A Summer of Treats from the Job Jar

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“A Summer of Treats from the Job Jar,” Ensign, July 1980, 58–59

A Summer of Treats from the Job Jar

How many eleven-year-old boys would choose to spend an hour cleaning kitchen cupboards instead of going swimming with a friend on a beautiful summer morning? How many nine-year-old girls would vacuum, dust, clean up after breakfast, and fold and put away the laundry in one morning—cheerfully? Ours did.

It began one summer when I felt frustrated and overworked. Our three children were eager to spend an afternoon at the swimming pool but were unreceptive to helping at home. I vowed that changes would be made.

Two weeks before school was out we spent our family home evening at an ice cream parlor where, amid heaps of gooey treats, we formulated a plan. My husband asked innocently if the family would like to make a list of inexpensive but fun things to do that summer. The children made enthusiastic suggestions while I wrote: trips to the library, the art museum, the state capital and monuments; browsing in pet stores; going to movies; taking walks and family bike rides; swimming; and picnicking.

Then my husband said, “But wait! All of this will take a lot of mom’s time—planning, driving, supervising.” Before the children could look too crestfallen, I said, “I have an idea.” And I outlined our already carefully-thought-out plan.

Three mornings a week I would place slips of paper in a “job jar” telling what jobs needed to be done that morning and stating the points each job was worth. We would award five points for every hour of work done, and bonus points would be issued if the work turned out harder than anticipated or if a particularly fine job were done. These would apply toward the desired rewards: a movie, ten points; a trip to a pet store, five points; a trip to the library, three points.

Then we gave the children the final incentive: if they each earned fifty points, the family would find a way to go to their favorite amusement park in a city three hours’ drive away. The children could “pool” their points if they all wanted to do the same thing. Therefore, a five-point activity would cost each of the older children two points, with the three-year-old contributing the final point.

I never dreamed how hard I’d work at “not working.” On our first day I spent an hour extricating a piece of cardboard from the vacuum cleaner (“Pick up the big things by hand from now on, right?”); demonstrated how to clean fingerprints off a stair wall (“Wash from here to here, not the who-o-o-le wall”); and showed where the hidden but visible dust catchers were (“You forgot the picture frames”). I learned to accept cleanliness standards not as high as my own. But I was thrilled with the opportunities our system gave me to teach my children homemaking skills they had never been interested in learning before.

The first week our nine-year-old daughter learned to sort, wash, and fold the laundry (she also discovered why dad’s socks don’t get washed with linty bath towels), cook and serve dinner (giving me a chance to add tips on nutrition, eye appeal and food costs), and pick and arrange daisies for the living room on Monday night.

Our son refined his babysitting techniques; vacuumed and dusted; cooked meals; and scoured sinks. (You’d be surprised how much there is to learning to scour a sink when you start knowing nothing!) Our three-year-old-daughter had her own job jar of three-by-five-inch cards illustrating jobs she was supposed to do: pick up toys, dress herself, dust, set the table, and so forth. She chose one each day and got points for her accomplishments. In this she took great pride. Spending her points for a family activity was great fun for her, too.

The satisfaction my husband and I have felt can’t be measured—knowing we’re training a future missionary and father to be at ease in a kitchen and two future homemakers to take housework in stride—Carol J. Reynolds, Indianapolis, Indiana