Crack the Whip! Because it is so much more than chores.

“Your kids do that many chores everyday?”  I get this response quite a bit when I answer questions about chores.  Besides responding with my usual “Yep, we are a  family and everyone helps.”  I often ask, “Yours don’t?”  This really, like really truly amazes me.  When kids are little they want to help.  Awww, isn’t that cute, little Johnny wants to help vacuum.  Yes, adorable.  But, pretty soon they learn that real chores aren’t fun.  But, they are necessary.  I actually wish I could do it all–for everyone.  But with 5 children, I simply cannot.  Sure, I do a ton, so does my husband, but our children do quite a bit too.  And why shouldn’t they?  They are a part of this family too.  And you know what is really neat?  Once they get over the initial shock of being forced to pitch in, they realize how important they are to our family.  And I love to remind them of that.  Family is such a safe place for our children.  And when they understand that each member of the family is oh so important they hold their heads a little higher and have this self-assurance of where they belong; where they are loved unconditionally and where they are needed.  And, I don’t think they would understand that as well without being a real helper around here.

The other part that is beautiful about chores is that there’s always a ministry opportunity.  Just last week Hannah had a play date planned with a neighborhood friend for Thursday.  And our rule is that you need to have the homework for that day done BEFORE the day of the play date.  This way, they can enjoy their time, without having homework hanging over their heads.  Well, it just so happens Hannah had a bad dream the night before and didn’t sleep well.  And, of all our kids, little sleep really makes this girl, um, shall we say, a bit grumpy?  That’s being very nice :/  So, homework that should have taken her forty-five minutes, took her two HOURS!  It was one of those times where I wanted to run out the door and never look back.  Just kidding…no, not kidding.  Not kidding at all actually.  Seeing that Hannah was not going to be helping with too many chores that day, the rest of us had to pick up the slack for her.  But, can I tell you the really beautiful part of this story?  It was the look on her face when we told her that we had done all of her chores for her (despite her being grumpy to all of us while laboring through her homework).  I wish I would’ve captured it on camera.  Her frustration melted away, she cried a little, hugged me tight and whispered “Thank you Mommy and I’m sorry.”  We all learned a little about grace that day, especially my Hannah.

When we had our first child, I had time, glorious time, to read.  I read every parenting book I could get my hands on.  This was before Pinterest, blogs, etc.  If you are like me, you have seen countless ideas for chores; chore charts is the most common I see. I love the idea of it, and if a chore chart works for you and your family—AWESOME!  Seriously, awesome.  But, it wasn’t working for me. I didn’t have time to make the thing and then keep up with it.  I needed something quick and easy that WORKED, everyday.  Also, I wanted something that the kids were in charge of, not me.  Oh, and did I say this needs to be easy?  Then, I found it.  I read it somewhere; it sounded brilliant, tried it and ahhhhhhhh (harmonious angels singing) it is STILL what we use.

Now keep in mind that my children are still fairly young, age 7 and under, so most morning “chores” are no-duh type chores.  They are the kind that little people need to do, but don’t know it yet.  Here are the kids’ morning chores:

  1. Go potty/wash hands
  2. Get dressed
  3. Make bed
  4. Brush teeth
  5. Brush hair
  6. Lunch/snack/water packed in backpack (lunch is made night before)
  7. Backpack by the door
  8. Shoes BY THE DOOR.

Much more about morning chores in my previous post “Conquer the Morning Rush.”  But, here’s a quick run down…

I wake the kids up at 6 am (because we need to leave our house at 7:20 the latest to catch the bus), so adding any other chores to the morning rush is not a priority for me, yet.  They help with family chores in the afternoon.

Since these were the first chores I tried, I went all out (for me, that is), pulled out my scrapbook stuff, used stickers and made fancy chore cards.

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Hannah’s Morning Chore Cards

I use different colors for each child, lay them on the kitchen island each morning, and as they complete each chore they TURN THEM OVER.  There is something magical about that turning over moment that just WORKS.  And, can I say how lovely it is NOT to have to ask each child over and over “Hannah, did you brush your hair?  Bethany, did you go potty yet this morning?  Samuel, dressed yet?”  Or, have to answer the repeated questions of “Mommy, what do I have to do next, what else do I have to do?”  It is awesome.  Best advice I can give about this; do it and be consistent.  Give them 2 weeks, and they will start laying out their chore cards before you.  Now, do my children pop up out of bed and sing zippity do-dah as they start their morning chores? Um, no.  Not at all.  We usually start with a little groaning and telling me they do not want to go to school.  I’ll try to cheer them up with a song or two…but if that doesn’t work.  Mom gets serious:  “Hannah, Samuel, Bethany and Lucy:  Get up and get busy, now.”  I work VERY hard not to yell, but firm voice, you bet.  I have got that one down.  Just ask any former student or player of mine.  But, if they are 3 jewels away from filling up their treasure chest, they have their chores done in record time.  Those days are always my favorite.  I never have to say a single word.

