Teaching Kids Responsibility with Marble Jars
By The Mrs on November 16, 2012
Okay, want to know what’s pretty freaking cool?
No, I’m not talking about potty training -- though no longer wrestling with diapers and being able to trust my kidlets are wiping themselves well okayish I think they wipe?... okay just being able to trust that my kids know where the toilet paper lives is enough right now...
Anyhow. I’m talking about having kids who are sharing some of the housework.
We’re not a “make your bed” family -- their rooms are down the end of the hall, and I don’t have to look at them, so that’s not a battle I’m willing to choose -- but they need to throw their dirty laundry downstairs so I don’t have to collect it every day. They have to pick up their toys. They have to hang up their coats and put their backpacks away after school.
They must be responsible for their own belongings.
These are daily givens. What Mr. Lannis and I implemented recently, after much discussion, was a reward-based chore system for things that wouldn’t normally be within the boys’ jurisdiction.
Like emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming the rug, clearing the table, folding the laundry (my standards have lowered, yes), and scrubbing the toilet (I swear this is the best thing ever!).
It’s not an allowance, this reward, but it is monetary -- eventually. For each chore (or multiple tiny things that count as general “helping”) they get a marble to put in their jar. They each have their own, and the jar has tape on it, with their name and an arrow indicating how far it needs to be to be filled.
(The tape is deceiving, because one arrow points up, and one down—in actuality both boys have to fill their jars to the same spot to earn their reward.)
Once they’ve filled their jars, they get $10. And they can choose -- put it in their piggy bank and save it, or use money in their piggy banks to pump up the amount they’re allowed to spend.
It took them two months to fill their jars the first time, and Mr. Lannis and I artfully arranged it so both boys filled their jars at the same time this first round... so they both got to go on the reward trip to Walmart to purchase whatever their little hearts desired.
Which (after they added their piggy bank money) turned out to be Lego Ninjago for the five-year-old, and a Cars Micro Drifters Dump Truck for the almost-seven-year-old.
They were both stunned that they were allowed to choose something that would be on their Christmas wish lists (newsflash, children: your mother is the only one who’s done any Christmas shopping for you as of mid-October... heh).
The best part (so far) is that they were so excited that they tell everyone about how they earned their rewards... with marbles... and chores.
I’m crossing my fingers this lesson is engrained, and the next time they take a corner quick quick on their bikes, it won’t just slip out their ears...
This system is a hell of a lot cheaper than allowance, and I’m not killing myself harping at them to do their chores, so I’ll take it.
Balance is the key, I figure. Finding that exact balance of how much effort in a chore constitutes one marble earned. This link was invaluable in figuring out which tasks could be considered appropriate for their abilities.
That marble-chore balance, though... that’s the big key. If you don’t gauge it right, you’re handing out marbles for not enough work, or the boys lose interest because the task is too large to equal the single marble earned.
So we give out multiple marbles for larger tasks.
My oldest was ecstatic the day he vacuumed the upper floor... and why not? He earned seven marbles! The breakdown went like this:
1 marble for picking up everything off the floor before vacuuming* 
1 marble for vacuuming each boy's room 
1 marble for vacuuming the hall 
1 marble for vacuuming the spare room 
2 marbles for vacuuming Mom and Dad’s room (it’s big) 
*By the way, that “picking up before vacuuming” marble is crucial. If you don’t train them to do it (and reward them for it) they won’t bother and will suck up every book and bed sheet in sight. Trust.
And dividing the marbles by room makes the task easier to split between the two of them when they decide to work as a team. And who doesn’t want to man the central vacuum, when you’re five?! (or almost seven...)
The dishwasher’s another one I had to think about. It’s broken down by rack. Upper rack, lower rack, and utensils -- three possible marbles earned for emptying the dishwasher. The silverware needs to be sorted in the drawer. The plates and bowls stacked neatly on the counter, the glassware placed neatly on the counter (because they’re too short to reach the cupboards where they’re stored), and the plastics in the clean side of the sink to dry.
But three possible marbles. And they fight over who gets to unload the utensil rack.
The most brilliant part of this entire plan? That I don’t have to harp on my kids to do their chores.
Oh, you don’t feel like earning any marbles today? No problem, you won’t be filling your jar very quickly, will you? MuahahaHA!
And if one fills his jar before the other? Then only one child is getting the $10 towards something he wants -- we don’t give out prizes for maybe around this house, and my kids are going to learn that they have to earn their rewards fair and square. (This depressing and baffling culture of entitlement that has cropped up in society is a rant for another day... possibly two.)
Anyhow. What has this accomplished?
Well, in the last two months there’s been a change -- they actively seek things to do for marbles. They voluntarily do chores they know constitute marbles, and then politely request one once the task is finished(!).
They ask if there’s anything they can do to help, when Mr. Lannis and I are cleaning out the garage, or sorting through clothes for stuff outgrown. They suggest tasks if they see something that could be done (my youngest asked the other day if he could have a marble if he tidied the van -- dumped all the garbage and recycling cluttering up the floor, and put the toys back in their basket... hells yes!).
All in all, we’re delighted with this system. I’m not the house slave one picking up after everyone, and the boys are learning independence, life skills, and a touch of respect for what it takes to keep a house, uh, close to ship shape (let’s pretend, ha!).
And they are proud!
Just wait until someone realizes he’s lightyears behind his little brother... hehe...
Regular Saturday poster at The Mrs, I'm Lannis - or Leslie, depending on which circles you're swimming. A while ago I decided that I don't care anymore, hence my general standards for life are lower than Sandi's (but she still loves me.)
[Sandi: I do]
I live in a small town with my favourite people: my husband, Mr Lannis, and our two boys, along with two cats and one hamster.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might witness my issues with linear thought, road rage, spending more money on food than books, and potty mouth. Be warned.
The Mrs Is a mostly joint Sandi and Leslie enterprise in at-least-she-amuses-herself blogging about housewifery, general cheapskatery, and butter. Forgive us if the occasional poem to Terry Pratchett or JordanCon costume post sneaks in there too.