The rooms have stayed clean, more or less. I admit that I haven't always remembered to check them, and so perhaps they have been getting away with cutting the corners here and there; but when I do check them, they're almost always good enough to keep their daily token. Also, my oldest son told me a story yesterday that warmed my heart. He had been inspired by The LEGO Movie to take apart his treasured Millennium Falcon and reassemble it creatively into smaller ships. The 13yo was rummaging through the jumbled pile of gray and white and black pieces on the floor of his room, when in came his four-year-old little brother and asked, "Can I help?"
"I was going to say No," my 13yo told me. "But then I realized that the pieces weren't going to get mixed up with a bunch of other junk on the floor and lost, because the only thing on the floor was the LEGO pieces. So I asked him to close the door and then I could say Yes, and he built this hilarious ship out of one flat piece and two wings that didn't match."
WIN. SO MUCH WIN.
Laundry is a little slower to build habits. Everyone only has to wash a load of laundry once a week, so that's only 1/7 the reinforcement. I'm still occasionally finding the big kids' clothes in the place where they used to put their laundry, a common bin in the laundry room, which is now supposed to be used only for towels and the 4yo's clothes. Also, I am pretty sure that instead of hanging up their clothes, they're just living out of a basket of clean clothes that they are storing in their closets. But that actually works in the sense of "it doesn't cause me to have to do anything." So I'm not complaining.
Tuesday morning, my 7yo daughter forgot to put her laundry in the wash, and I forgot to check up on her or remind her to do it. At the end of the day she came into my bedroom. "Here," she said, handing me one of her popsicle-stick tokens. "I forgot to do my laundry, and you forgot to check and take my token. I remembered." She was obviously taking pleasure in catching me out.
"Thanks," I said, surprised. "Make sure you do it tomorrow."
"I will," she answered. And she did.
+ + +
With the start of summer, I've added "cooking dinner" into the mix. Summer's really the best time to do this, because having the kids plan, shop for, and serve dinner is a serious disruption to my schedule. Also, during the school year Mark always does the grocery shopping on Wednesday nights while the big kids are at religious ed classes; during the summer, there's no class, so the kids are free to come to the store. If I want them to get some experience shopping for their meals, they need to come along.
Cooking meals is different from room-cleaning and laundry in one significant way. I want the children to keep their rooms clean and do their laundry without being told. But in the long run, I don't want anyone to make dinner without being told to do it -- or asking permission to do it. I know what kind of messes I want in my kitchen when. I don't want any surprises there.
What I'd really like is for any of my three kids to be able to cook dinner anytime I ask. I would like to be able to say to my seven-year-old while I'm making the grocery list, "Hey, I want you to cook dinner on Thursday night so I can work on school stuff in the afternoon. What would you like to make?" Then, ideally, she'd think of something she'd like to make, I'd make some suggestions ("I don't think you'll have time for that between when our friends leave and when we have dinner -- what do you think about putting something in the crock-pot?"), she'd tell me what to put on the list, and then when Thursday rolled around she'd make it without help.
So the kids won't lose a token for not making dinner -- I want them to gain a token for making dinner. So at the beginning of June, after paying them for May and restocking their jars with tokens, I sat down with a dozen blank popsicle sticks and a green Sharpie and labeled them "Meal Token." The meals will get special tokens because Mark and I decided to make them worth a different amount of money. Whereas the cleaning-and-laundry tokens cost them fifty cents each time they lose one, each meal token in a child's jars will gain him a dollar -- this month. Next month, I promised, I'd raise the value of a meal token in recognition of the skills they would have gained.
This whole summer, I plan to make them each make dinner once a week. After that, what with school, the schedule will probably change. Keeping the meals under budget will eventually be part of the plan, but to start off this month, instead of giving them a dollar limit, I asked them to calculate the cost of each meal they cooked. We'll use that information later when it's time to make a budget. I have a feeling that the spirit of competition alone will help them learn to keep costs down.
+ + +
The three children used very different means to choose their meals.
- My 10yo thought of foods that I make which he likes -- hearty black bean quesadillas and diced pickled raw vegetables -- and asked me to print out the recipes for him.
- My 13yo chose from my shelf a cookbook with an appealing title (365 Easy One-Dish Meals) and found something that we've never tried, a dish of fresh pasta with tomato, fresh basil, broccoli, and shrimp. (It was hard not to comment about the cost of shrimp and fresh herbs as he detailed his plans, but I decided to let him learn that at the grocery store.)
- My 7yo sat down at the computer and Googled "easy recipes." She followed the first link, which took her to Allrecipes.com, and clicked on a pretty picture (Baked Honey Mustard Chicken). She watched the video recipe before committing to it. ("What side dishes will you make?" I asked her. She promptly answered, "Salad that comes in a bag, and bread that you buy to put in the oven.")
I handed each child an index card and told them to make a list of things they would need to buy at the grocery store. When we all arrived at the store, I sent the 13- and 10-yos off with one cart, and I took another one with me and the rest of the children (including the 7yo). It was fun to watch the 7yo trying to read her own handwriting as we wandered through the produce section. I did not have to prompt her very much. She looked over the bagged salad kits and picked Caesar salad (I did suggest that she buy two rather than just one); she looked over the locally produced take-and-bake breads in the bakery and chose a one-pound loaf of "Asiago Garlic."
The big boys met us at the checkout lane. The apprehensive look on my thirteen-year-old's face told me that he had seriously underestimated the cost of cooked, peeled, deveined frozen shrimp. "Mom, I'm sorry," he said. "Do you want me to put it back?"
"Not this time," I said with a smile. "I love shrimp. It'll be a treat. But," I added, "I do want you to figure out how much your meal cost."
+ + +
Here's the results.
Fancy black bean quesadillas with pickled vegetable salad:
Chopping all those vegetables took a long time. "Next time I'll do the quesadillas again, but something different on the side," said the 10yo.
Tomato and basil and shrimp pasta:
It was really, really tasty. Worth almost every penny. Since he didn't use up the entire package of shrimp, I allowed him to pro-rate it and told him I'd use up the extra few ounces in some other food later this week.
Here's my daughter working on her salad while the chicken bakes in the oven:
I did have to take the casserole out of the oven for her, but she did all the rest of it herself. She had a very heavy hand with the pepper, so my 4yo would not eat it, but everyone else loved it:
In the end, I didn't actually have to do a lot of extra work. It really did save me time. I can't wait to see what they come up with next week.