To keep them into it, I reward them with “special jewels” if they complete their chores with happy hearts and in a timely manner.   I also throw in once in a while a surprise candy treat day.  After they do their chores beautifully, I will give them a piece of candy on the way out the door to enjoy at lunch (or right then).

Once I saw how lovely this made our mornings, I decided to add this to our afternoon routine as well.  These chore cards are not as fancy (like, at all!), but they work the same, and I keep telling myself that I am going to make them prettier and laminate them.  Sure, I’ll let you know when that happens.

Our afternoon chores are more about being a helpful part of the family.  Yes, I like that.  Here’s our afternoon chores:

1.  Make lunch/pack snack – The kids started making their own lunches when they entered their last year of pre-school.  They are typically doing this while I am starting on dinner, so if they need help with washing fruit or making a sandwich, I help.  But, they get the stuff out, bag it, put it in their lunch box, put everything away, and their lunch box goes in the fridge.  In the morning, they just add their ice pack and they are ready to go!

2.  Fill water bottle/in fridge – Most teachers ask for the kids to have this and it is great.  As my kids are always thirsty!!

3.  Set table – Each child helps with getting plates out, cups out, silverware on the table, napkins at each place, and glasses with water for Mommy and Daddy.  We dish up our food buffet style, so we keep the plates on the island so they are ready for food.  I love the idea of eating family style” someday and having a beautifully set table before each meal.  But, we are not there yet.  We also keep the cups on the island until dinner time, as they do these chores well before we eat, and warm milk is gross.  This may sound extremely detailed.  But, with each child, I’ve had to become more and more detail oriented.  Every little thing adds up when you have a large family.  And I’m always looking to improve my efficiency.  Why?  Because I want more time.  I want more time to play, read and laugh with my kids.  But, there are things that just HAVE to get done.  So, the more efficient I can do those things, the more time I have to BE with my kids.  And THAT is the good stuff.  That is my goal.

4.  Clean up everywhere (playroom, bedrooms, and family room) – By this time, they’ve had their after school snack and down time.  So, now it is time to clean up, everywhere.

5.  Take a shower/get pj’s on – Yep, my kids are in pajamas before dinner; unless it is a night where we are at church or sports practice.  If you still have little ones, take heart!!  They will be able to clean themselves one day!  Now, if you have one or two children, giving baths is still a sweet time that you may never want to end.  I get that.  I still love bathing my newborn, two and four-year old.  BUT, on the days where my four-year old Bethany wants to take a shower and get dressed with big sister Hannah, it is awesome.  But, regardless if she does or not, my oldest two Hannah (2nd grade) and Samuel (Kindergarten) take their own showers on school nights.  Also, we are trying to train/raise independent little people; so to help them, we have towel hooks that they can reach so it is easy for them.  No excuses for wet towels left on the floor!  Make it easy for them to have success.

6.  And my personal favorite—Mommy’s choice!!  There are lots of chores that little people CAN do, but it changes daily for us.  Some days it is empty the dishwasher, empty/collect trash, put laundry away, vacuum the kitchen, clean the kitchen table chairs, etc.  So, depending on the day, I choose whichever chore I need done that day to help our family.  And, if there happens to be a day where all those needs are already met, I have them grab a disinfectant wipe and clean baseboards, doors, etc.  “Just get it dirty I tell them!”  It is music to my ears when I hear them ask each afternoon, “Mommy, what’s your choice?”  Ahhhh, lovely.

And, just in case you are wondering when/what ages children can do what.  Everyone can help with the dishwasher.  Sure, my 2-year-old Lucy does the least amount of work—I actually would rather just have her out of the kitchen entirely!  But, she wants to be like the big kids.  They are all doing chores, so she wants to do “shores” too.  For her, that means handing fragile stuff to an older sibling or putting kids’ dishes away.  We keep all our “kid” plates, cups, etc. in a bottom cabinet, so they can get them out easily and put them away easily.  “Mommy, can I have some water?”  “Sure Honey, get a glass and go get some.”  Yes.  Please don’t get me wrong, I love to serve my children.  But, I need them to do some things themselves when they are old enough to do it.  I flat-out cannot do it all.  I wish I could; but I can’t.  And, I am glad.  I love seeing these kids already doing so much for themselves.

