How to Keep Your Kids on Task Without Hovering

It’s almost the end of summer.

You’ve got lots to do. Your kids have nothing to do.

Camps and summer leagues have stopped. Schools haven’t started.

Your kids are in limbo. Arrghh!

The thought of them sitting around watching TV or fooling around on the computer all day is driving you a bit nuts, even if school is right around the corner. You can think of a list of productive things they could be doing, but you’re too busy with your own work, errands, or chores to be constantly prodding them along.

So, how are you getting something done without letting your kids turn into complete couch potatoes behind your back?

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Make a checklist together each morning. I’m sitting down with my 9 year old son each morning and making a checklist of meaningful things to accomplish during the day. It includes:

  • a little math (30 minutes in a workbook and 15 minutes of math flashcards on FactMonster.com),
  • some music (30 minutes of piano practice),
  • some physical activity (lacrosse in the backyard with the big bro),
  • occasionally a paid job, like washing the car.

Here’s our list from today (of course, we keep it in FamZoo, but paper works too!):

Checklist with Summer Day ToDos

We both like this because the rules and expectations are very explicit and clear from the beginning. It really cuts down on the whining and the nagging.

Check off and notify on completion of each task. My 9 year old son gets to set his own schedule (for the most part), but he is responsible for checking off the tasks and notifying me via text whenever he completes a task. I only go into the dreaded nag mode if I haven’t seen a text in a while. He seems to appreciate the autonomy. I’m able to stay more focused.

As for notifications, my 9 year old can’t text directly (no cell phone yet), but since we’re using online checklists in FamZoo, I can just set up an automatic alert to text me whenever he checks an item off his list. Here’s the Alert setting for his Checklist (my wife gets a notification as well, so she can feel connected while away at work during the day):

Checklist Alert Setup

And, here’s what my text notifications looked like yesterday:

Automatic Text Notification On Check-off

Yes, he’s still playing computer games, watching a little SpongeBob, and assembling Legos throughout the day, but at least I know he’s getting a nice balance of other activities in as well. I’m getting more done too. Win-win.

Do you have any tips for keeping kids on task during the end-of-summer doldrums? Share your techniques in the comments.


Teach Your Child Money and Business Skills with Roller Coaster Tycoon

Are you looking for an engaging, violence-free computer game for your youngster? As an added bonus, would you like your child to learn the basics of money and business along the way? Check out Roller Coaster Tycoon.

Here’s a quick review from my 9 year old who started playing the game when he was 6:

Roller Coaster Tycoon is a fun game and also explains the meanings of profit and money managment. For example, if you start off by taking a lot of loans, you will have negative money later on, unless the rollercoaster/ride has a VERY good profit. If you start off simple, it’s better. One of my tips is that I don’t put in food/drink stalls until I get a message saying the guests are hungry or thirsty. If you put food/drink stalls in too early, their profit will be negative and take away some of your money. That’s why I like Roller Coaster Tycoon

Here’s a screenshot of the Financial Summary from one of his parks:

Teach Your Child Money and Business Skills with Roller Coaster Tycoon

I think he needs to renegotiate the interest rate on his loan!

As a parent, I highly recommend Roller Coaster Tycoon. It’s fun. It’s educational. Win-win.


Teen Freelancing, Allowance Experiment, Money Anxiety: Family Finance Picks (#52)

Here are my top three kids & finance picks from around the web last month:

Son’s Free-Lance Car Wash Idea a Throwback to a Different Era

Summer Job at Rickshaw BagworksI’m a huge proponent of teens getting summer jobs. A summer job is a critical skill and character building experience. It’s also a terrific excuse for parents to collaborate with their teens on one of my favorite family finance tips: the “Family 401(k).” That’s why I’m so dismayed by the increasingly dismal work prospects for teens these days. As John points out in his column, teenagers with enough “hormonal energy to power a small aircraft carrier” are a “bad bunch to have sitting around doing nothing.”

Yes, sadly, teen jobs are scarce, but maybe our teens just have to get a bit more aggressive about creating their own opportunities. John’s son did. Read about his free-lance car wash experience here.

July carnival of Natural Parenting: Making an Allowance

by Crackerdog Sam on Hobo Mama

Sam shares the early results from his allowance experiment with his 4 year old son Mikko. The post includes wonderfully concrete examples of how an allowance, when used properly, can help teach good money habits. The pictures are cute too. My favorite quote comes at the end:

We learn by doing. We teach, best, by coming alongside during the process.

I love it — well said and perfectly aligned with the FamZoo philosophy.

Read about Mikko’s early allowance adventures here.

My Kids Are Freaked Out About Money

Kathryn shares the anxieties her children feel about money and how the downturn in the American economy has fueled their fears. While there is unfortunate anxiety, I find most of her kid’s money perspectives extremely laudable. It’s a touching, thought-provoking piece. Read it here.

We’re constantly scouring the Internet looking for articles related to family finances and teaching kids good personal finance habits. You can visit our ever growing list of family finance bookmarks here. We’re up to 1,756 now!