Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning from Mommy Dollars

Mommy Dollars have given me lots of chances to teach my boys about lots of things -- even more than about money and math.

This money has been a good way to talk about arithmetic in our daily lives (especially helpful because both of my boys struggle with addition).  The usual bedtime routine now is that before their bedtime story, I ask, "How much money do I owe you for today?"  They go through the calculations, adding up what they earned, subtracting fines or monies spent, and explain the total to me.

The next question I ask is, "How do you want that money?"  I didn't realize the first time I asked it what a good question it is -- and I've seen how helpful it is for them to practice.  I'll ask, "Okay, how do you want that $38?"  and an answer will come back, "Three tens . . . no, wait!  One twenty, one ten . . . one five  . . . (very long pause) . . . and three ones."

I knew that Mommy Dollars would give us a lot of chances to practice mathematics, and also that it would give me a chance to discuss kid-level financial habits (like saving up for bigger things you want by foregoing smaller things).   I hadn't realized, though, how much it would help us learn so many other skills in life.

The boys love Mommy Dollars.  In fact, they both asked for wallets for Christmas, so they'd have a grown-up way of carrying their money around.  My older son loves flashing his money at anybody who will look at it.  (My husband has fished that wallet out of the laundry countless times since -- and breaking that habit is a good lesson for the boys to be learning early).

The auctions I mentioned in my last post are another example of learning new behaviors:  I think we've had maybe 3 or 4 auctions this past year.  By now, if there's a disagreement over who gets to do something, all I have to do is offer an auction, and the boys find another way to work things out.

In an ironic twist, one of the arguments I still intervene in regularly is who gets to make breakfast.  I almost never tell the boys they have to cook -- they both beg to be allowed to cook (and get the money that comes from their efforts).  So, yes, my boys make pancakes and waffles and oatmeal and muffins for me.  And I pay them 15 cents (I mean, 15 Mommy Dollars) each time.

I've learned to assign some strategic fines.  I used to nag, point at the clock, and order the boys around so I could get them out of the house on time in the morning.  But after the mommy dollars kicked in, I announced a new policy:  I wouldn't keep reminding them of the time, but if they didn't leave for school by 8:20,  they'd be charged $1 each minute until they left.  For a few days in a row I collected small amounts of money:  $5, $2, $7.  Now all I have to do is say casually, "Boys, it's 8:10", and they go into a frenzy to get themselves ready.  (Often, they remind themselves of how much time they have left, and I don't have to say anything).  I haven't had to nag OR collect money in a long time.

It's not a perfect system.  The boys often tell me in the morning they will want to make dinner, but when evening rolls around, they discover they'd rather keep playing.  And their bedroom is still usually a disaster-zone, in spite of the huge payment they could earn for cleaning it.

Still, overall I am thrilled at how this has spilled into so many parts of our lives.  About a month ago, my younger son showed me the book he'd checked out of the school library that day: a children's cookbook. On his own, he chose a recipe (sausage popovers) and made dinner for the whole family by himself.  That's not bad for an easily-distracted, 11-year-old boy.   I think we're on to something.

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