Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Allowance/Chore Plan that is Actually Working for Us or How I Get My Kids to Actually Pick Up Their Own Stuff

Kids are slobs. It's not their fault -- at first! Once they're older, though, there is no excuse. How do I know? There is not one single page in all the volumes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books where Ma complains about stepping on yet another Lego in the living room or finding teeny tiny bits of paper and broken crayons strewn about the bathroom. If you show me either of those things in the Wilder books, I will recant my original thesis.

I don't mind the actual messes kids make. Honestly, I usually find them charming reminders of creativity and initiative. What I mind is when kids leave their messes for someone else to clean. Since mine are all nine years old and over, they don't get a pass. As they have heard lectured in my I-will-make-this-point-and-I-will-make-it-good-voice, "If you clean up your one mess, it will take just a minute or two, but if I have to clean everyone's messes, it will take me a lot longer. And that doesn't seem fair. Does it? I said, 'Does it?'"

After years of unsuccessful attempts to get everyone to clean up after themselves using rewards, allowances, and my own regrettable bouts of shrieking, I figured moving into a new home provided the perfect opportunity for developing some new habits. So I stayed up late one night concocting a plan I like to call "The Quarter System" (Seriously, all it takes to turn a simple concept into a brilliant idea is the addition of the word "system".)

Here it is:

1.  Set out a receptacle for each child and one for the parents at the beginning of the month. (We bought cheap, but pretty cups at HomeGoods and a pitcher for the parents, all displayed prominently near the kitchen).

2. Fill each receptacle with X amount of dollars in quarters (We chose $20.00).

3. Remind the children of their daily duties and your daily duties, including the need to clean up after oneself (We distinguished between common areas and their private areas and mutually decided that this system does not apply to their private areas -- unless the filth in their private areas invites unwanted pests or mold).

4. Establish agreed upon timelines (e.g. An unfinished art project may not be left overnight in a common area other than the art space; morning kitchen duties must be completed before 10:00 a.m.; etc.).

5. Explain the system: Each time a parent needs to ask a child to complete one of their duties (because said child did not complete it within the agreed upon timeframe), the parent moves a quarter from that child's receptacle to their own. If the parent then completes that chore for the child, the parent moves another quarter. Likewise, if a child completes a chore the parent or another child did not complete, they move a quarter from said child or parent's receptacle to their own. At the end of the month, each person keeps the money in their receptacle as their allowance and we start fresh. Anyone who finishes off the month with their full $20.00 receives a $5.00 bonus.

6. Discuss the difference between working towards maintaining the house and purposely trying to one-up or, as the case may be, avenge one another. Also establish policies for requests for help (In our family, there are no quarters exchanged for helping each other out, and we often transfer quarters because someone forgot to clean up after themselves, but still help them if needed.).

7. Take the first month to practice (We offered greater allowances for mistakes, reminded a few times before moving quarters, and took time to discern the nuances mentioned in number 6).

8. When you count money at the end of the month, be sure to talk about what each person's final tally means. Two of my kids were shocked to learn that they had lost all but three or four dollars. This invited some heavy discussion about hard work, money, and team work.

9. At the end of the month, have everyone trade their quarters in for cash. This prevents the parents from having to re-stock quarters each month. It also provides an opportunity for the kids to receive what feels like a paycheck (We even made a rule that the next month does not officially begin until they get their cash. We want them to know that their time and skills are valuable.).

This system has been unbelievably magical for our family. Because of it, we have not have to spend any time doing big clean-ups around the house. In fact, I have not had to spend time cleaning above and beyond my normal duties at all. The house has remained clean -- not just relatively clean -- really clean and uncluttered. The concepts have even even spilled over into the kids' private spaces. They are keeping those cleaner than anytime in the past as well.

Furthermore, I like the lessons this system is teaching:

1. They are learning that it is important to do a job well and that poorly done work equals less pay.
2. Each time they hear a quarter from their receptacle clink into someone else's, they receive a tangible reminder of the extra work their negligence made for someone else. No amount of my lecturing has offered them that perspective in the past. Now they get it.
3. They are learning that their work has value.
4. They are learning through the bonus $5.00 that diligent work can yield big rewards.

On a final note, I do believe that part of the magic of this system lies in the ages and developmental stages of my particular kids. I can't imagine this would be effective for a child who is really too young to thoroughly clean up after themselves and/or who does not understand the value of money.

