My 10-year-old son, C., is more than thrilled that the school year is over. He greatly prefers lazy mornings, bike rides, and no homework to the school-year burdens of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
But I know him. As much as he enjoys the slower pace and the unscheduled days, he can start to feel a little restless or lost without some kind of structure.
I have no intention of being a slave-driver or of giving him a minute-by-minute schedule this summer. But I did want to offer him an easy way to make sure that every day, he accomplishes the things he wants to accomplish (and a few things I want him to accomplish as well), while minimizing the potential for restlessness and the dreaded, “Mom, I’m bored!”
Enter: The Daily Task Card
Every morning, I make an index card with C.’s “assignments” for the day. For example, here is today’s card:
Initially, I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to being handed a kind of to-do list at the start of each day, but it turns out that he really likes it. Here’s why I think it works:
- Checkboxes. He’s a kid after my own heart — finding great satisfaction in crossing off list items. Putting a check in each box gives him a sense of accomplishment and provides a visual reminder that he’s actually doing stuff every day.
- I include fun things, too. Note that his task card includes a bike ride and reading. These are two things he really enjoys and would do every day anyway. But putting them on the list does two things: first, he gets “credit” for doing things he enjoys; second, when he’s feeling out of sorts or bored, it reminds him that there are several things — fun things — just waiting for him.
- One “big chore.” C. has a bunch of little chores he does every day — making his bed, putting dishes in the dishwasher, helping with his little brother, etc. — but I include one “big chore” on each day’s task card. Today, it’s cleaning his room. Other days, it might be weeding, laundry, vacuuming, or making (a simple) dinner. Including this big chore keeps me accountable (to give him one each day) but also lets him know that I won’t be piling a ton of stuff on him — he can reasonably expect just one miserable big task per day.
- A deadline. If I didn’t include a deadline, I’m sure the piano practice and daily “big chore” wouldn’t get done until somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m., resulting in a grouchy kid and a frustrated mom. By making sure he has all these things out of the way before 4:00 or 5:00, I’m also ensuring that he has a free evening to relax and enjoy.
- A place to record key information. C. likes to write down the page numbers from his reading and Bible study and the amount of time he spends learning about PowerPoint (one of his goals for the summer). I leave space for him to record this information on every card, so we’ll have a lasting record of his progress and accomplishments.
- Freedom within the structure. C. doesn’t have to practice piano at 9:00 and complete his chore at 1:00. He is free to create his own schedule every day, as long as he hits all the items on his list. In this way, he learns personal scheduling and responsibility, while also having some solid anchors in his day. He doesn’t have to ask himself, “I’m bored — what do I do now?” He can just check his list and see what’s left.
As I mentioned, this system is working really well for us. C. usually spends the first few hours of the morning ignoring the list and just playing or reading Garfield comics or torturing loving his little brother. But after a while, just when he starts to wander around aimlessly, he’s likely to start working through his list.
I know this system won’t work for every kid, but I hope it’s helpful to someone!
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