The August Adjustment: Getting ready for back-to-school

I know many kids around the country are already back at school, but here in NYC, we do not surrender summertime until after Labor Day. And for the first time in a few years, my kids are more ready to go back than I am.  My summer was incredibly busy with work, and the corresponding non-attentiveness to childrens’ needs with which most work-at-home parents are probably familiar. I’m just coming up for air now, taking a few days to attend to school shopping (I totally missed all the sales) and helping them to finish off their summer work. Seems like a good time for an update on the Momentum Optimization Project.

The general takeaway for Summer 2014: Inconsistent enforcement, but nonetheless promising results. Here’s how it went.

Herself–age 11, entering middle school in the fall–is the night owl of the family. And yes, she stayed up too late every night and slept too late every day. I am not proud, but that’s our reality. I would lose billable work hours fighting to get her doing things in the morning, so we just adjust to her natural clock in the summertime. I work from 5:00 am until around 1 o’clock, at which time she’s just getting ready to join the living. Beginning in August, we set slightly firmer bedtime parameters (close-up screens off by 10, but she can stay up and watch tv after that), just to get her a tiny bit in tune with the non-vampire world.

Her operating on such opposite internal clock from the rest of the family is a real challenge. By the time she is ready to work, I’m fried from having spent 6 or 7 hours in front of my own computer thinking and sorting and editing. And so,  I didn’t stick to my guns on  The List as much as I would have liked. I certainly cannot claim that I adhered to it every day. BUT: Just doing it on some days made a huge difference. There was no fighting or whining over homework, other than occasional prods from me to “Just sit down and read (or write) for twenty minutes” or “Do your list” before I let her go play on the computer (or watch tv). A bunch of little spurts of energy devoted to it here and there, and at the end of the project she had put more time into each assignment than she would have had I insisted she get it all done the first week of July, or whenever. Oh, and she did clean the bathroom, walk the dog, and do her other chores almost every day.

If it weren’t for the fact that by the time she was awake enough to work, I was too mentally spent to work on school stuff (we’d usually just make lunch and then head to the beach), we probably would have been done with her summer work much sooner. But the weather was exceptional this summer, and the beach was beautiful, and what’s the point of living here if I can’t get my kids in the water most days.

3pm, Rockaway Beach, NY

So, yeah, we still have a lot to do this last week. But we don’t have to do everything. Even though I was not particularly good about leaning on her to spend the planned 15 minutes per day on homework, she did read quite a bit all summer long, and she completed two out of three written assignments over the past four days. (She’s read the third book and just needs to work on her essay this week). Her math assignment is something I put off–it involves making a Power Point presentation, something I haven’t had time to figure out. So, she’s doing the research this this, and her brother or dad will help her with the technical aspect of presentation before school starts.

So, end result: Not perfect, but promising. She had a fun summer, which should really be the first priority for an 11 year old. She spent her waking hours at the beach and nights playing Minecraft. And she did her work, and seems to have done it pretty well. I think that she’s finally starting to understand that projects are far less onerous when broken up into manageable chunks. That, hopefully, will lead to better habits all around.

That’s certainly been the case for my son. He’s 14 now, about to enter high school, (although his school goes from grade 6 through 12, so it won’t be the same kind of transition it is for many kids). He is an early riser like me, so when he wandered into our Room of Requirement (the basement is an open space that hosts both my home office and the family rec/computer area) each morning, I’d just remind him to do the list before he got started on the machines. He was pretty good about it, too. He’d do his chores, then read.

For the month of July, he was excused from school work at home because he was attending a full-day HS prep program at his school, during which he was working pretty intensely on math and reading his books during his free time. So, we devoted August to his English assignments. He had a choice of several non-fiction titles, one of which was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. Given my interest in habit building (I’m midway through The Power of Habit myself as I write this), that’s the one I picked for him. (The rule in my house is: If you don’t want to go shopping–and my kids HATE shopping–you take what mom gives you). I ordered the audio version for myself so I could discuss it with him, and whenever he finished a “habit,” we would have a little informal discussion about it while we did other things (making dinner, walking to the beach, etc).