For us, though, it is bringing a level of harmony to our household that cannot be defined by any numerical value. Besides sharing a learning and living environment that is pleasant and easy, it is truly priceless to walk into a dark hallway at night to get a glass of water and know that I won't be stepping on anything sharp, sticky, or fecal.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Does Homeschooling Equal Privilege?

A friend, Danika Dinsmore (a writer whose Juvenile fiction books are among my daughter's favorites -- so head on over and check this one and this one out), recently wrote a blog post that ventured outside of her typical fare. She discusses education and how homeschooling and other forms of alternative education come with the caveat of being primarily available to people of privilege.

I think Danika, rather than criticizing homeschooling in her post, is genuinely wrestling with the idea of privilege and education. When it comes to homeschooling, though, I often do hear people argue critically that it is only available to people of economic privilege.

At a party once, upon hearing that we homeschooled, a neighbor leapt into a monologue about how important she thinks it is to support the local public schools and how she has made this her life's passion. In fact, she concluded, it was the reason she and her sons moved out of their former home and into their current one. She elaborated: The schools near her previous home were "awful" and "poorly funded" so she researched school districts. When she found the community with the best schools, she picked up her family, moved there, and got really involved in their educations.

I put down my plate, thought a moment, and asked, "How is it supporting your local school if you move to another town to go to a better one? Wouldn't it have been more supportive to stay in the community with the awful school?"

She excused herself to get more dip.

See, I feel like this is an area where homeschoolers get kind of scapegoated. We all think education is important. We all want to improve educational opportunities for all kids. We also all want what is best for our own kids.

For many, like my neighbor, that means moving to a community with excellent schools.

For some, that means sending children to a private school.

For others of us, that means homeschooling.*

How are these choices different? All of them assume a level of privilege. I would argue, however, that the third choice, the one to homeschool, is actually the most inclusive of economic diversity and the most accessible to families who are economically in the middle and less than middle.

The first choice implies that a family has the means to live where the good schools are located. The good schools are generally located in privileged areas. The second choice typically means the family has the resources necessary to fund a private school. Homeschooling, however, can be accomplished successfully on a tight budget (In California, I am quickly learning, it can be done quite well for free as parents can receive a stipend to be used for educational materials).

I have known homeschoolers from single parent households, where that parent also worked outside of the home. I have met homeschoolers who live in tiny houses with both parents farming in order to get by. Many homeschoolers live in incredibly modest dwellings, with one parent working outside of the home and the other doing paid jobs from home while homeschooling. And I know homeschoolers who are wealthy. We all homeschool together. We show up at the same classes, meetings, and events. It's usually pretty unclear which homeschooling family belongs to which economic category.

I think the position of privilege that might best be attached to homeschooling is that homeschooling parents generally come from families that understand the value of an alternative education and have access to the necessary resources, whether at cost or not.

I don't think homeschooling necessarily accompanies a higher level of privilege than public schooling.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Life After Leaving Our Lake

Oh how our lives have changed over the past few months.

You see, we've left our precious lake. As much as we loved it and the city and people surrounding it, we needed to move onto greener and warmer pastures.

Briefly, I needed sunshine to help control my Rheumatoid Arthritis (and, if I'm being honest, my moods). The kids needed more outdoor opportunities and the cold was not allowing for that. We all needed some familial connections (none of which were in Chicago). And I wanted to begin the process of returning to work (in the region where I most worked prior to children).

With that, in December, we hitched up the wagon and headed west to Southern California.

We are, if you are wondering, no longer on a lake. I hope you'll forgive me for not altering the blog name on this technicality.

Now then -- to the real meat of the matter: homeschooling in California. Oh, I'd heard so many conflicting reports prior to moving: "California is a horrible place to homeschool, replete with shackles and mini-prisons for those who stray"; "California is the best place to homeschool, fecund with huge stipends and bursting at the seams with free classes, curricula, and consultations."

Coming from Illinois, where one is not even required to declare TO ANYONE that one is homeschooling, this was a scary new frontier for us.

