Here's what Works For Me.
1. Keep them busy. (Yeah, I know this is easier said than done, but bear with me here.)
- Make a list with the kids of activities and outings. Plan at least one a week. (Here's how that works for us.)
- Have a regular library day.
- Check into free programs offered by your local park and local library. Have the kids tell you which ones they are interested in.
- Get around to doing some of those "someday" projects together....plant a garden, make your own salsa, build a model, paint that old bookcase, learn a craft, etc.
- Have a morning and afternoon list of chores, just like you do during the school year. (Here's how we get our chores done and make it fun!)
- Have regular day for library, park, swimming, or other weekly activities.
- Keep a weekly calendar on your fridge. Write the plans for each day on it.
And now we get to what this post is all about. Here's my token system for balancing electronics with other, more mind engaging, activities. We used this last summer, and it worked great.
It worked so great in fact, that my kids expected it this summer.
To enact this system, here is what you need:
- two sets of tokens, one red and one blue. I found a pack of bulletin board border at the dollar store with red and blue stars on it. I cut the stars out and voila. Plastic card chips (like for poker) would also work.
- one basket for each color token.
- two jars or cups for each child. One is their "bank" and should stay in their room. One is a "deposit box" and should stay in the kitchen, office, or family room (whatever tends to be your 'command center').
- stickers for decorating the "banks" and "deposit boxes", including some way to put each child's name on each of those two items.
- a TIMER! This can be on your stove, on your microwave, on your phone, or a small kitchen timer. I'd recommend more than one.
At least fifteen minutes of a pre-approved activity equals ONE token. I don't round up and I don't let them "save" extra minutes. Keep it SIMPLE or you will be overwhelmed. If a child reads for 23 minutes, the child still gets ONE token. If the child paints for 37 minutes, the child gets TWO tokens. See how that works?
When a child receives tokens, they go in that child's bank in their room. Any tokens I find on the table, floor, etc, are mine again.
TWO tokens may be turned in for thirty minutes of electronic entertainment. Three for 45 minutes, and four for an hour, etc. I don't let them cash in a single token for just fifteen minutes. Ever try to get a child off a computer or a video game system after just fifteen minutes? It's ridiculous. I just don't go there. I haven't yet had a need to limit how many tokens they can turn in at once. If they hand me 8 tokens, I don't have a problem with them goofing off for two hours, if it fits in the schedule already in place for that day.
Physical exercise and activity earns RED tokens. Creative or mentally engaging activities earn BLUE tokens. Yes, we make a distinction. Keep reading and you'll learn why.
On any day, three RED tokens must be turned in before any BLUE tokens may be turned in. This keeps my kids active and healthy.
Tokens that are turned in for electronic time go in that child's "deposit box" in the kitchen. That lets me keep track of how many red tokens have already been turned in from each child.
Already scheduled activities, like library trips, nature hikes, and tae kwon do, DO earn tokens. So, if we go hiking for an hour, I give each child four red tokens when we get home. If we are at the library for half an hour, that's two blue tokens when we get home.
The list of pre-approved activities for each kind of token is written on an appropriate colored index card and posted in the kitchen. The kids help me brainstorm the list of activities and that really cuts out arguments and debate later.
The kids are responsible for making note of when they started and stopped each activity. I've got other things to do than be everyone's personal secretary. If they can come to me and say, "I started reading at 2:10 and now its 2:56, may I have my tokens?" They get two tokens. If they say, "I've been working on this drawing for a while." But have no idea how long a "while" is, they get just one token. (Even a child who can't tell time can write down a numbers from a digital clock face. Keep a small pad of paper by your microwave for this purpose.)
When tokens are turned in for electronic time, the kids must set a timer and abide by it. Once again, I'm not into being a personal secretary for an eight year old.
A list of free activities is written on a green note card and kept with the activity list as well. These can include the electronic games which you decide have some redeeming value. Or creative writing on the computer, or a specific educational program.
On Saturdays and Sundays, we do not use the token system....provided bedrooms are clean and other assigned tasks have been accomplished. Also, I can suspend the token system at will. (Like if I need to run an errand by myself and am leaving Sweetling as the babysitter. Free wii time, baby.)
Tokens can be lost for whining, arguing, poor behavior at a store, etc.
At the end of each day, tokens that are in the "deposit boxes" in the kitchen (ie--the ones they have redeemed for electronic time) go back to my stash. Tokens which are still in their banks in their bedrooms they may keep to use another day. I do not set a limit on how much tokens they are saving up.
Here are some of our "pre-approved" activities for each kind of token. You may use this list as a start, but I recommend sitting down and brainstorming your own list with your children. They are more likely to be on board with the program if they have had some input.
- Wii Fit
- Wii Outdoor Challenge
- Tae Kwon Do
- jumping rope
- art and drawing
- writing stories, poems, letters
- making a card
- construction sets
- puzzle books (like sudoku and crosswords)
- designing (castle plans, spaceships, fashion)
- library or park programs
- Wii Big Brain Academy
- Wii Music
- watching TV while jogging on the trampoline
- babysitting time
Check out other ideas on We Are THAT Family.