Long story short: He really liked the book, despite his initial misgivings. He started his essay on it last week, and for the first time, stretched out the process of writing the essay over several days. My son is a great reader, but not a great writer, and he finds writing such a chore that he tends to rush through written assignments, and avoid revising at all costs (which can make his editor mom’s blood boil). So this time, we spent some time at the whiteboard and just worked on an outline for two days (by which I mean: two 15-minute sessions). He wrote his draft over the next two days, and then we worked together to finalize the draft on the fifth day. All told, he spent several hours on the essay, including discussing, outlining, writing, and revising, in addition to reading the book. In the end, he was really, really happy with his essay, and admitted that it hadn’t felt like all that much work because he’d broken it up into smaller bits. So, a win for me, and for the Momentum Optimization Project.

That’s not to say any of it is a “habit” yet. When he started on his second essay yesterday (this one in response to a fiction book), he tried to outline and write the essay on the same day. The result: Total meltdown. I had to practically smack him out of it, reminding him that the goal for the day was just to figure out the main point and maybe locate some evidence for his outline. (There was also a five minute argument over the fact that the Kindle edition of the book I bought him did not include page numbers, which he swore were the only appropriate way of referencing the text. My son and I are on opposite sides of the paper v. ebook divide). Clearly, the key will be consistency (never a strong point for me) and providing constant reminders that slow and steady is the best way to finish–if not necessarily win–the race.

Lessons from Hurricane Sandy #3: Ten reasons why I love e-books

My husband loves to buy books. He really, really, really loves them. He can read circles around me and almost anyone I know. And he was immensely attached to all the books he’d collected (when he moved to NY from CA in 1997, he arrived with one bag of clothes, and about 18 boxes of books). I had nagged forced inspired him to weed his books periodically over the years, and he hadn’t bought many paper books since we’d invested in the e-reader when the Kindle was first launched, but in the summer of 2012 there were still a shit-ton in the house. When he wanted to upgrade his reader to the Paperwhite (we have a checks-and-balances policy on expenditures over $100), I told him I would only approve the expenditure if he agreed to weed out most of the books. My final, winning argument on this issue was “You have moved these books over 3,000 miles, through at least five apartments, over the past two decades. And you have not dusted them once.” So, that fall, he filled about twenty boxes with books, dropped them at a church flea market, and preordered his Paperwhite.

Two weeks later the books-in-the-house issue was rendered moot when Hurricane Sandy brought 8 feet of water into the basement, where most of the books that remained resided. Most of what was left was mine–all textbooks for work–and believe me: it was doubleplusunfun having to slog an Ikea Billy’s worth of sopping, 1,000-page tomes out of the muck. But the truth is, we don’t miss many of the books we lost or gave away. Most of what he’d intended to save—those that he’d considered “favorites”—he could easily get at the library, and many were classics that he could download for free or maybe 99 cents if he wanted to reread (he’s a notorious re-reader). Our Kindles weren’t in the basement, but even if they had been, everything we had bought since the arrival of our first Kindle was safely stored up in the Amazon cloud. And in one of those hilarious post-Sandy moments, his spanking new Paperwhite arrived right on time just a few days after the storm. There we were, knee deep in the muck out, hungry, exhausted, filthy, with no power, no internet or cell service, not even a working traffic light for miles. The state of the neighborhood could only be described as post-apocalyptic. And here is our friendly UPS guy, with the Husband’s new Kindle.

Anyway, one of my favorite websites, Lifehacker, posed a challenge last week, asking readers to sound off on why they love or hate e-books.  I write too slowly and missed the comment bandwagon, so I’m sounding off here instead. There are solid arguments on both sides, but when I weigh out the pros and cons, I’m decidedly in the pro-ebook camp, for a number of reasons. I’ve done my best to narrow them down to ten, below, but first, a few disclaimers:

  • Yes, I know this is a first world discussion. Lots of people can’t afford to buy any books at all. But libraries can and do fill this void, and ebooks will probably have a bigger role in making more content accessible to more people as technology and access improve (at every level of the economic spectrum, smartphone ownership is increasing).
  • Libraries are still the bomb, and anyone who thinks that they are less relevant than they used to be clearly has never been to a branch of the Queens Library on any given day.
  • Ebooks still have plenty of shortcomings.  Off the top of my head: uninspiring book design; crappy business practices (and I’m not complaining that they’re too expensive here); a complete lack of copyediting/proofreading rigor; and no, it’s not all that easy to highlight, bookmark, or make notations. I am eager for the technology to catch up and for the business model and for production standards to adjust on these.
  • Most of my comments here relate to novels and straight-up non-fiction. I still prefer paper books for reference books,  how-to guides, and anything illustrated. I still like leafing through cookbooks (although I don’t hold on to them anymore). And don’t even get me started on how much I love curling up with a real, printed magazine.
  • The problem with ebooks is more about Amazon (specifically, Amazon’s near monopoly on ebooks and their business practices in dealing with publishers), I think, than about ebooks. That said, I’m firmly in the Amazon camp thus far–they just make it so easy to shop, and I found the Kindle tech and Amazon’s customer service to be far superior to B&Ns (our first e-reader was a Nook). I would be happy to jump ship to another provider if they could match the service and selection and convenience of Amazon, or improve on the overall quality of the ebooks, which seem to be riddled with very distracting proofing errors (I really wish that publishers would take ownership of ebook production and sales). But so far, nothing better has emerged.

With that out of the way, here are ten reasons why I love ebooks. Lots of people still love their hard copies, and more power to them. I suspect they are better about dusting than I could ever be.

  1. Books Are Not Bricks. That’s a quote I read a very long time ago from Henry Holt. It came up in an entirely different context, but the line has always resonated with me. Holt, writing for The Atlantic in 1905, expressed a concern that books were being signed, bought, and sold as “soulless things.” I myself have always felt that the soul of a book lies with its meaning, not in the packaging (they don’t say “you can’t judge a book by its cover” for nothing). Books are not something you own; they’re something you experience. Once you’ve read a book, it is yours forever. You don’t have to own it. Some of them are indeed very beautiful: they have been carefully designed and produced in a way that adds value and meaning, and enhances the reading experience. But for most part—especially when it comes to high volume reading, pulp fiction, and the like—the real value is not the form but the content, and what we ourselves gain from having read them (even if they are pulp). Having books on our shelves doesn’t make us better or smarter; it’s just evidence that we have enough money to spend on books. And, as I told my husband ages ago: You’re not in college any more, and miles of shelving full of things you’ve read is no longer impressing your lady friend.
  2. Ebooks are harder to share, except when they’re not. Many people I know complain that the problem is that they can’t share their ebooks–can’t loan them to friends or give them away when they’re done reading them (and conversely, one cannot borrow an ebook easily, or buy used ebooks on the cheap). But on the flip side, it’s pretty easy to set up a circle of readers on a single account. Since my husband and I buy so many books, I’ve picked up an extra Kindle for my mom and put it on our account; when my sister decided to buy one, I had her log it into my account instead of setting up her own. And: instant book club. Whenever one of us buys a book, we all have access to it. We’re going on a cruise together this fall, and we’ll all be reading the same book while we lounge on deck.
  3. Ebooks are harder to lose. Everyone talks about how they like to pass on books to friends. Most of the time they are just giving books away, but sometimes it’s because they loved a book and want their friend to love it, too. The thing is, if it’s a book you love, you might not get it back to read it again or to share with another friend (In my experience, the expected return on a loaned book is about 1 out of 10). Your ebooks aren’t going anywhere. Even if disaster strikes–a flood, a busted reader, a robbery–you can still access your books from a new device.
  4. Ebooks are easier to move. If you’ve ever moved an avid reader into a walk-up apartment (you know who you are, my friends), you know that the best books are virtual books.
  5. The battle of the indie vs. the big box was over long ago.  Some see Amazon as a heartless conquerer, but many communities were bookstore deserts long before Amazon arrived on the scene. Indies were already few and far between back in the early 1990s, when big box stores like Borders and B&N were systematically putting the them out of business. For those of us who live here on the vestigial tail of New York City, there was never a bookstore nearby: the closest on (now long gone) was a few miles and a bridge toll and a parking fee away, and it was a relatively rinky-dink mall bookstore with limited, very mainstream stock.
  6. Free samples. For so long, it was like  you had to marry a book without having dated it first. I fill my Kindle with samples, try them out, and if I find myself wanting more after those first 3o-odd pages, I click “buy.” Far fewer bad purchases sitting on my bedside table mocking me, and a lot more great books I’ve read because I took a chance.
  7. Ebooks don’t need dusting. Enough said.
  8. Ebooks are kind to the farsighted. I am appreciating this more and more every year.
  9. Sometimes you just need to reread Harry Potter. Many people have noted that they just keep the pulp versions of their favorite books. But I’m more the other way around: I keep my favorite books at my fingertips, in my Kindle and/or on my phone at all times.
  10. Shopping at Amazon is ironically more intimate and personal than shopping in the real world. Amazon launched as a bookseller, and it offered what those bookstores could not: Selection and convenience. But oddly, I was immediately won over by the more intimate nature of the Amazon book buying experience. Despite the efforts of big box bookstores, they’re still a store, and there’s often piped-in music, other crap for sale, and just other people around. And while many of us might wax nostalgic about the Dream of the 1990s and all those magical independent bookstores (and record stores), let us not forget the judgy arched eyebrow of the pretentious Gen-X sales clerk as he rang up your copy of the latest Stephen King. Shopping for books at Amazon, I can read reviews at length without sitting on a dusty floor in my work clothes; I can do it in absolute, utter, 1950s librarian–endorsed silence; I can see what others are buying without spying over their shoulder; and I can read YA or pulp fiction on the subway without anyone rolling their eyes at me.