After being here a month, here is what I have learned about California homeschooling, and a little about the choices we have made:

1. You have to tell somebody you are homeschooling. You can either sign an affidavit stating that you are going to be your child's teacher and leave it at that; join a public homeschool charter, the likes of which run the spectrum from high parental involvement and optional enrichment to much less parental involvement and high amounts of on-site classes; or join a private homeschool charter where you follow its procedures (and pay). Please, Californians, correct me if I am wrong.

We have decided to go with a public charter that provides a consultant, with whom we meet once a month, allows us to use our own curricula and also provides any curricula we might need free of charge, and offers optional on-site enrichment classes for free or, in lieu of their classes, a monthly stipend for outside classes. They will also provide transcripts, a diploma, and a graduation ceremony.

2. California offers several programs for team sports, ranging from non-competitive to competitive.

3. California allows more access to local schools for extra-curricular activities (this might be charter/local school specific).

4. A public charter student will take all standardized testing required of public school students, will submit attendance forms, and will require all the usual vaccinations.

5. In order to join a charter school, you will have to submit birth certificates. They will not accept the excuse that you grabbed what you thought was the file box and diligently moved it across country only to discover that it was actually a box of baskets and artwork. You will have to wait until the rest of your belongings arrive to become official.

6. There are scads and scads of homeschoolers in California.

While it might seem more complicated (and it feels that way in the beginning), it really does offer a bit of the best from both the homeschooling and public schooling worlds. While we can still focus on my kids' passions, we will also have a consultant to help us through the areas where we might struggle a bit more. This feels especially helpful to me as my eldest enters high school next year.

There now. That's the update and the big change from Adventures in Lakeschooling (Can we call the Pacific Ocean a trumped up lake?"). I hope you'll stay with us as we venture through this second half of our homeschooling experience.

If you're from California, I hope you'll correct any of my errors here and feel free to offer any advice that might be helpful for California homeschoolers.

If you remain on our beloved lake, please come visit anytime! We miss you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

From One Body of Water to Another

Nearly 14 years ago, newly married, we moved to Chicago from Bakersfield, California, where I had served as an ELCA Lutheran pastor for several years. We had many hopes for our move.

We wanted to develop our marriage outside of the fish bowl that the relatively small community (with, at the time, a total of ONE female pastor) had become. Though we loved my congregation, we needed to be in a place that was neither my nor his home town. Chicago put us closer to his family, while remaining a new area for both of us, and close to dear friends. It also afforded me the opportunity to move on to what I had hoped would be the next step in my career: developing alternative housing situations for large families in foster care.

Fast forward 14 years and Chicago has given us as many years of an always loving, sometimes challenging (that's what happens when 3 kids arrive within 11 months), usually adventurous marriage, 4 dwellings, one for 8 years on beautiful Lake Michigan in Evanston, 3 indescribably wonderful children, a decade of homeschooling, tremendous healing from a childhood fraught with dysfunction, and numerous beautiful friends.

It has also given me a chronic illness that is exacerbated by fluctuating weather, moisture, and cold, and a longing to return to both my roots and my career.

So it is time to go home.

We will be packing up the lake apartment and heading towards the Pacific Ocean in early December. There, in the San Diego area, we hope the weather will calm my aching joints (my mother moved from Chicago to San Diego in the 1940's when her mother was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis as well and was told that the only way to tame the disease was to head west).

We look forward to living close to lots of extended family and to so many friends from my childhood and early adulthood.

I also look forward to eventually returning to work in the place where it all began.

We will continue to homeschool as long as that is what the kids want (we re-evaluate each year), excited to do so in a place that allows year round outdoor learning. My husband has secured a job that excites him as much as living in San Diego excites me. He feels like this job will satiate all of this professional and personal interests as it is as highly math-focused as it is technology-focused. And the kids are sad to leave here, thrilled to be there, but not at all looking forward to the actual move.

Any and all advice on moving with kids and living in San Diego is welcome!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Girl Equals Sex

I continue to wrestle with clothing, though not my own. I have read so many well thought out blog posts and their accompanying Facebook discussions about girls and selfies, girls and sexy Halloween costumes, girls and their cartoon role models, girls and the slutty clothing marketed to them. I have even written a bit about it myself.

I am not quite sure where I land on these issues. On the one hand, I am pretty smug and disgusted.

I hate that the old Dora, with her square head and flat body, are gone, replaced by what our culture considers a sexier, edgier counterpart.

I hate, as I stated here, that my daughter could not find feminine shoes that were neither dressy nor, as I wrote from my soapbox, "trampy".

