Hello all! Today I want to share with you a project that I have been working on for my daughter, Scout. Our little kiddo has recently reached the point where she is capable of helping around the house, and she loves it! My husband and I wanted to find a way to harness this energy and excitement she has for completing new tasks, and turn it into a system that would work well for our family. I began browsing the internet, looking high and low for something that fit our needs. What I found were a lot of great ideas, but none that met all of the goals we were hoping to achieve with a chore system. What were the fundamental things missing from all of these chore charts? Independence, responsibility, and accountability.
Feeling a bit frustrated at my lack of options, I decided to create the perfect system myself. After all, who knows our family's needs, values, and schedule better than I do?
What I came up with is a system that not only encompasses three of our biggest goals, to teach accountability, responsibility, and independence, but also functions as a behavior modification system. I call it the AIR (Accountability, Independence, Responsibility) system.
As a bonus, it also looks great (ok, that's a personal opinion) and was fairly inexpensive to create.
Interested in learning more? Awesome. Read along and see if the AIR board is something you'd want to re-create for your own family! I'll cover all of the system's elements here, and tell you exactly what I purchased, what I created, and how it works.
The entire AIR system. From the top left, the system features Responsibility cards, Job cards, the AIR tracker, Earnings compartment, Rewards compartment, and the +/- cards compartment.
First off, let's cover the design. I had some specifications for what I wanted our system to look like and include.
My main goals were to create a system that is:
Easy to read and use.
This is obvious, however, creating a system for children is very different than creating one for adults. Children need a system that fits their emotional and intellectual maturity level. As an example, I used flashcards with photos for our daughter because she cannot read yet. Giving her cards with text may have made this system difficult for her to use.
I wanted a system that served as more than a simple chore chart. I want to teach my daughter important life lessons that will help her thrive as an adult, and I want to build up the characteristics that we, as a family, find important. This board not only serves to keep track of her daily chores, it also teaches her about responsibility, math, the consequences of good and bad behavior, and the power of self-motivation, amongst many other things.
My family lives a life that is not incredibly stable. My husband and I are both full-time college students. My husband is also a full-time employee and an Army reservist. Each week, in addition to attending my classes, I also co-manage and run an arts group for homeless and at-risk youth through Free Arts (check them out!). As every other parent in this world can say, we are busy! Because we have chosen this lifestyle for ourselves, we have to accept that each week will likely have a very different schedule from the last; therefore, when creating a system for our daughter, we had to take that fact into account. This system allows us to change things around if need be, and also allows us to add, remove, or exchange items as our daughter grows and as our schedule changes.
Accessible, durable, and aesthetically pleasing
Accessibility goes hand-in-hand with being easy to use. If our system board is out of reach or out of sight, it is also out of mind, making it ineffective. To prevent this, we mounted our system board in a location where we can see it, where Scout can reach it, and where we know it will not get beaten up or knocked down. To ensure that our system can hold up to the daily rigor, I laminated all of the paper components and used durable materials for everything else.
Lastly, I wanted everything to be aesthetically pleasing. One of the biggest challenges I faced when I was researching other system was finding something that I wouldn't mind hanging out in the open (again, accessibility). I think our system works to please both my daughter (who loves purple) and myself with the clean, modern design.
Moving on to the actual functions of this board, or the meat-and-potatoes of it all. These are the things we wanted to make sure our system was capable of teaching. What would be the point of making our own system if it did not have unique purposes?
What we most wanted our system to include were functions that would teach:
From a personal perspective, I believe the point of having children is to raise them into healthy, productive, happy, and independent adults. Please take note of the last word: adults. I do not want to raise my children into eternal children. I want them to have the tools and self-esteem to go forward in life on their own and to create their own paths without constantly needing my opinion or my help.
One of the first things I remember about living on my own was how overwhelming it all felt. “You mean I have to pay all of these bills every month?” “How am I supposed to get all of this done by myself?” “I have no idea what I’m doing.” These were the thoughts I had on a regular basis. While I cant prevent my children from feeling overwhelmed entirely by adulthood, I can at least prepare them for some of the responsibilities they will assume by teaching them how to be independent. This means providing Scout with expectations that are appropriate for her age and that she can complete by herself.
As we grow from children into adults, we are expected to take on more responsibilities. Homework, household duties, insurance payments, research projects, car maintenance. These are tasks that we can technically opt out of doing, but doing so could have very serious consequences. These are also tasks that other people are not going to pay us to do; we simply have to do them. If someone paid me for every dish I washed, well, I would probably be writing this post from my private island somewhere off the Pacific. Sadly, I am not.
