the prize jar


Keeping things running (somewhat) smoothly on a daily basis in our house requires a plan.  When little ones are involved in anything we do, we have found that specific instructions are needed.  About a year ago I found myself in a very frustrated spot with housework and homeschool along with all the other daily and weekly demands of my big family.  I thought I would share with you a few things we as a family do in hopes that  it could benefit yours.

By nature I am not a very structured and organized person.  My brain gets a little crazy and smoke comes out of my ears with my brain on overdrive.  This has gotten particularly worse since having children.  It’s one thing to tackle an organizational project by yourself when you can think clearly and with no interruptions, but when little ones are in the midst of that project chaos takes on a whole new meaning.  My husband is far better at making a to-do list and executing that list in order and on time.  Now, granted while he is completing his to do list I am occupying the kids.  Seeing my frustration and sensing my feelings of helplessness he sat me down and suggested a few things for me to do with the kids.  At first, I immediately somewhat blocked what he was saying from entering my brain space and took the attitude of “He just doesn’t understand, things flow differently on a daily basis at home than at the office.”  Which is true, although I began seeing the potential benefit of what he was saying as I hesitantly listened.  😉  One of the most genius and obvious ideas he laid before me was to make a list for each child to do and complete each day.  We have a laminator so he suggested I laminate the list and give them a dry erase marker and clipboard to walk around with as they executed each chore.  Hmmmmmm….  My creative side kicked in and I began to envision what this cute little “chore chart” could look like.  I sat down and began to think of what I wanted them to do each day.

Prize Jar Chart to do listI wanted this list (Click here for To Do List) to be more than chore oriented.  My goal was to ultimately teach them discipline and responsibility.  The thoughts began to flow.  I began thinking, age appropriate of course.  First was for them to get themselves dressed and ready for the day.  Now, this seems like a no-brainer but I am thinking in terms of them doing it everyday without me having to remind them to do so.  Next, would be making their bed and picking up their bedroom.  I immediately was taken back to my childhood and visioned my room.  It was always messy and my bed was never made.  To this day my bed is only made when I change the sheets.  I know, you think why would you have your children do something that you yourself don’t do on a daily basis?  Children emulate their parents.  It wasn’t so much that I really cared if their beds were made or not, it was the responsibility of taking care of what they own I wanted them to grasp.  Once they were dressed for the day and their room was picked up and bed made I wanted them to learn the concept of helping the family as a whole.

Now, laundry in our house is just crazy.  I’m sure you can relate.  As much as I loathe laundry, I quickly remind myself that without all that laundry I would not have my precious family.  With that thought I am ok with all the smelly socks and food stained shirts.  I needed help with the daily chore of washing, folding, and putting away clothes and towels for six people.  So laundry was added to their list.  My requirement is they must fold and put away one basket of laundry per day (for the older two, who are six and seven).  My three-year old does a small pile of dish rags and hand towels just to get the concept.  My oldest can sort them into whites, darks, towels, etc. which is a big help too but not required.  On the rare occasion that she asks to sort them, by all means I let her.  Next are the dishes.  Oh my…the kitchen can quickly look like something in a nightmare if I don’t stay on top of it.  So, I decided to have them help in this area as well.  They must load or unload the dishwasher (I go through first and take out the knives and dangerous pieces before they get to that chore, but I explained to my older two not to touch those items) each day.  Last, were the bathrooms.  Now, my first thought was aimed at my son.  Anyone with boys knows exactly what I am talking about before I even bring it up.  No matter how hard I have tried to explain, there is just something innate with boys when it comes to marking their territory.  Every bathroom in my house smells of urine each and every day no matter how many times I clean it!  Every single time I attempt to use the bathroom I must first wipe off the seat (yes, I have explained to my son to wipe up after himself) before I sit down.  I have learned to never sit on a toilet seat in the dark!  To a boy the back of the toilet lid and seat are like an imaginary bullseye that he aims for each time he uses the restroom.  I have walked in on this aiming game and see its results each time I clean.  Ugh!  It is so gross!  So, with all that said the bathroom needed to become something they helped maintain.  My hope was that by having them clean up their (his) messes it would cause him to think twice before marking the lid, seat, and tank.  Well, lets just say it is a work in progress.  Now, as much as all that seems, allow me to break it down in real-time.

Each day my older two have to complete five things on their list, period.  Those things are: 1. Get dressed and brush teeth 2. Make bed 3. Clean bedroom 4. Homeschool 5. Fold and put away laundry.  Now to sweeten the pot I added something a little extra at the bottom of their list for motivational purposes.  They must complete one of two tasks (their choice) in order to pick a “prize” out of the Prize Jar.  I’ll explain the prize jar in a moment.  Those tasks are: 1. Load or unload the dishwasher 2. Clean bathroom (bathroom of their choice).  If they complete the first five things on their list AND complete one “extra” task they can select a prize from our very popular prize jar.  The prize jar is the sole reason my children are motivated to complete their daily chores.  The prize jar is a big clear plastic container that once held bite sized pretzels from Costco.  I ripped off the label and designed a cuter and brighter label with glitter and stickers that screams “hey, cool stuff inside!”


The contents of the jar include dollar store items such as pencils, tattoos, stickers, water guns, cute erasers, but most importantly, envelopes.  Envelopes?  What is so special about an envelope you say?  Well, allow me to explain.  Inside the prize jar among the pencils and tattoos there are about ten white envelopes each with a single question mark on the front.  Inside the envelope is a small sheet of paper with a “prize” written on it.  Some of the prizes include; $5 to spend at the dollar store or Target, breakfast with dad at Waffle House (yes, despite my efforts for healthy eating my kids looooove Waffle House), jet bath (we have a tub with jacuzzi jets that my kids love to play in which makes lots of  bubbles), stay up for thirty extra minutes at bedtime, no chores for one day, help dad with a project (this was aimed at my son who loves to help dad fix stuff around the house or tinker with the family van), pick the movie for family movie night, sleep in the tent (this is where we build a tent made of sheets in their bedroom and they all sleep together), paint fingernails with mom, play dress up with mom, an afternoon with the family at the park, etc.  You get the idea.  My ultimate goal is for my children to learn that with hard work comes great reward.  I try not to “over reward” them at times because I also want them to understand that sometimes in life you help out and contribute just because you should.  I tell my kids all the time that our family is too big for anyone to be lazy.

So our day starts off with breakfast obviously, then about an hour or so of cartoons and playtime then I am ready to roll!.  The t.v. is shut off and I say “ok lets get started on our prize jar charts!”  I first called it the “chore chart” but I was afraid that sounded like drudgery and I wanted it to have a positive connotation.  So I changed the “chore chart” to “prize jar chart.”  As much as I would love to tell you that they immediately hop to it and knock it all out in an hour, (the cleaning part not the homeschool part) I can’t.  Yes, I have to remind them to stay on task and check on them every so often to make sure they are progressing.  My oldest is really good at knocking it out but my son gets reeeeeally distracted!  The cleaning and laundry chores are to be done before lunch and then we homeschool while the two younger ones are napping.  Once they have completed their entire prize jar chart they can select a prize, usually the envelope, and then proceed to play for the remainder of the day.  Our typical day usually ends around 5pm which is when I start dinner.  Like any other family we have great days with minimal fighting and my kids are awesome at executing their charts and mommy is very happy!  Other days it is all I can do to get them to brush their teeth.  It is a work in progress, but I see improvements more often than not.  What does your day look like?  I always love hearing other suggestions!


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