“Books Are Not Bricks”

 

Books are not bricks…. the more they are treated as bricks, the more they tend to become like bricks,—the more authors seek publishers solely with reference to what they will pay in the day’s market, the more publishers  bid against one another as stock brokers do, and the more they market their wares as soulless articles of ordinary commerce are marketed, the more books tend to become soulless things.”

Henry Holt, “The Commercialism of Literature.” In The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 96, No. 5 (p. 578). November 1905.

In the public domain: You can read the whole thing for free on Google Books.

 

LearnToMod: “A gateway drug for computer coding”

Well, this looks promising:

WIRED SCREEN GRAB

LearnToMod is a program that teaches kids to code, and to use code to create their own Minecraft mods. I love the idea of kids becoming producers of technology, not just consumers, and it’s becoming clear that coding is a key skill that the workerbees of tomorrow can apply to just about any job or any situation. I love this summary, from Teacher Gaming founder Joel Levin:

“Kids are passionate about the game and they quickly understand that they can extend and enhance their Minecraft experience by learning some basic programming…. And that’s really what we want, isn’t it? To have kids realize that with code, they can improve their life in a way that’s relevant to them.”

Check out the full story on WIRED:

FROM WIRED: New Minecraft Mod Teaches You Code as You Play

My daughter is dying to learn to code for Minecraft, and as someone whose skills are pretty much limited to typing, I had no idea where to start. The software, developed by ThoughtSTEM, isn’t available until October, but you can preorder here. I’m planning on holding this particular carrot out in front of her through the first part of school year–she’s a homework procrastinator, so if she can break that habit in September, there will be a nice prize in October.

The media ominivore’s dilemma

When I first posted about the Momentum Optimization Project, I was expecting just a few friends and family members to read it. But it must have struck a chord: As of today, it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times (although part of me suspects it’s my mom, clicking over and over again just to feed my ego). The traffic kind of freaked me out, to be honest–I’m an editor, not a writer, by trade, and I’m not really used to having people whom I don’t know read, comment, even ask me for advice based on something I’ve written. I should probably make it clear that I’m not an expert on anything, more of a curious questioner. And as far as getting my kids to keep things really need and orderly? It’s kind of hilarious that anyone would look to me for advice, because: I am a disaster. Seriously. I need one of these just to find my keys at any given moment.