This is a very big point that my husband and I want to ensure our daughter understands: life is full of responsibilities and jobs. You cannot choose most of your responsibilities. Dishes must be cleaned, homework must be completed, laundry doesn't wash itself. Your job, however, is a place where people will pay you, and you can choose what you want to do in order to earn those benefits. In our system, we have provided Scout with a list of her responsibilities (must do/no payment) and jobs (choose to do/payment).
We believe being accountable is part of being a productive adult. If our children are unaccountable adults, they may not be able to go to college classes every day, hold a steady job, or pay their bills on time. Teaching them accountability for their actions and responsibilities as children is another way we hope to prepare them for adult life. Our system includes a tracker for responsibilities, jobs, and payment in order to promote this.
Behavior. Oh, that word. Like many parents, we often feel perplexed when raising Scout. Has anyone found that manual on raising great kids yet? I'm still looking. Let's admit though, until we find that holy grail, that raising kids is hard. It's insanely hard. We don’t have a manual that tells us what to do and when for each child we raise. We have to experiment with different approaches, try and fail, and sometimes just wing it. This system I created for Scout is a way to incentivize her to not only complete her responsibilities and take on new jobs, but also to behave better and with more respect. We created the + and – cards to assist with this process.
Now that you've learned about the design and functions of the system, let's talk about the features and how it works.
As complicated and in-depth as the AIR system sounds, it is actually very simple in features and usability. Starting from the top left, we will describe each component and it's purpose.
These are the cards that show the child what to do each day. The items shown are basic expectations and personal grooming habits. For Scout, we chose things such as brushing her teeth, putting her dishes in the sink, and cleaning up her toys. The point of these cards is to remind Scout what she needs to complete each day in order to build independence. The tasks here are ones that she is able to do alone or with very minimal assistance.
Each card features a photograph pertaining to the responsibility (ie: a photo of the sink coordinates with putting dishes in the sink) and a small label that states the task. This shows her, visually, what to do and also allows for further expansion into reading. Each photo and label is laminated and hole-punched, and the entire deck of cards hangs on a book ring for portability and interchangeability. This way, Scout can take along her responsibility deck as she completes each task, and I can add, remove, or exchange cards as she masters new skills.
*I'd also like to note here that we do not want to run our children ragged with expectations of perfection. I do not dream of a system in which my children live a military-style existence, constantly cleaning things to my exact requirements. The responsibilities we chose for Scout are not time consuming, demeaning, or incredibly taxing. We want her to play and have fun while building independence and learning new skills. Balance is key.
These cards are what I like to call “job postings”. They act like help wanted ads for our daughter and function in much the same way. These are tasks that I can do myself, but would pay to have help with.
The jobs I've created are ones I know that Scout could complete with little or no assistance (again, to promote independence), but also may challenge her to think in a new way. For example, some of the tasks I have posted are taking out the recycles and helping with laundry. These jobs require her to arrange items in our special recycling bag (thanks IKEA!) so they don’t fall out and also to carefully fold and place her clothes in her dresser or hang them in the closet. These simple tasks help her large and small motor skills and also encourage her to problem solve. I also included a parent's choice card, which allows us to pay Scout for jobs that pop up randomly or are needed infrequently. This is also a great way to test out new jobs without committing to making a card, which is more time consuming.
Job cards are completely optional, but unlike responsibility cards, they are paid tasks. If Scout chooses not to complete any jobs for the day, she simply will not get paid. This is our way of keeping the AIR system fun, fair, and practical. We dont want to punish her for choosing not to work. Somedays life will get in the way, or she'll be in a bad mood, or we'll be too busy for jobs to get done. Keeping it easy ensures that it will function smoothly, and leaving the decision on whether or not to work with Scout promotes self-motivation and self-discipline.
This compartment is where we place Scout's dollars for her jobs. Each job is worth $1 in payment. These faux dollars I've created act as a fun, tangible currency for Scout, so that she can visually see her earnings throughout the week and physically count them out. For small children, this is especially helpful, because they do not yet have the capability to think in abstract terms. Seeing a number on a typical chore chart may not motivate them to complete jobs, because they may not actually understand the value of that number or what it relates to in the long run.
Using these dollars, Scout can go to the rewards bin (discussed next) and make a purchase. I should mention that this earnings system was also created to help Scout with basic addition, writing numbers, and money management.
The rewards compartment holds all of the fun of the AIR system. In this bin, I've created cards, much like the responsibility and job cards, that feature different items Scout can “buy” with her earnings.
The incentives we used are mostly non-material, as we wanted this system to also incorporate our family values of togetherness, experienced-based happiness, and humility. We did not want to encourage Scout to complete chores simply so she could earn a trip to the toy store. We also did not want to create rewards that would be too difficult for us to fulfill because, hey, we have to be responsible and accountable too! The items we chose, such as “Paint nails” or “Make a special treat” are things we know that 1) Scout will love 2) we will have to do together, and 3) are not incredibly time-consuming. As with the responsibility and job cards, these rewards can be removed or exchanged as she grows and changes interests, which should keep her motivated to keep using the system.
