Token Effort

Taking a leaf from Erin of bearing blog‘s book, I am considering starting a token economy of my own. Earlier this year, David started getting an allowance. It’s a modest allowance, a weekly $5, but as an exercise in fiscal responsibility he also became responsible for providing his own weekly dollar for the collection basket, and his own library fines.

It’s worked out quite well. Other stolen ideas from Erin include David’s cooking lessons, lessons in how to work the washing machine, and lessons in how to change a diaper. In fact, apart from some early enthusiasm for Khan Academy, all school this summer has been very oriented towards home economics. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s led me to an observation about David (and myself).

David is only interested in doing the chores he finds novel and exciting. He’s an enthusiastic, energetic helper for these chores. But boring things, like picking up the toys and books or putting his socks and shoes away, remain a constant struggle and source of conflict.

And eventually the bloom will fade. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, all the necessary bits of housework he finds so exciting and grownupish, will become boring and "not fun", and therefore in his mind optional, because he "only wants to do things that are fun."

At the same time, he’s a big help when he will something (without whining). And as I ponder some possible rearrangements in work and home life, I know that his help will only get more valuable. The big question is how to keep it.

This is where I think the token economy will fit into our family. By tying the chores he does not want to remember (or do) to his allowance, maybe I can reinforce the idea that tasks he does not find fun are still a necessary evil.

Like Erin, this is a work in progress, and will probably be modified at the beginning of each month, to fine tune it. Here is is how I envision it starting out:

1. Everyone age 6 and up will receive a jar of 30 tokens. Himself and I will have as well as David. This will hopefully serve the dual purposes of reassuring David that this is fair, and that our participation will encourage Himself and I to be less sloppy ourselves. We are all terribly messy people, but the reforming energy never lasts.

2. We will each have slightly different lists, tailored to our individual bad habits – things we regularly forget to do, or hate and actively avoid.

3. No ‘fun’ chores are allowed on an individual’s list.

4. Tokens will be a dollar apiece.

5. When to take tokens will is the tricky and undecided part. For instance, I want David to stop leaving his shoes in the middle of floors/halls/stairs/etc. But he’d go negative if I took tokens away whenever I tripped over his shoes. Erin does a once a day inspection, but that won’t curb the shoes in the middle of the floor issue if he picks them up at the end of the day. I may have to work my way up on this one.

So far, my tentative task designations are as follows:

tidy bedroom: dirty laundry sorted in the hamper, clean laundry and toys put away, bed made
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
hang his towel up properly after his shower

tidy bedroom and bathroom (my stuff)
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
dinner mess cleaned up and the dishwasher running

tidy bedroom and bathroom (his stuff)
no dirty dishes floating around the house
(still thinking about #3. He wants tidy garage, I’m not sure if that’s enough on the daily radar.)

This project will actually tie in nicely to our Civics curriculum this year. We will be focusing on good family citizenship, and working together to keep the house picked up and livable is a good project! The rest of August is a dry run, to get us used to the individual tasks and checking each night, then we’ll start in September.

Curriculum Inflation

School starts again soon, and I’ve been procrastinating on another project by putting together David’s curriculum for this year.

Texas is a great place to homeschool. There are only three requirements. One, it must be a bona fide curriculum. You can write it yourself – there’s no list of approved curricula – but it has to contain actual content to be studied, not fluff to pass them on like a high school football star. Two, it must be visual in form. Three, it must contain the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and civics. That’s it. No minimum required number of instructional days. No reporting. No testing.

That being said, I hew fairly closely to the TEKS standards, out of sheer convenience. They are a convenient rough guide, if not for what is objectively developmentally appropriate, then as a relative measure of what his peers are up to.

But the TEKS aren’t perfect. In fact, when I dug right down into them this week, what I noticed bothered me. There are 11 different general subject areas in the TEKS standards. And over 50% of them are fluff.

Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Languages other than English – these five are all actual subjects that are actually being taught. The other six? Health Education, Physical Education, Art, Music, Theatre, and ‘Technology Applications’. Or as I like to call them ‘Listen to Your Mother’, ‘Play Outside’, ‘Color’, ‘Sing with Mommy or Dance with Daddy’, ‘Imaginative Play’, and ‘Screen Time’.

Of this fluff, Health Education is a blatant parenting substitution. Physical Education is inept lip service to the idea that kids need to move more throughout their day. And I’m at a complete loss as to why screen time is considered a separate subject area since it’s best learned when you’re using it to do something else.

I would feel different about Art, Music, and Theatre, if they were actually teaching those arts. But they aren’t. A full 1/4 of the topics that are considered essential knowledge and skills for six year old children are devoted to the kids’ own self expression, not to acquiring information or developing actual skills. And this drives me crazy.

Does expression have a role even in early education? Sure. How much of a role it plays in education at a particular age is a matter of legitimate debate. But either way, self expression is the end goal of education, not a subject matter to be taught. And it’s certainly not three subjects.

The Little Oratory – Chapter 1: The Christian Life

We have a ‘man of letters’ reading club on Facebook now, and I’m doing series on The Little Oratory that I figure may as well be cross posted here. I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter every Tuesday.

In the introduction, the authors talk briefly about why they’re writing this book. How, as converts, they don’t really know HOW to live as catholics in all the inbetween times of life, and how none of their cradle catholic friends seemed to know either. This book is the distillation of what they’ve discovered about living as catholics in all those inbetween times.

It starts with a chapter about what the goal of Christian living actually is. Before we can ask how to do it, we have to ask what it is we’re meant to be doing. The title is The Christian Life, but it’s really about how we manifest the Christian Life in the world.

The answer they offer is the liturgy, which is the work of the people of God. To bring it into the home and have it sanctify our fractured times. They mention the LotH briefly, as a way to join in the liturgical prayer of the Church, but the main emphasis is on how participation in the liturgy transfigures us, brings us into communion with God, and then sends us out to the world. What we are meant to be doing is manifesting the light of Christ to the world.

The rest of the chapter is about this evangelization. The Way of Beauty is briefly discussed, and the inherent attractiveness of the Gospel. It ends with hospitality as an especially important method of evangelization, and the introduction of the family oratory ("house of prayer") as a powerful tool to help us.

So my thoughts: It’s a frustrating chapter to read, it floats from topic to topic in a way that makes sense while I’m reading, but I find hard to summarize. And it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But I still think it’s helpful to take this reminder of what the Christian life as the starting place for growing your devotional life instead of the lists of devotions and sacramentals and cultural accretion you find everywhere else.

I had very much the same experience with the lists, only lacking plenty of catholic friends nearby in similar states of life, I had turned to the internet for the answers. ( was so especially unhelpful here, that I repeatedly gave up in disgust.) So, while this first chapter is dry and erudite and frustrating to read, I like the content and message quite a bit. I had to fumble my way towards the understanding of what I was supposed to be doing, and all of what I learned the hard way (and quite a bit that I haven’t internalized yet) is right here.

7 Quick Takes – Anathemata Edition

1. I have submitted, and rediscovered/rejoined/etc. Facebook. I resisted for a long time, but I just couldn’t resist the lure of being friends with Melanie because she puts up the best and most interesting links and I wanted to comment on them.
For an introvert, Melanie is amazing at connecting people who might otherwise have never encountered each other. I’ve met Lissla Lissar and the Sewing PhD (who is actually liturgically related! Our sons share a godfather, which is amazing and awesome.) And a handful of other lovely people who I don’t know if they blog. I’ve become better acquainted with other bloggers I’ve read for a long time. It’s incredible and fun and before I knew it I didn’t actually hate FaceBook anymore. It’s even useful, as it’s easy to drop a quick anecdote there for archival purposes and Quick Takes referencing.