If you do not have a cordless vacuum, GET ONE!  Like yesterday.  If I didn’t have my Swivel Sweep, I might just go bananas!  I have to vacuum my floor after EVERY meal!  I swear we teach them how to eat over the table, etc.  It doesn’t matter.  My floor gets covered with crumbs after. every. meal.  But!  On the bright side–the Swivel Sweep is light, cordless and just stinkin’ AWESOME.  They are about $40.  And I go though one just about every year.  But it is well with my soul.  We get our moneys worth out of that thing every week!  And even my four-year old Bethany can use that thing like a champ!

Putting clothes away is another one of my “Mommy’s Choice” options.  Now, Hannah and Samuel can do this with zero help.  I did have to let go a little…as they do not put clothes away exactly like I do.  But, as long as their drawers are not stuffed, they do a pretty good job.  Bethany (4) is getting better at it, but often times Hannah wants to earn extra jewels, so she will help her.  Beautiful.  And I still put the little girls clothes away…or I leave it in the basket and work out of that until I finally get to it…whatever; she has clean clothes.

I reward the same way for our afternoon chores, with “special jewels” for a job well done.  My husband is rarely home before 6 pm, and we try our hardest to eat together.  For a while, we would do baths after dinner, but this lead to later bed times and less quality time with Daddy.  And, just adjusting bath time to BEFORE dinner has made our evenings together much better.  Sometimes I can’t get to it, and he baths them after dinner while I clean up the kitchen (I have the better end of the deal on this one…as I am all ALONE in the kitchen…ahhhh).  But, I prefer pre-dinner baths if I can muster the energy for it.

The kids have the opportunity to earn up to 6 jewels a day; 3 for morning chores and 3 for afternoon chores.  IF they want to earn more jewels, I’ll create more opportunities to help.  Mommy is never short on chores. Here’s a picture of their treasure chests and the jewel stickers we use.  I buy them at a teacher supply store.

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Our Treasure Box

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The kids’ treasure chests.

What do we do once they fill up their treasure chest?  This is ever-changing with so many kids at different ages.  Here are the things I’ve done.  Love them all; circumstances have changed them over time.

When we had only one or two kids, once they filled up their treasure chest, I’d take them to the dollar store and let them pick out ANYTHING in the store that their little heart desired!  Oh how they thought this was amazing.  Anything?  Yes darling, Mommy will buy you anything; you’ve earned it.  Hehe.

Well, this was great for a while.  But as our numbers grew, it was getting harder and harder to get to the dollar store.  To load everyone up, and keep everyone happy while one child searches the entire store for their one item to purchase was no longer fun for Mommy.  Plan B.

So, we moved to having a treasure chest.  In my perfect world, I would have this really cool chest; we’re talking hand painted, sanded to look old, etc.  Buuuuuut, I found a great one at Hobby Lobby instead.  So, I head to the dollar store or the dollar spot at Target and buy a bunch of goodies to fill the chest.  So when they fill it up, they can go straight to the chest to cash in.

Time goes by.  And this is still great for my littler kiddos.  But, my bigger kids are no longer thrilled with dollar store items.  Bummer.  Plan C.  OK, now what we do in addition to still having a treasure chest for the littles is: we buy something they really want.  Like a Lego set, a new dolly, etc.  Ranging somewhere between $5-$20.  So, depending on how expensive or not the item is they have to fill up multiple treasure chests.  Here’s my Samuel with his Lego kit.  It took him over a month to earn this.  Boy was this kid excited to fill that last treasure chest.  And, it had taken him so long, I was just as thrilled for him!

Samuel finally earned his Legos from the treasure box.

And, just in case this isn’t enough, we have an audible.  If there’s something else they want or nothing suits their fancy in the treasure chest, they always have the option to get cold hard cash.  $1!  I am sure this will have to be adjusted over time.  But, for now, this still is working great for us!

Whew!  So, THAT is how I survive the afternoon and we get through the daily grind.

Does this make sense or help you at all?  Leave a comment!  I LOVE hearing from you!!