Every time my children whine about not getting allowance my response is, “No one pays me to make my bed. Why should I pay you to make yours?” And it clicks.
That said, I have struggled with how to go about chores at home. With no incentive, it can be difficult to convince a child to do something they don’t want to do. Trying to find a solution, I started thinking about the structure of “Work Jobs” in my oldest daughter’s Montessori classroom (with ages 6-9).
At school there are 46 children in the class (with five teachers). Actually, they call it a community instead of a class. Each child gets a weekly work job they are responsible for doing. The jobs include things like wash the dishes (they have a sink and use reusable dishes for snack and drinks), sweep the deck, bathroom duty, tidy the coats and lunch bags, snack assistant to help with setting up snack, wash the tables after lunch, take out the trash and compost….and so on. Many of the same tasks take place in a home setting.
My solution is to have weekly work jobs at our house, in addition to the things I expect the girls to everyday. I tell them these things have to get done and I don’t want to be only person doing them. Everyone needs to help do their part, just like you do at school.
If everyone cooperates with a good attitude throughout the week, we walk over to Coolato Gelato after church on Sunday for lunch and gelato. It’s a reward we get to share together. Also on Sunday, the new Work Jobs for Girls list gets made and taped to the basement door in the kitchen, next to the trash cans and children’s cleaning tools. We also write out our weekly menu and the girls decide what they are going to make for dinner that week.
To make this more fun, we use a pair Toss the Chore Dice while writing the weekly list. The girls got them in their stockings at Christmas (from Chinaberry) but I can’t find them in stock anywhere now. It would work just as well to use regular dice and set up a system with each number designated to a specific chore. That way you could customized it to your family’s household needs and ages.
The chores listed on the dice are: water plants, set the table, dust, empty trash, pick up 7 items, child chooses chore, pick up 5 items, clean bathroom, wash windows, parent chooses chore, clean bedroom and sweep floor.
We start out with the dice, but adapt the outcome based on age and ability. It worked great when my three-year-old got wash the windows. That is a practical life lesson found in most all 3-6 age Montessori classrooms. I set up a basket and put it in front of low windows in the mudroom for her to reach. Setting the table is another good one for her. We keep our daily dishes and glasses in drawers in our kitchen where she can reach. So yes, from cloth napkins to silverware – she really can do this all by herself. At least when she is willing and cooperative. A sister or dad is usually there to lend a hand.
Other work jobs that work well for my three-year-old are: pick up seven items, tidy up the craft shelf, put the books away in the children’s library, sweep the floor – really she can do A LOT. And this is the age when practical life lessons are fun for them. It’s a good time to start good habits and have them learn from watching other family members acting responsibly.
We adapted clean the bathroom to bathroom duty, which includes replacing the roles of spare toilet paper, making sure the towels get hung up, put away clean towels, tidy the hair supplies and keep the tooth brushes in their spots – basically coming after everyone to pick up the messes left behind. My oldest chose this work job and it’s one of her favorites.
I want to add empty the dishwasher to the list of work jobs, feed the dog/cats, and sort the laundry from the laundry shoot into the darks and lights bins set up for each girl in the laundry room.
The things I ask them to do as part of our daily routine are: make your bed before you get dressed (oldest girl does it perfectly, middle girl is still working on it and the youngest girl watches), carry in your bags and unpack your dirty lunch containers in the sink (which only my oldest actually does), clean up the upstairs play nook and bedrooms every night before bedtime (they all do this), and pick your outfit for the next day. If I have done laundry that day, I place their basket of clean clothes in their rooms which means they need to put it away, or at least help in doing so.
A great part of the Montessori learning process is observation. I’ve seen this as a parent work in several ways, from having a studious kid who leads the pack to a not-so-studious kid who likes to observe, be the jokester and benefits from the Montessori way by standards that are exactly opposite on the spectrum.
Therefore, I know they learn a lot by observing a parent or sibling doing work jobs and chores on a daily basis. I have put my hope in these Montessori philosophies before, waiting for that light bulb moment to go off. It always does, even though for some it’s quicker than others. But the one thing I have learned the most is that children exceed at things when they are ready and willing, and can clearly take ownership over the task.
So while they might not always do these work jobs happily, or perfectly – or some days at all – I know they are benefiting from the routine of things, and knowing these expectations are placed on them. I ask them to help each other, and they do! Especially pitching in to help the youngest girl. There is a huge lesson in that and working together.
That is why I can not bring myself to pay them an allowance. I want them to do chores because it’s the right thing to do, they choose to do it, and because they see other family members doing it. When they learn to make their beds flat, I want to see a proud smile on their face instead of an expectation of getting a buck.
Making a big bed is a tall for a child 1/4 the size of the bed. Every smile I see from my middle girl makes me smile. The hugs that follow are good too.