To encourage Scout to make wise spending decisions and to also teach her the value of patience and saving, I assigned a dollar value to each reward. This means that each reward must be earned through a combination of chores. The only reward we have that can be purchased with a single dollar (and thus, one job) is 30-minutes of iPad time. We only allow her to play games that we approve of, and the greater majority of them are educational, so this is something easy and simple for her to earn.
We also have reward rules. For example, Scout cannot use 6 job dollars at once to pay for a 3-hour iPad binge. You know, everything in moderation and all.
These are fairly self-explanatory from the photo, but I will add some information here for anyone interested.
We use these cards to teach Scout that good behavior is important and will be rewarded, while negative behavior will not be tolerated and will cause a loss of reward. This is another extension of the raising adults platform. As an adult employee, if you storm into work, throw your computer on the floor, and curse at your boss, there's a high probability that you will be fired. Well, I can't fire my four year old from the family, I can't vote her off the island, and I cannot tell her, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” What I can do is reward her with an extra dollar when I see her sharing with her brother or completing her responsibilities without whining. Conversely, I can also take a dollar or a reward away when I see her hit her brother or throw a tantrum.
To make these cards easy to read and use, I used basic symbols that Scout can understand (a smile and a frown). This way, to teach responsibility and accountability, I can tell her, “Scout, you behaved very well. Please go reward yourself with a + card.”
Again, this one is very self explanatory. Each day, once Scout has completed her responsibilities, she can go over to the tracker and use an included dry erase marker (or crayon!) to put a check by the day of the week. When she completes a job, she can place a tally mark, which is easy enough for her to write, in the blank job space. At the end of the week, we will check to make sure she has completed all of her responsibilities before removing all of the cards from the earnings compartment. If she has completed her responsibilities, we will count out her earnings (dollars and +/- cards), and figure out the total, which we can then write in the box. From there, Scout can choose to purchase a reward or save her earnings by putting them back in the earnings bin.
We use a weekly system, as opposed to a daily one, because of our hectic schedule. Again, this system must be accessible and eay to use, which means it shouldnt drive us crazy. Remembering to check the tracker and pay Scout her earnings every single day may not happen, because of life, vacations, sick days, etc. Keeping it simple like this does throw one caveat in, however. Because our "pay day" isnt until the end of the week, instant gratification does not happen. For children (and many adults!) this can be frustrating and create some loss of interest. Using positive encouragement or small daily rewards ( like a sticker or small piece of candy) can help to keep kids motivated.
COST AND CREATION
If you've gotten through all of that reading, congratulations, you're either crazy or incredibly dedicated. As a reward, I'll show you how I made it!
The board- $10
The board is from Hobby Lobby. It is essentially just a piece of sheet metal covered in chalkboard paint. This one in particular is 12” wide and 24” long, which is the perfect size for all of the AIR system components. We hang ours vertically, as shown in the top photo, using 3M picture hanging strips. You could also drill holes into the top of the sheet and hang it from a ribbon on a hook, or screw it into a wall in your home.
The magnetic hooks- $4
I purchased these from the office supplies section of Walmart. They come in packs of 4 and are strong enough to hold the responsibility and job decks without sliding.
The compartments- $6
These were also found at Walmart, near the corkboards and dry erase boards, but I have seen tons of varieties at Target, Office Max, and Staples. This particular type was exactly the size I needed, and at $2 a piece, they were economical enough to try out.
The responsibility and job card decks – $2
These are simple enough for anyone to create. I walked around my home and took photos of the responsibilities and jobs I wanted to include in each deck. I then created a top card for each one listing either responsibilities or jobs, and printed these on white cardstock. If you aren't especially handy with a graphics program you can use scrapbooking supplies, draw them up, or just type the words out in Word. When I had my photos and top cards ready, I created labels that corresponded to each of the tasks and cut them into individual strips. Using my laminator (I have one I found for $20 on Amazon), I laminated the photos and labels together. To complete the decks, I used a hole-punch at the top of each laminated card and put them all onto a single book ring. You can find a pack of 8 book rings at Walmart (again, in the office supplies) for under $2. The actual size of the cards is 3in x 5in.
The tracker- $2
Again, this would be very easy for anyone to create, even without a graphics program. I drafted mine up in Photoshop, printed it in a 4in x 6in size onto cardstock, laminated it, and then attached it to a self-adhesive magnetic sheet. I found these at Walmart in the craft supplies at $2 for two 5x8in sheets.
The dollars- free
I created these in Photoshop and laminated them before cutting them into individual dollars. If you want to re-create the system for yourself, you can easily draw up some funny dollars of your own, use Monopoly money, or go for real, cold-hard cash!