Anyway, 100,000 views are bound to yield a few criticisms.  A few readers inferred that my insistence on the kids reading “real text (not comics)” meant that I don’t want them reading comics at all, or that I don’t think comics are valuable. Others thought that by limiting screen time and insisting on “creative time,” I was implying that computers are not in fact tools that can be used creatively, or that I think gaming is stupid. All of which is kind of hysterical. Seriously, media–tv, books (including comics and graphic novels), movies, music, online gaming and computers–makes up a huge chunk of our family budget, in terms of time and money. Technology and media are kind of priorities in our lives. We’d rather have new machines than go on vacation (and so, we don’t really go on many vacations).

My goal with the Momentum Optimization Project wasn’t to make the kids not play on the computer, or not watch TV. It was to remind them that there are other ways to spend their time, too.

I know that as a child in the 1970s and early 80s, I watched as much TV as I possibly could. But in reality, there was just not that much TV to watch. Five channels, with maybe three hours of programming per day that might be interesting to a child of any given age, all running at the same time. No DVRs or TV on demand, no streaming media, no 24-hour Nickelodeon or MTV yet. I could watch All The TV There Was To Watch, and eventually, run out of TV to watch. I’d get bored, find something else to do.

Today’s kids have no such limits forced on them. There is so much entertainment, available the touch of a button, that can be delivered right to their faces. And, despite the existence of some really terrible stuff (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives), much of what’s out there is ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY AWESOME. I’m quite certain that if I had Internet when I was a child, I’d have spent my entire adolescence sitting in my room watching SNL clips and searching some kind of irrefutable evidence to prove, once and for all, that REM was better than U2. (Because they were). And if I were a kid in the 2000s, I’d probably have grown pasty looking for LOST spoilers and theories or watching Epic Rap Battles of History until I, like my kids, knew every word to every single rap battle. I get that Everything is Awesome, but I would by happy if my kids would be motivated to, say, follow up on Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe by perhaps reading Carrie or at least looking up Poe’s biography on Wikipedia.

So, really, I’m not looking to put an end to computers (or comics) or to even put strict limits on either of them. I’m just trying to raise well rounded, media omnivores. As I’ve stated before, Newton’s Laws of My Family state that if they get involved in a video game early in the day, that’s pretty much what they’ll want to do all day. If I don’t point them toward other things, and give them a little shove, I know they’ll waste their free time away in a Minecraft or Steam bubble at the expense of all the other awesome stuff–music, sports, books, podcasts, movies–not to mention sunshine and face-t0-face socializing–that they could be enjoying, exploring, and learning from.

Anyway, when I started instituting “creative time” last winter, I generated this little Wordle and hung it in the kitchen. It’s just a hodgepodge of ideas so I always have an answer to “I can’t think of anything to do.”

DO SOMETHING wordle

 

There’s exercise, chores, good deeds, and even some ideas for using technology creatively. When it’s cold or rainy, or when they’re in the height of swimming season and don’t really need to be pressed for more exercise, I’ll let them slide on the “glowing screen” aspect, and suggest they do something active or creative–say, research some topic of interest or make a video or go on a photo treasure hunt–which might involve a computer or tablet. For me, the key is to make them use technology actively and creatively, rather just having them passively absorb content while sitting in a chair.

 

 

 

Slacker Hack: How to store your leftover paint

A little hack I picked up years ago that makes life simpler. Fewer rusty, dusty, hard-to-open cans stored in the basement. Keep a couple of throw-away sponge brushes handy, and you can do touchups in a flash with minimal clean up.

Save those empty sports bottles to store your leftover paint. I like these gatorade ones, with an easy open/close cap. T

Save those empty sports bottles to store your leftover paint. I like these Gatorade ones, which have a really easy to  open/close cap.

Use a funnel to fill 'em up.

Use a funnel to fill ’em up.

 

Drop in a couple of marbles--that way, you can just shake the bottles to mix the paint up when you need it.

Drop in a couple of marbles–that way, you can just shake the bottles to mix the paint up when you need it.

 

Label them carefully, and stow them in a reused six pack carton so they are easy to stow and tote.

Label them carefully. I like to put them in a reused six pack carton, so they are easy to stow (they won’t tip over) and tote.

When you need to do a touch up, just shake the bottle and pour a bit of paint out on a paper plate, a piece of cardboard, or other makeshift paint palette.