The downside is I have to live with Himself laughing at me for doing such an abrupt 180° on the subject.

2. Last Friday, I had the following conversation:

David: “there’s a dead ent on the floor”
Me: “…wha??”
David: “there’s a dead ENT on the floor!”
Me: (now very perplexed) “how did any ent get in our living room?”
David: “a dead END, Mommy!”

Adorable and funny child interaction! I dropped it into Facebook for archiving. This blurb spawned a 500+ long, entirely amicable, ongoing comment thread. I’m not sure such a thing has every before been seen on the internet. After some hundred odd comments we came full circle back to Tolkien with this magnificent exchange:

Sewing PhD: “The geekery goes on and on…”
Me: “Off topic from the post where it began”

Facebook. A time sink, but has unexpected joys. In my defense, we making a 7 hour drive to the valley to visit los suegros and I was pretty bored.

3. While we were in the valley, we went to South Padre Island. For the moment, I’m not going to dwell on the irritation of purchasing an emergency swim suit for this trip. Because I went to the beach and I swam in the ocean, out to the second of South Padre’s three sand bars. And it felt wonderful. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed swimming as exercise.

So now I’m inspired to find a place to swim for fitness. And it’s so depressing how expensive it all is. We don’t even have a neighborhood pool I could use. There aren’t any public pools like College Station’s, only subdivision exclusive pools. And ours doesn’t have one. This is so depressing. Finally, an exercise I honestly enjoy in stretching my physical limits with, and I don’t have/can’t afford access to do it.

4. Check out these marvelous and delightful uncommon dragon hoards that Mad Mo found. I can’t decide which one I like best: The yarn? Or the teacups? Or the pink dragon with the legos? I can’t imaging sleeping on legos would be very comfortable.

5. Speaking of Mad Mo (aka Raphael Danger’s godmother), she now has a blog, featuring Lego Loki doing what Lego Loki does best. Also, there is cake. And romance. And the occasional well deserved comeuppance. You can read about it all at You Must Be This Tall to Take Over the World.

She’s been sending out emails since the Christmas season and now has all of them archivified on the blog. So there’s plenty to read.

6. Wednesday night, I assessed David’s math skill, using my copy of the TEKS standards (on which I’ve blacked out all the educator bullshit.)

Sorry for the cussing. It’s not fair to the bovines. Manure is at least useful.

Anyway. I ran him through a bunch of math, and found out he’s well into mastering first grade math skills. And my dad informs me that, in an attempt to encourage David by explaining the importance of reading, my son responded “Jobs are all about earning money, and money is just math, and I like math.” He does like math, and is good at it. He taught himself fractions in an afternoon with minimal help from me using an iOS game called Slice Fractions.

So I’m giving him his head. I’ve set him up with a Khan Academy account and a child’s user account on the battered old laptop that lives in the kitchen, and I will let him go to town with learning math on his own. I am hoping that, by giving him control over his schooling in an area where he’s interested and capable of some self direction (wow it feels weird typing that about a six year old) that it will help with certain attitude problems that have been cropping up during school time.

It will even do triple duty as extra reading practice and computer lessons.

I don’t know about the rest of Khan Academy’s resources, but the beginning math looks decent. The science isn’t really age appropriate until middle school, bare minimum, and even then it is divided up by subject, so it’s really quadrividium work. I’m just going to have to buckle down and write my own science curricula, nothing I’ve looked at really introduces the young student to the heart of the matter.

7. Last night was D&D night. We continued our Star Wars game. Kira Lassiter continued to provoke statements of “…you just SHOT him!?” (Don’t worry, he was a bad guy.) Also, we ran over a Sith at 120 mph in a land speeder. This didn’t really end well for us, but was epic all the same.

For more Quick Takes, join Jennifer @ Conversion Diary!

Super DangerBaby


One last blog posting test. Here’s Raphael in a cape, trying to leap tall baby gates in a single bound.


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