# 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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# 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?

# Adventures

A Lesson on “The Man”

Lesson on the man - TheEngineersKids Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotosdotnet

The kids and I had a goal last summer to have more “adventure days” when we go explore some new part of Orange County that we had never been to before. We found a park called the Coastkeeper Natural Play Garden where the kids ran around, slid in the dirt, and climbed trees (only in Orange County do you have to have a dedicated park to run around on tree stumps and rocks), and had a ton of fun and they learned about drought tolerant plants!

The next week we checked our “50 Free Things for Kids to do in Orange County” article from the local newspaper, and decided to check out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden. The article went on about how you should take unimaginative kids there, so they can play and be impressed with the sculptures, etc., etc.

Let me make a quick aside to mention that the kids were watching School of Rock a few days before.

We found ourselves driving around a business area of Costa Mesa trying to find this cool secret garden, but it was raining…drizzling really, but it wasn’t stopping, so we opted to go to Ikea for a bit. After Ikea the rain had stopped, so we thought since we were in Costa Mesa, we should try to find the secret garden. Finally, I figured out where to park, which was by a favorite cookie store, so we picked up some cookies. At this point I was realizing that our destination was less of a park and more of a courtyard between some office buildings. You know the kind of place where the office employees can take their lunch break and eat and enjoy the sculptures and *cough*pretend*cough, cough* nature.

Still the newspaper article had said it was for kids, and they were excited by the stream and rocks, so I sent them off to explore while I sat and fed Eva and enjoyed a cookie. Not five minutes had passed when a man in a suit came up to me saying, “Ma’am, are those you kids? They aren’t allowed to play on that. Could you tell them to get off?” I should have told him to tell them, instead I yelled, “Hey guys! Come here!” across his pristine courtyard. I told the kids about not climbing on anything and they were up. in. arms. Choruses of “it’s not fair” and “why are there so many rules” and “I’m going to poke him in the eye” rang out. And Jules said, “The people who make all the rules, that’s called ‘the man’.”

I almost died laughing. She said she had learned it from School of Rock. Then the kids all explained about how “the man” means there are too many rules and not enough fun and how it’s all just mean. Inside I was cracking up; outside I was sympathetic to their frustrations. After we all enjoyed some cookies, I walked them around the rest of the garden telling them not to climb on anything. The sat down on the edge of the rock river you see above.

Next, Agent Smith from The Matrix came up behind me. Honestly, he even had glasses and the white thing in his ear. He said (in that tone where people are using kind words, but really they don’t mean them at all), “Um, unfortunately, they can’t put their feet in the water. Unfortunately. Sorry. They can’t. It’s a liability issue.” The kids didn’t actually have their feet in the water, but nothing was fun about that place, so we were leaving anyway.

As part of some schoolwork we were doing that summer, I was trying to get Finn to write a few sentences about what we do on “adventure day,” and the girls to draw a picture and give it a title or write one sentence. They hadn’t been too enthusiastic about it, but Finn immediately said he was going to write all about how mean the security was and how they shouldn’t have so many rules. I told them I could send their letter to the security people of those office buildings, and they went off  thinking up ideas to include in their letter. Finn even busted out a paper and pen while we were still in the car. He wrote,

“Security, you have no choice. You have to put me in charge and I will say that there are no rules, and that the only rule is that there is no security and the security guys just have to stand there and do nothing.”

(I would include the misspellings, but I don’t have the original in front of me.) Jules said she would write about how it is not nice to make kids not do things they want to do, and Malena said they should be allowed to do whatever they want at a park, and Leto said “Yeah” and “that so mean” a bunch of times.

I thought the whole thing was just so, so funny, and goodness it was such an amazingly well-taught life lesson. I called Scott as soon as we got home and I was just in tears laughing retelling the whole story.

Jules: “that’s called ‘the man’” So. hilarious. The kids were so awesome in their rebelliousness and they were so motivated to write and take action.

So, don’t go searching out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden (at least not with kids), and here’s to sticking it to the man!

Update: Isamu Noguchi is mentioned in this article about the politics of playgrounds, noting his visionary playground designs that allowed children to really interact and use imagination. Also, this article (also linked above) mentions a similar experience to mine, but points out that the sculpture garden is an abstract representation of the state of California.


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Letting Kids Make Financial Mistakes - TheEngineersKids
# Family Life

Letting Kids Make Financial Mistakes

Last week, I posted about our trip to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, during the trip we purchased three stuffed seals named Shiny, Arrt-Arrt, and Sealy from the gift shop. Up until this trip the kids had been amassing a large stash of birthday and Christmas money. I don’t really like shopping with the kids, so they have to really beg for me to take them to spend their money. Previous to said trip to see the seals, I made them list a few things they were thinking of buying, which did not include stuffed seals.

They all insisted on buying a stuffed seal, even after I reminded them of the cowgirls dress-up clothes and rollerblades they had on their shopping lists at home. And I try really hard not to dictate what they purchase with their money, so I said, “Hey, it’s your money,” and off we went with three over-priced seals. I should have known not to go to a gift shop…lesson learned.

A good conversation and lesson arose from the experience though. The kids seemed to be convinced that you should be able to return an item to a store at any time for a full refund. Otherwise, the store was stealing your money, because you no longer wanted the item, so you shouldn’t be obligated to pay for it. Sometimes it surprises me how they think the world works.

After a thousand “why” questions about how stores do in fact have to make a profit, buyers are giving up rights to return an item when they use it, and that stores will accept some returns if they can sell that item to a new customer, they began to understand shopping a bit more. I don’t think I persuaded them to believe in the philosophy of return policies, but I did convince them that no store was going to take back their dirty old toys five years down the road.

At least one child is already regretting her hasty seal purchase. I told her we would review her finances and come up with a plan for her to earn the money she needs to get her cowgirl dress-up clothes.

I love a lesson learned young. Better to regret buying a stuffed seal, than a fancy sports car or too-big house. For many years now, my husband has benefitted financially from a My Pal 2 he regretted buying in the 80s.

What financial lessons are you glad your kids learned while young? What did you buy as a kid that taught you a lesson?

# 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?