When you need to do a touch up, just shake the bottle and pour a bit of paint out on a paper plate, a piece of cardboard, or other makeshift paint palette.

 

Something to consider: Kudoso’s new router is a screen time management system

So, Engadget reported this week on a Kickstarter campaign for Kudoso, a router/software combination that enables you to limit kids’ screen time and encourage them to complete chores, schoolwork, play outside, etc. Essentially, it locks kids their gadgets out of the internet, and via an interface that parents control, allows them to earn time on various sites by completing particular chores or activities. It looks like it might be a few hours of set up time, but if it works, it could simplify things some families.

Kudoso's new router/software system limits screen time.

From Engadget.com

I’ve moved toward the “unlimited earned time” model with my kids, but I think something like this might be super effective in helping younger children to diversify their behavior and learn some good habits, while still allowing them to engage with media. I like that it links with existing electronic tracking and teaching tools, like Kahn Academy and Fitbit, which can make it possible for some rewards to automated.

However, one question many parents have asked me about my system is how to confirm that kids have, indeed, completed their chores if you are not  at home to check that the bed is actually made or the laundry folded. I’m not sure (yet) how to work around that, with this or any system.

I’m not quite intrigued enough to plunk down the cash at the moment, but will be following the reviews.

Here’s the story from Engadget. And here’s the Kickstarter page.

If anyone tries it, please let us know how it goes.

 

 

A quick note on comics

Quite a few people have taken issue–and reasonably so–with my distinction between comics and “real text.” I regret my word choice here: I hadn’t intended to imply that comics are not “real” text. I am a huge fan of comics and graphic novels for kids, and they make up a large portion of my kids’ media diet. However, my goal for the List was to get my kids to prioritize their time–to make them tend to the tasks they MUST accomplish before they settle in for hours on the computer. During the school year, that means getting their assigned reading done: my daughter would have pages in textbooks or an assigned novel, my son is expected to read five news articles per week. Invariably, they would put these tasks off, or not do them at all. And they never seem to think of it as  “homework” since there’s nothing to hand in. My first iteration of The List (which was a hand written scrawl and is not posted on this blog) did not make this distinction, and my daughter responded by reading only graphic novels (and mostly ones that she had read before). I don’t want to discourage that behavior, but she needed to be pushed to engage in longer and more challenging texts. So during the school year at least, comics and graphic novels are considered part of “creative” time, since it doesn’t feel like a chore to have to read them (I make no such distinction in the summertime edition of list). In fact, I treat my daughter to a new comic as a reward whenever she finishes a text-driven book.

I’ll post more on this later, but for now I just wanted to acknowledge those who felt my wording did a disservice to comics and graphic novels, because on review, I totally agree with them.

Momentum Optimization Project: Summertime edition

First of all, thanks to everyone who has visited and taken time to comment on the Momentum Optimization Project. I’m absolutely gobsmacked by the response–I guess all my friends who saw our List on the kitchen wall and commented that I really ought to share it were on to something.

Enough readers were wondering what I was planning for the summer to put a fire under my ass to make a summer plan. Summer is a really busy time for me, work wise, as the books I work on tend to go into production in the spring and they’re always late by May, which means I spend much of June and July trying to catch up. It’s also my favorite time of year to be not working–my little sleepy neighborhood comes to life in the summer, with the beach and the seasonal restaurants and music and tons of events. So my goal in the summer is just to get the entire work day done as early as possible–I get up in the wee, wee hours, around 4:30, and work until lunchtime. And then I have the afternoon to enjoy with the kids at the beach, or to work in the yard, or whatever.

To clarify: I do not do any summer camp stuff–the kids are on their own, but I’m in the house. My office is in the basement, which is also where the other computers live. Because I don’t have to get the kids up/dressed/out, I can work straight through the morning. As a result, I’m way more productive than I am during the same hours in the school year, when my morning is disrupted by the school launch pattern (after all, I have as much, if not more, of a momentum issue as they do). My goal is to keep them out of my hair during those work hours, and at 11 and 14 years of age, I think that is a pretty reasonable expectation. And in fact, it pretty much worked out last summer without any plan at all. But they did make a mess of the place while I was working. I’m trying to break that pattern this year.

