Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Teaching Econ 101 Through Chores

Or: The Great Child Labor Exploitation Experiment

“Mommy! I fed the chickens!” I startled awake. What did he do? What did my 5 year old do? 

He tries to explain and its sounding more and more worrisome. What type of substance did he put where, on or in the chicken coop? Are the dogs out too? Did he let the chickens out? If they combine, that’s the end of my darling little flock. I hadn’t had a chance to “train” Wiley on the chore and he was already attempting it. I struggle out of bed and head to the living room to begin my investigation.

I find my 7 year old sweep/vacuuming very intently. He explains he has just finished the living room and will be getting to the kitchen next.

What is going on?

Oh right! The chore chart. I had posted it in the kitchen the night before. They found it and began earnestly devouring all the chores listed thereon with gusto before 8am on a Sunday.

I continue my soft interrogation of the 5 year old to find out what he fed them. He found the oregano/meal worm chicken treats we sometimes give them and gave them a handful. He let them out to free range after the dogs were safely inside. What a good boy! I explained what he did right, and what entails doing a good job on that chore and that I will show him later if he wants to learn and get the full dollar. I added “Let chickens out” to the chore chart and assign a price that he agrees to.
Yesterday, he asked for dollars. But not in a demanding way. In a way that opened a door for me. I’m very open with my kids about work and paying bills and mortgages and money. He was already negotiating with me. He wanted a job.

Jordan Peterson talks about humans needing to pull a weight to feel content and peaceful. Wiley is my “problem child” – a term I use very loosely. He is a sweet angel compared to other “problem children” but he is very intelligent, very witty, thrives on attention and drama and has some difficulty controlling his emotions at times.

The “pulling a weight” concept immediately came to mind. I made a deal with him.

I said “Wiley, you could really help me out with some big problems here at home, and for that I would pay you some money. But I do really need help and you do have to earn this money.” He was ecstatic about this and was listening intently at this point. “Tonight after you go to bed I will make up a chore chart: a list of chores that you can do with a price for each one. Some of them you may not want to do for that money and that’s OK. Parker might be willing to do them. If neither of you wants to do them, I might have to pay more money. But if the price gets too high, I will do it myself. At the end of the day, I will total up the dollars and cents you earned for each chore and give you that money. Sound good?”

He was thrilled. We went to get Parker and explained the deal to him.

Further rules were specified. You do have to actually do a good job and put forth a valiant effort in order for the money to be earned. And you never get paid to clean your own room. To me, you should take pride in your space and make it nice for yourself. I don’t want that idea to be lost.

I explained to them that this was a real problem they could help solve in our house. I told them I just paid a cleaning lady $100 to do some of these chores and I wasn’t happy about having to do that. She lets the cats out without thinking about it. (They are indoor cats who dart. She props doors open and doesn’t care. She’s not a pet person.) She breaks things. She has vacuumed up (and destroyed) hard-to-replace wires by my bedside more than once. She scrubs our Teflon pans with metal scouring pads. But I say “thank you” to her because overall she does achieve more order in our chaos.

We need to be achieving our own order though.

I was never raised with assigned chores or an allowance in exchange for chores and it was a matter of principle. But the net effect was a messy house AND a stressed out mother. But WHY, if I am willing to pay someone $100 a fortnight, would I not be willing to pay my own progeny a fraction of that and at the same time teach them valuable lessons about economics? And chores and household contributions… and possibly collective bargaining.

By the end of the first day, my 7 year old knocked out many of the high-dollar chores and earned $3.20. Including scooping out the cat box – the DOOZIE in our house. The little one earned a respectable $0.60.

By the second day I had to negotiate who’s turn it was to put away baskets of laundry for 50 cents, the winner being the one getting to do it. (and me, of course.)

This experiment is on-going, but I am thinking it will be concentrated on weekends, when they are in the mood to do chores and earn money. So far on school days, they need their down time. Also prices will have to increase quite a bit as time goes on and skills improve, and I am dying to find out if they will collectively bargain against me… We shall see.

More to come…

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