Teaching Kids Responsibility with Marble Jars

Teaching Kids Responsibility with Marble Jars

Okay, want to know what’s pretty freaking cool?

Independent kids.

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]

1 marble for vacuuming each boy's room [2]

1 marble for vacuuming the hall [1]

1 marble for vacuuming the spare room [1]

2 marbles for vacuuming Mom and Dad’s room (it’s big) [2]

*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.

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