Monday, March 28, 2011

Poker Chips in our Homeschool

Like most children, mine enjoy rewards. Like most moms, I find that incentives are a great tool for encouraging, rewarding, and teaching. Poker chips have been an easy and fun way for us to do all of those things.

I purchased a set of poker chips at Walmart for maybe $10. Since we use a color-coding system at our house, this was perfect. Red, blue, and green were represented in the chips. We use black as an alternate color for our child who normally uses yellow, since sometimes yellow is hard to find. And when my daughter was using pink, we would use white chips for her. The colors of the chips is important to us because it eliminates any confusion about whose chips these are. If we find a red chip on the floor, we know immediately who it belongs to. No squabbles, and no temptation to pocket it. :)

My children earn chips for various aspects of their school work and chores. Additionally, I often have 1 extra habit I am trying to encourage that I will use chips for. For instance, although my boys have been unloading the dishwasher when asked, they would avoid ever unloading unless asked, even if they could see that it needed to be done. Also, when I started them out on the unloading I only asked them to unload 30 items each, which turned into them often acting like it would kill them to do an extra item or two, or everybody leaving the last 7 items because "I already did my 30!!" Yeah. Well, what needs to happen now that they all know how to unload the dishwasher, is the next step of seeing a need and taking care of it, and completing a job cheerfully. So I recently put a new chip incentive into place: If you see that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and you just go ahead and do it, you'll get 1 chip per 30 items, or 3 chips to complete the whole thing. Now I have kids eager to know when the dishes are done, and they are now completing the job themselves. Easy for me, and fun for them. After about a month of this I will phase out the chips and they will be doing the job hassle-free, for the most part.

I have used incentives like this for better behavior at bed time, quicker getting out of bed in the morning, and other things like that. I try to just have one extra thing like that going on at a time, just because it's simpler, and I think it's more effective to establish one habit strongly at a time.

We have a treasure box (a really cool one that we found at Hobby Lobby, but you can use a shoebox or any kind of box) that contains goodies that the kids can purchase with their chips. You can put whatever items in it that your children would like and that you approve of. Little toys from the dollar store or Oriental Trading Post, cute school supplies, art supplies, candy, food treats that they enjoy, whatever works for you. I tend to equate each chip with about a 25 cent value (or less) of what I pay for the goodies. You may choose to do differently according to your budget and what your kids have to do to earn the chips. Sometimes I get really good bargains on items with a sale and coupons, but even if I get them at a cheaper price, if the kids are used to that item being 2 chips to buy, I just leave it at that. Simple rules the day!

We generally have the treasure box open once a week (Saturday morning) so the kids can buy their rewards. For younger kids that may be too long to wait, so maybe at the end of each school day will work better for you.

I do offer a cash buy-out option as well, so if my kids are in need of money, I will buy their chips back from them for 25 cents a piece. They only take advantage of that rarely, but they like that when they are needing money for something.

My boys are now 8-12 and they still look forward to buying items from the treasure box. We have been doing this for probably 3 years now and it still works great. Keep it simple for best success!

Color-Coding our Homeschool

One thing that has been an enduring help to my family in our homeschooling is color-coding. For the 5 children that needed colors, I picked colors that would be reasonably easy to find items in those colors. So, we have red, blue, green, yellow/black, and pink/purple. Several years ago I got everybody set up with:

1. a file folder box with a handle to make it easy to carry. I tried to get them in colors when possible. For the kids that I could not find their color, I got black boxes and then used colored electrical tape to label the front and side of their box. (purchased at walmart near duct tape, etc.)

-we have one like this which is nice because they can store their pens, pencils, etc. in the top area

-Each child keeps their own workbooks and notebooks in their own box, as well as basic supplies that they should always have handy like pencil, pen, crayons or markers, scissors, etc.

-I purchased a metal book end for each box, because some of the workbooks were falling over and fitting tightly into the bottom of the file box, making it difficult to get out. You can find these at library supply stores for $3-4 each. I got them in colors, which was fun.

-When it is time to do school, the child knows to just get their box and bring it to the table. They should have all of their books and supplies there, so we can smoothly work through their assignments without "Oh no! Where's my math book!?" When they are done with their seatwork they put everything back into their box and put it back on the shelf where it belongs.

2. When I purchase spiral notebooks, folders, journal notebooks, etc. I always try to get them in each child's color. it makes it easy to identify whose item it is at a glance.

3. We use the electrical tape to color code lots of things that could easily get confused: mp3 players, pens and pencils, electronic equipment, games, etc. It is easy and economical and cuts down on the whole "No that one was mine!" phenomenon.

4. We use poker chips as incentive currency at our house, and that works great with the color coding also. Each child only earns chips in their own color, so we never have a problem with not knowing which chips belong to a child. If we find a stray red chip, we know it goes to the kid who uses red. Easy! :)