At the same time, I hate that I am even thinking these thoughts, that I am looking at my daughters and connecting the thought of them -- with sex.

See, I think the issue is so much more complex that what we have turned it into. So often it comes down to either "a girl should be able to present herself however she wants and everybody else should control their sexual urges" or "a girl needs to be modest at all times to protect herself so that nobody thinks she's a slut."

Either way, we are equating girl with sex.

Not girl with intelligence.
Not girl with courage.
Not girl with power.
Not girl with humor.

Girl with sex. Girl equals sex. That's all we get.

I kind of wonder if this isn't just another clever way to get women, moms, and girls into another civil war while men make a bunch of really important, life-lasting decisions elsewhere. If we keep the ladies fighting over who is and who isn't a slut then they won't have enough energy to worry about the gun laws being passed or the loopholes thrown into healthcare reforms.

Perhaps I am being a tad dramatic. Maybe it is not as insidious as all that.

At minimum, though, it is causing us to fight about all the wrong things. It is creating a process of elimination that leads to a hierarchy of power amongst women.

I'm not sure what I just said either. Stick with me while I try and parse it out.

Let's use Halloween costumes as an example since my Facebook feed is filled with images of happy children all dressed up and ready to trick-or-treat AND since the internet is currently fecund with posts demonstrating how grown-up little girl costumes have become.

I saw a fantastic costume that uses a Lycra body suit as a base. The young teenager wearing it has yet to develop physically. Now, if we put that costume on a teenager of the same age who HAS developed, that teen, in the same costume, might be considered "too sexy". Some might call that an inappropriate costume on her and -- BOOM! -- she gets tossed into the slut pile. Flat girl moves forward and has a chance of being considered something other than sexual some day (but only until either the style changes to favor flatter chests or flat girl develops into something other than flat girl).

Do you see how easy it is? The same goes for, say, selfies. Girl 1, not yet out of her little girl physical stage, thinks puckering for pictures is adorable. She encourages her BFF, Girl 2, who has moved into the ranks of physical womanhood, to join her in puckering up for a photo for the yearbook. They both post the picture on FB, where Girl 1 is considered adorable by the parents of her FB friends and Girl 2 is deleted by parents like Mrs. Hall because of her "provocative pose". Girl 2 is considered too sexual for Mrs. Hall's kids and dumped into a group made up of all the "oversexed" kids, but Girl 1 makes the cut and gets to move into the inner circle of the "modest and sweet". Perhaps she'll even be considered clever one day.

Meanwhile, Developed Girl and Girl 2, while trying their hardest to navigate the confusing landscape inherent in their naturally developing sense of sexual awareness, have been told implicitly that they are only good at one thing and that this thing they are good at is the very thing that both they and their culture thinks is simultaneously really bad (to be punished by being called "slut") and really enticing (to be celebrated on magazine covers and in movies et. al.).

It's Virgin Mary vs. Mary Magdalen, a young Judy Garland vs. Marilyn Monroe all over again, reborn as Hanna Montana vs. Miley Cyrus, modest vs. slut.

We in this country are working so hard to label what is and isn't modest/sexy for a girl to do/be/wear that we are forgetting to look at who girls are.

Is it any wonder then that my girls learned from the news all about Michelle Obama's arms long before they ever learned about her law career?

I'm not proposing that we jump all willy nilly into an "anything goes" attitude. Heck, in our home, we continue to be in the throws of trying (and failing, and trying and failing...) to figure out the safest way to handle the internet and cell phones et. al. My 13 year old has not joined FB yet precisely because I am not sure how we all should navigate such a powerful tool and, in the spirit of wrestling, I worry about how she will present herself to the world.

What I am saying is that it would be a step in the right direction if we could stop assigning intentions to girls and their clothing/pictures/behavior. We don't know what goes on in a person's thoughts when they put on that body suit or pucker for that picture. When we assume we have a key into a girl's head, we assume we know into which exact category she should go. And we put her there. We categorize and label the hell out of her until she is reduced to nothing more than the intentions somebody else assigned to her.

And usually, here in the U.S. at least, every single one of those categories is  related to sex -- not the developmentally appropriate, healthy understanding of sexuality that girls should be allowed to consider, but culturally assigned sexual denigration or repression.
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