So here’s what I do, and I’m quite certain it won’t work for everyone.

In the summer, I just let them stay up pretty much as late as they want, and then sleep as late as they want in the morning. Yes, that means they spend a lot of the nighttime hours in front of screens, and after my husband and I have gone to bed. I set the limit on the computer at midnight, but they can stream TV in their rooms after that if they want to. It’s summertime, after all, and when I was a kid I spent the long summer nights in front of the TV and I’m perfectly fine (at least I think so). They’ve proven themselves pretty responsible about Internet use, and the older one does a solid job of policing the younger one online (although the younger is more of a night owl and at least once last summer I woke at 4:30 to find her still sitting awake, watching Futurama reruns on Netflix). Clearly, this is not an option for every family, but I feel ok about letting my kids have some free range, both online and in the real world.

My general rule is: Sunshine = no computers (rainy days are another matter). I don’t specifically say “no computers in the morning,” but since all the computers are in our basement, where the “room of requirement” and my office share a large, open area, the kids are basically banned from the basement, and thus the computers, during my work hours. They can watch some TV upstairs  in the morning, as long as they’ve done The List. And the summertime List is different from the school year List. Or at least it will be, since this will be the first official summer of the Momentum Optimization Project.

Here’s the revised List for this summer:

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!

 

The big change here are that they now have several chores that they are both expected to complete each day (including cleaning the bathroom), in  addition to the old “your room is tidy” rule and spending just a little time on summer school work. These chores will be permanent–they’ll be expected to keep them up during the school year as well.

The old list had a “pick a chore” rule, and a separate chore chart. That’s been replaced with a set of index cards, strung on a binder ring, with a different assigned chore for each day.  I started with a short version a few weeks ago:

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

This index card method works better than an assigned schedule (this on Monday, that on Tuesday), I think, because it’s more flexible. If we are not home for a day, or just slack off (and we do slack off sometimes often), we’re not waiting an extra week to, say, have the bathroom cleaned, just an extra day. And I can easily tweak the schedule as we go, by adding/subtracting/reshuffling the cards.

So, now we’ve got a 14-day cycle, with a mix of big/small chores; each day, they are assigned one task in addition to the “daily chores”  on The List, Here’s the current rotation:

  • Purging boogie (find 3-5 things that you don’t want/don’t fit/can’t use and put them in the trash or donate box)
  • Clean out the van
  • Help plan and make dinner (my husband suggested this one; he wants them to figure out what to cook, do (or help with) the shopping, and help prepare a meal)
  • Bathroom: Weekly clean (this comes up twice a cycle; I assign the upstairs to the elder and downstairs one week, and reverse it the other, since upstaris generally gets messier than downstairs)
  • Straighten up the room of requirement
  • Clear and dust your desk
  • Clear your dressers/shelves and dust them off
  • Dust everything else in your room (trophies, books, headboard, poster frames, windows, ceiling fan)
  • Purge/organize one drawer in your room
  • Sweep floors downstairs (granted, this needs to be done every day, but it’s not something I’ve ever relied on them to do. So, we’ll make them do it once a cycle and see how it goes).

And finally, I’ve added in what I think of as a late afternoon re-boot, to force them to get involved in end-of-day household recovery as well:

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I'll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the tv).

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I’ll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the TV).

I’m already realizing that I need to add another bullet: Evening pickup (i.e.,  go around the first floor and pick up anything you’ve left in the living room, dining room, etc. and put it away–it’s mostly shoes and books).

This might seem to leave a lot of room for computer time, and it does, but not to a degree that I think is problematic. After all, in the evening that “free” computer time is competing with evening card games, bbqs, pool parties, and other face-to-face family and friend time. So while they might sit for six hours one night glued to Minecraft or one or another Steam game, there’s plenty of nights where they don’t have time to even look at the computer until 10 or 11 pm.

So that’s the plan for this summer. And to paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower, planning may be useless, but planning is everything. We’ll see how it works and tweak as we go, and report back here. I encourage anyone who’s trying their own list to report back as well.