, or going to work once they were in school. That other friend was really just focused on having a second child though.

And this isn’t just about the number of kids one has. It can apply to all aspects of our lives: whether we work or stay at home (or work from home), whether our husbands work a lot, whether we live in an interesting place, whether we live close to family, whether it snows half the year, etc.

So I thought, how frequently do I fail to bloom where I am planted? How frequently do I fail to see the awesome things I could be doing with my life? It takes real introspection, or maybe analyzing how others see you, to recognize the advantages you have in your unique situation.

If I had five kids under eight, lived in Southern California, enjoyed sports, had a husband who worked long hours, had a husband who also loves to play with the kids, live in a beautiful and diverse community, speak Spanish, and lived near family, what should I be doing with the advantages I have? How can I bloom where I am planted?

As a corollary, I spend a lot of time thinking about the things that I can’t change right now, but that with a considerable effort, I will be able to change them eventually. For example, I would like to have more than three bedrooms to house my husband, myself, and five kids. I can’t attain that goal yet, but I will eventually, so I work hard to attain it sooner rather than later. But the lack of larger house does occupy my thoughts too much, and I think it keeps me from seeing that the kids have amazing friends where we live now, we live close to their school, we can go for family bike rides, we don’t have yard work, and I don’t have as big a house to keep clean.

Let’s open this up to each other. If someone else saw you in your unique situation, what would they consider your advantages or things you are missing out on? How can you make those advantages a larger part of your life?