Organize Your Kids: Weekly Extras Calendar

I’m always trying new “systems” to get (and keep) my family organized or on schedule. With 4 kids, and both of us working full-time and then some, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. Once we fall behind or miss something, we go into catch-up mode and then the snowball effect happens. With our recent move and starting at a new school half way through the year, I think last year was the most disorganized yet, so I really want to get this year solidly under control right from the start!

I’m an organize-a-holic (I prefer that term to OCD!!) and I’m sure that sometimes (lots of times?) it makes my family nuts. But, it’s all in an effort to make them all self-sufficient and teach them some life skills they will hopefully appreciate when they are older. I guess even if they don’t, their spouses and children will!

Although they were very intimidated by it at first, I think my family is warming up to my ‘all in one place’ bulletin board wall that I created. You can read about this here. The latest addition to this wall is what I call the “Extras Calendar”. I think it needs a better name, but this is what it is called for now.

I’ll give you a little bit of background here, and my guess is that you probably have similar struggles in your house. 3 of my kids are school age in the 3rd – 6th grade range and this calendar is for them. Apart from homework, dinnertime chores and standard weekly chores (yes, we have a system for each of those), there are these other things that must get done. However, we struggle with them A LOT! We get a lot of resistance from the kids and sometimes, it turns ugly. Frankly, I’m sick of fighting with them and they are sick of hearing me tell them to do these things. These ‘extras’ are 4 things that we need to work in to our week, but don’t have set due dates and don’t need to be done daily (yet). Perhaps the biggest struggle is showering. As an adult, I really don’t understand this because I love my showers! However, as I have learned, it is common for children to not want to bathe. So, that’s #1. Next are a few things that are a little tough to keep track of with 3 kids who each may or may not need to do them on any given night. These are practicing their instruments, doing a ‘minute math’ exercise for learning their math facts and putting in some time on IXL, a FANTASTIC website/tool for kids to really enhance their math skills.

First, I thought about going with a calendar with set days for each child to do each one, but I wasn’t convinced that would work the best. For dinnertime chores, we have a weekly rotating schedule posted and each child has one of the three jobs assigned to them for any given night. That has been working out fairly well, but I believe it’s best suited for these smallish tasks that are done daily. For the ‘extras’, some of which require longer to complete, I was concerned about how their fluctuating homework loads would impact any schedule that I set. Secondarily, if homework does shift the schedule, it would be difficult to keep track of where we are in the various cycles.

The result? A child-rearing brainstorm! (I hope anyway — it IS only the first week, after all) So, the two biggest obstacles are #1: the kids HATE me telling them to go do these things, especially when they had been thinking of doing something more fun. #2: they have this homework load that varies through the week. So, I needed a solution that would give them a little more control over their own schedule and be flexible.

One of the things that they have been doing at school is giving the students their homework assignments on Mondays and they are due that Friday. This isn’t every class/teacher, but I would estimate that it’s about half, so some are due the next day or in two days, but the rest they have the entire week to complete. So, I took this idea and built it into my calendar.

I sat down with the children to discuss what needs to be done. We reviewed each of the 4 items and decided on how frequently they should be done for each child. For showering, we based it on the child’s age and personal needs and arrived at a set number of showers that they need to take in a week. For the others, we decided on the frequency and the length of the sessions. I first let them tell me what they thought and oddly, it was the same as what I had been thinking. I confirmed that they thought we picked the right length for each session, etc. and they were completely in agreement. First positive result — THEY set the schedule, not me.

Sample Calendar

My Weekly Extras Calendar

I created this calendar with first initials (to conserve space) down the left and then tasks across the rows. There are 5 task columns because the most for any task (right now) is 5. I filled in the blocks across, starting at #1 and stopping when I had filled in the set number to be completed for that week. So, for one child, there may be 3 showers, 4 practice sessions, 5 Minute Math, etc. Each task has a little checkbox next to it for them to mark it off when it is complete.

One note about instrument practice — they are supposed to complete a minimum 90 minutes of practice in a week. The kids felt they make the most progress in a 30 minute session rather than 15-20, so that’s the length we choose. However, since that’s just meeting the minimum, I added a practice bonus so that if they can fit another one in, they will be that much better off at the next lesson or band rehearsal. I haven’t decided if there will be a small reward for doing this, but I’m thinking about what I could do there. They didn’t ask, but if they were to get a surprise treat, they would be thrilled.

Ok, so that’s the system in 1,000 words or less. Well, not really, but if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I can’t do that very often :). Now, for the process details. A week starts on Monday so that if they don’t fit much in to the week, they have the weekend to catch up. I printed it out in color just so that it’s more fun — I used colors they like for their row. I printed it on paper, but then I posted it on the bulletin board wall with a transparency sheet over it. This way, we can use dry erase markers each week to tick off the items and then clean it and re-use it. This saves paper since I don’t have to print a new sheet for each week. I thought of laminating it for this same functionality, but that means more cost and if the underlying calendar changes, I’d have to re-laminate and that’s even more cost. And kind of a pain too. This way, I can just print an updated version and post it with the same transparency over the top. So, I save time, money and paper.

Now, you can either have them put a little check or an X in the box when they complete a task, but I thought it better to have them write the day letter so that we have a better idea of when they did what. So, we’re going with M, T, W, Th, F and then Sat and Sun. We may run into space issues, but we’re going to try it and see. And like I said, it’s easy enough for me to modify it. Since I had to post it at eye-level so they can write on it, I could reduce the font a bit. If you make your own, you’ll have varying items and lengths of words, so you’ll have to play with it a bit like I did.

So, what do we gain from this? Well, quite a few things, in fact.
The kids are in control
They get to make their own decisions on when to do what. They understand what needs to be done and they can decide when to do it based on what other things they have for homework or what fun things they want to do. The kids are empowered to set their own schedules without us ‘bossing them around’ all the time. And honestly, they have a better handle on how much work a particular school assignment will be. Only they know what they are thinking they’d like to do for fun that week. So, it’s not surprising that when I tell them to do something at a particular time, it doesn’t fit with what they were thinking.

Less conflict
The kids know what the expectations for the week will be, so they shouldn’t feel like we’re springing something on them at the last minute, which is sure to ignite conflict. I’m trying to move away from running down the laundry list of tasks every day with every kid. If we want to know if something was done, we can check the calendar. The less I mention the tasks, the less the kids are going to get annoyed with me and the less I have to feel like I’m constantly nagging them. Then, if it looks like someone is getting into trouble by say, Wednesday, we can offer a little reminder. I guess I will be doing well if I can move from mentioning it 7 days a week to maybe twice.

The kids learn how to prioritize and plan
Learning how to take a larger task and break it up over a period of time to get it complete by a specific date can be a hard skill to master. Many adults cannot handle it. It’s a skill required to be a leader and a great independent learner and worker. This is a skill that will serve our kids well both now and later in life.

Satisfaction and Motivation
These may seem minor, but they really work. I try to work them in to the various systems that we use because they just work. The kids get satisfaction from checking things off of a list. That’s all there is to it. They like to see, on paper, what they have accomplished. They are also motivated by a little bit of competition. Whether it’s a little rush from being the first to get all of a task completed or from wanting to catch up to the leader, it works. It’s a healthy level of competition and we don’t let things get to the point where anyone is feeling bad, but you’ve got to use the tools you have and sometimes, a competitive environment is that tool.

So, there it is. My new system to diffuse the home turmoil around that gotta-do list of tasks for the kids. Post a comment if you see any improvements or perhaps you have a similar system and can offer some insight.

Next project? A new laundry system. I just cannot wait to get this one going! :)

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